This past weekend marked six months since I officially left on the 2015 Cosmic Trust Fall adventure. When I set out on this journey, I knowingly left a stable life. I opted for a life which translated to a loose definition of the word “home” and using friend’s addresses as my own to get bank accounts and mail packages. I chose an existence which does not always come with an understanding of where I will be sometimes even a week in advance, and throughout which my constant hunt for reliable wifi has become not just a money saving venture but a necessity for keeping in touch with those that I love.
Like many travelers, I left with the intent of finding my own purpose, of using travel to further open up my mind and soul to what the world has to offer. I have been traveling my entire life and living semi-nomadically since I was 5 years old, about a quarter of which has been abroad. So a life of wandering is not unknown by any means, but this trip was a new level to the definition. I left stability in an effort to truly see and experience new places, people and cultures and in turn discover what I really need in life to make me happy. I have discovered those things in some part, and continue to do so, but what the past 6 months have really done is open my eyes to the fact that I am not happy to be confined to a box, and that, as many “forever expats” learn, I am not happy to be settled in one spot.
When I set out on this journey, I was met with a lot of different responses, but for the most part they were positive.
“Wow, that’s so brave! I wish I could do that!” (spoiler alert: you can!)
“Good for you, turning lemons into lemonade. Best of luck!”
“I’m so glad you’re doing this. I think it’s something you really needed to do. I’m excited for you.”
“Are you crazy?! How are you going to live??” (Because you know, they couldn’t all be positive.)
But as it has become clear that I am not planning to stop this life, there has come a new set of responses – these ones now turning slightly less positive and even from the closest of friends and family, are more often laced with an underlining (or sometimes blatantly outward) tone of disapproval and confusion.
“What do you mean you’re not staying in the US?!”
What I have learned, however, is that these are pretty standard responses to expats and digital nomads who make that decision to continue down this path. The trick is identifying the type of responder you are dealing with so you can chose a reaction which acknowledges what is being thrown at you without it throwing you off your desired path.
The “I Wish I Could Do That” Aspirer
You know this type. Maybe you are this type. This is the person every single traveler/expat has encountered not just once but usually on a weekly basis.
“You’re so brave” “How do you afford it?” “I wish I could just pick up and travel the world like that.” “How to you do it?” “What made you want to live in another country?”
The bottom-line is that this person aspires on some level to be an expat/traveler, so if you are already living that life, don’t break their heart. Feed the desire. Feed the passion. And most of all, be gracious for the admiration being expressed.
One day this person will take your (and other’s) example and use it as the motivation to finally strike out into a life of travel for themselves. But until then, they are going to bombard you questions which might seem annoying or overly intrusive, but are really just them seeking personal acceptance to take the same leap.
Remember how scary it was and how many unknowns there were when you got on that first plane way-back-when to your very first living abroad experience? Let your empathy show through for this person by being patient and as helpful as possible.
The “I Wish I Could Do That” Forever Onlooker
While the Aspirer will one day take the travel bug leap, be weary of their envious cousin – the Forever Onlooker – who will always dream of being a traveler/expat but will never quite get up the nerve to actually bite that bullet.
These are usually the first people to throw some shade, and in some cases it may be done without a consciousness of what they are doing. You are living a life that is that of their dreams, and envy is a dirty little bastard who sits in the depths of their mind and thinks nasty little things about you because you’re doing what they can’t/won’t.
It might come out in things said or actions taken that you will never hear or see first hand but will be able to almost instinctually feel anytime you’re around that person. Something in you just tells you that they are jealous of your lifestyle. It’s a look they give you, how they include (or don’t include) you in conversations, how they respond to your stories of far off lands. Almost as if their incredulous tone is seeping out through all those silent faux smiles.
Learn to appreciate these people for who they are, and learn to take what they say to be nothing more than a reflection of their own selves, and absolutely nothing to do with your actual abilities or how much you love/miss the people you care about. You’re doing fine, just smile and continue on your way.
If you recognize yourself to be this kind of person, believe me, I understand every so often that little envious inner self will show through without you maybe intending it to. It will come out in judgmental or guilt-laden comments – “Oh, you’re staying in a hostel?” “But aren’t you afraid you’ll fall behind in your career?” “What about your family. Don’t you worry about being so far away from them?”
Please try to recognize when you are doing this. As a traveler/expat, we deal with a lot of inner demons and struggles, and do not need external sources throwing additional judgement on the fire. Try to understand where that judgement is coming from and maybe channel it into something a bit more positive – i.e. even if you don’t make it to living abroad yourself, knowing an expat means you have a place to stay/person to visit in an exciting destination when you’re ready for a vacay!
The “OMG I Could Never Do That”
Along the same shade throwing level as a Forever Onlooker, is this type. The difference is that there are no faux smiles here. They are usually more blatant and outwardly expressive of their judgement of your lifestyle. This is because they don’t envy you; they truly don’t understand you and why you do it, and often times, they do not approve of what you are doing.
“Wait, you live out of just one bag?!” “But how do you survive without your hair dryer/a car/easy access to an Olive Garden??” “Don’t you want to get married and have a family?”
