Long term travelling: How to deal with worried parents

Long term travelling: How to deal with worried parents

How to deal with worried parents when travelling solo
One of my favourite motivational quotes is “don’t let other people’s fears scare you.” Which applies to life in general but is particularly relevant if you are a girl travelling solo. I am an only child with anxiety issues creeping down the family line. Having anxiety problems of my own, it is fundamental not to absorb other people’s fears as well. If I’d done so, I wouldn’t probably have picked up professional running, lived abroad for so long, travelled to developing countries, crossed the Australian desert on a 4wd or drove a motorbike through Asia (or actually drove a motorbike at all). Considering that those are the life experiences that defined the person that I am today, it tells a lot about taking the responsibility of your choices as an adult.

“Don’t let other people’s fears scare you”

Nonetheless, I love my parents and I hate that my lifestyle scares them sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, after the initial panic attack they tend to support my bold plans no matter what (or at least they fake it until they make it.) But their confidence and support didn’t just arise overnight. They required years and years of baby steps in testing confidence, boundaries and trust. Having learned quite a while in the process, here are my strategies to deal with worried parents and answer their most asked questions.

Be prepared to answer to the “why?” question

The “why?” question is key. Why do you want to travel solo? Why do you think this can be an important learning experience? How can this be an opportunity career or life wise? Why now? Everyone has a different set of answers, making it clear will show your parents that this is a pondered choice and not just a passing whim.

Debunk the danger argument

Travelling as a solo woman can be dangerous. This is undeniably true but, unfortunately, it applies to life in general. The “danger argument” cannot be an excuse not to do things. On the contrary, it is an encouragement to take our safety seriously: we will be the only one responsible for it! And again, isn’t it like that all the time? In my thirty-years-long experience as a lady, I learned how to be mindful of my surroundings; how to dress appropriately; how to be nice but defiant at the same time; how to determine if its ok to walk alone somewhere or not; if its safe to drink alcohol with new friends or not. But most of all, I learned to trust my guts. Bad things can happen just outside of our doormat as well as abroad: it’s always a matter calculated risk and chance.

Explain the difference between travelling solo and being alone

Remind them that sometimes it is good to do things on your own! It’s good to be free to choose what to do without compromises; to learn how to solve problems by yourself; to rely on your gut feeling; to explore at your own pace. And to meet new people. Ironically, the thing that I love the most about solo travelling is meeting new people! When outside of the comfort zone of a friends’ group or the company of a significant other, it is much easier to socialize with other people. Teaming up with other travellers and locals along the journey is a way to really get in touch with people with different cultures and views. Explain how travelling solo can be such a huge learning opportunity!

How to deal with worried parents when travelling solo

Redefine the career-housing-kids expectations

When are you going to buy a house?

You need a house, everyone needs one

What about kids? You know, you’re getting close to thirty

Well, all of this is really personal but, from my point of view, when people ask this set of questions they usually forgot to ask another first “do you want to buy a house? Do you want to have kids?” Some people don’t realize the answer can actually be “no” or “not now.” Me, I don’t want to buy a house. And not because of a millennial-peter-pan-syndrome. Because I don’t believe housing is a good investment considering my lifestyle and the particular age we live in. Moreover, I don’t usually ask people how they like to invest their savings, why should they discuss mine? And then kids. Kids will come when mommy will find a proper dad for them and will feel like responsible and willing enough to take care of them! Or maybe some of us don’t even want kids at all. Seriously, this world is far too much overpopulated to worry about millennials postponing parenthood.

Reframe political instability

Political stability may vary depending on destinations but, generally speaking, travellers won’t usually be affected by the political situation of a country. Unless you’re travelling to a war zone, which probably isn’t the case. A wise man of my family once told me two golden rules of not-messing-up in a foreign country: no whores – no drugs. Until now, sticking to them as always kept me out of trouble, even in the most unstable countries I’ve visited. Usually acting like a decent person is enough to stay out of trouble. Abroad and at home.

