Despite Feeling Guilty for Traveling, Sometimes You Just Have to Move On

Despite Feeling Guilty for Traveling, Sometimes You Just Have to Move On

I’ve visited ten countries in the past four years. It’s not an astronomical number, but that’s because I travel slowly. In fact, I’m inclined to just call it sporadic migration.

I spent two-and-a-half years between Australia and New Zealand, followed by a year in Asia, which somehow blended into six months in America. It’s strange to be back in my home country, but I’m here for a reason.

After spending three holiday seasons in separation from my family, I vowed to make an appearance at home for the 2013 festivities. I have a small family and we’re tight knit, so my presence, or absence, is a big deal.

On the ferry to Auckland, NZ
On the ferry to Auckland, NZ

The strange part, though, is that my return “home” was not a return to my home at all. My mother retired to Asheville, North Carolina, and that’s where I would spend the holidays (and then the following indeterminate amount of time) reconnecting with my family. I was to be here with purpose, and I would be able to grow my blog from a stationary location, while crafting cocktails (my “other” job) in a town that has received national attention as an emerging food and drink destination.

The fact is, though, in the four years prior to my return to the United States, I hadn’t seen my family for more than a grand total of six weeks. My mother, sister and I traveled through Australia for two weeks, and then I returned to New England for four in the face of a family emergency.

The rest of my four years was spent living out of a backpack, jet-setting from country to country, and living life on a whim on the opposite side of the world.

I’m wildly grateful for the lifestyle that I’ve lead, but somehow, I’m left feeling contrite.

Longtail Boat in Tonsai, Thailand
On a longtail Boat in Tonsai, Thailand

Feeling Guilty for Traveling

Am I selfish for traveling? With such a tight-knit family, it seems inconsiderate to abandon the people I love for such a long period of time. I’ve been on my own journey, learning about myself and the world, developing a career, and working towards my goals. But somehow, my family, the most important thing in the world to me, played very little of a role in all that.

I feel guilty for traveling.

It’s not really the traveling, though, but rather the act leaving. And I question–is that simply something that we, as people, must do, or is our own journey disguised as egotism? Are we all required to leave the ones we love in an attempt to better find and understand our place in the world? And, if so, to what extent?

Sunrise in Sapa, Vietnam
The sun rises over the rice fields of Sapa, in northern Vietnam.

In the face of the aforementioned inconsideration, I’m forced with further decisions to make: Asheville is a spirited and eccentric town, with inherent beauty harnessed by the rolling green of the Pisgah National Forest. But, for many reasons, it simply isn’t for me, and I must come to terms with the guilt of leaving my family once again, in search of greener pastures and greater adventures.

All people have responsibilities to tend to, most of which are the foundation of a settled life. An office job, a mortgage and car payments all pay tribute to this list. More significant, though, are the family and friends who we rely on and who rely on us. In shedding oneself of the former, more superficial responsibilities, one also sheds themselves of the more consequential latter.

It’s a sacrifice that travelers must make.

Sullivan's Island, Charleston, SC
On the beach at Sullivan’s Island, Charleston, SC

Why It’s Important to Move On

April 5th, 2010 was a major turning point in my life. It was the day I flew to Australia with a one-way ticket, when I acted on my promise to no longer continue living out a life I didn’t enjoy. I vowed to turn my days into something of a story, and one that I would be able to recount with great fondness. The more time I spend in Asheville, though, the less fond I am of my story, and the more reason I’m given to take off once again, on a quest to write more pages in my story.

My mother is here in Asheville, though, and her presence has been momentous. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to go out for a coffee, watch a movie together, or go for a hike in the woods. Reconnecting with her has been deeply meaningful, but my own sanity is at stake.

Tropical Laos
The tropics of Laos

I don’t believe in fighting the signs. Indicators point our lives in different directions, and trying to fight them, for the sake of staying in one place, seems counterproductive. We must take hints from the world around us. If our lives are filled with contempt and monotony, there is little point in living out that life.

Sometimes, we just have to move on.

Unfortunately, the things I’m in search of simply aren’t found in this place, so with the last of my accommodation paid for and a bus ticket in hand, I swallow my guilt, and move forward, in search of new places which can provide a lifestyle more suitable to my dreams and passions.

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  1. Thanks so much for this post.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever even commented on a blog post before, but this really spoke to me. I literally googled “feeling guilty for traveling and this popped up”.

    You hit the nail on the head for me as my major guilt comes from leaving my family. I’ve created a very simple life that is easy to come an go from, a business I can run anywhere, and nothing tying me down…but still have that nagging feeling if I take off long term I’m abandoning.

    I annually leave for 2-5 months, but its never enough and coming back to a life I generally don’t want to be a part of.

    I won’t lay out my life story, but thanks for the inspiration, and yes, it is just a sacrifice the traveler must make.


