How To Deal With Traveler's Guilt After Leaving Everyone Behind

by Rachael Thatcher
Isaiah & Taylor Photography

It seems like you're having an incredible traveling experience, so what could possibly be causing that sinking feeling in your gut? There's only one explanation, and that is traveler's guilt.

Traveler's guilt can exhibit a number of symptoms, including, but not limited to, anxiety, stomach aches and an overall feeling of doubt and uncertainty. The cause? Parents, spouses, partners, friends and basically anyone you may be leaving behind while spending an extensive time away from home.

Traveler's guilt can affect anyone at anytime, and it's hard to pinpoint when symptoms will strike. Usually the victim experiences the most pain after ending a Skype call with a relative, but it can also be displayed when jealousy is expressed by friends, partners and colleagues.

I first felt traveler's guilt when I was studying abroad in London. I left my now ex-boyfriend behind for the summer, and I jetted across the pond for a couple of months of living in a 12-person apartment with other students.

Needless to say, he wasn't thrilled about the idea. He didn't think I would actually go, and once I did, he was shocked.

Someone who had never mentioned a hint of jealousy (or any emotion, for that matter) was on my case, trying to act like he didn't really care. But in reality, he was stressing about what I was doing, where I was going and whom I was doing it all with. I could see the pain he was holding in when I FaceTimed him, and I couldn't ignore the doubt written across his face when I told him he'd love to travel there with me.

Well, this passed and we got through it, but eventually, the relationship ended anyway. Deep down, I knew that this meant our lifestyles wouldn't be compatible, but that's a story for another article.

I thought nixing the boyfriend and getting together with my friends before I left would be a solution for feeling this way during my time abroad, but the worst part was still to come. I would be leaving my family.

I'm lucky enough to have a really tight-knit and loving family that I wouldn't trade for the world. But, I found myself wishing they wouldn't care quite so much during my time away.

I came down with my worst case yet when I left for Spain after my college graduation. I was absolutely giddy with the idea of taking off to go au pair in a country I had never been to before.

My parents were terrified. They're too supportive to say, “Absolutely not,” but when I bounced around smiling and throwing my hands in the air exclaiming, “I'm going to Madrid!” all they could do was grit their teeth and unenthusiastically mumble, “Yay.”

I don't blame them at all. They love the crap out of me, and they didn't want me to leave.

More so, they were worried something would happen to me, or that I wouldn't come back. This was not a school trip, or what they thought would be an educational experience. There weren't professors and staff there to organize everything.

The thought of a 22-year-old traveling to another country by herself was something they had never heard of. The mere idea of it had them responding with skepticism, uncertainty and quotes from the movie, "Taken." “I miss you” is one thing, and “Come home” is another.

Almost every time I was Skyping home to my family, “Why don't you just come home?” was a question I'd get asked just a minute in. Sometimes it was said jokingly, but usually it was backed with sadness and worry.

And each time, I was suppressing frustration and guilt. I felt guilt for leaving them and being away, guilt for seeming appreciative of my home and guilt that I really didn't want to go back.

I eventually learned not to tell them my problems I was running into, and instead, I solved them on my own before word got out. I realized that by telling them people weren't very receptive of Americans, or that I had to clutch my purse to my side in fear of being pickpocketed again, I was instilling fear into their already terrified minds.

Most travelers have felt this in some form or another. Maybe it's a girlfriend who has no interest in leaving her hometown.

Maybe it's envious followers posting, “Oh, must be nice to leave behind all your responsibilities." Maybe it's knowing that back home, a family member has fallen ill, and you're left making the decision of whether or not you want to find a flight to go back.

Warranted or not, traveler's guilt can creep up and overcome anyone. Luckily, there are some remedies to this sickness.

The first, most obvious and least appealing cure is to simply stay home. Avoid all chances of anyone missing you and things going wrong by just staying in your house, locking your doors and eliminating any possibility of embarking on your trip.

If cutting your trip short or eliminating it altogether doesn't suit your fancy, ignore the people you care about. That seems a bit heartless, though.

The best way, I have found, is to attempt to ease their worries. Maybe you can't make them not miss you, but you can explain to them how you're going to be safe. You can show them how prepared you are, and you can even show them blogs of other people who have experienced the same place and same situations.

For example, educate them about other female 20-somethings who backpacked solo through Asia and had the time of their lives, or other 18-year-old guys who decided to take a gap year before starting university. Heck, you can even show them this article, explain how you feel and ask them what would make them feel better. Put together a PowerPoint, email them safety tips, take out every kind of insurance there is and show them that you know what you're getting yourself into, even if you don't.

There is only so much you can do, and if you're going to follow your dreams regardless, you're just going to have to prove to them that you'll thrive on your own by going out and doing it. Once, I showed them what an incredible experience I had and how it actually did serve a purpose in my life.

I proved it wasn't just a big vacation, and they were much more understanding. It helped that I made it back to the United States all in one piece, too.

From one people-pleaser turned world traveler to another, good luck.

This article was originally published on Crumbs On My Map.