Saying Goodbye

10 November 2011. Filed under category Nomad.


A common question I get when describing my nomadic life is “Won’t it be hard to constantly say goodbye to the people you meet and become friends with?” I usually bite back the response, “It’s nothing compared to leaving the lovers!”

It is undoubtedly true that the transient life of a nomad includes an awful lot of goodbyes. Like anything you do often, it pays to do it right.

No goodbye without hello

First, let me put a positive spin on goodbye. What would be worse? Saying goodbye or not having anyone to say goodbye to?

Yes, nomads say more goodbyes than most, but this is because we say hello more often too. Nomads must make new friends wherever they go because there are no old ones to fall back on. So when you stand there in the departure lounge with tears flowing down you cheek, remember that you are blessed to have met a person worth crying about, and be grateful for the time you had together.

Why are goodbyes painful?

My old geo-static life was rigid with habits and routines. Whenever I lost someone close to me, be it a break-up or a friend moving out of town, they took a part of those habits and routines with them. Suddenly, you realize how much you need that weekly gossip at the coffee shop. Since you relied on those habits and routines to fill your days, you find yourself untrained to think of things with which to fill this vacant time. You are left with a hole in which you wallow in bitter thoughts on what you no longer have.

Think of life as a memory foam mattress; the more rigid it is, the more time it takes for the imprints of lost friends to fade.

The nomadic goodbye

For good or bad, the situation is very different for nomads. Our lives have no habits and routines that can be disrupted. Most important of all, when we say goodbye it is because we are going towards something new. There is simply no time to wallow in the sad loss of a friend when you must deal with finding a place to live, learning a new language, making new friends etc.

This really takes the sting out of the goodbye. In fact, I recommend that you indulge in the sadness during the journey from the old place to the new, because you will be too busy to do so once you arrive. (And to hell with your fellow passengers; don’t let public shyness stand in your way of a good sob.)

You might initially feel guilty for bouncing back from your tearful goodbyes so quickly. Don’t. You are not being a cold-hearted bastard and it does not cheapen your friendship. It is simply impossible to mourn the old when you are busy fighting not to drown in the new.

Finally, don’t try to trick yourself into feeling sad to appease that guilt. Not only will you feel like the most false person on the planet, but brain research also shows that it is not healthy. The more we feel sadness, the more we train our brain to do so, and the sadder we get overall. Don’t go there willingly!

Care for those you leave

So that is overall pretty good news for us nomads. However, the situation is darker for those to whom we say goodbye. They don’t have the distraction of a new challenge to ease their pain. True, we rarely stay long enough to disrupt their habits and routines, but don’t underestimate the impact we can have. We embody the glamorous idea of an unfettered life of freedom and adventure. It is an idea that can stir up a lot of emotions.

I’ve had people tell me that the worst thing about meeting me was that it made them question their own lives. No one enjoys self-doubt. To a degree, inflicting that pain can be a merciful act if it helps someone out of a life they don’t enjoy. Positive change often comes from asking ourselves frank questions. But most people have healthy beautiful gorgeous lives full of security, friends, relationships and hobbies. Yet, many grow so accustomed to these blessings that they barely acknowledge them. It blends into the background, leaving them with the impression that their lives are empty. They are mistaken, and you can help them realise that.

Point out the beauty of their lives. Their normal friends, equally accustomed to the status-quo, won’t think to do this ‘out of the blue’. But you can. You are the free radical; you are the visitor with the fresh perspective. Be a mirror in which they can see their own lives with your fresh eyes. Ham it up if it helps get the point across. Excitedly gush over how comfortable their house is. ‘Oh’ and ‘Ah’ over their beautiful garden. Whisper admiringly how handsome/beautiful you think their spouse is. Make them proud of their lives so that when they imagine themselves living an exciting life as a nomad, they do so with a fair appreciation of what they have right now.

Do this, and when the time comes to say goodbye, they will have a fresh and positive take on their lives with which to dull the pain of separation, just as you have a fresh adventure to dull yours.

Staying in touch

So far, I’ve spoken about goodbyes as if you would never see or hear from your friend again. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll dedicate a future post on keeping in touch, but let me just say that Skype is fantastic. Seeing the face of your friend is much more helpful in keeping that connection alive than a phone call.

Keep in mind, too, that you can come back and visit whenever you want. After all, you are a nomad and free to go wherever you damn like! It is one of the boons for which you sacrificed so much; you might as well use it!

Ending sentences with a preposition

I aspire to write correct English. I think it shows, for people are very eager to point out when I make a mistake. This is wonderful! I am truly grateful for every mistake you spot, and I always correct it.

