When people equate talking about travels to bragging or showing off

I’ve mentioned before that if I start a story with a sentence like “When I lived in Bratislava …” that people sometimes have a giggle at me. Same goes for “When I was in Tunisia …” or “When I was on the Trans-Siberian …”

Is talking about travels bragging As far as I can figure (and some of this figuring out comes from asking the people who have done the giggling) a lot of people are uncomfortable hearing these kind of phrases. I think part of the fear is that the story to follow might involve a lot of bragging. I am definitely not trying to show off when I start a story like that. I just have a story to share and the setting is an important part of the context. It’s just like someone else starting a story with “When I worked at KFC …” or “When I was in high school …” But it’s funny, isn’t it, that people sometimes tease others for telling stories about their travels. There are occasionally people who really do “place-name drop”, who mention a few cool cities or exotic countries with the intention of bragging a bit, but for most people they are just stories from our lives which we think have some relevance to the topic at hand.

Is talking about your travels a kind of bragging?

Me on the Trans-Siberian … eating 2-minute noodles and not bragging!

I’ve been trying to figure out why people are reluctant to hear these stories about travel and sometimes react with discomfort when others start to tell them. Is part of it that the listener feels envious or inadequate? But if so, why, really? Shouldn’t we be grateful for new and different perspectives? And shouldn’t we do something about this reaction and go travelling ourselves – after all, for most people in the first world there are lots of excuses to not go travelling but very few legitimate reasons. This reluctance to listen to travel tales is surely a part of what makes returning travellers suffer with reverse culture shock (I know I did). On the other hand, perhaps people have just been burnt too many times by travellers going into long, detailed, boring stories about what happened to them when they tried to flag down a taxi in New York or a bite-by-bite description of their meal in Paris. Like sitting through an unedited slideshow of someone’s holiday snapshots, perhaps it’s just a defence mechanism to avoid death by boredom. Either way, I promise I’m not trying to show off when I mention some place I’ve been; and even though I talk a lot, and write copious long posts about my trips, I still try very hard not to say boring stuff when you meet me face to face.

Comments

  1. I think maybe people are envious they haven’t been able to do all that travelling and pretend to be bored…
    When people tell me their travel stories I think they are lucky to have wonderful memories and learn new things.

    • That’s a good point Sami – I think if you tell travel stories to well-travelled person like you then they’re usually very interested!

    • Personally, I find most travel stories rather boring. They usually involve 3 elements: cupious drinking (or drugs/sex), how “authentic” the local peasants are, and how dirty/crappy their surroundings were.

      And I find most travel stories are just a form of bragging, equivalent to someone telling you about their BMW, private yacht or giant cock.

    • Thanks for your feedback Anon … fortunately my travel stories don’t tend to have any of those three elements (especially not the first – perhaps copious chocolate eating?!) so perhaps you’re still able to read my blog 🙂

  2. well I sort-of know what you mean. But I think that, for me, it’s less likely that anyone actually thinks I’m showing off and more likely that I’m just being self-conscious of people thinking I’m showing off. And I sometimes feel a little guilty (unreasonable, I know) for the experiences I’ve had when so many will never travel outside of their own country.

    People love hearing other peoples’ stories, but sometimes if they haven’t shared those types of experiences themselves,they may have no way to relate, and maybe not much to say in response. hence, a giggle.

  3. I think most people simply prefer to talk about themselves rather than hearing about someone else’s life, so when you’re talking about traveling to someone who hasn’t traveled much, they don’t have anything to contribute and they quickly lose interest.

  4. I am the a type of person wherein I love to listen to travel stories or experience of my friends because it gives me a picture how cool is this place or country that they’ve been and then note it on my notebook on places that I want to go. For me hearing their story is like watching a movie. I don’t think it is bragging. Well people can say what they want but at the end of the day you will know which person is a friend who can understand you and which people are not.

  5. Thanks for such a thoughtful post! I lived overseas until high school and when we moved “back” to the States I used to have this issue all the time. I used the places I lived as indicators of a time period in my life or because it was relevant to the story, not for bragging rights, but I do not think my peers saw it that way. I agree with commenters above that it is probably just people not being interested, or not wanting to express interest in something they do not know much about. Or your conclusion about getting screwed over by boring travel stories might be it too. My weakness is food stories; no one really needs to hear a detailed description of that amazing waffle I bought at a stand that one time, I just like reliving it.

  6. Interesting post – but to be honest this doesn’t surprise me at all. I did a similar thing you did during a dinner with old college friends several weeks ago, and one of them made a very condescending remark about me right after (along with the whole giggling sound byte and sneering look). The other instance where this happened was during a business meeting when a co-worker gave me a WTF look, pretended he didn’t hear what I said and try to change the subject. It’s actually quite scary the reactions you illicit from these people when you talk about your travels…

    So is it about envy? Well, for the majority of the people, travel is a luxury item. The assumption is that in order to travel, the person must have both time and money to spend. Indeed, if you try to add up your airplane ticket cost, visa fees (if you need to get one), lodging fees, transportation fees and food costs for each of your past trips, you’ll find that it might cost as much as a big flat screen TV or a brand name hand bag/shoes/watches. And unless you tell your audience ahead of time that you were able to traveled on a super tight budget (or you won a free plane ticket), everyone will automatically assume that you must have blown off several thousand dollars on these ‘exotic’ trips.

