Andrew & Amy in Rome

Leaving Home and Travel Guilt

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I should even write this post – but I think it’s only right to talk about the lows, as well as the highs of planning a massive life change like leaving everything behind to travel the world.  Right now, aside from being crazy excited that our departure date is only 20 weeks away and losing sleep over how much we still have left to do before we leave; I’m experiencing a case of travel guilt.
Leaving home to travel

Why do I feel Guilty about Leaving Home to Travel?

I didn’t realise that as our trip drew closer our reasons for leaving would become clearer to us, but yet more baffling to those who know us. In fact, we’re having to spend more and more time explaining to people exactly why we want to go travelling – which isn’t as simple as it sounds.

For Andrew, it’s more a straightforward case of wanting to travel now, while we have the time, money and health to do so. He’s happy teaching and gets satisfaction from his job; but for me, things are different.   I’ve spent three years in my current job writing with the sole aim of making money for my employer, so I want to get away and finally write about my passions for a change. I might not make much (or any) money from it but at least I’ll be happy.

It’s not just that though; I need to see the world and I want to get away from this lifestyle I’m living now. I don’t like being stuck in this grinding capitalist routine; working long hours to earn money to spend on expensive housing, shiny gadgets, fancy clothes and the annual two week package holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re better than anyone else for choosing travel over a home, family and steady job – I get that these things make other people happy; they’re just not for me.

That’s where the guilt comes in though. Who am I to complain about my life when billions of other people have a far more difficult time than us? We live comfortably, we have jobs, enough to eat, a place to live, families and people we care about, so why do I want to throw all that away to go travelling?

What I try to remember is that happiness is relative depending on who you are and where in the world you happen to have been born. In many ways we’re lucky to have been born in a country where we have access to free healthcare and education, for example, a benefit system, an opportunity to get a job and a right to express our opinions freely.   But, all that doesn’t mean our society is perfect though, that we don’t still have battles to fight or that we shouldn’t wish for more. Britain isn’t all flag-waving, jubilee parties and dazzling Olympic ceremonies – there is still poverty, illness and injustice in this country. The majority of people struggle through their daily lives, making ends meet while the minority hog the money, benefits and opportunities.

That’s another reason why I want to leave – so that I can see how other people live and find a way to live that makes me happy. But then there’s also the guilt of leaving everyone behind – of feeling like I’m shunning people I genuinely like and enjoy spending time with. I know, for instance, that my mum isn’t happy about us going; she’s worried that we won’t want to come back and that she’ll never see us again, even though I’ve tried to reassure her that won’t happen. Andrew and I both have elderly grandparents we’re leaving behind, and friendships that will be hard to maintain while we’re on the road.

I’m sure I’ll feel this guilt again and again, especially when we travel to economically poorer countries; or miss another family occasion – but I suppose these are the things we’re going to have to deal with if we want to make our dreams of long-term travel a reality.

Do you ever feel guilty about travelling?

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15 Comments
  • Charlie
    Posted at 04:34h, 13 October Reply

    Girl, I totally get you! Travel guilt is the worst. I’ve lived a abroad for four years altogether (3 years in my current place) and, although I’m happier here than back home, the guilt of leaving family and friends is sometime overwhelming. At times I feel horribly selfish but then I remember that we all have to do what makes us happy and, in my experience, the people who truly care about you understand this. If you don’t go for your dreams of travelling, you’ll for sure regret it! Sure, there’ll be times when you’ll miss people but remember, Skype is a godsend!! And never worry that you’re not appreciating what you’ve got. Wanting to travel and see how others live is nothing but admirable!

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:05h, 13 October Reply

      Thanks so much for your comments Charlie – it’s good to know that other travellers struggle with this too. Good point about skype too, at least nowadays it’s a lot easier to stay in contact with people than it used to be. Did your family ever get used to you being away so much? I just checked out your site – looks great! I’m excited to hear how all your travel planning goes; once you set a date it really makes the trip feel real, doesn’t it?

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 04:58h, 13 October Reply

    What a great, thoughtful post! I understand exactly where you are coming from, since I too have remarked several times that although Tony and I worked very hard to take this trip, we are still lucky that we were ever in a position to do so. We are visiting places where the notion of taking such a trip would never cross most people’s mind, as they simply could never afford to do this, not even after a lifetime of saving.

    But I suppose, there is no use feeling guilty about the things we cannot change. I acknowledge my good fortune and am grateful for it, but just because the world has huge economic disparities, does not mean that I should give up my travel dreams, even if to others they are a luxury that cannot be afforded. Instead, like you, I hope that by traveling and seeing the world as it really is, I can make a positive change with my dollars and with my life. And yes, every day I wake up and get to travel, I thank my lucky stars, because they are indeed very lucky.

    Don’t fret too much about being able to create this opportunity for yourself. So far we have not encountered anyone who resents us for taking this trip. People seem happy that we have come to visit, and yes, to spend our money there as well! They may not be able to travel as extensively as we are, but they are very happy that we are interested enough to spend that hard-earned money on them!

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:10h, 13 October Reply

      Thanks Steph, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels the guilt! It’s good to know too that you’ve had such positive experiences on the road so far; you raise a valid point about spending money too, better to spend it in other countries to support local businesses and people then put it straight back in the pockets of big commercial corporations in the UK. Looking forward to your posts about the Philippines by the way!

