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.