Don’t take it personally. You love your friends and they love you back. More importantly, it’s not only your stories I’m talking about here. Thousands of travelers who have freshly returned from a multi-month eye-opening trip face the same problem. Sure, your friends back home say they want to hear all of your stories, but would they still be interested if you tell them literally everything you have experienced?
My motive for writing this article is my own observation and that of other experienced travelers. People go traveling for diverse and personal reasons, and often encounter life-changing experiences while doing so. Upon returning to their home town, they try to fill in their friends on all the new insights they gained and the emotions they felt during these events. Here are 5 reasons why there is a gap between what those returning travelers want to communicate and what their friends/colleagues/family expect to hear from them.
1. Pictures never convey the same feeling you had when you took them
2. Almost all your stories will end in ‘you had to be there’
Sure, you’ll get a smile and an ‘aaah’ out of your audience when you show them a picture of you holding a three toed sloth which you found after a 7 day wild goose chase in the Costa Rican jungle. But try describing how you felt while hitchhiking with a local family to a remote tropical forest, how you felt the sense of adventure when you went off the set trail to go where nobody had gone before or how you felt a deeply spiritual connection with the sloth you were holding in your arms. Some things simply can’t be described properly using words. Even the most exuberant storytelling can’t cut it: You just had to be there.
3. You start viewing the world differently than your friends
Imagine this: you have just spent 16 hours alone in an overnight bus without proper meals, hogging only a couple of shabby cookies you brought along. Nobody around you speaks English and it is unclear when you will arrive at your destination. It is at this moment that some things cease to be important. “How do I look?” isn’t a common question after having spent 12.5 hours in a badly ventilated bus sitting next to a sweaty farmer. It is more likely that your ego shrinks to about the size of a walnut. Does anyone around you really care about your looks? Good chance they don’t. Good chance also that you stop caring too (at least for a while).
Another curious case is materialism. After you have spent 6 months living pretty comfortably from a single backpack you might ask yourself: Do I really need all the stuff that has been sitting in my storage room for the last year?
The point I’m trying to make here is that your friends might not have had all the same mind-altering experiences you had and might therefore find other things important in life. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it might create some disruption when you are trying to explain in detail how amazing the first warm shower was after having spent a week in the Amazonian jungle.
4. Your friends don’t have endless time to spare and the attention span of a 3 year old.
If you ask your friends what they have been up to lately, good chance they will tell you they have been “busy”. They had to face the scrutiny of an office job, had to sustain personal relationships or had to deal with the daily ins-and-outs of their family. Of course they would be delighted to hear all about your travel stories too, but they simply won’t have more than an hour or two to spare. If you’re lucky you will have their ear for an evening. Attention span is another issue these days. Modern technology, especially the invention of push notifications, has made it practically impossible to listen to a story for more than 3 minutes without feeling the leg-piercing vibration of a tweet, facebook update or text message. Playing “the phone stack game”, where people have to stack up their phones face down and aren’t allowed to touch them until after the meeting, could work for a bit. However, don’t be surprised if your friends start showing withdrawal symptoms.
5. There is far too much to show and tell
You just came back from your 6 month backpack trip where you have visited 7 different countries and 20 different cities. You have jam-packed your days with all the local sights and to-do’s and didn’t forget a single time to bring your camera. Assuming that you didn’t bring your laptop, there wasn’t any (good) way for you to sort your pictures and videos on the road. Heck, you might have even forgotten to immediately delete the blurry pictures on your camera. That leaves you with an overweight collection of 10.000 hi-res photos merely sorted by date. Please don’t torture your friends by making them sit through a session where you attempt to give them a quick overview of your best pictures on the fly; 3 hours later you will find yourself still explaining the story of a very cute stray dog that you’ve met on the second day of your trip.
You have said nothing but the truth. If your friends want to see pictures, professionals have done a much better job than you with your iPhone. If they want to hear stories, television networks and film production companies do a much better job than your IMovie. Enjoy your travel and grow. But let people enjoy the “new you” without torturing them with the details of the how.
Hear, hear! 🙂
My little brother has been traveling since he was a teenager and loves talking about his trips and experiences which I in return have always loved hearing about. I have always loved asking him questions and hearing about his trips. My husband and I went on our first big trip abroad to Morocco and Europe a few months ago and we are in our mid 30s. When I returned he did not ask me one question about our trip and in fact seemed to become highly annoyed when I decided to tell him a story about my adventures. I found… Read more »
Great article. I am currently in the middle of my first multi month overseas trip and was curious to see opnions on this topic. I feel uncomfortable sharing all my exploits on social media as it just feels like “gloating” to me. Being here to see it myself is more than enough.
Hi Slylen, Thanks! Yeah I feel the same, I don’t really have the urge to share my whereabouts on social media any more… I focus my attention on writing in-depth articles, which to me seems a bit more rewarding in the long term 🙂 One thing I noticed is that the photos I take during my trip are the most valuable thing I own. If I’m back home and feeling a bit meh, looking at travel photos always puts a smile on my face 🙂 I guess it will get more and more important once you get older, as pictures… Read more »
I have just had the same experience. It’s not everyone that doesn’t want to hear, just those that either don’t relate or are not interested in travelling. Equally I am bored by the petty local news that these people are interested in. I think that jealousy can play a part too. Friends who have traveled seem to be the most interested.
Haha I agree 🙂 I guess everyone is different and we should respect that… But I agree it’s most fun to talk to other travellers about your travels.
Some of us can never afford to travel-nor have we ever been able to. So it makes me sad and I do not care to hear about places I can never go. I raised two children alone without any financial help. I agree with you to share your stories with fellow travelers.
Hi, Victor, I related to your post, but I noticed you didn’t give any type of solution to what to do when you don’t have anyone to share your experiences with. I just got back from hiking the Inca Trail and am now visiting my sister who has shown very little interest in what I’ve experienced! Do things like this minimize your experiences? If nobody cares except you, do your experiences still mean just as much? I journal which seems to help.
Does this make sense?
Hi Kevin, You’re totally right 🙂 I think keeping a journey is a great way to share the experiences! It’s also part of the reason I started this blog 😉 In the end, I think you yourself will benefit most from the experiences you had on your travels. If you take enough pictures and perhaps keep a journal or blog, you can re-visit your experience at any time! Some other tips: Host some Couchsurfers in your home, this way you’ll meet interesting people you can exchange travel experiences with Go traveling again! Also, of course, a great way to meet… Read more »
You should have these experiences for yourself, your own enrichment, and not expect others to validate you. That’s the problem with social media. People get in the habit of thinking if they don’t get a bunch of likes, their life isn’t worthwhile. Studies have been shown that 3/4 of humans don’t enjoy hearing about other people travels. It’s not jealousy, it’s just the same as hearing about someone’s dreams.