When I first started to travel long-term, people asked me what I was running away from, wondered why I wanted to be gone so long, and would mostly tell me I was crazy or weird.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t get a lot of encouragement and support in the beginning.
Sometimes your friends and family, the people you want most to be supportive of your trip, aren’t as enthusiastic as you’d like them to be. They don’t understand and try to talk you out of going. It can be deflating and saddening. You’re so excited about this adventure and here they are, raining on your parade.
Many readers reach out to me about this topic frequently. I can feel the angst in their emails and the confusion at not knowing to how deal with the situation.
“How do I not let them get me down? What did you do? What do I say?”
As I sat down to write this article, I took a poll on Facebook and asked readers about their experiences. I was amazed by how much commonality there was among people’s situations and the reactions from their friends and family. Apparently, I’m not the only who faced such negativity, and, luckily, I’m also not the only who ignored it.
But it still sucks when your support system is so unsupportive. So below are some common criticisms future travelers hear and examples of how I’ve turned similar criticism around when I’ve been faced with it myself:
“The world is unsafe. You shouldn’t go.” I hear this one a lot, not only from people via email but also from people in my own life (especially my mom). News organizations paint the world to be a scary, scary place with criminals lurking around every corner. News shows love to highlight the dangers of life; as they say, “if it bleeds, it leads.” But crime happens everywhere. It occurs in NYC, London, Paris, Tokyo, Thailand, Turkey, Brazil, and every small town and medium-sized city in between. You can walk out of your house and be mugged or hit by a bus. Just like you can travel the world and never have anything happen to you. There is no place in the world that is 100% safe. Once you put it into this perspective for people, it usually ends the subject.
“You are just running away.” People seem to assume that if you are traveling long-term, you must be running away from something. When people say this to me, I tell them that yes, I am running away — from their version of life and to my version of life. Remind people that what they do in their life may make them happy, but that you have different goals — and this trip is what makes you happy right now. Most people will admit you have a point and drop the subject because, at the end of the day, we all want our friends to realize their dreams and be happy. True friends will let you go after yours and be supportive along the way.
“Why don’t you get a job?” Let’s face facts: unless you suddenly strike it rich, you’ll be working until you’re dead. The notion of working until a certain age and then retiring is long gone in the modern economy. When people tell me that I should get a job, I respond that if I’m going to be working well into my old age, I’d rather spend my healthy years exploring the world instead of sitting in an office. There will always be time later to work. (Plus, nowadays, travel experience is often considered a plus by employers.)
“I wish I could do that. It must be nice to not have any responsibility.” This is jealousy, pure and simple. I tell people, “You can travel too.” There’s nothing special about me and my decision. Once you take care of your bills and sell your stuff, you can set off on your own journey — even if you’re older than the average backpacker or have kids. While there are always circumstances that really keep people from traveling, for the most part the only things holding anyone back are the restrictions they put on themselves. People of all ages and circumstances find ways to turn travel into a reality.
“It’s unsafe to travel alone.” I typically respond to anyone who offers this argument by asking them why they believe this, and they will usually begin to spout stories they “learned” from the news about people who traveled alone and ended up in a bad situation. They might rattle off worst-case scenarios: “you could get sick, injured, robbed, or worse, and no one would be around to help.” That may be true, but if I went hiking in the woods by myself, the same thing could happen. Hell, I could fall in my apartment and no one might notice for days. As a solo traveler, you have to be a little more vigilant, but being alone in Paris or Thailand is like being alone everywhere else.
“It’s really unsafe to travel alone if you are a woman.” Reports of women getting hurt or killed overseas are always played up by the media. “The world is scary. Don’t go out there alone. Evil men lurk behind bushes.” No more so than where you live right now. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a list of solo female travel bloggers who can help dispel that myth for you:
“Don’t you care about settling down and finding someone?” The undertone of this question is that you won’t be happy if you don’t have someone. My response is typically that I will settle down when I find the right person to settle down with, and that person could be found anywhere in the world. I do want to find someone I’m crazy about, but I won’t settle for just anyone.
“Why would you want to go there?” People ask this question with the undertone that by wanting to go to country X, you’re weird, as if certain places in the world are inconsequential and not worthy of exploration. My answer to this question is “because it exists.” Why should I limit myself? Why should you, either? I turn this around and say “Well, why do you always go to the gym? Because you want to, right? Same reason for me.”
There will always be haters. And while we can always tell ourselves “I don’t care what people think,” the truth is we do care what our friends and family have to say because we value their opinions. If a stranger tells me I am running away, I don’t care. But when all my friends do, I become discouraged that they don’t support my decision.
And I get enough emails from readers to know that all that negativity does make would-be travelers question their decision to travel and wonder if they are making a mistake.
Use these responses to deflect their criticism and help them understand why you want to travel. And if they still remain unsupportive, there is a wonderful network of travelers all over the web who can act as your support system and source of encouragement.
Get involved with forums.
Don’t let people get you down.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take the alternative path and travel the world. Let them try to dissuade you. Let them call you crazy — but as Steve Jobs said, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”