    But this hypothesis didn’t seem to apply in my case. The two people who lashed back at me were far better off than I was financially (and everyone knew it) and could have easily went on the trip I did if they had wanted to. Conversely, the people who were receptive and wanted to hear more about my experience, oddly enough, was either not financially well off, or unemployed at the time.

    My conclusion is that if you get these sort of reactions from certain people despite your best effort to keep the conversation friendly (i.e. not bragging), then may be they have something against you, and it’s time to consider evaluating your relationship with these persons.

    I certainly stopped talking to the guys who made faces or rude comments at me.

    Hope this helps – and keep on travelling!

  7. Anonymous says

    I haven’t traveled extensively – I have been to NYC, Washington DC, Boston, Florida, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec City and Montreal and outside of North America I have been to Scotland and Germany. I’d love to do more. I want to eventually visit every province and territory in Canada. But it is a time off/money issue for me for sure. Anyway, even if I am slightly envious of a person’s trip (my best friend is going to England for her honeymoon this summer – colour me slightly green), I still want to hear all about it. This is because I love stories, I love travel, I love culture, I love different foods, I love electric urban centres and beautiful landscapes. The only thing I don’t love is being forced to look at 500 blurry photos (*cough* my parents when they came back from Paris). Edit your photos first, people! I like Facebook for the express purpose of curating a select portion of photos from trips I have taken (even just local trips around Ontario) – I can put them up, caption them with some interesting tidbit of information, and not have to force my friends and family to sit for 3 hours looking at them.

    I do think sometimes people are envious of travels, or hearing about other people’s trips makes them feel badly that maybe they feel they cannot afford a similar trip. Or perhaps they just have zero interest in travel (like a coworker of mine who hates traveling anywhere) and so are just really not interested in your story. Sabina

    • An edited selection of trip photos is a must – I agree!! Thoughtful comments, thank you! And yes, I guess I find it hard to appreciate that some people have zero interest in travel but then there are plenty of topics I have zero interest in so I guess it’s possible!

  8. Anonymous says

    I think that a listener’s enjoyment of travel stories all depends on what the traveler went looking for. If they took a trip to explore and discover new things, to visit a place they love or have always hoped to see, or to widen their horizons or viewpoint, then their stories can be very entertaining. If they went solely to check yet another country off their list, or post photos on Facebook of every gourmet meal they consume, or complain about how they are spending a lot of money at a luxury resort and not being treated like the VIP that they think their bankroll makes them, then it gets boring pretty quickly. I have friends of both types. The first I listen to and encourage to travel more. The second I block on Facebook for the duration of their excursion.

    • Oh yes – I can’t stand that second type either! Those that think being the “guest” of another country somehow means they should be treated like royalty! Blocking is smart.

  9. Konstantina says

    Oh gosh I can SO relate to this post. Mind you, I’ve only just begun to scrape enough money together to travel and its because I started doing this new thing when I go to spend money, I think to myself, “Do I need to buy this, or should I put this money in my travel fund?” But I feel incredibly sheepish when I start a sentence with something like, “When I was in Italy…” It’s usually not a long drawn-out story either, it’s often just some observation relevant to the conversation. For example people were discussing low-carb diets and I observed that, “When I was in Italy…I saw very skinny girls downing plates of pasta for lunch.” But they still looked at me weird and l felt slightly embarrassed. I think it’s because I used to BE the envious person, who would listen patiently to travel stories, but secretly kind of hate the person telling them! 🙂

    • Oh Konstantina – yes, it is hard not to be envious sometimes, isn’t it! But better to be the traveller and have the stories to tell, even if you don’t always get to tell them, I think – keep topping up that travel fund of yours!

  10. When one encounters someone who is aggravated by “when I lived stories” it may be that the reason is that person is envious, but it is just as easily possible that the “when I lived” story is simply not interesting. We live in a global world. If you are talking to another middle or upper-middle class individual, they have likely been around the world somewhat too. And if you’re talking to someone who is not from such a background, then, ceteris paribus, you might come off as bragging about your good fortune.

    I think most people are pretty good judges of character. Sure some are spiteful, jealous, angry, insecure, but the majority are emotionally stable individuals. And as such, they can tell the difference between overt attempts to indicate one’s international sophistication and funny or interesting tales. Moreover, I have encountered a few truly global nomads who were utterly sincere and without artifice but were totally incapable of talking about anything besides their last trip to Sri Lanka. A good conversationalist listens as much as talks and makes observations about the present in addition to the past and future.

