Preparing for the unexpected responses to your travel news

As I’ve made final preparations for my backpacking trip the past few months, I’ve come to realize there was one thing I completely underestimated: The act of telling people of my plans and dealing with their reactions is much more time-consuming and emotionally exhausting than expected.

Even more surprising was that this happened in different ways than I’d anticipated – the reactions I imagined actually never came true, and the reactions I never expected happened on repeat.

I’d expect this to be the case for many others who are planning their first trip, so I’ll share my experience in hopes of helping you be better prepared:

What I thought vs. what happened:

Everyone will think I’m crazy. This was the number one thing I worried about. I thought people would think I was going through some life crisis, or having a break down. But nobody thought this, and instead, the most overwhelming response I’ve received was that people admire me for following my dream and are inspired.

They won’t understand “wanderlust” because they don’t have it. They get it. In fact, many of them will tell you about their friend or family member who did something similar, and how cool they think it is, and how they wish they could do it.

I’m going to be lectured on the poor economy and this being a terrible time to quit my job. I did get a couple off-hand comments about this, but for the most part, people responded with things like, “If you’re going to do something like this, now’s the time” and “A job’s a job – there will be more waiting when you get back.”

What I didn’t expect, but constantly happened:

People were afraid for my safety. As I mentioned in my post last week, I was prepared to respond to the safety concerns of others, but I wasn’t prepared for that to be the number one response I’d hear from every single family member – complete with horrified looks on their faces. I wasn’t prepared for people to refer me to articles such as the most dangerous cities in the world, or for people to take it upon themselves to research safety for me (as if I hadn’t already done so myself).

People were shocked that I’d only be bringing a backpack. In fact, a couple of my friends asked if I’d be shipping my belongings in advance. A coworker who’d just returned from a 5-day vacation with a huge suitcase was speechless. Another coworker was fascinated by the foreseen freedom that comes from such limited belongings. I’ve received about a half dozen requests for my packing list.

People were amazed that I’d be going alone. It’s important to remember that most people are used to going on “vacations” with other people. The idea of a 29-year-old woman traveling through Latin America alone can be extremely appalling to them. I’ve learned to explain that in the backpacking world this is quite common, and that I’ll meet other travelers and volunteers along the way.

A conclusion I’ve made is to remember that people who don’t travel often or have the desire for a traveling lifestyle haven’t read the hundreds of blogs and half-dozen books that I’ve read, nor been exposed to the huge online community of people who do this every day – and it’s not their fault. So it’s important to be prepared to explain it to them, and when you do, you’ll find that most people are much more understanding and accepting than you might expect.

I’ve always been one to care too much about what other people think, but this process has helped me realize it’s not worth worrying about. People who know you and care about you will support you. And as long as you’re confident in your decision, that’s the only opinion that matters.

Posted by | Comments (8)  | February 8, 2012
Category: Feedback, General, Vagabonding Advice

8 Responses to “Preparing for the unexpected responses to your travel news”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I was on a four month sabbatical last summer and met an Indonesian pastor. We talked about mission work and I told him about being at a hospital in Mexico and he couldn’t believe that I’d go there, considering how dangerous Mexico is. I laughed at the irony and told him that most everyone I knew thought I was crazy going to Indonesia for just that reason and many of these folks think nothing of flying to Cancun for a long weekend.

  2. DEK Says:

    People who don’t travel get their knowledge from newspapers and TV and what do you think is their likelihood ever of seeing a headline that 20 million people visited Mexico last year and had a fine time?

    There are some people who, if you tell them you are going anywhere south of the Ohio River, will be able to think only of “Deliverance”.

    You are probably not going to convince some of your family that it’s safe and the best you can do is tell them enough to show that you are aware of the problems and will be taking precautions. You don’t want them to be worried all the while you are gone.

  3. Rolf Potts Says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Whatever the world political situation or economy, people will always find reasons why you shouldn’t travel. It’s good to gently shake off these received fears, do your research, and go your own way. Many a traveler has managed to convert his/her your skeptics by simply going out and having a great time!

  4. Ted Beatie Says:

    Re: the backpack – no kidding! Even when we were backpacking thru SE Asia, we’d see other backpackers with packs twice the size of our little 35L packs.

  5. Angela Fornelli Says:

    @Ted – It’s so true … the reactions about the backpack were probably the most surprising to me. I mean, it’s pretty much a “given” and I never considered otherwise! This is all just a helpful reminder of how foreign this idea is to so many of my friends and family. I agree with Rolf that once I go and start sharing my experiences, people will better understand!

  6. Paul Says:

    I can really appreciate what you say about the horrified reactions of parents and people being unreasonably worried about my safety (well, unreasonable to my view anyway). I’m now dreading each time I see my parents as I know they’ll ask me whether I’m still meaning to go and then spend the weekend telling me that they won’t ever sleep soundly again. No pressure then!