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).
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.
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.