Personal Growth / Travel Advice

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Emotional Journey of Deciding to Travel

There may come a time in your twenties where the long-term traveling you’ve always dreamt of finally becomes possible. You have the money, the time, the freedom and the guts. This is very exciting, but in reality, deciding to travel may evoke a lot more emotion than just excitement.

The other day a friend of mine asked to connect with me about deciding whether or not to travel to India to study yoga. My immediate reaction was Yes! Absolutely yes! What opportunities at home in New York could possibly contribute more to your growth as a person than traveling in India could?

Since our talk, I’ve been reflecting more on this experience of choosing whether or not to travel. I now recall that eight months ago when I was in her same position, it was not so easy for me to simply say yes and be on my way. There are so many factors and challenges in making this choice; the stress of making the decision alone probably accounts for why so few Americans travel.

Love and Partnership

One of the top concerns my friend expressed was about how she would maintain her current romantic partnership if she were to travel. This hit home pretty hard, as I had dealt with the same thing before I left.

Just before I left for a semester abroad, I fell deeply in love with someone.

To my own amazement, as much as I loved him, I was even more in love with the idea of going abroad.

Ask yourself about this. Is the pull to travel stronger than the pull to be near your partner? Consider accepting yourself for this and surrendering to it. It’s okay if you’d rather travel than be at home with your partner. It means that you like yourself enough to go off into the world on your own . You may even love yourself, or be on the path to self-love. Self-love is often more challenging to express than love for another person, so congratulate yourself on this! Self-love is extremely empowering.

Choosing to travel independently is the first step in an odyssey to deep self-love.

My partner and I made a brave decision to stay in touch while I was away, but to have “no strings attached” and remain open to meeting other people.

This was at times challenging but in the end it was absolutely the best decision for me as a traveler. I knew that our love was still alive and that I could Skype him any time I needed to see and hear that love manifest on a screen. Meanwhile, I felt free and detached enough to really be present in Australia. We both met other people while I was away, and I see beauty in our ability to love more than just each other.

I recommend this approach, but I understand that it’s not best for all relationships. If you choose to remain committed to your partner as you travel, it will be challenging, meaningful and inspiring all the same. What I do recommend is that you make sure this commitment won’t prevent you from being present where you travel to. Observe your thoughts and actions; how often are you thinking of your partner, and is it empowering your experience, or holding you back? How often are you in contact with the person, and is it enhancing your time abroad, or causing you to miss out on some of the experience?

Friends and Community

Recalling what it was like to leave my partner behind reminded me of the conflict I faced in leaving my friends. Just as I began planning to go abroad, my social life in New York started to blossom. I was connecting with new and old friends in a beautiful, profound way. I felt an enormous sense of community, which made it incredibly difficult to choose to travel. How could I leave my life at home behind, when it was getting so good? How could I give up these great friends? What was the chance that I would find people as good as them overseas?

I took a leap of faith. I chose to trust that wherever I went, I would make special friends and create community. It couldn’t have been more true. Even when I was backpacking and moving from place to place pretty quickly, I always felt like a family with whoever was around me.

Leaving was a wonderful lesson in non-attachment. As great as these friends were, I had to let go of them and trust myself to be okay. I had to accept that upon my return, they might be in my life, and they might not. While I was away for seven months, I hardly kept in touch with my friends back home, but I felt their love and support constantly. Now that I’m home, they are back in my life and our connection is just as strong as before I left.

I learned that true connections transcend both distance and time.

Look Inside Yourself

The only person who can really tell you if it’s the right time to travel or not is you. If you’re conflicted about this choice, soul-searching is in order.

Try meditating on this. Sit comfortably and start noticing your breath. Then visualize yourself at home, surrounded by your community, including your partner if you have one. Then visualize them disappearing, one by one, until you are alone. You’re no longer at home, but in a foreign land. Imagine what it would feel like to let go of them peacefully. What would it feel like to completely accept their unavailability to you?

What emotions come up? Try to observe them without making judgments.

Does fear arise? My good friend Tom recently said

“When we feel fear, it means we really want something.”

What does your heart tell you to do? I’ve learned that the heart never says no.

You Should Probably Go

In the end, my belief is that if attachment to your partner and friends is the only major obstacle getting in your way of traveling, then you can find the strength within you to overcome it. I know from experience that the transformational experience of being abroad long-term is worth the initial pain of letting go. So be strong, be bold, and go see the world.

*Featured image photo credit: steiglet291

9 thoughts on “Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Emotional Journey of Deciding to Travel

  1. Beautiful post, full of useful advice to reflect on before travelling. I especially enjoyed this: “It means that you like yourself enough to go off into the world on your own.” and the part about leaving friends behind. It’s hard to let go. I’m about to move to the other side of the world and I’m already sad about losing my friends. But you’re right: “true connections transcend both distance and time.” Thanks for the reminder.

    • Hi Cecile 🙂 Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad my post was meaningful to you. I understand the sadness you’re feeling about saying goodbye to your friends. It’s true, those special connections will stay alive despite how far or long you’re gone. How exciting that you’re moving abroad!

  2. Thanks for the link to my blog post Emily. I always say “GO”. Home, jobs, friends, relationships all come and go, but we don’t always have the opportunity to travel. So many say they’ll do it when they get older or retire, but how many actually do that? I’d rather be lying on my death bed and say that I could have used a little more time working, then regret that I didn’t travel more.

  3. Thanks for the link to my blog post Emily. I always say “GO”. Home, jobs, friends, relationships all come and go, but we don’t always have the opportunity to travel. So many say they’ll do it when they get older or retire, but how many actually do that? I’d rather be lying on my death bed and say that I could have used a little more time working, then regret that I didn’t travel more.

  4. What a beautiful post! I’m glad I got to read this, as I have booked a ticket to travel South East Asia alone in February, leaving my boyfriend behind. We decided we’d keep our relationship going, we are actually about to move in together (he’s watching the house while I’m gone). From the moment we got together I’ve been telling him I wanted to travel alone and he’s always been very accepting of this. I know that if I don’t do it now, I might never do it at all. While most of the time I know I’m making the right decision, doubt still creeps in every now and then. Am I being selfish? What happens if I miss him terribly? What happens if I don’t? It’s really good to see others out there dealing with the same thing and this only confirms me that I’m doing what’s right for me (and even us) in the long run. So thank you for this inspiring post, it was exactly what I needed 🙂

    • Hey 🙂

      Thanks so much for the comment. It’s really encouraging for me to hear that my posts are meaningful to readers!

      I so understand the doubt you feel about your decision to travel! I do not think you are being selfish, at all. I think you are holding self-care and self-love for yourself, and it’s something to be proud of!

      As for all the “what ifs” — I believe there is no need to know the answers now. You may miss him terribly. You may not. You’re on the path to finding out, and either way it will be a deeply meaningful experience!

      If you felt no emotion at all about leaving your partner that would feel empty and numb, wouldn’t it? I say celebrate this emotional journey in whatever it brings up. It’s a beautiful reminder that you’re a living, thriving, being of higher existence!

      I’m so excited for you to travel Southeast Asia alone! I backpacked in Thailand for a month with a girl from Holland. Then I traveled there alone for a month.

      Have an amazing time and feel free to connect with me through this blog throughout your experience!

      • Thank you for your kind words, Emily, they’re much appreciated!
        Sometimes I forget that self-love is indeed something to be proud of, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about that at all. If I’m not happy, there’s no way that I can make anyone else happy and travel is what would make me the happiest right now. I’m glad I found your blog, I’m following you from now on!

  5. Pingback: A Motivational Message from Ralph Martson « A Thinking Traveler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s