What To Do When Someone You Love Asks You Not To Go

May 09, 2013    /    travel how-tos

Sad photo by Kristina Alexanderson

Before I left for Mexico, my mom sent me a heartfelt email asking me to please, please not go.

Mexico, she said, is too dangerous. There are drugs, guns, thugs, and sex traffickers. I’d get kidnapped. I’d get killed. (I’d get kidnapped and killed!) She’d had a dream and I should stay away.

This is the prevailing sentiment in the US right now, supported by media reports of border violence and that one busload of tourists who got mugged. Mexico is dangerous, says the media. Stay away!

It made perfect sense that my mom sent me this email. All she’s hearing about Mexico lately is bad. And she’s my mom; she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to me.

Today, I thought I’d give you my strategy for dealing with a family that’s never really understood my deep and pervasive wanderlust, just in case you’re in a similar pickle.

Without further ado, then…

What to do when someone you love tells you that your dreams are too dangerous and you shouldn’t go:

1. Take a minute.

Being told that you can’t or shouldn’t travel, start a business, or live whatever dream it is you want to live can provoke a whole lotta emotions. Everything from disappointment (“I’m heartsick that my family doesn’t understand me!”) to full-on anger (“Screw them! What jerk-style idiots!”).

This is how I feel about being told not to do things
This is how I feel about being told not to do things. (“Seriously, dude?”)

So, before you respond to that email, take a walk, take a breather, have a cup of tea. Give yourself a moment to get back to neutral. And if you’re face-to-face with the nay-sayer, listen, thank them for sharing their concerns with you, and, again, give yourself some time before really responding.

This can take some discipline, especially if they’re saying some truly ridiculous stuff. But it makes for a better end result.

2. Assess their concerns.

Before you plow ahead, ask yourself whether their concerns have merit. Has the person who is strongly suggesting that you put off your business launch launched their own business? If so, it may be prudent to ask them why they think you should delay—and you can measure the validity of their concerns from there.

On the other hand, there are plenty of unreasonable fears about travel, business, and taking risks. If the person offering up the warning hasn’t ever backpacked, but is worried that a bear might eat you on your epic backpacking trip (and assuming you aren’t planning on sleeping with your sleeping bag stuffed full of jerky), you can probably safely ignore them.

In the case of my mom, the truth was that, while I could understand where her fears were coming from, they weren’t particularly valid.

Certainly there has been violence in the border towns (though, notably, not really directed at tourists). Certainly the media likes to sensationalize that one bus full of tourists who were mugged. Certainly there are drugs and there is trafficking (both of which are also found in the US).

But just like a string of murders in rural Iowa wouldn’t stop you from traveling to New York City, neither should border town violence stop you from enjoying one of the many, many safe towns dotted all over this diverse and enormous country.

And just like a media report on the Boston bombings shouldn’t keep you from ever running another marathon or visiting Boston, a bus-full of recently robbed tourists shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the white-sand beaches or the lush jungles of Mexico. (In fact, you’re much more likely to get mugged walking down the street in Naples than you are taking a bus tour in Mexico, yet we don’t hear lots of warnings to stay away from Italy.)

So the facts about Mexico don’t really match up to her fears.

Luna in Mexico
Luna successfully not being mugged or kidnapped in Mexico.

3. Respond with love—but don’t leave any room for negotiation.

When my mother sent that first email, I thanked her for sharing her concerns. And when, a few weeks later, my mother sent me another email to ask about my plans, I told her that I was going to Sayulita, that there were no current travel warnings for this area, and that I would, of course, make the safest decisions I could while here.

I did my best to address her concerns, respond in kindness, and still live my own life on my own terms. And I never blamed her, lashed out at her, or belittled her fears along the way.

Because it’s really important to treat people with love, even if they’re nay-saying your dreams.

LoveLove is all you need. (Well, that and puppies.)

4. Let it go.

Don’t dwell on the negative, on feeling misunderstood, on anyone else’s fears. Instead, dwell on your triumphs, your plans, and that dream that you are one step closer to.

I’ve been firmly and kindly disagreeing with my parents about travel and career for years.