However, can you please stop telling me not to end sentences with a preposition? It is a myth, left over from Latin and perpetuated by Microsoft’s grammar checker, that there is a rule against this. Before you quote your English teacher at school who said otherwise, let me quote some of my own sources:

Garner’s Modern American Usage:
“The spurious rule about not ending sentences with prepositions is a remnant of Latin grammar.”

Chicago Manual of Style:
“The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with a preposition is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction.”

The American Heritage Dictionary:
“Efforts to rewrite such sentences to place the preposition elsewhere can have stilted and even comical results.”

Fowler’s Modern English Usage:
“It was once a cherished superstition that prepositions must be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern.”

Winston Churchill:
“That is a type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.”

While on the topic of grammar myths, the style guides above also allow split infinitives, so I shall continue to boldly split infinitives with no hint of an apology.


I’ve written this post as if my personal experiences were somehow the definitive guide to how nomads feel and think about goodbyes. It makes for smoother reading to not constantly temper every sentence with ‘in my experiences’ and ‘you might feel differently’.

I will instead make the point here, once. We all have unique emotions and deal with situations differently. You may or may not share my experiences of goodbyes described here. Nevertheless, I hope that my perspective will still be helpful in some way.


How do you deal with goodbyes?

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  1. BrotherMichael says:

    As time goes by, we slowly see our loved ones and acquaintances depart this earth. We begin to realize that every day TRULY could be your last. It is not just a concept. Ask anyone who has reached the tender age of 70 and they will tell you that life goes by in the blink of an eye.
    Every time you interact with someone, at the end of that interaction there is a good bye. Who knows if it will be the final good bye?
    We have no control over that.
    What we CAN do, however, is to improve the quality of our HELLO by incorporating the GOODBYE into it.
    When you truly see life as temporary and precious…
    The HELLO and the GOODBYE are the same.
    They are both expressions of love.


  2. Doug Burns says:

    Personally, I was glad to see the back of you!

    (Thought you’d appreciate some Scottish humour. You’ll have been missing it, I’m sure ;-))

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Doug, you really should stop checking out your boss’s backside, no matter how appealing you may find it. 😉

      1. Roger Allen says:

        As Doug’s boss I would like to categorically refute any suggestion regarding backsides 🙂

        Glad to hear you are finding your feet Gustav. Enjoying reading about your adventures.

  3. Doug Burns says:

    Roger, rest assured that your backside is much less likely to garner my attention than the Gustav model. Now, having said that, could we all move on from this?

  4. Brother Henrik says:

    I agree Skype is fantastic 🙂

  5. Pip says:

    I finally have Skype! I’ll fb message you. Xxx

  6. Imogen says:

    So given that you provided much eloquent bumf on grammar I assume you added an extra s on the end of your third word to see if anyone cared enough to notice? xxx

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Absolutely. You win the teddy in the window. Congratulations. And thank you for helping me keep the site clear of silly spelling mistakes.

  7. mimosa says:

    To Doug: Hate to see him go, love to watch him leave? 😉

    To Gustav not about goodbyes:
    I’ve had people tell me that the worst thing about meeting me was that it made them question their own lives.
    While no one likes self doubt, I love how my travels inspire other people to do the same. People often say to me ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing, but…’
    To which I respond ‘YOU CAN!’ and sometimes, they do.

    Re: Saying Goodbye
    It never gets easier. For me, anyway. BUT
    The awesome thing about being a nomad, or knowing nomadic people, is that it doesn’t have to be goodbye forever. If I can make a new friend in Albania who then joins me in Black Rock City, what’s to say we won’t find each other again in Johannesburg. Or… Where ever.
    Meeting up with people I’ve met before is the best kind of worlds colliding -I met you on the road and now you’re having dinner with me in my childhood house? So great.
    And when the goodbye is forever, well, better to have loved and lost…

    Final thought – Skype is great. and, for what it’s worth, so is Facebook. Being able to stay in loose touch with someone, and then message them with an ‘I’ll be in your city next week, have time for a drink, I know it’s been 5 years since we met in Solvenia…’ is a great thing.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I agree with everything you just wrote, Mimosa. Well put. I have enjoyed the correspondence from people reading the blog and enthusiastically telling me that they’ve always dreamt of doing the same.

      I haven’t been on the road long enough to have reconnected with anyone on the road yet, but I sure am looking forward to the day when it happens. Until then, as you said, there is Facebook. It’s a pilot flame which we can use to reignite the fires later.