    1. Hey Scott! Thanks for commenting—I’m glad this spoke to you. I went through a period of feeling intense guilt for leaving my family behind. What I didn’t know then, of course, was that I’d be back around! Especially when it comes to family, saying goodbye doesn’t always mean saying goodbye for good.

  2. I’m moving to australia for a year next week and I’m incredibly sad to be leaving my family behind as we are all very close. Your article is so relatable and has cleared all doubts I had about moving away. Although I’m leaving everyone I love back in the UK for such a long time, I need to live my life for me and enjoy every single moment. Thankyou for such a fantastic article, it’s cleared my head when I needed it the most.

  3. Wow, I literally typed “feeling guilty about travelling” into Google and this popped up. You are EXACTLY the same as me, so much so its freaky! And that’s when i realised….we are just different. I think in life, you’re either a traveller, or you’re not. We’re a special breed of people, i don’t know about you but for me its sheer curiosity that makes me travel, i want to see every corner of the globe with my own eyes, i just thrive on going to places ive never seen before! Waking up to a different horizon every day is what makes my spirit soar! LIfe is short and i dont want to waste it!
    If we were born a few hundred years ago we would be the explorers, the adventurers, the people who climbed over the valley to see what was beyond. Its nothing new, its as old as time. We are just not content to rot in a 9-5 job and confirm to a modern society and just waste away…..we want to live! I’d say that makes us the most human of all…..

  4. Great post. I understand the torn feeling and guilt as I have just left my family in June, again, who are also in North Carolina. I’m in Seoul, Korea. 7,000 miles away from “home.” My parents are both 84 years old and I wrestled with the what ifs…I can tell you that they know me, and if I’m happy they are happy. Their love is unconditional. I’ll bet your tight knight family feels the same for you. Live and love your life. Be happy!

  5. This was beautifully written. Thank you for capturing something I haven’t quite been able to put into words, yet.

  6. Glad I got to connect with you while you were in Asheville. It was nice to meet you. Now…make sure to go put some miles on your wanderlust.

    Good luck!

  7. Great post Jeremy. I think returning to the U.S. in general poses a lot of restrictions in general. We become unconscious slaves to the overall system and materialism. Living in the U.S. isn’t cheap. But family wise, I think your mother will be happy if you’re happy. Before I traveled, I’ve lived away from my family for over a decade– even living in NY when your family in Hawaii is like living in another country, such that launching overseas for 2 years wasn’t anything different to them but a more exotic vacation. =) At least your familly can travel to more exotic locations if you live abroad. =)

    1. You’re right. As long as I’m happy, my family is happy for me, and I’m incredibly lucky to have that. Not everybody does.

      I did give my mother and sister an excuse to visit Australia and New Zealand, though! I guess I’ll just have to keep giving them excuses to travel!

  8. This is really well-said. I bet it’s hard to return to a home that isn’t the home you remember, let alone returning to a now “foreign” culture. What I find ironic is that leaving family is sometimes harder when they totally support what you’re doing. It really amps up the feeling of guilt.

    1. Thanks, Craig, and it sounds like you really get where I’m coming from! All this shuffling between homes and cultures has been draining but, in the end, I’ll be a stronger person for it.

      And it’s true, what you say. I have a family who is very supportive of what I do, as it sounds like you do, and that makes it even harder!

  9. Really interesting topic but I think you have to pursue your own dreams and desires before you can fully benefit anyone else,

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. In order to look after someone else, you have to be able to look after yourself.

  10. I feel the same way. I am very close with my family and feel like I’m making it hard when I leave. It’s the roots vs. wings. But after 3 months in Asia, I’m excited to spend a year or so at home before a new adventure.

    1. That’s really wonderful! Have an excellent time with your family and make the most out of Asia while you can! Such an incredible place!

  11. Great post Jeremy! I see it as I need to take care of myself before I can be there for anyone else. Becoming the best person I can be is what is best for my to have the best relationship with my family 🙂

    1. You have an incredibly enlightened perspective, Anna! We have to be able to be the best person for ourselves before we can be the best person for anybody else. And in the end, our relationships will be stronger than they ever would have been in the first place.

  12. Great post! I constantly battle with guilt for leaving my family when I travel and it never seems to get any easier. There really is no point in living a life that you don’t love, though.

    1. Thank you, Ashley! It’s a hard balance to strike, and the truth is it may not ever get any easier. But it’s our own journey and we must strive to find happiness in the world around us.

  13. Great post Jeremy, I can relate. It was especially hard for me, because both my parents immigrated from Mexico and worked extremely hard to give me all the opportunities they didn’t have. So It came as a shock to them when I graduated University that I would move abroad. They couldn’t understand why I would just leave everything behind. You just need to follow your heart and live your life. You will fall many times, but each time you pick yourself up you develop the trust to carve out your own path.

    1. That’s a lot to come to terms with! I’m sure you’re grateful for what they’ve given you, but the best opportunities, especially the ones that fulfill your dreams, don’t always exist at home. And, indeed, it’s your own path that you must create and follow. Thanks for sharing your story, Ivan!

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