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.
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.
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.
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?