    I think that travel is a wonderful thing but it is not what defines a person. Moreover, it is often seen as a sign of status, as though the places one has been makes him or her something. There are, it must be admitted, people who “place drop.” (Side note – an example of this is the term “expat.” I’ve noticed Americans using this word in increasingly inappropriate ways. For instance, let’s say you come back to the States after three years in Hong Kong; it is becoming more and more common to refer to yourself as an expat. But, if you’re back home, you’re not. Maybe you are an ex-expat, but you’re not an expat. You were an expat when you lived in Hong Kong. What’s worse, I’ve heard this term used for people who were only overseas for a matter of months. There is clearly some aspect of social capital to this). I digress. Whether you are a place dropper or an honest sharer of experiences, only you and your friends and loved ones know. As to your listeners who shrugs at your stories, some might be jealous but it’s also possible that you are veering a little away from the conversation and the present. It’s also possible that your listener – hopefully rather interlocutor – has encountered place droppers and as such has become conditioned to expecting a self-involved tale. Give the shrugging listener the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

  11. Great comment Robert – and I love your point about the ex-expats – I have encountered a few of those. And you’re right, giving the listener the benefit of the doubt probably most of the time is a fair thing to do.

  12. I have to admit, I’m biased because I live in DC and place dropping – the more exotic, the better – is endemic here. Traveling is nearly the only thing people talk about on social media here, after politics. Occasionally marathons come up. It drives me crazy online but when done in person, I usually don’t mind. I find that “when I lived” stories told in conversation are usually more relevant and appropriate. Middle aged people like me read these things online and for most blogs or Facebook posts think, why are they telling me this? What’s their angle? There doesn’t appear to be a message so we think, why not just buy a diary and a pen? Why broadcast this? If you just want to talk about it why not go to a forum or try to start a discussion (as you are doing)? Frankly, I can’t think of any reason other than image in such cases Your blog is different though and I appreciate that. You have a message. I think that message might be a little romanticized but I respect you for having it and being honest about it. Thanks for broaching the question and good luck in your travels and future endeavors. I shall try to work on giving online speakers the benefit of the doubt on my end!

    • Robert, that’s interesting that people talk so much about travel on social media in your circles – then I can imagine it would get to be a bit of an overload! I don’t see much of that at all here but then I do live in the most isolated city on earth and one of the most expensive so although a lot of people do travel it’s definitely not a frequent occurrence. You’re right, too – my blog’s message is somewhat romanticised but I just really want to persuade people to go travelling. Thanks again for such a thoughtful comment!

  13. I’ve traveled some, not extensively. It’s not jealously because I’m fortunate that I can afford to do more traveling if I really wanted to. I just happen to be one of these people who prefers a relaxing time at the beach if I go somewhere…It’s hard to pinpoint it but, it does seems like people are boasting when they talk about their travels or, as someone mentioned, it defines them.
    And, I also agree there is the boring factor. Unless a person has a particular story to tell that is unusual, really interesting, amusing,,,you know, a REAL point to it, I’m not impressed and bored with the conversation. Not to mention, it excludes others who can’t relate to that subject, doesn’t it? On the other hand, I’m sure I’ve talked about subjects that don’t appeal to everyone else ,too.

    • Great comment Sharon. I like re-reading this post from time to time to make sure I’m not talking too much about my travels! And I agree there needs to be a GOOD story to keep others interested. And some awareness of when they’re not that interested.

  14. I think your comment section pretty much covers up the mixed emotions I have about this topic. The thing with travel stories is, to me, it’s not really considered “just another story.” When it comes to traveling, it has become a “rite of passage” that there’s sort of a negative connotation attached to it. Whether you mean to brag about it or not, it is still considered bragging. And hey, there are times when your trip warrants bragging rights and it’s perfectly A-okay to have a casual conversation about your travels. I’ve always believed that “moderation is the key.” Don’t overdo it and have all your talks be about your travels and how you’ve “gained so much insight on the world and are so cultured.”
    In the end, you are still bragging about something, whether you’re speaking to person who is a wanderlust or someone who has never traveled before in their life. Part of it does have to do with being envious. Some people just don’t have the resources and aren’t fortunate enough to travel, and to constantly hear stories about it is not great. Trust me. It makes you arrogant and pretentious (as blunt as that sounds).
    It also has to do with the fact that people place such huge emphasis on traveling. Like it previously stated, it’s a “rite of passage”and it is a sign of status. If you haven’t traveled, there must be something wrong with you. Majority of us heard stories how traveling makes you more in tune with the world and more cultured. Who knows? Maybe someone doesn’t believe that. Are they wrong? No. Nobody is right or wrong here, but to those who have traveled to so many places, they tend to place themselves high up on the pedestal and act like, I’m going to say it….an a**hole. Haha I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it’s what people do.
    It’s not necessarily wrong or bad to talk about your travels. Be proud of it because that’s what you do. I guess with this topic, people need to understand that everyone is different and they come from all walks of life. They believe different things. Moderation is the key. Everyone has interesting stories. Write it in your diary. Make a blog. Heck, there are blogging sites meant to connect you with other travelers. With social media sites not necessarily meant for blogging like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., it’s so easy to get carried away and create a facade to others.
    Okay I feel like I’m typing way too much. I’m going to stop now. I made my point. I hope. Haha

    • Thanks for your great comment A-Ron – and I think right in the middle you probably nailed it – “moderation is the key”. Both in terms of moderating how much you talk about your travels, and moderating who you choose to talk to about your travels – some people are more interested in others. Something to be mindful of.

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