It’ll hit you when you least expect it. For me, it was as I was driving down a narrow mountain road completely mesmerized by the fresh snow on the mountain peaks towering above, happy. Incredibly happy. The kind of happy that makes your insides feel like a perfectly toasted marshmallow. Everything seems right in the world + I was invincible to the doubts of reality.
Then the guilt rolled in. I remember I was driving down the mountain to pick up an elderly man who lives in the village above. An ironic reminder that I had left my own grandparents back home, struggling with a myriad of their own mobility issues. I should be home helping them, supporting them. But I’m not. Instead, I’m spending time gazing off at mountains in a foreign country. Attempting to live life.
Oh, but that’s just the beginning. Travel guilt doesn’t stop with just one little nugget of “maybe I should have stayed”. It will pummel you with every possible scenario of where you could be, instead. The “I should be doing…” guilt + the “I should NOT be doing…” guilt. A complicated mash-up of needing to do it all without needing anyone else to help you do it all. Because, independence + because this was your crazy idea so you need to see it through, alone.
It’s a guilt built around unrealistic expectations that no one but yourself has created. Guilt that doesn’t make logical sense, but guilt that your emotions can’t seem to abandon.
“I should be…”
…back home supporting my family, not saying “I’m here to listen” over + over.
…doing a better job of supporting myself + creating a financial future, not planning another weekend away.
…hanging out with my boyfriend, not running around the mountains alone.
…saving money for the adventures we talk about taking together, not blowing money on my own.
…cooking this dinner for the friends I left behind, not for strangers who speak different languages.
…spending time writing about my stories so I’ll never forget, not staying up late with random people in a hostel.
…building a raised garden in Colorado, not murdering rogue weeds in Switzerland.
…somewhere else more responsible…doing something more responsible…for someone more responsible…
Your head will swim with all of the thinsg you *should* be doing. Why should you be doing these things? Maybe it’s because that’s the fantasy story you thought up for yourself. Or it’s what internet strangers + random stories imply are the correct things yo ushould be doing. Most likely, it’s just you not being able to do it all. As if feeling guilty for what you should be doing wasn’t enough…there’s also that guilt around what you should NOT be doing…
“I should NOT be…”
…calling my mom so often, I’m a grown adult woman! [don’t worry Mom, I won’t stop calling…#sorrynotsorry]
…wanting + needing to talk to my boyfriend every freaking day, we’re independent people.
…craving the comforts of home, I do this for the uncomfortable.
…feeling bad about my current situation, I know I’m lucky to have these opportunities.
…stressing out about things I can’t control back home, they’d happen even if I was there.
…missing out on opportunities to do MORE, we all only live once!
…so stingy with money, a person can always earn more money but experiences a fleeting.
…spending another day taking it easy around the chalet, there’s so much to see OUT THERE!
…having bad days + definitely not complaining about them, I’m living the dream. Right?!
Of course, this isn’t a simple, singular guilt — it doesn’t just make you feel guilty for having fun. It also finds a way to make you feel guilty for not have *enough* fun. Apparently, that’s a thing. Someone more versed in today’s slang may assume this is a plain ol’ case of “FOMO” [fear of missing out], but I think it’s more. When you’re out + about exploring the world you’re missing out on all the things I just listed + so much more…for the sake of travel.
Is it worth it? Are you traveling enough? Are you seeing enough? Have you checked enough boxes? What are you missing? What if you don’t ever get to do this again…have you done all of the things? Why aren’t you doing more?
It’s daylight, you should be hiking in the sunlight! It’s midnight, you should be hiking in the moonlight! Finally, a sunny day, get outside + enjoy it. Whoops, a rainy day, put that book down + socialize. During the week, take advantage of cheaper prices. On a weekend, go hang out with newfound friends that worked all week. On a Wednesday, go find something historical to ponder. When the second double-digit Friday of the month rolls around, go do something epic! Now…!
There will ALWAYS be times in your life when you don’t feel like you’re doing enough, even if you’re doing too much. This rogue guilt will creep up when you’re putting in extra hours at work or an overpriced flight away from family when life happens or sitting in a Starbucks instead of a local cafe just because they’re open later.
We will never be doing enough…but there’s something about being out in this world all by yourself that makes that guilt feel about 37 times heavier. At least for me. When the travel guilt finally kicks in [usually a solid 2-3 weeks after lonely arrives + is wrangled into submission] I struggle to find the motivation to explore or a reason to do more. My desire to push the boundaries is thwarted by my fear that it won’t be good enough. If it’s not exceptionally epic, why bother?! [That’s a terrible excuse, used as an exaggerated example…yet it’s an excuse that floats through my mind more often than it should. Don’t ever let it be a real excuse!]
Maybe this is just me, maybe no one else experiences it, but I’m about six weeks into my current “go see the world” endeavor + the travel guilt is beating me over the head with a Nerds rope while punching me in the chest with a crushed KitKat bar [I miss cheap American candy…]. Even before I started reasoning these feels out through typed words, I knew this guilt was an unfounded, irrational emotion. But it’s there + ignoring it won’t make it disappear any quicker.
I knew it was coming, but I still haven’t figured out how to manage it when it shows up. It always takes me a few days [or a week, or…time, it takes time!] to re-convince myself I am where I need to be, because this is who I am.
I also know that before long I’ll be game to push the limits of my comfort zone again. I know that I really should say “yea, that sounds fun” even if it sounds inconvenient in the moment. This guilt won’t get me to cancel my plans to procure a bike + peddle around a country or wander into the Swiss Alps to watch the sunset from a remote hut. It doesn’t have enough power to change me or my plans…it’s just a reminder to regroup + remember why I am where I am + why I am who I am.
**Maybe this is just a “me” thing, but if you’re relating to it at all…then know it’s not “just you”. This was all written in one sitting without any re-writing, for the sake of simplicity + my desire to keep it as authentic as possible**