8 Things Your Travel/Expat Friend Does NOT Need to Hear

Travel has rescued me in so many ways. If you’ve had a scroll through my About Me page, you’ll know I’ve had my fair share of tough times. Problems growing up, problems with love, problems at uni, now problems with anxiety and Fibromalgia. I’ve been up, down, all around and it has not been easy.

After I came home from Sicily, I let my mind and body pause, relax and restore. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was reinventing how the rest of my year would turn out. I read, I practiced yoga, I reflected, I wrote lists. Made goals.

I picked up a job in a supermarket chain so I could save up and pay off my credit cards while planning what on earth I’m going to do. When things started to go right for me (more on this later!) more and more things went right! It’s like I’m on FIRE. I’m buzzing with energy and can see all the light and love around me- which is so remarkable considering how the year started.

The problem? The people around me! It’s like everyone has something to say about your travel decision, and it’s rarely positive. After an inspiring trip to London with an old friend, I decided to write this open letter about what not to say.

1. You’re so lucky.

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Striving for something and getting it is not the same as stumbling across some loose change in an old pair of jeans. I never know what to say to this, because it so undermines all of the planning, inner practice, experience and willingness to change that I’ve worked so hard on.

I understand the phrase to mean: “You didn’t have to do anything, go through anything, learn anything, it’s just by chance things worked out for you.” I also interpret it as a guilt-trip: “Why should you have these experiences and I can’t?”, or “well you don’t have any real responsibilities, a mortgage, children….” Then I feel bad that some people feel travel isn’t attainable for them and think that their life’s path is in the hands of luck. I CHOSE my lifestyle, just as you chose yours.*

*I understand that in many ways I AM lucky: lucky to be a UK citizen, lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had, lucky to be alive and (somewhat) healthy. This isn’t what I was referring to about being ‘lucky’.

2. What about your boyfriend?

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Is it so wrong to have different aspirations to my partner? To be long-distance? To put ME first? My boyfriend is absolutely fine, he embraces my choices and is proud of me. Choosing to be separate from him physically so we can both make our dreams a reality does not frighten me.

3. Aww why are you going alone?

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Errr…. because solo travel is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life?

4. It’s alright for some. /Oh… must be nice.

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Similar kind of thing to number 1 on my list, only worse. Now I’m not even lucky! I do not go around telling everyone about my plans, but if they ask, what can I say? So when my summer plans teaching in Italy, or a brand new job in Canary Islands later this year is met with “alright” or “nice” by my friends, it’s pretty heartbreaking. I don’t remember saying that at your graduation/engagement.

5. How can you afford it?! + assumptions that you’re rich/parents are funding everything/lucky/non-human.

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I’m not rich, I left home when I was 15, I’m unlucky in almost everything and yes I am a human. What’s the secret? First off I worked in McDonalds for almost 3 years to fund my way through college, first year of uni and teach & travel internship in Vietnam. I wouldn’t recommend this job to my worst enemy, but I learnt a hell of a lot about determination, hard work, and what it can take to achieve something you really want.

Since then I’ve been able to travel because I find work abroad and then travel within that country, as I did in Maldives and Naples, Italy. In Maldives I was given special rates when diving and visiting resorts/guest houses because I had a work permit card. In Italy, I budgeted.

I emphasis the “?!” at the end of the question because that’s the tone, like, “how can you possibly do that?!” and then when you explain, you just get “Oh, I’d never work in a fast food restaurant” or, “I’d rather spend my money on XYZ” so you don’t really get anywhere, and you definitely don’t get any recognition for your effort.

6. What are you gonna do there? *Said in a disapproving tone*

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This question is said to me almost like, “what could there be to do all the way out there?”, and when I explain that I’m going to teach English or work on my blog or volunteer, even from my friends- I get some kind of nod/ “mmmm” in return. Is it so wrong that I’d rather do the aforementioned than sit in a cubicle or serve customers all day?

The look on their face with this question always screams: “Why on earth would you wanna go to this middle of nowhere place I’ve never heard of (even if it’s Hong Kong or USA) and you don’t have an actual PLAN”. This is the case when you’re buzzing about an upcoming backpacking trip around the world or touring Oz or, as an old friend of mine is about to, move to USA. People can’t seem to grasp it, and any answer doesn’t get you anywhere.

