An unfortunate byproduct of moving abroad is that many of our established friendships turn into long-distance friendships.
And the friends we make while living abroad? They too can morph into long-distance friendships if either one of you chooses to leave the country.
I don’t need to tell you that maintaining long-distance friendships requires a whole new skillset that none of us naturally have when we move abroad. It’s something we learn over time.
But it’s not the struggle of keeping long-distance friendships alive that I want to focus on in this post.
Rather, in honor of Valentine’s day, I want to express my gratitude for the several long-distance friendships in my life that keep me going on bad days abroad.
So here are my five reasons to love long-distance friendships.
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1. VISITING LONG-DISTANCE FRIENDS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO (SLOW) TRAVEL
These days I’m all about slow travel. I’ve prioritized traveling the world for long enough that now my idea of a good vacation is to rent an apartment, unpack my bags and take genuine time off to explore a new (or old) place.
These days I also tend to choose my slow travel destinations to coincide with where my long-distance friends live. As it happens, they all live all over the place. It’s a curse as much as it is a blessing.
So while I’m pretending to be a local in the city where my friends live, I can pretend that I have a normal routine there and I can just hang out with my friends as if we all lived in the same country.
Visiting my friends in such a casual way is a win-win scenario because for a short while we can both pretend that we are part of each other’s everyday lives.
Nobody is stressed out, we get to explore some new corners of a city or country, and we get to spend quality time together. What’s not to like about it?
Which leads me to my next point of gratitude.
2. QUALITY TIME IS SWEETER
I tend to be the kind of person that’s more focused on quality than quantity. Perhaps because of that I’m also better suited for maintaining long-distance friendships.
Regardless, I’m still a human being and feel a great void when I can’t just go and have brunch with my favorite people on a Saturday.
Because I often don’t have that option in my daily life, I appreciate the times when I get to do completely mundane things with my friends.
Grabbing late-night fries together (hi, Sue!), cancelling plans and staying in to bake a cake (hi, Anthi!), going for a walk and talking about deep stuff (hi, Airi!), having no plans at all and just being spontaneous (hi, Yoki!), or even something as simple as going to see a movie together (hi, Francesca!).
You don’t realize how much these mundane activities matter once you don’t get to do them whenever the mood strikes. Instead, your reality is that you have to buy flight tickets and block out a whole week in order to just do normal (not long-distance) friend things.
So once I get the chance to just hang out with my friends, I make sure to cherish these completely normal activities together.
3. THERE’S LESS DRAMA TO DEAL WITH
But let’s not forget that friendships, like any kind of relationship, still require work to be put in for the connection between two different people to last.
Friction, tension, disagreements, old wounds are still going to come up, even if you’re not in each other’s hair on a daily basis.
But there’s something about distance that also puts things into perspective – not every annoyance needs to be discussed, brought up or blown out of proportion.
And because you only see each other ever so often, you find yourself being more kind in person when something does need to be addressed.
Everybody wins because you’ve had time to think things through and figure out how to handle a conflict or disagreement before it gets out of hand.
4. YOU FEEL LOVED AND SUPPORTED DESPITE THE DISTANCE
Life is challenging enough on its own, but it’s especially challenging when you’re single-handedly trying to build a normal life abroad.
So not every issue will be something that your long-distance friends know how to deal with. Sometimes the best they can do is just listen, because they sure as hell can’t hug you or help you solve your problems.
But I’ve come to put a lot of value on my friends saying “I wish I was there with you so you wouldn’t have to deal with this on your own” over and above whether they’re actually able to do something.
Living abroad is basically taking a masterclass in self-reliance and resilience. And so, effectively, your long-distance friends become your biggest fans on this journey.
When you truly become self-reliant, knowing that they’ll have your back emotionally is all that you really need, and that’s a great gift to have.
5. YOU RELIEVE YOURSELF FROM THE PRESSURE TO FIND REALLY CLOSE FRIENDS IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
Making friends in a foreign country is hard. Finding really good friends that you’ll have by your side for years to come is even harder. True friendships don’t come around that often.
Even though I often miss hanging out with my favorite people in the world, knowing that if I wanted to talk about deep stuff or make stupid jokes – my friends are just one message, phone call or flight away.
The knowledge that I have a support network to fall back on (albeit scattered around the world) has taken off the pressure for me to “hunt” for close friends in my everyday life.
I can simply enjoy the company of the people that I meet without any expectations for these connections to become more than they are meant to. But if they do, all the better.
Knowing that you’re not alone in this world, even as you’re figuring out how to stand on your own two feet in a foreign country, is the greatest superpower there is.
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What do you appreciate the most about your long-distance friendships? Let me know in the comments.
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Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.