Long term travel is constantly lauded for it’s benefits but rarely it’s drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is the strain long term travel places on personal relationships. Now this is going to be different from person to person but one thing is consistent. Long term travel impacts friendships, in both good and bad ways. But why? Here I hit on a couple of reasons why long term travel strains relationships and how to keep those true friends.
Most Are Friends By Proximity
Similar to religious beliefs, morality, family bonds, and overall perception of the world, friendships tend to be a matter of proximity and programming. We become “best friends” with people we live or work in close proximity to. People that see the world the way we do. People who are similar to ourselves. But when that proximity is expanded, reality begins to take hold and we’re forced to evaluate the validity of these relationships. Exposure to different kinds of people begins to change what we believe in and expect from those around us. And the truth is, those who never leave home tend to stay the same. Not only because it’s easier that way but because they aren’t forced to.
Recently a friend and I argued about the refugee crisis in Europe. His position was one based on ignorance and xenophobia. Mine, a more humanistic view. Some may call Liberal. He ended the debate with this gem. “What the hell man? You’re sounding like one of those stupid kids we made fun of in college.” And you know what, he was right. I’ve changed. I like to think I’ve grown. Because travel has opened my eyes to other cultures and perspectives on issues that impact us as a species. Unfortunately, my friend still has a very narrow world view.
As time goes on, your exposure to these “friends” decreases. You’ll have to ask yourself if they were real friends or friends by proximity? In some cases, your friends are assholes. And you likely were as well. You just didn’t have the perception and life experience to realize it yet.
The Social Media Show Breeds Jealousy
Social Media is a show. No matter how “authentic” we try to be, we all carefully curate what we post publicly to some extent. And this usually means the highs minus the lows. The victories and not the defeats. We create a perfect image of our lives that many tend to take as the truth, regardless if it is or not. And this can lead to issues with friends.
Jealousy is a complicated emotion, often referred to in a simplistic way. But we have to understand that when it comes to jealousy from friends it can be complicated. We all experience jealousy. From the piece of pie someone gets to eat while we’re dieting, to the beautiful beach our friends are on while we work. Jealousy is a natural emotion. But some people aren’t emotionally equipped to deal with their own jealousy and tend to lash out at the object of that jealousy. YOU!!!
You see, when it comes to travel you remind people of their unfinished goals. You remind them of their unfulfilled desires and current situation which they might be trying to escape but can’t. This is especially prevalent if you were planning to travel together. This reminder can reach beyond travel.
Real Friends Are Happier For You Than You Are
It’s not all bad news. You won’t lose all of your friends when you start traveling. But you’ll surely learn who your real friends are. Real friends are the ones who constantly encourage you to see, do, and experience more. They’re the ones excited to hear your stories. The ones always there to lend a sympathetic ear. These are your friends. These are the ones you hold on to with both hands. Why? Because they are extremely rare. Audit your friend’s group. And truly ask, who would be happy for you to travel the world for a year without them. Who won’t get tired of hearing your stories?
The Travel Friends Theory
I believe in the Travel Friendship Timeline. If you’ve traveled with someone for a day, you’ve know them a week. Traveled a week, you’ve known them three months. Traveled three months, you’ve know them a year. The difference between travel and “regular” friendships is that not only are you spending almost every waking minute of your day with someone, but you’re also sharing an experiencing something new together.Some of these travel friendships will last a lifetime, some only the time you spent together. But these friendships are very real and defining parts of not only travel but life. To share these formative moments, create bonds that can never be broken. Cherish these memories and friendships as they’ll always be with you.
So How Do I Keep My Real Friends?
Don’t Criticize Them for Not Traveling
So often I see “travelers” essentially saying that non-travelers are missing out on life. Directly or indirectly. It’s arrogant and condescending to believe that someone else’s chosen life path isn’t complete and fulfilling for them. So stop the travel shaming. This has seriously become an epidemic in our ever-connected world. Some people have no desire to travel and it’s not your place to judge them for that any more than it’s their place to judge you for traveling.
Tell BOTH sides of the Travel Story
At this point in social media history, we all should realize everything we see is highly curated. Not fake, but curated. There’s a difference. While you might want to keep the ugly side of your experience personal, it’s good to share those things with friends. It shows them you value their counsel and gives them an exclusive window into your experience.
Don’t Brag (Well not A lot)
This one depends on who you are. I’m guilty of bragging in context. But don’t bring up the amazing things you’ve done and seen ad nausem. We get it. You had a great trip. This can be difficult especially if it was your first trip. Just be mindful of your friend’s feelings. A good rule of thumb is to ask them about their lives. I know this can be tedious at times but it sure beats coming off as a braggart.
Send Gifts (People love travel swag!)
I can’t tell you how far a magnet from the other side of the world goes for some people. It’s not necessarily what you bring/send back. It’s the fact you were thinking about your friend while on your trip. And a cool gift, that can surely be personal, means a lot. For example, if your friend is a chef. Buy them a handmade apron from Mexico. And don’t tell them you’re getting them something. Try and send them a small care package from time to time. A nice surprise.
Keep In Touch (I hate you Facebook)
Sometimes this is easier said than done. I’m notorious for forgetting birthdays and major events. Even before Facebook made me lazy by doing it for me. But as time goes on, and fewer friends use Facebook, I find it harder to keep track. But I recommend picking the people in your life who matter the most to you and creating a spreadsheet with birthdays and anniversaries. This really shows you care. And don’t just send a Facebook message. Make a phone call. “Old School”.
Try To Visit When You Can
For us full-time nomads, visiting everyone can be a problem. People are busy. But make an effort. If you know you’re going home where many friends are, organize a party or event in advance. That way you can see everyone at the same time. If you have friends in other countries, try to schedule a long layover to visit. Understand that if you’ll be traveling long term, there will be some people you won’t see for years. I have several good friends and family members I haven’t seen in a couple years. Not because we don’t want to. But because life happens.