Dealing With the Dreadful "Traveler’s Guilt"

In December 2017, I broke my lease, put all non-essentials into storage, and moved into my mom’s living room. Not too long afterwards, I took off to Portugal for the duration of my Schengen visa (3 months) and had a grand ol’ time. In May 2018, I returned to my mom’s sofa for a month and a half before heading to Mexico, where I’ve been since.

It’s been great.

That’s why I’m going to try my hardest to refrain from sounding too first-worldly, because, my god, this is a first world problem if I’ve ever heard one.

Here it goes: I travel full-time, and I feel guilty about it.

For transparency’s sake, I’ll go ahead and let ya’ll know that I’m not the most family-oriented person. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but it’s something that I’ve come to accept about myself; maintaining relationships is not my strong suit.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m a heartless wench. Hence the guilt.

So what’s the deal?

Since I’ve been gone, my great-grandmother and great-uncle have died, as has my grandfather’s beloved Mini Pinscher (the last living relic of my grandmother, who’s also deceased). One of my favorite childhood “uncles” has suffered a stroke. My brother and baby nephew have moved away. My dad has been diagnosed with diabetes. My sister’s gone through several teenage crises.

There are other, more trivial, changes that have happened too. Like a Starbucks being built on St. Claude Avenue and the Trolley Stop shutting down. Not that I could single-handedly stop gentrification in New Orleans, but part of me feels like I could. Maybe if I hadn’t left, maybe if I’d been in town to buy an omelette or two, the Trolley Stop would’ve lived to see another day. You know, with the butterfly effect and all.

It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that, whenever I see him again, my nephew will not know who I am. It’s even more difficult to fathom that I may not get the chance to see my (living) grandparents again.

I feel guilty for leading a free life while my peers and relatives are plagued by the daily grind of water bills and grumpy bosses.

Like I said, my life is amazing, but by missing everyone else’s lives it sometimes feels like I’m missing out on mine.

On the flip side, the selfish part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to put my life on pause for a few funerals and omelettes.

Ouch.

OUCH.

I know that hurt to read. It hurt more to write and even more so to think.

So, Andy, just go home. Problem solved.

Except not really.

My family encouraged me to dream big, and dream big I did. As miserable as it is to watch my loved ones from afar, you know what’s even more miserable?

Sleeping on my mom’s couch.

I love my mom’s couch, and I love my mom even more, but I don’t want to have sleepovers with them every night.

But I’m not the only one

Within all of this lies the possibility that these thoughts could be projections of my own conscious. My family could quite possibly not give a shit about how or where I spend my time. They may be happy for me, even. But why do I feel like such an awful human being?

In the midst of doing research for this article, I found out that I’m not actually the only person who has had second thoughts about picking up a suitcase and dropping everything (and everyone) else. In fact, there’s an existing term for this exact feeling: traveler’s guilt. And while they may bring about similar feelings of nausea and general discomfort, this is not to be confused with traveler’s diarrhea.

But traveler’s guilt isn’t as simple as feeling bad about travelling without your family. No, dear reader. There’s an entire spectrum of things for you to feel guilty about while making your way around our humble little globe. They include:

  • Feeling guilty about going over budget

  • Feeling guilty about veering off your planned schedule

  • Feeling guilty about taking time off of work

  • Feeling guilty about gentrifying an area

  • Feeling guilty about being more well off than the locals

  • Feeling guilty about being guilty when you should just be feeling grateful

There are more reasons, but I have to stop writing now because all my tears are short-circuiting my keyboard.


Solutions Shmolutions

So what’s the key to dealing with this lukewarm soup of emotions?

Slurp it up and deal with it.

Just kidding, I’ll let you know when I figure it out. But for now — going live in a cave for the rest of my life. Or maybe back to mom’s couch.

See ya.


Can you relate? How do you deal with traveler’s guilt?