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Staying in Touch: Why It’s Harder Than I Thought It Would Be

Posted By in Travel Musings | 31 comments

Staying in Touch: Why It’s Harder Than I Thought It Would Be

Our going away party over 2 years ago was one of those occasional pre-trip moments when I doubted our decision to leave Canada. As I looked at all of my friends, I faced an important aspect of my life that I might be giving up by going away for so long. We all had good intentions: We exchanged mailing addresses, created Skype accounts, and some friends even talked about coming to visit us. But how easy is it to stay in touch and maintain friendships when you’re traveling?

Skype Doesn’t Feel Like Getting Together

Not too long ago, we hosted a Couchsurfer who was in the middle of a round-the-world trip. As we talked about the challenges of being away from home for a long time, our Couchsurfer mentioned how invaluable Skype had been for staying in touch. She described Skype conversations as being almost as enjoyable as seeing her friends and family in person. She said that she chatted easily with her loved ones, and sometimes they would drink tea simultaneously, or even face their laptops towards the TV so that she could watch a movie with them.

skype during travel

I felt completely envious. My Skype conversations never feel this relaxed and natural.

Despite my best efforts, I feel like my Skype conversations always end up being lesser versions of the talks I used to have with my friends. There’s a key sense of comfort that’s missing – the comfort that comes from meeting at a neighbourhood coffee shop or a familiar home. Most of the time, we turn off the video in order to improve the call quality, so we’re not even able to see each other’s faces. The setting, the body language, and all the factors that normally create rapport are absent. It makes the physical distance between us feel even more pronounced.

I’m sure the time difference is part of the problem, but even still, arranging Skype dates always seems unreasonably difficult. When we do finally nail down a time, one or both of us almost always forgets or ends up being busy with something else. When we do eventually talk, it’s only for an hour or so, which doesn’t seem very significant after weeks of trying to arrange it. At home, we all had busy schedules, but somehow we always made time to get together regularly. Skype just isn’t the same as seeing each other in person, so I think we’re a little less motivated to make time in our lives for it.

travel and staying in touch with friends at home

Life is Hard to Summarize

Lately, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the reality that I’m no longer the first person that my friends contact when something big happens in their lives. I get it – if something significant happens, who would try to Skype me at 3am in Japan, when they could call another friend instead who lives 10 minutes away?

I’m not available to hear about the highs and lows of their everyday lives anymore.  By the time I hear about something, it’s drained of the emotion of the immediate moment, and I end up with the summary that a distant relative gets: “It was a really nice day. Everyone had a good time”; “It was a big decision, but I’m doing ok now”.

My descriptions of life in Japan feel similarly colourless. How do I sum up an entire month or more? The moments of my day-to-day experience never seem relevant. If I have a crappy day a work, for example, I might want to tell one of my friends about it at the time; but, by the time I do talk to that friend weeks later, I’ve already emotionally moved past the events of that bad day, and it doesn’t seem worth mentioning anymore. Or maybe something funny or interesting happens to me, but I forget about it before I get a chance to tell anyone.

long-term travel and staying in touch with home

When we saw each other every week or two, all the little details of our lives were fresh in our minds. When we don’t talk for a month, more has certainly happened, but it’s so much harder to fully share with one another.

Our Priorities Are Different

I used to get my hair cut once a month, own at least 10 pairs of shoes, and never leave the house without putting on make-up. Now, I let my hair grow long, most of my money goes towards travel, and I virtually eliminated my make-up routine after the second day in sweaty SE Asia. I used to go shopping, go out for martinis, and talk about relationships, movies and TV shows. Most of my friends are still enjoying this life; the kind of life that I enjoyed before I started traveling.

I definitely don’t think my priorities are better/more evolved than theirs, but they are undeniably different. Our long-term goals are very different too. They’re mostly focused on career, marriage, and generally growing-up, while I’m still trying to figure out where we’ll be living 6 months from now.

 We can still talk about all of it, but there’s less common ground than there once was.

 

My friendships are probably the one aspect of my life that traveling has diminished rather than grown. Is losing touch an unavoidable consequence of leaving home for so long, or am I just doing it wrong?

 

What are your strategies for staying in touch with friends at home when you’re living/traveling abroad?

 

31 Comments

  1. francaangloitalian September 11, 2013

    I use Skype a lot to stay in touch with my family, but I know what you mean about being not very personal. It doesn't help that I don't like being on the phone at all… I do like writing long emails to friends when I get the time to do so, I feel like I can write all about my experiences and feelings easily than talking to a computer.
    My recent post Travel As a Couple – What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

    • waysofwanderers September 12, 2013

      Same! I never really thought of it that way before, but the fact that I'm not a Skype-person probably has a lot to do with not being a phone-person either. I feel so much more comfortable talking with friends face-to-face, or even through a long email.

