How Can I Convince my Friends to Travel Overseas?
Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel and the world
10.05.09 | 1:42 PM ET
I’ve unsuccessfully tried all the major arguments to encourage my scaredy-cat American friends to travel internationally. I’ve told them I’ve traveled around the world without incident. I’ve told them that travel overseas is no more dangerous statistically than driving across your hometown. I’ve told them how Europeans and Australians think nothing of traveling in developing countries with their children in tow. But no matter which tack I take, the reaction is usually a rote certainty that “travel to Destination X is dangerous.” I drop the matter, not wanting to be rude.
What am I doing wrong? How can I convince my friends to travel abroad?
—Paul, Sherman Oaks, California
Your arguments are all reasonable, accurate and time-tested, but I think what’s going on here is that your friends don’t really want to travel overseas.
To those of us who love international travel—those of us who’ve been transformed by it and have become addicted to it—this notion might seem astonishing. Who on earth wouldn’t want to travel the world? Well, in reality, lots of people. In fact, those of us who love travel may well come off as the weird ones sometimes—and it’s a good idea to tread carefully with our travel-love when we’re around friends and family. Earlier this year, Elisabeth Eaves wrote a great essay in these pages about wanderlust, noting how “I couldn’t look at the glossy cover of a travel magazine, or browse the travel section of a bookstore, without getting a lump in my throat.” I’ve had that same lump in my throat, and odds are you have too. But many people haven’t, and needling them with information and justification won’t change that.
This isn’t to say that your friends can’t still be won over—but often this is a gradual, subtle process. Just as an evangelical Christian is more likely to win converts by living joyfully in his faith than by droning on about salvation, the best way to win over travel skeptics is to humbly allow your overseas journeys to deepen your life. Over the course of many years, as you return from exotic places energized and inspired—with your body (and bank account) intact—your friends may start to take an interest. Once they start barraging you with questions of how and when and where (instead of just why), odds are they’re seriously starting to consider their own international trips.
A good strategy at this point is to answer the “who” question for them—i.e. offer to have them meet up with you during one of your own journeys. Your companionship and confidence will help allay their fears on that initial overseas trip, and odds are they’ll catch the travel bug in the process. I’ve seen this happen with none other than my own parents, who didn’t own passports until I talked them into visiting me in Korea a little over 10 years ago. A few years later they joined me in China and Mongolia, and a few years after that they joined me in Paris and Prague. Now, in their 60s, they’ve become salty overseas travelers, eagerly looking forward to their next journey.
So in the end you’ll just want to be patient with your friends. Some of them may never travel overseas, and that’s fine. But for those who may yet be converted, your best strategy is to quietly enjoy your own international travels, and keep at it until your friends can’t help but want to join the adventure.