It is, however, perfectly acceptable to holiday in Tenerife, Turkey or NYC for a week and stay bound within the resort walls and never speak to an actual person from the country. If I said “I’m visiting the Canaries this September” rather than “I’m moving to the Canaries this September” friends would understand. Moving abroad however, is not met with the same appreciation.

7. What are you gonna do after? *Said like there’s no hope for your future*

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This screams: “You’re wasting your time, it does not set you up well, you’re wasting your money, you’re going to come home broke, there’s no progression for you here, just don’t do it.”
Who knows what I’ll do after?! I’d rather live today rather than thinking about what’s next- I’ll get to that later. My friend moving to USA could excel in her design career, she could publish an e-book, I could renew my contract in the Canaries to stay longer, or I could train to become a diving instructor and give that a go. I could come home for a little bit or I could go to Philippines like I’ve always dreamed about- I don’t quite know!

Is that so bad? Is uncertainty and the possibility for anything to happen that detrimental to me? Whoever says something like this should try being a bit more OPEN. Any experience that helps you to grow, or changes something deep within you, is a necessary part of a life LIVED WITH PURPOSE.

8. You’ll miss out on a career opportunity at home.

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A friend of mine currently working in London is looking into moving to NYC to develop his passion of acting. If he ignored his calling and carried on as he is, in 5 years time he’ll probably be an extremely highly-paid manager of his department, and won’t want for nothing- oh wait, except his passion and calling in life which you suggested he give up just because of a career opportunity….

Reality check: we are all REPLACEABLE in our jobs. We have to be free to let them go if the time comes. Once you let this or that job go, another one comes bringing a new light and new opportunities and takes you somewhere else, somewhere better. For now I’m a TEFL teacher, perhaps after I’ll teach diving or yoga, work on a cruise ship, be promoted within a school, become a wellness coach, write a novel, I don’t know but that’s my unconventional path. If I do happen to ‘miss out’ on a career while living my dreams, it obviously just wasn’t my path.

Another friend of mine took a fantastic 4 month trip around Thailand and New Zealand as she had a lot of learning and growth she needed to do. She’d recently graduated and so of course, family and friends were up in arms about her travel plans. On returning, everything aligned for her and she was offered a position in the city with the ability to progress higher. Travel didn’t hold her back, travel changed something in her which her new employer obviously saw.

 

What we would LOVE to hear

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A genuine “well done!” !

Remember when you got that promotion, graduated, got engaged or had a baby? I was and am so happy for you and so proud of you! It would mean a lot to me if when I am offered a job abroad, am accepted onto a course in another country, learn a new language or have a life-changing experience (albeit not be the most conventional), you still have my back.

You celebrate my choices.

I absolutely want to hear your advice, even if you have some doubts or worries, but let’s talk them through instead of you just raining on my parade the whole time. Telling me that it’s a silly dream, that I’m mad, that I’m irresponsible, immature or just clearly showing no interest or respect in my travel accomplishments, is not what friends do.

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Anyone else out there struggle to keep all their travel plans and exciting news to themselves for fear of looking like you’re bragging and/or not really having many people around to celebrate with? Tell me your news, I’m so excited to hear them and celebrate your choices!

Never give up. Go and breed! Go and breed great dreams.” ― Israelmore Ayivor… Click To Tweet

48 comments

What do you think? Let me know!

  1. eatingcoventgarden · May 25, 2016

    Well said! I get a lot of bitter comments like “It’s all very well for you swanning around the world” and no understanding of the work, time and effort I’ve put in to achieve everything that’s given me the chance to “swan”! People can be very unpleasant…Oh well, keep enjoying your travels and don’t let them get to you.

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thank you – that’s really important and I must do it more, it’s just so upsetting when even my family are more impressed my brother passing his driving test than me getting a promotion to Senior Teacher because it isn’t a “conventional” path! At least we can understand each other.

  2. leslieweighill · May 25

    Woo-hoo! You go girl! Your life is RAD and totally on your terms. There’s more than enough time to fit EVERYTHING in. When you need some love, turn to your like-minded friends right here. We’ve got your back.

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thank you!! :’) that means so much to me!

  3. Stephanie · May 25

    Well said. Even for me, who is trying to balance travel and some of the more traditional choices, there is always that assumption that I lucked into getting to go places. Nope! It’s hard work and the only way it happens is because I prioritize it!

    Sharing!

