When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (a 6-month-long journey), people were shocked to learn that I had a boyfriend back home. No, not just because I had unshaved legs and matted hair. They were in disbelief that he let me go.
At first, I thought they meant because he was so concerned about my safety. But usually, the statement had more to do with security, trust, and a fear of the unknown.
The more I’ve traveled, the more this topic has surfaced again and again. During a recent trip to Southeast Asia, I met travelers from all over who had stories of tension in relationships after expressing a desire to see the world. We’re not talking long-term travel in most cases, either. I talked with one guy who wanted to take a week-long solo trip to Europe, but his girlfriend didn’t approve of him staying in hostels with other females.
I’m in Facebook groups where women voice all the time that they have been discouraged by their partners to travel. They are pressured by warnings like, “You’re too naïve, men will try to take advantage of you.” They are made to feel guilty, “You obviously don’t love me, or you wouldn’t be able to be apart from me.”
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Of course, this dynamic isn’t reserved just for dating or marriage relationships. I would hear time and time again of parents, children, bosses, co-workers or so-called “close friends” being completely unsupportive. They would say things like, “You have your head in the clouds,” and throw out words such as “selfish” and “unrealistic.”
The worst of all are the fear-mongers who insist, “Something bad will happen to you if you go.”
If you’re reading this, please don’t be that unsupportive person.
If someone you care about wants to pack their bags, here are some ways you can be supportive:
1. Understand that it’s short-term
In the grand scheme of things, even a month-long solo trip isn’t that much time. Keep in mind, though, that most people are only shooting for a weekend or a week.
If you’re in a relationship with someone whom you plan to spend the rest of your life with, don’t you think you could spare some time if it meant they could pursue a dream of theirs? It may sound harsh, but in many cases, they may have had a country or a trip on their bucket list even before they met you.
When they return, unquestionably more well-rounded and fulfilled, you can plan your next trip together!
Related: 5 Ways Solo Travel Will Change You
2. Do your research
Like all good parents, my mom and dad were worried sick when I informed them of my dream to backpack solo through Southeast Asia. Truth be told, they didn’t know much about Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia at all. They just envisioned every dangerous scenario they had seen in a movie or on the news.
After they watched Youtube videos of travelers my age and read a little more, they realized it wasn’t as isolated as they thought, which made them feel a lot better. They were both shocked and comforted by the fact that there were small familiarities like 7-Elevens, Starbuck’s, cover bands performing pop songs, and English translations pretty much everywhere.
After seeing just a few of the pictures I posted during my trip there, even they were wishing they could join me for the Songkran festival in Thailand or for a delicious Banh Mi in Vietnam.
Remember that in the U.S., we rarely see world news that is positive. Do a little research about the country that your loved one wants to visit. I’m positive that in most cases, you’ll find more good than bad. You may even find yourself curious and itching to hit the road. You’ll most likely be surprised to discover how safe traveling is and what the backpacking community is actually like.
3. Follow their journey on a map
My parents followed my progress on a map when I hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I saw a friend’s boss and coworkers track his journey while he was abroad as well.
He ventured to Central America on sabbatical, and they bought a huge map to hang in the office, cut out a picture of him and moved his image along to wherever he was when he checked in. This is an amazing, educational, and fun way to show your support.
4. Avoid adding to the stress
Travel is not all rainbows and butterflies, and any traveler, especially a solo traveler, will tell you that. There is sure to be some level of anxiety and uncertainty when planning the first trip, no matter how laid back the person is. Constantly reminding that person of danger or trying to micro-manage their plans will not help.
Instead of playing the devil’s advocate, be supportive. Ask what you can do to make things easier. Have faith that they can handle this, and remind them of that. There may be times before their trip that they’re on edge. Making a dream into a reality can be incredibly overwhelming. What they need is your support, not your negativity.
Once they get to wherever they’re going, trust that they’ll be in touch with you when they can be. Wi-Fi is very prevalent these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s accessible absolutely everywhere. Sometimes, that person may simply want to be in the moment. I promise, they’ll be thinking of you, too. Try not to add stress by pressuring them to call more.
5. Get involved in the prep work
There are many ways to help with preparations. As I mentioned earlier, researching their destination shows that you’re supportive. Offer to learn about the customs and help them practice the language. Send them articles you stumble across with useful information, and be proud when you tell others about their plans.
Help them purchase gear or necessary supplies for their trip. Surprise them with a guidebook, a battery pack, or a universal adapter. Heck, even ear plugs or travel toilet paper get the point across that you care! Go to the travel toiletries section at Target if you have no idea where to start.
6. Don’t take solo travel personally
If you have a loved one whose dream is to go on a solo trip, they’ve probably invested their whole heart in this endeavor. Think twice before trying to convince them to wait or to go to a different destination that perhaps you are more interested in. This simply isn’t about you.
Besides, it may not be possible for you to travel with them. Perhaps you have obligations at work, don’t like flying, or simply have no desire to explore the culture that they want so badly to experience. Be sensitive to the notion that it doesn’t mean as much to you as it does to them. Also, consider that they could be searching for the type of personal growth that only comes from solo travel. Don’t take offense if they want to do this one alone.
The best thing you can do in this situation is choose to show up and stay positive. Choose to be supportive of the person you love.
Trust me, it will mean the world to them.