Mind the Gap: Surviving Long Distance Without Friends and Family

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The week before my wife and I left our home country, my sister got married. Our extended family and close friends gathered to celebrate. It was perfect. She was beautiful, they were happy, there was dancing and laughter and stories. It’s a moment I cherish, not only for her sake, but for mine as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better sendoff from those I love.

Life is made up of our choices. We cannot be all things for all people at all times in all places. We must choose what rings true to our destiny. Those choices will necessarily bring us close to some and further from others. For those who choose to travel, the physical distance can be overwhelming at times. Thankfully, there is something beautiful that happens in shared moments as well as shared absences.

Both have their way of making us better people. Both have secrets to tell for those who will listen.

Remembering Why

Feelings of loss can come quickly and often, especially during times of great transition. We long for the familiar – people who know and love us, safe places to find food and shelter, predictable scenery and egotistical massages. This is normal. It’s a risk to venture into the new.

But for now, it’s important to remember why we ever step out of our comfort in the first place. Why go when here is nice? Because you were made for it. To explore and dream big and risk failing.

Why travel at all? What’s your motivation? What are you searching for? What do you hope to find? Why are you doing this?

In difficult moments, it helps to come back to the foundation of our resolve. Sure, the heart aches for those we love, but we cannot wait on them to live our lives. We must remind ourselves why we leave in hopes that when we return, we are the better for it.

We must learn to take responsibility for our choices and have the courage to change our plans when they fail. Travel is a commitment we make. We count the cost and as much as it is up to us, follow through. And we come back to trusting these longings for friends and family back home are forming us into a people who are more thankful for the gift of relationships and more able to express that thanks to those we love.

Homesickness Remedies

When the waves of longing do swell and toss us about, there are ways to connect and assuage our homesickness. Thank you technology.

If you are a modern traveler, you don’t need me to tell you of all the ways you can stay in touch. Skype for face to face phone calls. Email for daily letters back and forth. Social media for sharing your vantage point. Smartphone apps for instant texts and voice messages. And when you’re out of Wi-Fi range, postcards and printed photos keep us in the minds of those we miss.

The real journey in connection has more to do with being honest and authentic with those we love. How is travel changing us? What are the challenges? What are the joys? How can what we’re doing inspire those who choose otherwise and how can they inspire us in our travels? What kind of people are we becoming in the midst of our choices?

Because you can only talk about the weather for so long.

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Attitude Sets the Mood

Not all travel is the same. You can do it well and you can do it poorly. The difference? Your attitude.

If you’re stuck in a mindset of narcissism, comfort, or “the way things are back home”, you will fail to live in the present moment, find fault with the people and cultures you encounter, and you will miss out on what travel is trying to teach you. Not to mention you’ll be extremely homesick. If, in your travels, you drift towards complaining or negatively comparing, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Breathe, man. Drink it all in, even the stuff you wouldn’t choose. Travel is going to be a world of things you didn’t expect, didn’t plan, and didn’t know you could deal with until it came knocking on your backpack. Start to orient your attitude toward contentment, curiosity, and awe.

Contentment: The art of finding happiness here. In your present circumstances, regardless of preference, idealness, or plan, find a reason to be thankful. You are living the travel dream, after all. If all we ever want is more or something other than what we have, nothing in the world will ever be enough to satiate our desires. Enjoy then the gifts you’ve been given.

Curiosity: You left home for a reason. Why do we so often look for the rest of the world to be like where we came from? It won’t be. That needn’t be cause for sadness, rather celebration. Where else do you experience this culture, these people, this land? Dive in, my friend and do the things you wouldn’t normally do.

Awe: Remember what it was like to be a child, captivated by the small wonders and big mysteries of life? Always asking questions and discovering new marvels. The invitation of travel is to enter into that state once more. Don’t just see, notice. Don’t just hear, listen. Don’t just touch, feel the textures and colors of wonderment.

As always, you are the one who decides your attitude. That decision will shape the difference between surviving and thriving.

You Are Not Alone

The other danger of pining for those back home is that you miss those right in front of you. You have a global network of friends and family waiting for you to make their acquaintance. I am astonished how quickly strangers become friends become the ones we leave behind and want to keep in touch with.

Community is important when we’re traveling. In our search for personal answers and existential fulfillment, we will very often find hints and revelations in the midst of a crowd. We begin to understand the connectedness of all human lives and realize we have a part to play in the story. And that part, that role, is for the benefit of all others. We travel so that we have more to offer.

Our reward: a world full of people we love.

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Breathing Fresh

My wife and I joke that it would be so much easier if we didn’t like people so much. If we just didn’t care. Sometimes she picks fights with those we’re about to leave just so she doesn’t feel bad about leaving them. Goodbye and good riddance! It’s true, leaving would be less painful if we didn’t care about others. Survival would simply encompass meeting the physical requirements of the body’s demands.

Thank goodness that’s not the last word. Without people to share our experiences with, either back home or on the road, the essence of travel is lost. Relationships are fresh air, fueling our lungs with life.

And sometimes in relationships, the absence is just as sacred, just as meaningful, as the presence.

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