    • Sarah · May 25

      Here here Stephanie! I feel like designing a t-shirt with a slogan to emphasis that travel isn’t merely luck! 😉

  4. Jen Morrow · May 25

    It drives me nuts when people say something that required tons of hard word was just LUCK. Nope, I worked for this, planned it, and it was not just dumb luck that happened.

    #8 is a legitimate concern. I never gave up my career to travel. I made decisions to advance my career so that I could travel, and often I was able to travel and live abroad for work (getting paid to live abroad is the BEST).

  5. Natalia Valencia · May 25

    wow! What a great read and excellently written! Thank you for this, because I can def relate. I’m about to leave my job and travel for a bit or until my money runs out, lol, but I’m so happy and excited and reading this just made it even better because those closest to us have an impact on us and when we don’t get the proper reactions to our decisions, it’s often disappointing.

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thanks Natalia! I’m glad the post made you excited, travel plans should be celebrated!

  6. Rashmi & Chalukya · May 25

    Very true.. We have travelling with our kid using our hard earned money and instead of appreciation we get comments like “wow so many countries you must be rich or else why dont you save for your future”. Travelling with kid we have been called reckless too. Ahh.. Just wanna say leave us alone!

    • Sarah · May 25

      I completely understand! People can be so judgemental!

  7. The Roverette · May 25

    I love this! I’m a beginner traveler and its something I want to do but I’ve still got people around me who think it is a waste or a go-nowhere-future.

    • Sarah · May 25

      Unfortunately everyone who travels has to deal with that kind of toxic energy from people close to us. But hopefully you’ll find support elsewhere, for example there’s a fantastic FB group called Girls Love Travel id really recommend joining!

  8. Katelyn · May 25

    YES!

    I get this from my family constantly, especially my brother. I think he comes from a place of genuine concern, but it kills me that he always says things like that.

    Like if I choose travel full time, I’m losing any ability to ever have children or live a “normal” life… And why is that so heartbreaking? Why does travel mean I “can’t” have kids?

    I also suffer from medical troubles with autoimmune issues so let me just say… Very well done on this article, and GOOD FOR YOU for all you’ve accomplished so far. It’s hard enough as a person with no ailments. I know the struggle when it seems like even your body is working against you.

    You got this!

    • Sarah · May 25

      Hello Katelyn!! Thank you for your heartwarming message. I don’t blame your brother, it is the way of our society. People like to put us in a ‘box’. The box defines us and our future is all laid out for us, stable, secure, safe. But us free spirits break free from the box, and loved ones tend not to know how to feel about it or indeed what to say. Luckily for me, I haven’t had the “kids” talk yet, but watch this space- I bet in 10 years it’ll be talk of the family. Thank you again for your kind words and I’m sending positive and healthy vibes your way! Xx

  9. Anisa · May 25

    Yes, I hear you on this one. Sometimes I just wish people would mind there own business. I guess my exciting travel news is that I am going to England for 5 days to see my boyfriend. I get a lot of you are going to go all that way for just 5 days. Well yes, I don’t have unlimited vacation and I want to see him as much as possible. And I think, why does it even matter to them, I’m the one doing it.

    • Sarah · May 25

      Oh Anisa, you will have a wonderful time visiting your bo in England! 5 days or 50 days it doesn’t matter- you want to see your partner. Heck, I’m sure you’d take even just 5 minutes if that’s all you could have. People just get so used to being negative, they can forget how amazing it actually is. Your love covers a huge distance! Congratulations to you both for finding each other, loving each other and making it work! Xx

  10. THANK YOU for this post! I’ve had every single one of those things said to me. Like you said – it’s all about CHOOSING your life. Things don’t happen TO us – we have to go out and CREATE / make room for these opportunities. The career thing is my biggest issue at the moment. All my mates in London have their feet on the career ladder and I’m wondering what I want out of life still. Haha x

    • Sarah · May 25

      I’m pleased in a way that you’re able to relate to the same issues I face, but sad that you have to face them! Rule #1) try not to make comparisons. We each have our own paths to CREATE as you said, for some, this takes them to career success in a corporate setting, for others it brings them a family, fame, or a passport full of stamps! 🙂

  11. Yes, that’s it. I hope you manage to educate a bit people around you so they better understand your choices 😉 I never understand why people can be so hard judging each others’. It is such a negative spirit that doesn’t help anyone! Keep doing what makes you happy, this is what is important! And well done on working hard to make things go right! Good luck with the new exciting adventures 🙂

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thank you for your kind words Eloise! Sending warm vibes your way 🙂

  12. Great post and so true things! Sometimes I think that people whose attitude is always negative towards your travels are people who’d like to do it themselves, but are somehow restricted and/or unable to. Some may also be envious. No one can tell you what is “right thing to do” – only you know it yourself! Anyway, the bottom line is that NEVER; EVER let ANYONE dishearten you! Happy travels! 🙂

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thank you Piritta! I loved your bottom line 😁 I must try to not let certain comments on my travel lifestyle get to me. The funny thing is I’m more upset for the individual because I would rather inspire them to follow their own dreams than have toxic feelings. Same to you my friend!

