Saying Goodbye: How to Do It Right

Constantly saying goodbye to people and places is one of the more challenging realities of frequent traveling. I feel like I’m pretty much always in the process of saying goodbye to someone or something: My friends when I first left home, the people I meet on the road, or the communities I become part of when I work in different countries. At first, I thought I’d learn to completely accept these meetings and partings, but letting go of the people I briefly cross paths with and the places I temporarily call home, continues to feel strange and heartbreaking, regardless of how many times I do it. I may not have learned how to make saying goodbye easier, but here are a few things I’ve learned about how to do it the right way.

Be Honest

The friendships you form on the road are almost always short-lived. You meet people, spend a few days doing virtually everything together, and then head off in completely different directions at the end. Even many of the friendships I made as expat were similarly fleeting. You can truly enjoy hanging out together, but once you’re not in the same country, having shared experiences together, the bond just doesn’t feel the same as it once did.

When it does come time to say goodbye, I’ve grown to really appreciate people who don’t make false promises. It somehow ruins the poignancy of the farewell when one person makes a half-hearted comment about staying in touch, even though we both know we won’t. Worse still is when the person feels the need to follow up on that promise with a few tepid emails or a strained Skype conversation. I’m not saying there aren’t people you meet on the road who you genuinely want to and do keep in touch with after you part ways, but in most cases, it’s just more meaningful to wish each other well and let the friendship gracefully end with the experience. I feel so much more touched by a short friendship that ends with us simply expressing how happy we are to have met each other, and then both moving on.

Give Something Away

I think an act of generosity, where it’s big or small, is beautiful way to punctuate a relationship. Buy a round of drinks or give the person a favorite old book that you’ve had stuffed in your backpack for months. When Brent and I were preparing to leave Japan, we casually mentioned to the owner of one of our favorite restaurants that we would be going soon, and we were completely overwhelmed by her response. In addition to all the crying and hugging, she dug out some candies and two little fridge magnets to give us. It was such a small gesture, but the fact that she wanted to give us something of hers –anything- was so incredibly sweet.

The thing you give away doesn’t even have to be something physical. There have been so many people I’ve met in passing that I’ve truly admired, but never worked up the courage to tell them before we parted ways, and I wish I had. So don’t hold back – there’s no better way to bid each other farewell than to open up and tell the person how they’ve impacted you.

Don’t Second Guess Yourself

I’m guilty of getting seriously over-sentimental when I leave any place that I’ve lived for more than a few months. It’s pretty standard for me to spend my last week in a city as a blubbering, red-faced mess who cries over the smallest last moments. I cry over my last time walking down certain streets, shopping at certain stores, and seeing certain people who I barely had any attachment to before. Often, it’s not until it’s time to go that I really appreciate what an amazing place and how many wonderful people I’m leaving behind. That’s usually when I start to wonder if leaving really is a good idea.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful for an experience and reminiscing about the fond memories you’ll have, but it’s also important not to let that sentimentality cause you to lose perspective. Saying goodbye to so many things all at once has caused me to second guess one or two decisions, so I always have to remind myself why I decided to leave in the first place. There are a lot of people and places I miss, but in the end, I always knew that leaving was the right decision.


About The Author

14 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye: How to Do It Right”

  1. Its a relief to know that I am not the only one feeling sentimental about saying goodbye to friends you meet on the road. Im the type who really keeps in touch, with today’s technology, its so fast and easy. And I was able to build lasting friendships that way. Effort is really essential and has to go both ways.

    But when it takes quite long for some people to reply or would not reply at all, makes me feel that they are not as keen so I just have to respect and leave it like that.

  2. I’m in the process of saying goodbye ahead of our move to Latvia next month. Even though I’ve already done this a few times before, it never gets any easier. I was crying on the bus after my visit to say goodbye to my friends there. And I’m sure I’ll be a sobbing mess when I say goodbye to my mom and my cat in a few weeks. But that will fade as soon as I’m one the plane and the excitement for the adventure ahead kicks in.

  3. Sigh… I’m getting better at this. Lately I’ve caught myself not quite investing in taking the time to get to know other travelers because I won’t be in an area long, but I don’t want that to become a habit; so I’m working on keeping my heart open and really paying attention and respect to the people I come in contact with, no matter how brief our encounter.

    My husband is a gift giver, which I admire. He always has a small token hidden somewhere in his bag that he gifts to someone he is saying goodbye to.

    Thank you for posting this!

  4. I hate goodbyes too. It’s a little bit easier when it’s with someone you just met, or have only known for a month. I’m about to say goodbye to Brazil soon, I’ve been here almost a year! This is the goodbye I’m most worried about, but I know I have many things to look forward to, including future trips to visit again!

  5. Jessica I completely agree about being honest when you’re saying goodbye to someone you met travelling. So much of the time you find yourself blurting out things like “I’ll email you” or “skype me” or “we have to chat on Facebook” and most of the time it ends up not happening, or it feels strained when it does happen.

    I think you’re right; be grateful for the time you’ve had together, take away any lessons that person taught you and feel blessed that they came into your life and then let them go, move on.

    1. It’s definitely hard not to make those promises sometimes. It sort of feels like there’s this idea that the friendship wasn’t meaningful if you don’t keep in touch afterwards, but I really don’t think that’s necessarily true.

  6. I have just had to say goodbye to people who became my hostel workmates in La Paz for almost three months, knowing I’ll never see most of them ever again.

    Another way to make the goodbye not so bad? Convince some of them to move to Australia with you! It’s been a great solution for me!

  7. I hate goodbyes. And sometimes when you’ve been travelling with someone for a few days the goodbye is really awkward because you feel close but not THAT close.
    But often the excitement of moving on to the next place overwhelms the sadness of the goodbye.

    1. Haha, so true. I’ve also had the experience of hanging out with people from my hostel for an evening and then they leave the next morning without saying anything. I have to admit that kind of stings a little, but I also get it – they’re excited about moving on to the next place. Plus, yeah, it’s not like we’re besties just because we chatted for a bit.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top