This is a group I affectionately refer to as the “Just smile and nod” crowd. As in the only way you will survive their questions is to smile and nod. They will never be an expat or a long term traveler, and as such, will never have the perspective to understand the life of one. They have created a world of comfort around them that they are perfectly happy to continue living. They see foreign lands via TV shows and movies (and think that’s real life). At best, they will explore another country on a one week vacation, during which they will inevitably stay confined to the familiarity of their all-inclusive resort or guided tour or 5 star luxury compound.
And you know what? That’s fine. They have found what makes them happy and it is not adventurous travel. Just accept them as they are and move on. Be pleasant, be cheerful and just move on. Trust me, trying to explain your lifestyle to these guys is like trying to tell an eskimo that actually there is only one word needed to describe the color white. They just won’t get it…and they will argue to the death to try and prove you wrong. That has nothing to do with you. That has everything to do with their need to fiercely protect the life they have built up around themselves. Smile and nod.
The Excuse Maker
First, let me start by saying that everyone is this person at some point in their lives, even expats and travelers. The only difference between them and a traveler is that the traveler figured out a way to get beyond the excuses.
“I have a family to support.” “It’s too expensive to travel.” “I’m married.” “I have a mortgage.”
Whatever the excuse is (or excuses in some cases), it is their crutch to wobble around on. If this person is open to the conversation, give examples of how you got around those excuses – “My partner and I travel together.” “Our whole family travels, and the kids are getting a great education through home school/foreign schools.” “I rented out my house and went on the road.”
Life is about choices, and this person has made choices that continue to keep them from the life of an expat/traveler. Don’t let that energy cause you to question your path. A traveler makes the choice everyday to prioritize a life of world exploration. This comes with some hard sacrifices, but it’s worth it for the amazing experiences, breath-taking scenery, and incredible people that have enriched our lives. Let those continue to be the reason you never have to make excuses again. And maybe more importantly, let your example be the inspiration for those Excuse Makers who are inevitably still in your life.
Yes, 9 times out of 10 this is going to be the profile of a parent/guardian/care-taker. It’s only natural. You are their baby; their angel; their blood, sweat, tears, and a representation of their heart walking around in physical form.
Appreciate that the concerns of The Worrier are not a reflection on your ability to make this life you lead a prosperous one, but rather their own fears and desires being projected onto you. When you mix the horrors the media feeds the first world everyday, with either an antiquated or lack of experience exploring the places you are visiting, with a plethora of societal constructs from an older generation, things can naturally fester into a classic batch of “is my baby safe/taken care/surviving/happy.”
Be kind and understanding. Show this person love. Because whether you realize it or not, that is what they are showing you by worrying about you.
The Outright Supporter
I’ll be real honest and say finding one of these types can be like finding a unicorn. But they do exist (as do unicorns…count it).
They listen intently to your stories and offer support in whatever way they can. Sometimes this is a bed/couch to sleep on; sometimes it is a meal; sometimes it is contact; sometimes it is just good advice.
They are so fully satisfied with and confident in who they are as person that they are not threatened or jealous by what you are doing. Sometimes they will be intrigued to the point of booking a bit of travel for themselves, but more often, they use their own internal guide to understand what they want/need in order to make them happy.
If you find one of these types, hold on for dear life. Reciprocate their honesty and support. Be grateful for the undoubtedly positive energy that they will bring into your life and make every effort to be a positive life force in theirs.
These ones are my favorite by far, mainly because like me, and like other travelers and expats I know, they cannot actually be confined to one box or definition. The Ex-Traveler is now settled, maybe retired, or maybe just went “home” to live the life that, through travel, they realized made them the happiest.
They can fit into every category above or none of them at all.
They might be on the verge of striking out again but just haven’t quite built up the nerve to once again leave the comforts they have established around them. Be patient and understanding, and let your stories be their inspiration.
They might get jealous when you talk about your adventures and long to be out on the road again. Be empathetic.
They might be legitimately done with that part of their life and can’t imagine being back out on the road or being away from their family and friends for extended periods of time. Be courteous and conscious that that is the path they have chosen which makes them happy.
They might make excuses as to why they “can’t do that anymore.” Give them a way to come visit you for a vacation.
They might warn you of the dangers they encountered when they traveled or ask you fear-based questions because they’ve seen on the news that x-y-z happened in the country you’re headed to/just came from. Be grateful for their love.
They might be genuinely happy with where they are in life and the choices they’ve made in settling down. They will tell you stories and give you advice. Listen.
Or maybe they are on an adventure that you know nothing about. Maybe they have figured out a way to find adventure in daily life without necessarily getting on a plane. Maybe they have landed themselves in a spot that feels like an endless adventure and which affords them the opportunity to still chase their dreams and see new places whenever they chose. Be curious. Listen. Learn from them.
Whoever you happen to encounter, ultimately know that the path you are on is yours alone to define. Not everyone will understand it, accept it or support it. But the greatest freedom you can give yourself is the ability to let go of that desire for other’s approval and instead seek it only from a place within. Each of the above types offer you an opportunity to learn and appreciate the life that you have chosen. So go DO…be you, be adventurous and be brave, and break down barriers. Feed that desire to see everything this world has to offer; everything that the Universe is poised to place in front of you.
And as always, Happy Falling!
Want to see more? Check out this post and others on Cosmic Trust Fall!