Don’t Be a Jerk: How to Maintain Friendships While You Travel

I love my friends from home. Before I went marauding around the world, got a career and met some guy, they were my support system, my cheerleaders and my number one distraction from the fact that I was stuck waiting, when I really didn’t want to be. Even now that I am barely ever around they still support me, even when the only time we can chat is 3 AM EST.

Unfortunately, when you live abroad or travel a lot, there’s a good chance you’re going to miss out on some important milestones: weddings, graduations and other important life events. You will also miss a lot of the small, everyday things that are necessary for friendship maintenance. If you’re not careful, people start to disappear completely!

So, if you want to keep your friends (and I imagine most of you do), you’ll have to put in a bit more effort than you would if you were there to go out drinking with them on Friday nights. Thankfully you have a major tool on your side: the internet. How did people keep in touch before the internet? My best friend and I haven’t lived in the same city since we graduated college 5 years ago and we are even closer now- thanks to gChat.

Here are your Do’s and Don’ts of maintaing your friendships while abroad:

Do Remember Important Dates

This is obvious, right? Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. Thanks to facebook and computer calendars this is super easy and it takes just the tiniest effort to reach out and let someone know you’re thinking about them.

Don’t give people the impression that whatever you’re doing is just way more important.

Nobody likes that smug, self-important guys. If you imply that you have better things to do than be their for your friends, chances are they are going to drop you pretty quick.

Key to this is getting your ego in check: you might be off climbing mountains in Asia while your friend’s work desk jobs, but that in no way makes your life more meaningful. When you can’t be there for someone- apologize. Sincerely.

Do Keep the Lines of Communication Flowing

Talk to your people at home whenever you can. This can be really hard when you get wrapped up in the day to day excitement and busyness of travel- all of a sudden it’s been two months and you’ve been radio silent. If you still want to have friends to come back to though, try to make the time to send an email, do a quick skype chat or even send a postcard (I am terrible at postcards, it’s kind of ridiculous).

Do: Visit friends who have moved exciting places (Like Japan!)

Don’t Just Talk About Yourself

Your life may be mega-exciting and your friends are probably psyched to hear about it, but hold yourself back once in awhile. What’s your friend up to? How’s work? Ask the questions that let people know you care about their lives too.

Do Accept that Your Travels are only Somewhat Interesting

The first time I got back from a long trip I learned a really important lesson: 90% of people really don’t care about the details of your travels. Time and time again people would ask me how my trip was and where I had been only to have their eyes glaze over after about 30 seconds.

Don’t get offended, it’s not personal, it’s just the way people are. Save the details for the people who ask for specifics.

Also family, be nice to them too.

Don’t Write Off Missed Milestones

If you have to miss somebody’s wedding or graduation or whatever, be prepared to make it up later on. I like to buy people cool gifts from foreign countries (bonus: I get to shop). I’ll also try to treat my friend’s to a celebratory drink when I see the next, “you got engaged three months ago? Here’s a beer!”

Do Make the Extra Effort

The sometimes daunting thing about maintaining friendships at home is that it falls on you to make the extra effort because you are the one disappearing for months at a time. It’s not up to your friends to chase you down, it’s up to you to be accessible whenever you can. It’s worth it though, if they are people you care about.

The bottom line: When you show people that your heart is with them, they don’t get as upset that you can’t be. Also don’t be a smug travel bastard, because everyone will hate you.

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20 thoughts on “Don’t Be a Jerk: How to Maintain Friendships While You Travel”

  1. Is that photo of you with your family taken in Arlington, VA, specifically in Clarendon? I swear it looks like exactly where I used to live! About your entry, I agree, it’s important to maintain relationships. I found that even though I was the one who moved to a different country, I was the one who had to do most of the initiating of contact. Otherwise, I would only ever really hear from folks who had lived abroad before. Even with my own family, I had to do a lot of the reaching out. I guess that’s just how it is sometimes.

  2. This was a great post. I always find it hard to keep in touch when I’m away because it’s just difficult to remember. I get wrapped up in regular life and forget to sit down and write those letters and postcards, or send those facebook messages to make sure that I keep up to date with friends. These are some good suggestions and I’m working on it!

  3. This really is great advice. It’s so hard to keep in touch with people from home when you’re living elsewhere. New technology and social media make it much easier, but still, finding the time to write a lengthy email can be tough. When I was traveling through Italy, I kept a blog, which made it easier for family and friends to keep track of me. That way, when we did talk, it wasn’t a huge catch-up game of what I was doing and where I had been. We could almost pick up where we left off. Keeping it was still a time commitment , and sometimes finding Internet access was tough, but it definitely made things easier in the long run. And people really enjoyed the first-hand accounts of my travels! Great post!

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