I got an email from a reader in August with a question that I’d never been asked before.
“I was wondering if you had any particular tips or suggestions of ways that your friends and family back home have made you feel loved and supported from far away and maybe things that have helped both you and them get adjusted to the distance.”
Her best friend had just moved to Spain and she found my blog while reading about Spain to try to feel more connected to the new adventure her best friend was about to embark on. I thought it was so sweet that she’d taken the time to ask a question that is so important, but rarely talked about.
When someone takes the plunge and moves away (even just to another state) distance can put a strain on friendships if you’re used to being in the same physical place as each other. Her question got me thinking about what my friends and family do to help keep our relationships strong, and what I do to help myself feel more connected. Although I’m drawing from my experience with international long-distance friendships (and family-ships?), I think it can really be applied to any sort of long-distance friendship, even if you only live an hour away.
1. Whatsapp like there’s no tomorrow
If you don’t know, Whatsapp is an extremely popular messaging app. It isn’t as well-known in the USA since almost everyone has unlimited texting, but in Europe such a thing isn’t normal and usually SMS texts cost money. Enter: Whatsapp. Virtually everyone in Spain with a smartphone has Whatsapp and your Whatsapp contacts are automatically populated from your phone’s contacts. According to Whatsapp’s website, it is free for the first year and then 99 cents per year after that, however I don’t recall ever paying 99 cents for it. Either way, less than 10 cents a month to keep in touch with your friends is obviously worth it so I highly recommend it. Whatsapp now even offers free calls to other Whatsapp users!
My five best friends and I have a Whatsapp group and since between the six of us we live in five different places (Buffalo, Albany, NYC, Pittsburgh and Spain) Whatsapp has been a huge life saver for us. We talk constantly throughout the day, share funny pictures and links and just chit chat. Knowing that we’re all thinking of each other and sharing things that remind of us each other really keeps us feeling close. It is obviously not the same as all living in the same city, but since we’re constantly up-to-date on each others’ lives, it’s like no time has passed when we finally reunite (going on 15 months without seeing them as of now)!
2. Video chat when possible
I’ll admit, this is a hard one for me (and my friends) to maintain. We tried to do a once-a-month video chat session but with six different schedules and a 6-hour time difference to synchronize, we kind of sucked at it. I will say, though, that we haven’t yet failed to all spend Christmas Eve Eve (December 23rd) together, whether it be physically or via video chat, for the past ten years. And my dad and I have a standing Facetime date every Sunday night (my time) that we almost never miss.
When I am able to work out a video chat with my friends, it’s so bittersweet- I love seeing them and catching up “face-to-face,” but it always leaves me feeling a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) afterwards. Although we don’t do as many one-on-one calls or chats as I’d like, it’s still great hearing their laughs and their voices and it’s the perfect way to feel like you’re really with each other. A definite occasional must for long-distance friendships!
3. Snail mail
These days it’s pretty rare for anyone to get snail mail, which makes it extra special, and even more so when it’s traveled across an entire ocean! I wish I were better at sending occasional letters and trinkets to my friends (and vice versa) but I have managed to keep it up with my sister for our birthdays. Although I’d never expect anything big or extravagant, it’s always so exciting to see a handwritten envelope in my mailbox (expected or unexpected)! There’s just something about having a physical object- even if it’s just a letter- that really solidifies the connection. When something travels from their hands to your hands over thousands of miles in just a week’s time, it’s enough to put you in a gushy happy mood for the rest of the week.
Two of the most special packages I’ve received were a Halloween package from my aunt my first autumn in Spain, which included candy corn and laminated, colorful Western New York leaves, and a birthday package from my sister for my 26th birthday this past May with a hamsa dish and a beautiful necklace that matches one that she has. Though I obviously loved the gifts themselves, what made me feel really special was that they’d taken the time to go out of their way to make such a nice gesture.
Some of my favorite memories of living in Spain are from times when my friends have come to visit. It’s clearly not expected that anyone will fly across the ocean to see you, so when they do it is extremely emotional and exciting to say the least. Having my friends from home in Spain was bizarre (in the best way!!) both times friends have come, and it makes it so much easier to share your experiences with them once they’ve seen the places and met the people that you’re always talking about from your new home.
So there you have it. My top three tips for maintaining long-distance friendships. Although they may seem kind of obvious, it’s surprising how difficult it is to keep up all three, especially for a long time. Major props to my friends and family who have gone out of their way to keep our relationships strong for the past four years. Knowing I have such supportive people in my life makes it easier to make difficult decisions like moving abroad again (!!) because I know that things between us won’t change. If you have a friend or family member who has moved away, make sure you attempt these methods post haste! It will definitely strengthen your relationships and, as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder!
Do you have other ways of supporting a friend or family member from a distance, or ways your loved ones have made you feel special? I’m definitely open to new methods, so let me know in the comments!