  8. Craig Brown says:

    I had so much to say on this subject when I read it, and then BrotherMichael and Mimosa stole my ideas! ;-)) As a flight attendant I’m saying hello and goodbye many times!!! I have my friends everywhere and I often don’t know when I’ll see them again, but I plan on it! On departure I even scheme up a new meeting! When passengers board I always wonder if a dear friend is not currently walking into my life just now. With one passenger I’ve been to New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Norway, Iceland, Morocco and each others’ homes on vacation. No sadness! Just more love! I don’t know if it is kosher, but there is a poem by Herman Hesse that I wanted to send to you Gustav and all other nomads (and that includes most CONCIOUS people), and here is the perfect blog:

    STEPS by Herman Hesse

    As every blossom fades
    and all youth sinks
    into old age,
    so every life’s design
    each flower of wisdom,
    every good…attains its prime
    and cannot last forever.
    In life, each call the heart
    must be prepared courageously
    without a hint of grief,
    submit itself to other new ties.
    A magic dewlls in each beginning,
    protecting us
    tells us how to live.

    High purposed we must traverse
    realm on realm
    cleaving to none as to a home,
    the world of spirit
    wishes not to fetter us
    but raise us higher,
    step by step.
    Scarce in some safe
    accustomed sphere of life
    have we establish a house,
    the we grow lax;
    only he who is ready
    to journey forth
    can throw old habits off.
    Maybe death’s hour too
    will send us out new-born
    towards undreamed-lands,
    maybelife’s call to us
    will never find an end
    Courage my heart,
    take leave and fare thee well.

  9. S says:

    I’m 16 and my family moves all the time. From city to city and from country to country. I still hate goodbyes no matter how good your article was.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Thank you for sharing that. That was very touching.

      Perhaps ‘control’ is a factor that I hadn’t realized played a part. I guess what separates me as the nomad from those I meet is that I decide when I move on, and that takes away the sting of the goodbye.

  10. Lisa says:

    I mean no offense, but I came accross your website and read the section on saying goodbye and felt the need to send you a comment. I think it’s wonderful that you enjoy life, travel and meet new people. Perhaps it’s just my perception, but you seem to think a bit much of yourself. It may be the way it is written, but your words imply that you are better than the people you have met along the way. Your lifestyle and choices are only different than others, not superior. Another thought, and this wil sound unking, but some of the people you met on your journey may have sighed in relief to watch an unstable person walking away instead of toward them. Please pardon any offenses. I do not wish for a response but hope you continue a most happy adventure and remember most people are kind. Please don’t assume their lives are boring because they have taken a different path in life. If all this seems odd to you, you may consider re-reading what you wrote…
    Best wishes for as long as life endures.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I re-read the post and I can’t see what you see, but rest assured that I do not think that my life is better than anybody else’s. Lives are not stocks on the market to be evaluated and compared in a single one-dimensional scale of worth. Also, in the post I even spelled out that “most people have healthy beautiful gorgeous lives full of security, friends, relationships and hobbies.” So I think that piece of criticism is unfair.

      Perhaps you were referring to me saying “I’ve had people tell me that the worst thing about meeting me was that it made them question their own lives.” Well, I make no excuses for that. It happened. It has nothing to do with what I think. It is fact. But maybe I should have stressed that it is a minority of people who react like that. (Like I said, most people have beautiful lives.)

      Finally, this post was about how to deal with saying goodbye to people you care about, like friends and lovers. Saying goodbye to people you don’t like or who don’t like you is a whole lot easier, and not many people ask me about that aspect of nomadic living. But of course, I am not universally likes, and I can think of at least one person who “sighed in relief” to see me go. Trust me, the feeling was mutual.

    2. Imogen says:

      The idea that Gustav’s choices are superior to other peoples’ is your own projection. If, for example, you feel that the fact that a geo-static life is often ‘rigid with routines’ implies that it is therefor also ‘boring,’ then that is your assessment. Gustav did not say it. Also, it is not vain to acknowledge that goodbyes are often easier for those who do the leaving. I think this is intuitive knowledge for most people, and Gustav was exploring the idea. I’m not sure how you’ve managed to interpret this as Gustav saying he or his life choices are superior. On the contrary, I interpreted the discussion on the cycle of ending relationships to be a comment on how the nomadic life can have serious draw backs.

  11. deepika says:

    i had a boyfrnd.. i fall in love (true love) with him. he s getting married in a month or so. i said him goodbye forever.. and since last 3 months we arent talking.. but still now.. i have feelings for him.. i can never forget him.. wat i should do?.. many guys approached me.. but i dont feel like having a nw frn..:( 🙁

How do you deal with goodbyes?

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