Address the job issue

Every long-term traveller must have a money strategy figured out before leaving. Are you going to go freelance? Have you saved enough money to keep you going for a while? Are you planning to do casual jobs abroad? Whatever your strategy is, you can be sure that your parents will investigate it thoroughly. Nowadays, the job market is extremely liquid. Work contracts are time-limited. Freelancing is on a constant rise. Every experience is different, but leaving a stable income job for a period of travel doesn’t automatically mean never-ending bankruptcy. Careers evolve and I don’t believe that one should ever be defined by its job title. These things are temporary. Life is long and there will be other jobs. And I can promise you that the skills and the resiliency that you acquire when solo travelling can be extremely spendable in the job market. Maybe we won’t ever have retirement benefits, but I’m pretty sure that 9-to-5ers won’t have them either.

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

becoming digital nomad

On a frisky morning of 2009, around this time of the year, I was standing alone in a half empty airport, holding a one-way ticket to Paris. I was moving out of my hometown and of my parents’ place, on my way to my Erasmus semester. It was the first time I ever travelled alone. I was overwhelmed by a mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear. It was supposed to be a short Parisian get away from my otherwise fully Italian education and future, but life had different plans for me. On that frisky morning of 2009, little did I know that I’d never really come back to my parents’ hometown if not for short layovers. That I would have continued my studies in France to then relocate again and again going through 11 houses, 21 jobs and 8 Countries in a little less than ten years. But most of all, I didn’t know that I would get hooked to that one-way ticket feeling for life.

A primal crave for drastic change,
for bigger challenges,
for pressing reboot

 

I’ve seen the same hunger in backpackers and expats, fortune seekers and off the grid hippies, van-lifers of all ages and citizens of the world I met on the road. “There is not only one way” they said “we built our own”.

I’m not sure where this hunger comes from. My family isn’t really of the explorers’ kind. It might have stared on that very frisky morning of 2009, while I was standing at the airport alone for the first time. Or four years later, while I was crossing a much bigger airport clutching a one-way ticket for Australia in one hand and my then boyfriend’s in the other. He used to say that I’m a travel-bulimic: always craving for more until it gets too much. I know he’s right, but that’s the best way I know for growing as a human being. Moving, changing, binging on experiences, stories, faces and life in general.

becoming digital nomad

Back home though, some said that it was just a matter of struggling with commitment. Usually these people are those who can’t conceive a different lifestyle from their own. “Ok, you went traveling, but now you’re back and it is time to adjust to real life.” I never got this thing of real life. I fear that many people use “real” because they’re ashamed of using less flattering adjectives. As I see it, for someone with my education, real life usually means spending most of the day at work staring at a computer screen, to then go out and squeeze whatever is left of your life into a 2-3 hours’ window before passing out in bed. Moreover, life in big cities is expensive AF and working ten hours a day barely gets you by. But hey, you got to save some cash to buy yourself a decent car and maybe one day open a mortgage for a nice small house in the suburbs. And don’t be such a fool to believe that someone is going to pay you back when you’ll be retired, so you better start saving for that as well.

becoming digital nomad

Despite all of that freaked me out, I tried. I really, really tried. In 2015, after coming back from almost two years of work-and-travel, I pushed myself in the 9-to-7, steady income, subscription at the gym and to the phone company lifestyle. Of course the cracks were plainly visible from day one, but I tried to push through. Despite I always worked as a freelancer, I still struggled with the amount of time I spent in an office. I cried almost every given morning when crossing Milan on my way to work. Anxiety and numbness came in waves and I never really got to love (or even like for that matter) the city. But hey, you got to adjust to real life sooner or later right? Especially if you’re almost thirty! I got to the point where sometimes I stayed late in the office kinda-working just because I had nothing else to do outside that interested me. All of my friends were still working anyway. That actually scared me out for real. So I cracked. As I always knew I would.

