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How Do You Tell Your Friends...
...you're off to travel around the world, solo

Once you've made up your mind to travel on your own, one of the hardest things in the world is deciding how to tell your friends and family you're leaving to see the world for a while. They may not like the idea of a woman traveling solo.

Sun Bear Conservation Center, Borneo. Photo by Anne SterckThis is probably NOT the reaction you're looking for. (Actually these sun bears in Borneo are just being playful.)

Here's how the conversation might go: you've bought a one-way ticket (because you don't exactly know when you'll be back); you've withdrawn all your money from your savings account (most of it, anyway); you're quitting your job next week; you've picked out your travel gear and your laptop; and you have at least a vague idea of your route.

They'll be thrilled, enthusiastic, a bit envious maybe, and above all, supportive of your solo travels, right?

Think again!

Some of your friends will be indifferent - no reaction at all. Bored. Yawn.

Others will be angry - you're leaving them, after all. Or jealous because you're doing what they want to do.

Concerned. Worried. Aghast. Truly desolate.

And some, of course, will be delirious for you. They're the ones you want to keep close.

French patisserie shop windowSome friends may be so happy they'll shower you with presents

Your skeptics, which in my case made up a relatively large-ish group, might say some of the things I heard when I was preparing to travel around the world (and believe me, I heard it all).

  • You'll never get a job when you come back, not in this economic climate.
  • You'll miss everyone. You'll be incredibly lonely and you'll wish you never left. You'll kick yourself.
  • You won't last a month.
  • You'll get lost. (Isn't that what women do?)
  • You'll hate the food/people/poverty/creepy crawlies.
  • You'll get sick and who's going to take care of you?
  • You'll run out of money.
  • You're too old to travel like this. Leave that to the young backpackers! Nobody takes off on their own at your age (I was all of 43, for heaven's sake!)
  • You'll get mugged/raped/kidnapped/killed.

I heard every argument in the book about solo travel.

It makes sense for your loved ones to be worried - but they're not necessarily right.

The job? True, you might not find something easily when you return, although if you volunteer or take on a few overseas jobs along the way, you could actually be adding to your CV. You might - as I did after more than three years on the road - find something even better. On the other hand, if you stay home you might get laid off, downsized, bought out. It's the luck of the draw, no guarantees.

Friends and family? Of course you'll miss everyone; once the excitement of departure wears off, that's almost a given. These days we have laptops, roaming, smartphones, Skype, Facebook, email... keeping in touch is as easy as you want it to be.

You won't last? Wait and see. Unless your loved ones are fortune-tellers, there's no way they can know how long you'll be gone. I announced I'd be gone six months. I returned more than three years later. The best-laid plans...

You'll get lost? Really? You can't read a map or a guidebook? You can't ask for directions? Sorry to be harsh on this one but maybe you need new, less sexist friends.

You'll get sick? Of course you will. You would at home too. I had good medical insurance, embassy phone numbers and a basic language phrasebook. I got sick, but doctors in other countries go to medical school too. I was treated when I needed it. If it had been life-threatening, I had repatriation insurance and would have come home. 

You'll hate the food - and everything else? Sure, you'll dislike some things. You can't pay me enough to eat any type of manioc, for example, and insects are abolutely off-limits. But I don't love everything back home either. Do you? Chances are your discoveries will far outweigh your dislikes.

You'll run out of money? Not if you've planned properly and saved and budgeted. And lets face it, if you've gotten this far, you probably have a pretty good idea of how much you can spend. Last resort - you'll find some casual work (teaching English or anything else you might be qualified for). Last last resort: you'll come home.

I'M too old??  YOU'RE the squeamish fuddy duddy! I'm the one taking off on a worldwide adventure, remember? You're only as old as your actions and attitudes...

You'll end up hurt - or worse. Come now. Unless you travel to some of the world's most dangerous places, you'll be no more at risk than you would be in your own town. Crime exists everywhere. So do traffic accidents and crazy people. In fact, understanding the basics of safe travel may make you more aware of dangers than you would be back home. Nothing is ever totally safe, but there is a lot you can do to avoid crime on the road.

And let's face it: would you be peppered with all these questions if you were a guy??

Leaving home to see the world - sunset over the South China SeaI wouldn’t have seen this sunset over the South China Sea had I listened to everyone who warned me to stay home

Once you've told your friends, how should you react to their reactions?

Whatever anyone says about your solo travels, it is more a reflection on them than on you. You have choices about how you deal with their reactions:

  • You can ignore or get upset with people who are being negative.
  • You can try to bring them around to your way of thinking.
  • You can reassure them by giving them plenty of details about your trip. All your research will show just how serious you are.
  • You can simply accept that if people care about you, they'll worry. And just let it go.

I've tried each one of these tactics and each has worked, at different times, with different people.

Still, as human beings we seek positive reinforcement and we want to be supported in what we do.

The good news is that many people will be supportive. They will be excited for you, knowing you're following your dream, your path, giving in to your wanderlust, and simply living each day to the fullest.

Hold on to those good thoughts and remember those words. They will count when your thoughts wander back home.

Have you ever faced negative reactions to your travel plans?

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