The Art of Letting Go

Life on the road isn’t always easy.

And sometimes, you get lonely.

This is sort of a continuation of my post about how to meet people when travelling. And it’s inspired by a few conversations I’ve had recently. Some with people I’ve just met, others with people I’ve known for years. But each of us had one thing in common. We’d met people. And we had dealt with letting go.

When I first set out, I had the privilege of talking with a great traveller.

Very experienced in what we called “the art of homelessness.”

And over many conversations, I learned a lot.

  • How and when to book flights.
  • What to do during long stayovers in airports.
  • How to negotiate accommodations.
  • How to bargain in markets.
  • How to dress so you don’t look like a tourist.
  • How to schedule your day when travelling slow.
  • How to work when travelling.
  • How to budget.
  • And how to stay healthy when on the road.

But one of the most valuable lessons I picked up was one I don’t think I was meant to learn.

It was about people.

Specifically, missing people.

In a previous post, I mentioned how you can meet a lot of people when travelling. And that I would treat each interaction like it was a mercantile relationship. I’d think of the time and effort in terms of investment, and the outcome as a return.

Beachside sunset Miri, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.
There are some perks to being alone – no one can block your beachside sunset panorama shots.

For a social introvert like me, this made a certain amount of sense. As an introvert – one with above-average social skills, mind you – dealing with people in groups drains me fast. So I worry about getting the best from my social time. I would think a lot about how to find the people who matter. And how to make lasting friendships with them, so when I had to let go, it was okay. We weren’t letting go forever.

My friend – perhaps ironically – decried trying to make friends with other travellers at all, and only befriended locals. Said there was no point in making travel friends – they would all leave. And while I could do it again (and again and again) there would come a point where I would lack the energy to go out, or send a message in time, and just miss out.

The lesson was this:

There is no point in reaching out to people who were just going to leave. In the long term, I would be alone.

And missing people hurts. When they’re gone, it sucks.

In essence, I feel that this is the cost my friend was afraid of. And me, too.

Let Go and Walk Away
People always walk away. And that’s okay!

I was afraid of letting go.

But my friend was also very, very wrong.

The mercenary approach isn’t necessarily incorrect. It’s just incomplete.

Yes, it’s important to look after yourself. To know your limits, and keep your best interests in mind at all times.

And on that front, the mercenary approach fails to take a closer look at the mechanics of missing people.

You miss people because they matter.

Because you feel that the time you spend with them is valuable.

That value doesn’t go away when they leave. It happened. It existed. The time you shared was real.

And viewed right, it matters more than the negative feelings that may occur in their absence.

Which is why you have to learn to let go. To be okay with not having them around. To accept the new normal, and be grateful for the circumstances that brought you here.

So what am I saying here?

I guess I’m saying get out there!

Talk to people. Ask your bunkmate out for a coffee. Sit with that loud table of Australians. Accept the offer to go for sushi, and laugh at how they put cheese in absolutely everything.

You will miss these people when they’re gone. And they will miss you. Letting go isn’t easy, because it matters to you.

But that’s the point – your time together matters.

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