  2. memographer September 11, 2013

    Good article, Jess. I use Skype on a smartphone when I travel. If contacts are not online, I make phone calls through Skype… Once I forgot to credit money to Skype account before travel and was really screwed 🙂 Skype didn't want to process payment when I was in Latin America… I dont like long trips and love to stay in touch 🙂
    My recent post Photo Reportage from Gay Parade Prague Pride 2013

    • waysofwanderers September 12, 2013

      The phone option on Skype is definitely useful. Especially if the connection isn't so great, paying a little bit of money and calling the person's phone directly often works much better than regular Skype.

  3. Maria September 11, 2013

    At this point in my life I have more close friends that live elsewhere than I have that live in the same town so yes Skype either video, voice or IM works for me as well as the "old school" phone call. I don't have an issue staying in touch and keep in contact weekly with those who have the time to reciprocate. Cell reception is so good I've even gone on hikes with friends in Seattle when I was in TX.
    My recent post Wordless Wednesday – New Zealand

    • waysofwanderers September 12, 2013

      I love this! I feel like there's some secret to it that I'm missing.

  4. Angela September 12, 2013

    To be honest, in the year I was gone I only skyped with my mum once. In a way I was letting go of everything I had at home. Of course I missed my mum and family and friends, but I was living such a different life, I found it hard to connect with them. My mum kind of resents me for it, but I feel stronger because of it.
    My recent post Apple & Pear Crumble

    • waysofwanderers September 12, 2013

      It's sort of comes in waves for me – at first I talked with people from home a lot, then hardly at all for a while, and lately I've been trying to reach out again more. I respect that you're being genuine about it – if you don't feel motivated to keep in touch, then there's no point in doing it out of some sense of obligation.

  5. agnesstramp September 12, 2013

    I absolutely understand you. I struggle a lot these day (when I'm back in China) to keep in touch with my friends and family. 6h difference is just killing us. My Skype sucks as it keeps breaking up and I can't even have a proper chat with my mom. Disadvantages of being a world-wide traveler….

    • waysofwanderers September 12, 2013

      So true! I guess there are pros and cons to every lifestyle. There are a lot of things we get to enjoy as long-term travelers, but there are other things that we miss out on in the process.

  6. cubiclethrowdown September 12, 2013

    I've been living abroad for over a year now… I used to Skype a lot, but the internet is slow here and it eats my data like nothing else, so that's sort of faded away. It's a bummer to say, but my friends and family see what I'm up to via Facebook and my blog, and not much changes at home anyway. I recently visited after a year away and there were some new babies and new husbands, but everything else was pretty much the same. I'm just less involved in the small trivial things now. We're on such different paths, the small things aren't really relevant anymore anyway!
    My recent post Roatan Month 13 Roundup

    • waysofwanderers September 12, 2013

      I have this problem in which a lot of my friends keep up with what I'm doing through this blog, but I don't get the same insight into their lives.

  7. ifs ands & butts September 12, 2013

    I spend WAY too much time on gchat. If I do a Skype call, it's so scheduled and it's like ok where's my list of things I'm supposed to tell you. Sure, gchat is impersonal, but I still feel really close to all the people I talk to on there and it's more frequent, which I find important.

  8. foreignsanctuary September 13, 2013

    I totally understand what you are saying. I find though that some friendships have drifted away but many are still as strong as ever. I have several friends whom I can talk to for 2 or 3 hours. We usually see each other online via facebook and then have a good old chat face to face on Skype. However, I do feel more connected with my friends who have traveled extensively or who have a sense for adventure. And although our lives are different, I think it is awesome that we can still share our daily happenings with each other. Some friendships are just meant to stand the test of time and distance.
    My recent post Tiger Lilies Galore: 60 Stone Mountain, Taiwan

    • waysofwanderers September 14, 2013

      Very true. I also think I have certain friends who I may not talk with as much when I'm traveling, but our friendship is strong enough that if I ever do move back to Canada we'd just pick up where we left off.

  9. nicole September 16, 2013

    I think it's just the friend. It depends on the relationship you had before because that may mean it will be a certain way now. My husband and I travel alot. People used to be so interested in where we're going. Now, we do it so often that people don't really ask, except to make polite conversation. It's fine, though.

    • waysofwanderers September 16, 2013

      True – and again, it can be hard to summarize. If you've been traveling a lot, there are only so many details you can remember.