  13. Ann · May 25

    I have personally had every one of these sent in my direction. I like that you finished with some tips for the kind of support us traveler types. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thanks Ann, glad you liked it! X

  14. Briana · May 25

    Great perspective! Hope you start hearing some more supportive comments soon 🙂

  15. Karla Strand · May 25

    This is a great article that I think is rarely talked about, so I can appreciate it. As one who has not lived abroad, it enlightened me to an ex-pat perspective. There are some positive messages here, even though perhaps it was also a relieving way to vent ;); I especially appreciate that you are not letting anything or anyone hold you back. For many, life is so black or white. They think if you travel or in some other way follow your dreams, you can’t have a relationship or be healthy or have a future. I commend you for following your heart and dreams and making them realities! This is challenging for those who are not living their most joyful life but that is certainly not your problem! I also liked that you gave some suggestions for what we can say to ex-pats, etc. That is helpful. I enjoyed this post!

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thanks for your insight Karla! I’m sorry that I came across as venting!! I suppose I was really, but not in an angry way. I understand the challenges people face when trying to materialise their dreams. The thing is, I was that person not living my most joyful life. I’m still in the VERY early stages, but I’ve learnt that it all boils down to one’s attitude. We might not have any control over external circumstances, but we DO have control of our feelings and toxic thoughts about our lives and what we regret and what we’re missing out on because of this or that excuse. So actually, when I receive one of the 8 comments above, I don’t feel disheartened for myself but rather for the person saying it. Right now I feel freer than I’ve ever felt, I just wish all could feel that awakening too. Xx

  16. Morgane · May 25

    Hi, Sarah! I liked this piece a lot. I’m an editor at Matador Network and was wondering if you would agree to us republishing it. If that is something you’d be interested in, let’s talk details here: morgane.croissant@matadornetwork.com

    • Sarah · May 25

      Hi Morgane, thank you- I’ll shoot you an email later today!

  17. Jo · May 25

    Thats so damn true. I have heard all of that …and more. Being a solo female traveler (who happens to be married.. and from India) is a big taboo in India. So overcoming all those questions aka hurdles and more just makes you stronger and more confident in what you doing. All I say is don’t judge the book by its cover so those who do judge is, I don’t care for such people – be it friends or family. If you don’t support me or my choices, I would rather be amidst positive people or be alone 🙂

    • Sarah · May 25

      I love your outlook and strength Jo! Solo travel is so empowering. X

  18. Mel Candea · May 25

    You couldn’t be more on my page if you tried. Thank you, this is eloquent. I’ve been abroad for nearly 18 years (American); lived in the CZ for 11-ish years and have been traveling Europe the past 4, in a van, with my Italian husband. I have had most of those comments/underlying intentions. I get so tired. I hear them; they don’t listen. I watch their lives, but unless it’s a super pretty photo to vicariously share, tumbleweeds. The worst and most important, which you brought up: understanding your choices, or at least being curious. Many people from home or the CZ (home away from home, was a CELTA teacher) ask where I ame and leave it there. They don’t ask what I’m doing. If I’m happy. I always ask them, they never hesitate to tell- but there’s a huge lack of reciprocity with travelers and their people. Sorry for the mini-rant, struck a chord. I find the more popular we’re becoming, the more attention people pay. And that’s ok, but I wish it had been steadier from all. Always. 🙂

    • Sarah · May 25

      I completely understand how disheartening it must be, especially since you’ve got such an amazing story behind you! Yes I often think about my friend who, although not related to travel, has had huge accomplishments with her writing and journalism career. She meets celebrities and her online documentation of her life (Facebook, blog, Instagram etc) is bound to stir up some envy, and everyone tells her how “lucky” she is. She followed her passion- she wrote her blog for years without making a penny. Some people just focus on the end result, not that hard work and strength that went into getting there. Side note: how is traveling in your van?! That’s a total dream of mine!! One of my goals before I’m 30 is to actually get my diving licence so I can explore my home country and UK in depth and freedom 😁

  19. I’m moving to Canada in August and I hear ‘you’re so lucky’ a lot. Yes I’m lucky but I’ve worked hard to save up for this move. As I’m moving on my own and I don’t know anyone there I hear ‘how brave’ or ‘what do your parents think?’ And the best one from my grandmother, ‘would you not change your mind and stay’ 😂 No chance!!!

