There are 232 MILLION Expats in the world.  That’s a boat load of hard goodbyes.

This is the high season for leaving.  Over the next few weeks the same scenes will play over and over at an airport near you.  This is how you can tell them apart from the rest of the travelers:

  • The leavers are out numbered 3 to 1 by the people who came to see them off.
  • Two suitcases (not counting carry-ons) for every family member (including the three year old) stuffed to just over the maximum weight limit.
  • Small clusters of people waiting awkwardly for their turn to get a hug.
  • People standing outside the security gate staring in for the absolute final glimpse.
  • People inside the security gate turning back for one last wave.

Some form of that has happened 232 MILLION times to people living away from “home” right now.  Add to that the fact that it is all repeated multiple times over in the average span of an expat’s life and the number goes up to 1.7 BAJILLION.

Goodbyes are tough.  Whether you’re gearing up for the long flight and a new adventure or the long walk back to the airport parking lot —  here are some thoughts on how to make hard goodbyes . . . good.


Tip #1:  Don’t Save it For the Airport

Goodbyes are a process not a moment.  We’re conditioned to reduce farewells into the few minutes leading up to the one moment that we physically part ways.  It’s even weird when we share a heartfelt goodbye and then bump into that same person 15 minutes later.

“Oh . . . uh . . . hey there . . . goodbye? . . . do we hug again or uh . . . ”

The painful consequence is that we end up with a tiny window to share our deepest thoughts and feelings while other people are huddled around staring and waiting for their turn.  Start early and give it some forethought. Consider what  you are going to regret leaving unsaid or undone?  Probably more than you can realistically squeeze in between the bag check and the x-rays.


Tip #2:  Affirm X 3

What do you want to tell your BFF?  Or your mother?  Or your kid brother who thinks you hung the moon?

Start with a simple, heart felt affirmation but don’t stop there.  Go at LEAST three levels deeper.

“Hey kid, I’m really proud of you.”

Great thought but why?  What has he done that makes you proud?  Who has he become?  What impact has it had on you?  What do you hope for him while you are apart?  What excites you when you think about his future?  What are you sad that you are going to miss?

Don’t be satisfied to leave the people you love with the generic version of what they already assume to be true  – “You’re the best.  I really appreciate you.  I’m gonna’ miss you.”

Dig deeper.  That’s where the gold is.


Tip #3:   You Get Bonus Points for Awkward

The strength of your goodbyes and your affirmations are directly proportional to the amount of discomfort it causes you to say them.  It’s the same principle that makes great movie endings.

  • The cold, authoritarian war hero dad who weeps and embraces his son who quit college to join the ballet.
  • The wedding that is interrupted by the brides true love.

You don’t have to win an Emmy here but if it’s hard for you to say, they’ll know you mean it.

sidenote:  If you are that person who is always saying awkward things you get fewer points.  You may want to skip this one.


Tip #4:  Go Old School — Write it out

There is something uniquely powerful about a handwritten note read at a vulnerable moment.  Whether you’re 30,000 feet over an ocean or in a van full of family and friends headed back home, pulling out the note that was slipped to you at the airport is pretty great.  Or maybe they just left it where you could find it.  Or maybe they read it to you out loud.

Regardless . . . big, long handwritten pages of notebook paper do something that an email and even cards never can.


Tip #5:  Have a “Stupid Questions” Party

Whether you are leaving or being left it is likely that there is a huge gap between what is going on in your mind and what is going on in theirs.  Often people staying have fears and concerns that they are afraid to discuss because they seem horribly inappropriate.

“I heard they put outsiders in prison for walking on the wrong side of the street.”

“I heard there are snakes that can eat a bus.”

Get together with the people you love the most and take off all of the restraints.  No question is off limits.  It’s not only a good way to do away with some unnecessary fears but it’s a great way to build a lasting connection that is based in reality and not assumption.


Tip #6: Turn Your Goodbye Into a Memory

Do something with your closest friends or family before you leave that pulls double duty.  Say goodbye AND create some new memories at the same time.

Go on a road trip.  Go skydiving.  Go out to an expensive dinner or better yet get dressed up to the hilt and go out to the Burger Barn.  Sit out on the roof of your house and talk until 3am.  Photo bomb your city.

Point is go out with a bang.  Do something that sets your time apart from your relationship routine.  Laugh til it hurts and leave with something you can smile about when you’re missing them later.


Tip #7:  Get Matching Somethings

This one is for you and your best bud (BFF or besty depending on your vernacular).  It doesn’t really matter what it is but get a pair of something.  Each of you take one and as you go your separate ways see how many pictures you can sneak it into.  You’ll maintain a magical connection as you send each other photos in your matching purple t-shirts whether you’re on the Great Wall or at a hometown Junior High basketball game.

Careful though — If you’re both competitive it could get crazy.


Tip #8: Schedule Your First Call Before You Part Ways

Good intentions don’t survive long distances.  You will never be more tuned into this relationship than when you are saying goodbye.  After that, life kicks back in on both sides.  Throw in different time zones, culture shock and all the responsibilities of figuring out what normal looks like and the likelihood of a Skype or FaceTime in the near future gets slimmer and slimmer.

Now is the time to get it on the calendar.  Be realistic but get the first one in ink.


Tip #9:  You Get Bonus Points for Creativity

Sing a song.  Draw a picture.  Get crafty.  Cook a meal.  Write a poem.  Make a scrapbook.

Creativity does three things:

  • It requires forethought which communicates how much you value that relationship.
  • Its expresses something that is uniquely you.  Not someone else’s prefabricated, store-bought idea.
  • It leaves them with something tangible that reminds them of you.  They’ll think of you every time they look at your photo-copied smushy face that you framed and gift wrapped for them . . . that’s just one idea.  There are probably others.


Tip #10:  Say it in Chinese

Even if you or your loved one is moving to Kyrgyzstan (you just pronounced that wrong in your head) or Zimbabwe, say goodbye in Chinese.

Translated literally it means “See you again.”

Hold on to that thought and plan for that sweet moment.

Scratch that . . . “Hello again” is a process too.


But that’s another blog post.


If you’re gearing up for some hard goodbyes it is so worth the effort to make them good.  Still hard . . . but good too.

If you know people who are gearing up for some hard goodbyes please pass this on.

If you are a veteran good goodbyer . . . don’t be stingy.  What works for you?


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