How Should I Tell my Family About my Long-Term Travel Plans?

Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel and the world

05.05.09 | 11:03 AM ET

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

I’m 18, I’ve graduated high school, and I’m interested in traveling for at least a year while I’m young—probably after two or four years of college. The problem is that my family has very mainstream expectations—start a career after college, get married, and start a family. I know I have to follow my travel dreams, but I still want the support of my family. How can I intelligently inform them, and calmly reason with them, about my plans for life, and about the one thing I look forward to the most for my future?

—Megan

Dear Megan,

Your concern with how your family will receive your travel plans is a very common one. And while all families are different, I can give you some general advice.

For starters, most parents are more open to the idea of long-term travel than you might think. They might be concerned about safety, and they might be concerned that you’ll party too much—but at heart they’ll probably understand because they’d probably love to travel too.

So I’d start getting them used to the idea immediately. The fact that you have plans to go to college is helpful, since it will show to them that you are serious about “normal” pursuits, even as you plan your long-term travels.

You don’t even need to tell them everything at once. Just tell them you’re considering taking off a year to travel after college. Maybe at first tell them you’re thinking about study abroad, or maybe a long-term journey to a part of the world that fascinates you. Make them understand that this is a sincere intellectual and spiritual interest for you, and that you plan on taking it seriously. You might even look for some blogs or stories about other young female travelers who’ve gone out and had amazing experiences (parents always like examples of other people who are doing it). You can truthfully tell them that thousands of people do this every year and then come home to lead “normal” lives that have been made more amazing by the travel experience.

Again, I don’t know your family, but if they are like most families they will respect your decision if you let them know your desires early, give them time to get used to it, and be confident and constructive in telling them about your desires. By the time you finish college they’ll be used to the idea (and maybe they’ll want to do some vagabonding themselves!).

Has Rolf already answered your question? See the Ask Rolf archive. If not, send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


7 Comments for How Should I Tell my Family About my Long-Term Travel Plans?

Grizzly Bear Mom 05.06.09 | 12:41 PM ET

Go for it Megan!  You will be married with a mortgage and two kids before you know it.  Take advantage of the lack of responsibilites of youth to persue dreams that most easily can be fulfilled then.  We most regret what we don’t do. 

I would keep talking about my dream with my family and over time demonstrate that you have definitie plans to do so.  That way your family can get used to the idea, and overcome some of the fears they have for their daughter. 

And by the way, there are employment opportunities overseas with the Federal Government, Peace Corps,  large corporations, etc.  ,

Brian Peters 05.06.09 | 2:27 PM ET

Whether or not you have the support of your family do it. You can only live for YOU in this life. As long as you are responsible your family hopefully will come around. That means planning extensively with facts and figures and then sharing those details with your family.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, you will regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did. Go enjoy and see the world.

Lindsey 05.07.09 | 9:45 AM ET

Advice from one girl traveler to another.
Parents can be a difficult angle.
Rolf is right about most parents being open to travel.
If you’ve got a few years of college before you head out to take on the world.  Keep in mind that you’re going from child to adult in your parents eyes. It’s the beauty of college years!
Become a bit savvy about travel and maybe even take a women’s self defense course. If your parents know your logical about things and know you can protect yourself, they will be much more encouraging!
Good luck and have a blast!

Lindsay 05.07.09 | 4:13 PM ET

Megan-do it. Please please do it. I didnt do it and now Im 30 , married and its my single biggest all-consuming regret in life. I didnt do it because I felt so much pressure from my parents to be “normal” ie- get a job, get married, buy a house, etc. Your parents will be fine-you will be fine. Carpe Diem!

Regretful Mom 05.08.09 | 12:00 AM ET

Megan -do-it. 
Like Lindsay, I didn’t (though talking about how much we’d like to do it together induced me to marry my children’s Dad - in 1960, single persons of the opposite sex ‘didn’t’ travel together).  It has been also a big regret for me, that I didn’t go when I was young.  My husband of 38 years (the children’s stepfather) and I have been trying to make up for it ever since.  After a honeymoon in England in ‘71, we started with a trip to Europe when my 3 were 17,14,and 13, in ‘78.  They all took study (and work exchange for students) years abroad, during and after college, and travel with their kids.

I think in today’s Global Society, getting to know people from different places is the BEST way to PEACE.  AND IF YOU ARE YOUNG, you don’t have to worry about, and calculate how to get from here to there, as you do when you are our age and need some help.  YOU CAN JUST WALK (or work and earn a fare) wherever you are!  We are still traveling, but slower.  (be aware, your parent’s might be jealous)

niamh 05.13.09 | 9:13 AM ET

Hey Megan,

Take your time about telling them - build up to it over your college time. For parents who’ve never travelled much ( making a guess here based on your worries ! )., the idea of being alone in somewhere like Brazil or China is really scary. But as the other comments said, if you take some courses and show them you’re serious about being safe , I’m sure they’ll come round.  Be optimistic - they might even fly out to meet you somewhere :)

Robert Downes 06.03.09 | 10:01 PM ET

Hi Rolf,

I just noticed that a number of people buying my book, “Planet Backpacker” on amazon.com are also buying your book, “Vagabonding.”  This isn’t for publication on your site—just thought you’d be interested.  Check out my site if you get a chance.
  P.S.—I just reread your book and once again, enjoyed your insights.

best wishes,
Robert Downes
Planet Backpacker—http://www.planetbackpacker.net

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.