I just celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I'm in Perth, Australia, more than 18,000 kilometres from my hometown of Toronto. We are a close-knit bunch where aunts and uncles are like second parents. I'm the first person in my family of three generations to take time off to travel. This is new for me and it's new for my family--holidays make the distance especially hard.
Before I left, I made an affirmation with myself on keeping in touch: I made the decision to leave. I'll make an effort to make the first connection. Why? I was the one leaving everyone's regular routine. I was the one who would have more time to connect. So, I made the first contact. I sent postcards from almost every country I've visited over the past five months. I've woken up at the crack of dawn, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, to Skype with friends and family. I've made videos for special occasions, so I can send well wishes because I'm not there.
The thrill of hearing from a relative or friend that they received my letter--after traveling from remote corners of Vietnam to the other side of the world--is filled with a lot more happiness than a Facebook response. It also takes more effort and planning.
Months into our trip, I started to see who was making the effort to connect. While I made the first contact, I learned that my outreach was just as important as getting a meaningful response.
Here are four rules I've learned to keep relationships alive on the road:
Adapt to people's preferences
With no phone and no opportunity to be in person, I had to adapt my routine to how people like to communicate and how they best respond. My mom and I regularly email, but my brother and I stay in touch on Facebook messenger. My cousin writes me on Viber, and my best friend and I Skype regularly. Everyone has a preference for communicating; I've found that people are more effective at using one tool. I've adapted to those needs so communication is more consistent.
Work hard to stay connected
When I was in Toronto, my mom and brother lived about 20 minutes away. I could call my brother in the morning to make dinner plans for the evening. It takes longer to coordinate a Skype call because of a 12-hour time difference.
Aside from day-to-day contact, birthday notes and video greetings give me the same rush as putting a postcard in the mail. Because I've put the time into making something, I hope it will be just as exciting for the person who receives it. My aunt and uncle celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this past weekend. My boyfriend and I made a short video capturing their 30 years by classic rock hits of their generation. Family members are now quick to update us on other birthdays; or as my aunt put it on our Thanksgiving Skype call, "you better start working on a video for Jaci's birthday." My cousin turns 30 on November 1.
Make it mutual
Building a relationship requires two-way communication. I learned this philosophy while studying public relations, and it has positively shaped my relationships. I've learned that it takes one person to start the conversation, but two to keep it going. If I'm the only one continuing to write, then I will stop communicating--I won't be getting anything in return from the relationship.
One loud truth of distance is this: being away from home shows you who really wants to keep in touch. Some people I expected to stay in touch don't. It's the reality of growing up.
My best friend writes me almost every day. We talk more than we did when I was at home. She finds time after a day of work and caring for her two-year-old daughter, even if it's at midnight from her phone in bed. When she doesn't hear from me, or feels like I've left her out on a part of our trip, she tells me.
Another close friend doesn't stay in touch much at all. I have been the first to email or to setup our only Skype call. I was surprised; but I'm not at home, where social plans are a big priority for her.
My cousin, who is like a sister to me, also constantly stays in touch. She's usually the first to write. She's there for me even from the road if I need support. While we're close, we didn't spend a lot of time together back home, so once again I am surprised by her effort.
Build a routine and stick to it
When I'm ending the day in Australia, everyone I know is starting to wake up. For me, this means checking messages and communicating while they're awake. Posting photos when they'll see them. Sending an e-newsletter when they have time in the morning at work to read.
While I have to decide at some point where I'll be living more permanently, for now I'm as connected as I can be. I made the tough decision to leave to fulfill my dream of traveling the world, but it's a mutual effort with friends and family to stay in touch. My new affirmation is: I will work hard to keep in touch as long as the same effort is reciprocated.
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
- McDonald'sGetty Images
- Admit it. You're just a little bit curious about what a McArabia tastes likeGiphy
- Wifi. Under-valued at home, you're super excited to find it in a foreign countryGiphy
- Especially on a planeGetty Images
- And when you finally get it, nothing else matters. Must. Download. Everything.Giphy
- Your home country. You're nostalgic, love everything about it and will tell anyone who listensGiphy
- A glass of wine.. or
- The scenery. Somehow it's always better when you've paid big bucks to get to itGiphy
- Or maybe you're just giving yourself more time to take it all inGiphy
- Local foodGiphy
- Or any foodGiphy
- Meeting strangers and making new friendsGetty Images
- You may never talk to strangers back home but everybody is your friend at a hostelGiphy
- Your mood. Eat, sleep, drink. Who has time to be unhappyGetty Images
- Loud childrenGetty Images
- Scream away child, I'm in ParisGiphy
- (Except when on a plane)Getty Images
- And finally, home sweet home, seems sweeterGetty Images
- And somehow, you always remember your house cleaner than it actually isGetty Images