  • Pingback:The True Meaning of Homelessness & Christmas
    Posted at 20:57h, 21 December Reply

    […] enough to afford a safe place to sleep and food to eat feel. For me it also prompts that sense of travel guilt again, the suspicion that we’re being ungrateful for giving up our fortunate lives, our nice, […]

  • Kelly
    Posted at 17:53h, 03 February Reply

    First off, you are a fantastic writer! So I am sure that what you are writing whilst abroad will be phenominal. I am in the same predicament as you right now. I was just accepted to a 2 year International Studies program for my Masters, and I told my parents last night. They were very supportive and and agreed to pay financially for it, which is from God a giant blessing. My excitement was dwindled unfortonately since I feel like I should not want to leave because they have been so gracious in helping my education financially and more. So Yes, i completely agree and understand that feeling of guilt. But as was posted earlier, if you DONT go, you will be doing a diservice to your life. You may even resent the people that you are around all of the time, because in some way or another, they made you stay. It could even just be indirectly and subconsciously. I am not sure what your faith is, but for me, it is my whole life. I am going abroad to live in the slums and learn how to form schools, healthcare centers, and churches in third world countries. I know that guilt is not a feeling from God, and it is instead something that Satan puts on our shoulders to get us to be miserable. I hope that it will comfort you a bit knowing that someone else is in a similar situation as you!

    • Amy
      Posted at 18:11h, 03 February Reply

      Hi Kelly, thanks for your support. With only 4 weeks left to go before we leave I’m feeling more positive and although it’ll be hard to say goodbye, I’m also feeling more confident than ever that I’m doing the right thing. It sounds like moving away to do your Masters will be fantastic for you and if you’re parents are helping financially they must feel so too – good luck with everything.

  • Carrie
    Posted at 18:26h, 12 April Reply

    Hey, there, oh yes I know about that guilt (I was googling to find others with that thing going on and found your site). I am already 3 years away from Home (Germany), but so far I only lived abroad in Europe (Spain and ITaly). But now we are moving to Malaysia, and I feel enormous guilt. My granparents and my sister especially. My grandparents are getting older and weaker, and my sister lives close by and visits them regularly. She says she could not go away like I do because then they would have nobody. So yes, I feel like a big selfish arse.
    I just wish everybody would not rely their happiness on other persons, so that it would be more possible to let somebody go. But of course it it hard, and especially for older people. I hope I will always be able to let loved ones go without making them feel guilty.
    Wish you a wonderful journey!!

    • Amy
      Posted at 00:45h, 14 April Reply

      Hi Carrie, you’re right, it’s especially difficult to leave elderly relatives. I’m sure that they want you to be happy though, try to enjoy your time in Malaysia!

  • Waheed
    Posted at 16:34h, 18 August Reply

    I’m about to travels abroad and leave my home family and grandparents I’m really feeling guilty about this and worrying that i will miss home really bad but seeing the comment’s here made me feel a bit better and inspired, that I’m not only one who leaves everything for the dreams.

    • Amy
      Posted at 21:17h, 18 August Reply

      Hi Waheed, I’m glad this article has made you feel better. We found that once we were out travelling family and friends were supportive and got used to us being away, we were able to skype regularly and are now back in the UK for a visit. You may miss home but I’m sure you’ll also love travelling and I bet your family will be happy to see you living your dreams – make the most of it and have fun 🙂

  • Sara
    Posted at 21:47h, 29 April Reply

    I am experiencing the same problem. I work in the international humanitarian field and my job requires me to travel for missions of average of 6 months. I go home for several months before being required to travel again and leave behind my father. While my job is very fulfilling, I feel terribly guilty for my father but I can not help it.

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:24h, 01 May Reply

      Hi Sara, thanks so much for reading and commenting. It sounds like you have an amazing job and I’m sure your father is very proud of what you’re doing why you’re away. I know it’s hard but try not to feel too bad 🙂

  • Anna
    Posted at 15:15h, 26 May Reply

    I feel a bit better after reading this.

    I’m 21, my boyfriend lives in England. I went in March on my college spring break to England for the first time,and loved it. He’s been to the USA a few times already to see me – and since I just graduated, I planned on going again while I have some spare time before I go back for more schooling or to a real job.
    My parents have always wanted to go to Europe (and have the money and time to do so, just never have – they go on weekend vacations to places like San Francisco or Santa Fe from time to time), and my mom tells me how she would like to go one day.

    It makes me feel guilty because both my parents pay for everything and do everything for me without asking for anything, and here I am up and leaving to a dream place all on my own again. I’m going for my birthday in June for two weeks and our one year AND my graduation celebration, and my mom is a bit bitter over me ‘leaving on my birthday’ because my family is going to Memphis for a weekend. It was specifically going to be a trip for my birthday but they made the plans too late and I brought up going to England too late, I guess. So I feel a bit guilty but I think to myself, there will be other fun family weekends and vacations, and this person over the pond means a lot to me – and I love it over there, when I’m older, I’ll look back and appreciate the traveling I’ve done, I think. I hope my mom understands a bit better eventually. I bring everyone back souvenirs and I stay in contact with pictures and I pay for everything myself…I wish she’d be more supportive. Then I wouldn’t feel so badly.

    • Amy
      Posted at 07:00h, 27 May Reply

      Hi Anna, I know it can be hard when family members aren’t keen on you travelling. You have to do what makes you happy though and I’m sure at the end of the day your family wants you to be happy. Enjoy your trips to England 🙂

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