You’ll never hear someone say they regret moving abroad. It’s nigh impossible because you grow and develop in wonderful ways: you meet fantastic people that somehow just stumble on your path and immediately become a life-long friend or even a mere acquaintance that you happen to share a memory with; you go to so many new places and you’ll find that each lovely vision of a city leaves its mark on you. You will always hear travellers telling their stories and their genuine enthusiasm is easy to see. But nobody tells you the down side of travelling; that is something most of us discover alone, and quietly.
They may try to explain it but unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s really quite difficult to put yourself in their shoes; to understand these overwhelming feelings. No one really ever wants to talk about the cons of travelling. Maybe we feel ashamed for feeling this way. After all, it was us who made the selfish decision to leave.
But nobody tells you the down side of travelling; that is something most of us discover alone, and quietly.”
I’ve been living abroad since 2012 and I can’t count how many planes I’ve boarded. I’ve become myself (shown my true colours, learnt about life and love) and it’s all due to my travels and living in different countries. Currently, I’ve visited 22 countries.
This list is by no means everyone’s experience, but I bet that every person who has traveled can relate to it in one way or another.
Here’s the thing:
You can never go back to your old life
The minute you say goodbye to your family and get on that plane you are starting a new part of your life. And there is no going back. Even if you do return to the same job and friends and house and lifestyle. You have experienced something that people at home cannot relate to. Your travel stories become tedious to them so they are yours alone. It doesn’t relate to their lives. This part of you that you have had, it sets you apart. Mostly in good ways, but the struggle of returning to your life before travelling… it’s hard. You feel changed.
I don’t think I can ever go home again; not to live anyway. That me, that version of me is long dead. I love my friends and family at home. Possibly more now than when I was home because I value my time with them more; I appreciate every moment now that I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like (South Africa is really far away from everywhere and I try to go home at least every 18 months.) But, because of the path I have chosen, I find it difficult to go back.
People get used to you leaving
The first time you leave everyone is crying at the airport. All your friends come to say their goodbyes and the tears fall freely between you and them. This heart breaking moment will never leave you. Imagine a giant plaster being ripped from an open wound. That pain is not easy to forget. But it only hurts the first time. When you return, celebration ensues. But after you leave, people become used to you leaving. This is normal. That wound has healed. People have other things to worry about. Once you’ve left, (in their minds) you’re gone.
The last time I went home it was for a week and, in a way, it was harder to leave than the first time. The day I left, I cried in the car, not knowing when next I would see my family. Getting on that plane was soul-destroying; what on earth is worth leaving your family behind for? These questions start to plague you
You create bonds that can last a lifetime but you’ll probably be living on opposite ends of the earth.”
You get used to people leaving
When you move to a new country (long or short-term), you automatically fall into the expat community. It’s our built in safety net and because of the circumstances, you make friends very quickly. But, as the majority of the time they are fellow travellers, they have their own wandering journey to take; leaving you behind.
It’s not something that can be helped. You create bonds that can last a lifetime but you’ll probably be living on opposite ends of the earth. And you get used to it. You are always open to meeting such fantastic human beings, but it hurts when that part of the journey with you is over. You’re left with bittersweet memories.
You become very, very lonely
You meet so many interesting people when you move abroad. It’s inevitable. And you find yourself going out and enjoying the city and cherishing these moments with your new friends. But it takes time to build a meaningful friendship. You can be surrounded by people and just feel stuck inside your head.
You miss your family gatherings. Christmases: I travel instead of going home because it’s too expensive. One year I was invited to spend Christmas with a friend in Ireland and it was a great affair and I will be forever be grateful for them allowing me into their home as if I was one of them. However, I wasn’t one of them – I was a polite intruder. My own family were literally on the other side of the world.
Friends and family can’t always visit. The only friends that I have been able to see are the ones that I met whilst travelling. Tickets are expensive, work gets in the way, and my city isn’t a priority on the list of must-see places… Whatever the reason, you lose friends. It’s no one’s fault; it just happens. Be it the Internet or old fashioned snail mail, none of it can replace seeing the face of a dear one. And as a result, relationships sometimes wither and die because neither of you can see each other. But life goes on.
the home you once knew becomes a weird place between something that is and someone you once were.”
You don’t fit in anywhere anymore
You are not at home. And the home you once knew becomes a weird place between something that is and someone you once were. You are not a local and this is evident when you go to the shops, the clubs, the parties. You are not one of them, no matter how hard you try.
The culture, the food, the mentality; they may be completely different or slightly similar but they are not the same. When you live in a place long enough, you are mix between local and foreigner. It can be quite liberating and yet also quite alienating.
You feel guilty for things you cannot help
When shit hits the fan back home, you can’t leave at the drop of a hat. You took the risk of leaving and now you must deal with the consequences. You can’t be the shoulder to cry on; you can’t be that pillar of strength you usually are. Your loved ones understand but that doesn’t make it any easier on your conscience. This is a toll we have to pay.
You miss everything that goes on at home
You can’t be there for all the weddings your childhood friends are now having. Which wedding, birthday, social event do you choose to attend and which do you skip? You can watch and cheer on from afar, but when has that ever been sufficient? Birthdays. A Skype call, maybe you can send a card.
“Out of sight, out of mind.” This is not every traveller’s problem but it affects us more than you know. We are alone. We learn who we are very quickly because we spend the majority of our time alone with our thoughts.
Travelling isn’t always about sunshine and rainbows in foreign and exotic places. It is the truest mirror of what we can see in ourselves. We learn to become dependent on only ourselves.
There are moments when you cannot share your new experiences with the people you love just like the way that you cannot describe colour to a blind person. We can relate to other travellers, but the nomadic spirit in us calls us to move on to our next adventure, sometimes with others; usually alone.
So, is it worth it?
There are so many advantages and truly awesome reasons to pack your bags and adventure off into the unknown. I am sure that all your travel buddies have told you. But don’t be fooled:
Travelling isn’t for everyone. It can actually suck from time to time to be honest. But this is who we are; this life chooses us more than we choose it. We do not regret this road we have taken, no matter how difficult it can get at times. Do I think it is worth it? Well, I’m still travelling and learning to live with the consequences of my decisions, but with great sacrifice comes great reward.
All any of us can try do is live our lives to the fullest; to the best of our God-given ability. And whether that’s being a home-body or a traveller, we are all feeling the same things.
It is as the saying goes: The grass is not greener on the other side. The grass is green where you decide to water it.