    • Sarah · May 25

      Haha bless your grandmother!! I get that too from my older relatives. I thought they’d be quite okay with my Italy and Spain plans, with it being so close to UK, so I was surprised when I saw the horror on their faces! Congratulations on your new start in Canada! Do you have a blog we can follow your journey with? Xx

  20. Free As Lost · May 25

    I really connect with your words. I think many don’t understand that living different from the norm to fulfil your dreams is not a “lucky coincident”. It is a choice with all the sacrifices that come with it.
    Fear of not building up a career and missing out on routine life is engraved in the society. And all the comments with negative energy can be hurtful which is a part of the challenge. On the pro side, there are many great stories/experiences coming out of it that you can share (I liked your work abroad articles).
    There is a lot of prejudice going into believing that your parents must have been funding your trip or this is just a long holiday or some are lucky enough to travel! It was great that you touched on this angel of travelling.

  21. Liana · May 25

    I can’t agree more with what you said! I’ve left home for 6 months and if was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve grown up so much, and now I can’t wait to leave again for another trip. I think unconventional pathway are just our kind of things!

    • Sarah · May 25

      I’m so pleased you are happy with your choice to move away! And how it has opened up more opportunities and more desires to travel- that’s wonderful! Xx

  22. Tamz · May 25

    wonderfully written. Honest.
    These are the questions people like us have to face from our folks back home. I myself haven’t been able to make my parents understand why I quit my corporate job and chose this lifestyle.
    Being happy with our lives is a right and we need not be answerable to people for doing that.
    Lovely post Sarah. well done 🙂 🙂

    • Sarah · May 25

      Thank you Tamz! I hope one day soon your parents value and respect your decision, or at least understand a bit more! I’m not sure mine ever will! Well said final point there- “Being happy with our lives is a right”- going to remember that 😁

  23. Hi there, Sarah! I’m going to quit my day job this December and leave Philippines for a year or more. I do not know what is going to happen. Thank you for voicing out the sentiments that expats/long-term travelers. With this, I can brace myself from the questions I am going to receive!

  24. travelerettenyc · May 25

    This really resonated with me as a solo female traveler. I don’t know why it’s so much easier for some people to celebrate weddings and babies instead of adventures. (BTW I think they can all be celebrated, I’m not knocking weddings or babies.) But the worst comment I got was from a friend who asked if I didn’t feel guilty spending money on travel when there are so many hungry children in the world. I still don’t know how to respond to that one!

    • Sarah · May 25

      Oh wow, I wouldn’t no where to start there either. That’s rather mean of your friend – I’m sure they spend their money on their own pleasures, a coffee at Starbucks, a new cocktail dress, etc, why shouldn’t we spend it on travel? Also, not spending our money to travel but living a 9-5 corporate lifestyle, does NOT save the children in any way. Paying to fly over to a country where children need aid, and volunteering your services in some way, could. Oh the judgements we receive from our ‘friends’!

  25. Bernard Tan · May 25

    OMG! i totally can relate to this, but am also guilty of asking this questions to others. When I did my first solo travel, everyone say that i wont survive, but i survive and totally love it. I am going for my next solo travels again.

  26. Sanket D. · May 25

    I’ve heard too many of #3. I have a 5 year pact with myself to celebrate 5 birthdays in 5 different countries, and I keep getting disapproving looks from my friends saying “But why would you want to be alone on your birthday?” and I’m just like WTF! Part of the parcel I guess 🙂

    • Sarah · May 25

      My family would be very confused if I told them about this 5 year pact- but I’ve learnt that they just find it difficult to relate to me and my goals, it’s so alien for them cus they’re all deep, deep within their comfort zones.

      But I think it’s pretty cool!! How many years have you done or are you just starting? Though I did not intentionally make this pact, I did spend my 20th in Vietnam, my 21st in Maldives, my 22nd in Italy, and my 23rd will be in Italy/India. What a great feeling!