When I first started going against their wishes, the emotional turmoil was intense. I agonized over the decision to change my major to Creative Writing when my dad disapproved. I sat on the dorm room floor and cried for hours. But I’ve never ever regretted that decision—or any decision since.

I don’t regret changing my major, starting my business, traveling to Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe by myself with a dog. Even though I had nay-sayers in my life at each of those crucial decision points.

So there’s the real life lesson: you know yourself. You know what you need to do. You know what you want and what you love and what you dream about endlessly. And just because someone else is afraid or doesn’t understand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow those dreams.

So, respond in kindness. Love thy neighbor. And also love thyself.

Do you have a family or close friend that has asked you not to do something you love? How did you handle it?


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14 Comments
  • Melissa Adams
    May 9, 2013

    You can probably relate to how people reacted when I announced I was picking up my Southern California and moving to Amsterdam. Rather than applaud me for pursuing a dream, my son (who had ALL his worldly belongings parked in my 3-car garage in Newport Beach, since he was studying abroad in Italy) wailed, “But Mom, my stuff!”

    • gigigriffis
      May 9, 2013

      Ha! Hilarious!

  • Linda
    May 9, 2013

    Skydiving. 2007, I was invited to go and paid for by vendors from work. I brought my 16 year old daughter with, to take pictures. She was so enamoured with the culture, and the group with her, she tandem dived alongside me. My Mom and sister didn’t speak to me for 2 weeks. It was an amazing, unexpected experience!

    • gigigriffis
      May 9, 2013

      Wow, sounds amazing! I’m sorry they didn’t speak to you for several weeks, though. I’ve definitely gotten the silent treatment once or twice myself.

  • Rebeca
    May 9, 2013

    I gave in the first time to my mom and since then I have no longer listened to her. I just accept that we will agree to disagree and move on with my life and either “make a mistake” or live my life and sometimes I do both. I do thank her for her opinion but, when she usually presses me to see if I will follow it I usually tell her no. It is my life after all.
    Rebeca recently posted…My mom loved her present for her birthdayMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      May 9, 2013

      Very true.

  • Claire
    May 9, 2013

    Wow. Did you post this just for me?? Just kidding, of course, but I’m about to embark on a long-term move abroad and have faced tons of discouragement from well-meaning naysayers. Your plan of action is crazy helpful.
    Claire recently posted…Happening this weekend: NOLA Veggie FestMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      May 10, 2013

      Oh, I’m so glad! Good luck! Rooting for you on this end!

  • Roommate #1
    May 10, 2013

    Don’t be silly. Bears are ALWAYS trying to eat you when you’re backpacking. In fact, backpacking in itself is spectacularly dangerous and risky and most people who do it end up lost or drowned or crushed in a rock slide if they don’t get eaten by bears. It’s probably best to avoid the wilderness entirely.

    Or so I’ve been told. ;)

    • gigigriffis
      May 10, 2013

      Probably best to assume that you will be crushed by a rockslide and eaten by bears.

  • Philip Davidson
    May 13, 2013

    “But just like a string of murders in rural Iowa wouldn’t stop you from traveling to New York City…”

    Love that quote. Might have to use that sometime. I encountered many folks along the way also telling of the dangers of Mexico. Absolutely media hype. My sister and I loved the country so much the planned one month traverse took over 4 months.
    People say the same of Guatemala too. Pretty enamored with it here too so far.

    • gigigriffis
      May 13, 2013

      Agreed! Mexico is so lovely. I expected to be down here for a month, maybe two. Instead, I’m here for three – and I’m guessing I’ll be back.

  • Sarah Li Cain
    May 23, 2013

    #3 is definitely important. It’s natural to get defensive when someone questions your plans, and it makes it soooo much worse when you lash back. In my experience it always helps to acknowledge their concerns and let them know that you are continuing on your plan. My mom used to try to get me to stop traveling to countries she thought were dangerous. I kindly reminded her that there are risks in any country, and I make precautions to take care of myself every time.
    Sarah Li Cain recently posted…Why Your Life Story is ImportantMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      May 23, 2013

      Agreed!

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