becoming digital nomad

On 2017 new year’s eve I was sitting around a bonfire on a small island of the Philippines with a mixed bunch of people I met just days before. Each and every one of us was in their twenties going thirty and struggling with the rat race. Some of them just jumped out of it, the others were figuring out strategies. That’s when I decided that I would give myself another year to understand if the real life really wasn’t for me, to give love the chance to make up for all the rest, or to find the courage to really go freelancing outside of my comfort zone, to travel extensively alone and to face for another time that mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear that only a one-way ticket can give you.

becoming digital nomad

I spent the year asking myself what it would be like to do that alone, with no boyfriend on my side. This required a lot of peace-making with my infinite traveling-couple souvenirs and to find the courage to take the leap as a solo woman and becoming digital nomad. Strangely enough (or maybe not) I didn’t really meet any real life advocate anymore, instead I kept meeting free women from all over the world that did choose to jump on that train made of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear and were happy with it. Top level marketers that travelled the world and became surf teachers. Airways hostess that quit to surf full time and freelance under a palm tree. I reconnected with girlfriends of mine that have called at least half of European countries their home or explored the world on their own since they were nineteen. And then I talked to my beloved mum, my all-time role model and biggest supporter. A woman that considers even a short day trip outside of her hometown a tiring chore. She said “I’m scared off my mind, but go girl. Go and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you’re a woman. You want to be an explorer? So just be it.”

So let be it.

becoming digital nomad
On splitting up, fear, and solo travelling as a woman

On splitting up, fear, and solo travelling as a woman

woman solo traveller

I often make this metaphor: for me splitting with my long-time partner has been like losing a leg. Suddenly I stumbled at every step. Loosing him didn’t just meant to lose the man I loved, the engine of my adventurous life and the closest person I had, but it also meant losing his family, which I considered as close as my kin, our loving dog and the future that I thought was expecting me. I was heartbroken and terrified, but the leg was gone anyway, and I had to relearn how to walk, even if crippled.

Splitting was like losing a leg,
I had to relearn how to walk,
even if crippled

 

Truth is, you never know how much you depend on a person until they’re gone. I always considered myself an independent girl and a badass traveller. But when he was gone, I realised that he was the badass traveller and I was mostly following him. He was always the one to push me further into adventures. It was his idea to cross the Australian desert on a 4WD, or to travel three months through Asia overland. It was him that convinced me to trek in the middle of the jungle to meet local tribes in Burma, or to ride motorbikes for days across Indonesia. He was the one who teach me how to surf and encouraged me to dive. All the coolest things I ever done, I did because of him.
When I realized that, I was struck with fear. How will I keep doing things I love if he’s not there to hold my hand, play it cool and fix problems?

 

I always considered myself a bad ass traveller.
But when he was gone,
I realised I was mostly following him

 

woman solo traveller

Well, instead of not doing things because I was scared, I chose to learn from our years together and to become the brave one. I made it a point to choose adventure, to travel alone and to play it cool when shit happens (like when I was stranded by a typhoon in the Philippines on my way back home, without electricity nor internet and a blocked credit card).

 

I choose to learn from our path
and to became the brave one

 

I went for my first solo trip, and then for another. It was something that I always wanted to do but I never found the courage for. I chose a destination that I always wanted to visit but never had because he didn’t like it, and just went. I spent 10 days hiking on Norway fjords, meeting wonderful people. It was great. I then took a second solo trip, this time lifting the bar higher. I went to bustling Philippines, a place that I also always wanted to visit but that was definitely out of my comfort zone as a woman solo traveller, and it turned out to be the best holiday ever.

Fun fact: when me and my partner split ways, we took very different life paths. Now I’m the one who’s doing adventurous stuff and kept travelling, and he’s the one working day and night! Isn’t that ironic!?

 

woman solo traveller

It took me quite a while to untangle all the things that loss and failure teach me, and I’m still in the process. That’s why I feel a bit overwhelmed when people underestimate my separation, or that took theirs in a lighter way. Of course It’s impossible to generalize, but I think that it’s how you react to situations and how you choose to deal with your feelings that makes a huge difference. You can choose to avoid pain and walk away as quickly as you can. Or you can choose to start from desperation and to grow from it.

It is the journey that you make
to get back on your feet
that changes you.
Make it count.