For those of you who have traveled for extensive periods of time I am sure you have heard your fair share of “Oh you are going to have the most amazing time! I am so jealous! You are so courageous to be doing this all by yourself! I wish I had traveled like this when I was your age!” and to be honest, I’ve said some of these phrases more than once myself. Its just what you do, right?
When someone mentions they are moving abroad you ask where they are going, you ask if they are nervous, you mention something about how cool they are, and then you express your envy and jealousy about either where they are going or what kind of person they are. That is just how polite conversations work. Its not really socially acceptable to say “oh my god aren’t you afraid that you will miss your connecting flight, get ripped off by a taxi driver who doesn’t speak your native language, get mugged on the street since you will stick out like the tourist-traveling-solo you are while taking pictures alternately with your iPhone and camera?!” Even if that is what you are thinking.
So instead of freaking out at someone and pointing out all the things that they could worry about, you attempt to build them up–assure them that everything will be perfect, all rainbows and butterflies and life changing. Which, as a traveler, you really hope it will be, but at the same time, one person assuring you of this shining success gets added to another person–and then five more, and ten more after that. Soon you are surrounded by dozens of people who have told you it is going to be amazing and that they are jealous of what you are about to do–leaving the traveler with the pressure to try to live up to a life that is envy-worthy. And while I am happy that my friends and family (and to be quite honest, complete strangers) are all seemingly “on my side” and rooting for my success, that actually adds an incredible amount of pressure to be successful.
I logically know that the experiences I have had are amazing and things that other people could easily be jealous of–and if I knew someone with similar experiences I too would be jealous. But I also know very well from my previous travel experiences that moving abroad or traveling for longer than a one month period is very different from a one or two week vacation.
I know that I will need to pace myself, that my adjustment period might last as long as two months, that I will need to be okay with taking days where I do nothing other than stay in binging on Netflix while I do my laundry and wash dishes. When I get to my apartment and start my program I will need to get things taken care of like buying dish towels and getting French insurance and taking a French placement test. There will be highs and lows, there will be new experiences filled with excitement and there will be loneliness. That is how life works–and often it looks similar to what you do at home, even if you are in another country.
So it can be hard, knowing all of this, to not be influenced by the socially acceptable words of “it will be so amazing/life changing/exciting.” Because while I desperately am hoping that it will be all of these things, I also need to prepare myself to be strong when there are waves of exhaustion, loneliness and mundane activities. I am looking forward to this so-called experience of a lifetime, but I am also trying to pace myself and not get too far ahead of myself as to try to experience fewer let downs if things take longer to settle into place than I might imagine now.
I am writing this partially in preparation for my travels and to process the pressures that may have started from an external source but are entirely my own making, but also to say if you are reading this and if you know someone making the jump and living abroad, try to say things like “I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!” or “you should give me your address and we should exchange postcards!” instead of blanket assurances of everything being wonderful or questions about if they are done packing (because I assure you, they aren’t going to be done packing until they leave for the airport). To me, at least, these kinds of responses allow more wiggle room for there to be both positive and negatives in the future, and allow an opening for a connection and support down the road whether the traveler needs someone to vent to about a troubling time or can’t wait to gush about something awesome that happened.
So here I am. Six days from leaving for France. About 60% packed and 70% mentally ready to go. And hoping that before I leave I get to hear from all my friends and family one last time–and hoping that when I do, they give me the wiggle room to have whatever kind of experience I have, and that they will be there for me throughout the process.