I used to be called the boss lady with a suitcase by my family when I was little. That was just because I would always be at some relative’s house carrying a blue trolley (and yeah, I also was a little bossy). I don’t think they thought that a few years later I would be going on a 16 months trip to the other side of the world.
That, they weren’t happy with. However, having to leave your home with not only all the fears associated with taking a long trip but also with the awareness that your family might not be totally supporting you, is not easy. I believe the key to serene traveling is to connect your world with your parents’. And maybe buy a flight out for them to come to meet you. In Bali, say.
Italians are famous for being loud, friendly, and hungry people, not so much for being travelers. The last two notorious ones were probably Marco Polo and Amerigo Vespucci and that was about 800 years ago. That is because we love comfort, routine, and most of all, mum’s food. So we never leave. The old tradition of the school-university-work-marriage-kids-retirement loop is extremely rooted in the countryside’s culture. So much that last year a couple from my area went to Australia for a summer trip, and their holiday made it to the first page of the local newspaper.
That is a very scary scenario to have in front of you when you are about to break to your parents that you’ll be traveling for over a year. Obviously, not all of Italy is the same, and not all people are the same: larger cities such as Milan or Rome are cosmopolitan enough to have their fair share of travelers. However, Italians mostly move to other countries due to job offers or promotions.
“Paese che vai, usanze che trovi” (or “different countries, different customs”)
Admittedly, as a traveler, there are easier countries to thrive in. The number of Millennials abroad has increased by 50% since 2014, and the concept of a gap year has widely spread across U.S., Germany, Holland, and England. So much that the exception is constituted by the ones that don’t go traveling. Italy presents a different scenario. The concept of traveling for the experience of it is completely unknown and therefore incredibly difficult to communicate.
Don’t get me wrong, my family is not that traditional: we are vegan and Buddhist, and I lived in England for over 5 years. However, it is still difficult for them to understand. My grandmother still asks if I eat snakes in Malaysia, she says I should go back because spaghetti is better…My story started in Italy but, while traveling, I heard similar experiences from various backpackers coming from many other countries. So I thought I’d offer a few tips on what made me feel more serene while away.
Firstly, breaking the news. That is often the most difficult part and it is easy to get wrong. I used the trick of setting the scene months before the flight out. I started talking about some people I knew that had gone traveling, and how I would have liked to do something similar. Instagram helps in these cases. You can show them what traveling actually is, so they can start creating an idea of what you will realistically be up to. Hopefully, that is a different one from the deadly expedition scenario they had in their head beforehand.
You are not trying to escape! Make sure that this is clear. I believe there is some rooted fear in our parents that makes them think that by going traveling we are trying to escape some source of unhappiness. It is plausible and sometimes this is the case. For whatever reason you are going traveling, make sure you are creating a positive scenario rather than a negative one. My parents suggested I could change job, haircut, and boyfriend before realizing that I was perfectly happy. And still willing to go traveling.
Remember, they are needy half of the time and worried about the other half. Speak to them often to keep them updated on where you are, who you are with, and how beautiful the place you are in is. They will love it and will want to know more. With time it becomes natural to have shorter chats but more often. Like if you were at home. I often call my mum just to ask her opinion on food or a dress I’d like to buy and they are the happiest conversations.
Use your tech right. If you missed a planned call and you are now in the middle of the jungle with no WiFi (of course), they will probably think you are dead. That is a parental obvious reaction. Polarsteps has been a game-changer in my case: I sent the link of my itinerary to my dad and he can now check pretty much my live location at any minute. That makes him happy…
Communicate the purpose of your travels. My family would be happy to know that I went to Mars, but only if I have a clear reason for being there (maybe this just relates to me..). They won’t take the “just traveling”. So I took part in a few volunteering projects and initiatives (It feels good to do something amazing for the environment either way). And don’t forget to show off your PADI Open Water license, when you get it!
Tell the truth. If you don’t have an answer to the when are you coming home question (like me), then don’t try and answer it. Be honest about it. While on the road plans change continuously, as the return date does. You might meet amazing people, spend 3 months in one country, and having to extend your travels. Or you might get a late reply for that dream job offer and have to fly straight home.
Understanding their point of view does make a difference. Remember that we are trying to make two very different worlds meet here. If you are not able to understand where they come from, there is little chance they will be happy with you going traveling.
Firstly keep in mind that it would have been rare in their time to have this opportunity. The concept of gap year only came about around the 1960s, with the baby boomer generation. It quickly spread through the U.S and U.K during the 1970s, and seemingly never reached Italy. My parents, like many others, worked hard during their early years to guarantee a bright future for themselves and my sister.
To be fair they were lucky enough that they go on about 10 holidays a year nowadays. However, it never crossed their minds to leave family and a secure job behind to travel through Laos. So their fear for my career and future finance is understandable. I myself am not that sure about it, to be fair.
This brings me to the last point: traveling itself has changed. The meaning of traveling has been transforming over the years and it is not considered anymore a way to either escape a tight household or to embark on a polar expedition. The fact that you have been on the road will not doom your career or label you as the guy that picked strawberries for a living.
Beware, some people still think that, including my grandmother. But opportunities have changed and there is now an army of digital nomads thriving out there. Increasingly more companies have in fact ditched physical offices and outsourced their personnel, creating thousands of virtual positions and brilliant careers.
While I have realized quite a while ago that my parents never had the chance to find a job online and travel all year long, this is only the beginning of a digital nomad era. And by showing them I could start a career, work, and save for the future while traveling I couldn’t have made them happier.
Ultimately, no matter how much convincing work you do, your parents will always be worrying. Letting them pick the airline I should flight with (because apparently, the blue one looks dodgy) and calling them when I feel ill comfort both me and them. However, there will be a few fights and misunderstandings between your departure date and smooth sailing, and that is okay too. After over 8 months, my mum now just says “eh vabbe” which is Italian for be careful, have fun and I will make spaghetti when you come home.