  10. Amy September 17, 2013

    I definitely agree that it's hard to keep in touch with friends from back home in a significant way; I find having such a different lifestyle to people back home alienates me a bit and people find it hard to identify with what I'm doing. Lately we've had a few visits in Thailand from friends and family and we had a brilliant time together though; it was great to catch up in person and share a taste of our travelling lifestyle – now those people understand a bit more what our new lives are actually like.
    My recent post Falling for the Philippines

    • waysofwanderers September 17, 2013

      Very cool! I can imagine that it's easier to describe your experiences to your friends after they've seen first-hand what your lives are like – it would definitely make it easier to relate.

  11. tammyonthemove September 17, 2013

    I find it really hard to have skype conversations too. Whenever I am being asked what's new I start panicking as I can't possibly tell my friends all of the different things I have experienced since we last spoke. I also find that they are not really interested in it either. They asked out of politeness, but most don't understand my lifestyle and would rather tell me about their babys. So, you are not alone Jess!
    My recent post Capture the colour competition 2013

    • waysofwanderers September 18, 2013

      I'm glad it's not just me! I'd honestly rather hear about their lives anyway – I think most of my friends read this blog, so they kind of know what's going on with me, whereas I have no idea what's going on with them!

  12. Heather September 25, 2013

    I've faced these same struggles. My best friend doesn't have a computer at home (I know!) so Skyping with her wasn't even a possibility. Setting up dates with my other friends was always a challenge, especially with the 12-hour time difference. Family was easier as we had a standing date on the weekend. Even if we didn't have much to say our parents just liked hearing our voices. Facebook has honestly been a better tool for me as I can message with people when I see them online or shoot off some comments about a shared favorite TV show I just watched on Hulu. It's great being able to text with people in real time now that I'm back in the States!
    My recent post Shanghai Aquarium: An Underwater Adventure

    • waysofwanderers September 25, 2013

      I'd be interested to hear about what it's like returning back home. Did you just pick up where you left off with your old friends? Or does it feel different than before you left?

  13. Chris & Angela September 29, 2013

    Great post! This really hits home on what it's like to live overseas while still trying to maintain a relationship with friends and family back home. We don't think enough people talk about it! This is a great overview of what fellow travelers go through, but it is also good to read if you are the friend or family NOT doing the traveling, just so you get the better understand the other side of the coin.

    We think the most difficult thing about maintaining relationships while traveling is your third point – how priorities change. You have friends because you share similar interests and experiences. If those friends are back home living the "old life", it is very hard to connect with them because after awhile, your own interests and priorities do change. However, we are happy to say there is a growing community of others who share a passion for blogging and traveling, nd we have been lucky to make new friendships.

    My recent post Thailand Budget Mistakes

    • waysofwanderers September 30, 2013

      Glad you enjoyed the post! It's definitely interesting to see which friendships were simply based on shared interests, jobs etc., and which ones are strong enough to survive even when our lives are completely different.

  14. Corlie October 12, 2013

    I have the same experience, we’ve been in China 3years now and I feel like I ‘lost’ most of my friends. It’s by far the most difficult aspect of living abroad…

  15. OCDemon December 10, 2013

    Different priorities can be huge. What's also annoying is that since most travel junkies are in the minority at home, they're surrounded by "normal" people, so they're highly aware of the differences between the two. But since "normal" people are surrounded by other normal people, and travelers leave all the time anyway, "normal" people seem to have no idea that their perspectives are subjective, instead of objectively standard. I told someone the other day that a certain house was way too big for the 2 or 3 people who lived there (partly because it was, you know, a HOUSE), but the response was "you think so?" Sometimes there's just no way to communicate differences in priorities.

    • waysofwanderers December 10, 2013

      So true! Lately I'm used to mostly seeing other travelers, so our lifestyle doesn't seem all the strange; but we're going to be spending a few months back in Canada next year, and I think it will be really weird to go back to having conversations that don't start with "so where are you from?"

  16. usaabroad February 21, 2014

    I have been feeling this way recently and you have so wonderfully summed it up! I went home recently and really felt the difference in my life compared to my friends. The connection is still there as I hoped it would be, but our lives are so different now. I find keeping in touch via skype very hard with friends. It's mostly emails and whatsapp which of course are never as good as being in person. I suppose its just a sacrifice of choosing to move abroad/travel long term. The pros usually outway the cons in the end!

    • waysofwanderers February 21, 2014

      It's true. Plus, sometimes it's hard to say how much of it is because of being away, and how much is due to no longer having the major common interest of being in university together anymore.

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