Recognising Your Travel Guilt (And How To Deal With It)

travel guilt swimming pool girl

I wanted to call this post ‘Giving Zero F*cks About Your Travel Guilt,’ as that pretty accurately sums up how I’m feeling at the moment. But I thought that might give out a somewhat reckless message, so I’ve settled for the little more tame title of ‘Recognising Your Travel Guilt (And How To Deal With It)’.

If you are Googling ‘travel guilt’ then chances are you may be slightly ahead of me on this one. For everyone else, I will quickly introduce why on earth I’m even talking about this subject, as many of you may be shaking your head in bemusement.

‘What could I possibly feel guilty about when travelling’? I hear you say. ‘I’m on my trip of a lifetime and I feel GREAT.’

Well, my reply to your enthusiasm is a simple, yet hopefully not too disheartening one: tons.

Travel guilt has two ways of ensnaring us. It can be rather sneaky; creeping up on us day by day until we are wrapped up in the throes of it. Or it simply smacks us in the face with a giant wallop that sends us falling deep into a pit of despair. Either way, this is bad juju to be carrying with you when you are travelling. Travel guilt lingers over us like a fog, affecting our decision making and obscuring the path that will lead us to Happyville if only we could shake it off.

So whilst you now have a Taylor Swift song stuck in your head, let me quickly summarise a few reasons why you may be feeling a bit icky recently whilst on your travels. Chances are you may be able to relate to one (or more) of these and a light bulb will turn on in your head. It will be your ‘aha!’ moment where you realise you’ve been hit by a severe case of the travel guilts.

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Spending Your Money

Worrying about your budget is fairly normal. I think it’s fair to say that unless you are travelling for more than your budgeted week-long holiday most people will do it at some point.

Here’s the kicker: spending money on experiences and not possessions is seen as a frivolous activity.

You should be saving up for a new car or for a deposit to buy a house, not gallivanting over to far flung corners of the globe. We feel terribly guilty to be spending our money on things that other people cannot relate to when in reality it is nothing to do with them.

Parting with your hard-earned cash has a cheeky double edge to its sword. After checking your bank balance and getting a nasty shock, it is fairly normal to promise yourself that you will cut back on the number of beers you consume with your new travel buddies. On the other side of the sword your hesitation to spend money is so severe that you actually shy away from spending anything at all. You beat yourself up over the slightest expenditure and spend your time miserably chewing on salty two-minute noodles and drinking tap water.

Changing Your Schedule

Plans always change when you travel. The nature of a good journey is that it has several interesting twists and turns, a few great people and a juicy story or two to tell along the way. Sometimes you’ll be having such a great time that you won’t even hesitate to make a decision when faced with a unexpected fork in the road. I feel this will be more so the case if you’ve left your schedule flexible enough to incorporate changes. Sometimes, it may take you a bit longer to bite the bullet and alter your plans, but you will get there as long as you realise Plan B is just as legitimate as Plan A.

There is no shame in altering your travel plans to suit how you are feeling at that current moment. How could you predict how you would feel right now when you booked your trip from the comforts of your sofa back home? That was a rhetorical question, because the answer is; of course you couldn’t.

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Being Away From Home

Your life feels like this exotic adventure that almost seems too good to be true. On the other side of the world the sun shines on beautiful beaches fringed with palm trees, the drinks are cheap and the adventures keep rolling in. Pinch me, I must be dreaming. It just seems a million miles away from ‘real life’ back home.

But sometimes, all of this beauty and exploration of new cultures can feel a little tainted by the thought of home. Sometimes it feels a little irresponsible that you are here and family and friends are carrying on with their daily lives on the other side of the world. Suddenly all of your travel seems a little bit too amazing, too reckless and too carefree. Should you curb your wanderlust and go home?

Travel As A Way Of Life

When travel becomes a way of life it is safe to say that you’ve been well and truly bitten by the travel bug. But this often feels like it is going against the grain of what we are told to believe are the goals of our society: get a career, buy a house, get married and have children.

We worry that travel is seen as ‘taking time out’ from real life. But in actuality, is there anything wrong with travel as a way of life?

One person’s journey through life will not mirror the next. The choices you make may not sit well with other people but it doesn’t make them any less valid. We need to worry about other people a little less and focus on ourselves a little more.

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Kakadu National Park, Australia

The Privilege Of Travel

Travelling to other countries opens our eyes to a lot of uncomfortable truths out there in the world. You may be faced with poverty, discrimination, questionable environmental practices and more. The fact that you are a foreign tourist paying to gawk and click your camera lens might awkwardly highlight the gap between your life and those of the country you are visiting.

There are ways of travel that may sit more comfortably with you, such as searching for environmentally friendly tour companies, or ways in which you can connect with community whilst on the road.

Not Being True To Yourself

The last travel guilt is one that encompasses all the others. I’ve touched on this subject before and I believe it is such an important one that it needs regular revaluation. Not being true to yourself is a sure fire way of nose-bombing on your travels. It can take many forms: physical ones such as not eating properly, not sleeping enough or flogging yourself into the ground, and also emotional ones such as putting yourself in situations that don’t benefit you.

What I mean by this is easy: if you don’t look after number one – you – on your travels, no one else will. This is your trip and your rules, which means that you lay the perimeters in which you feel comfortable and flourish. Challenging your boundaries is an integral part of travel and should be done regularly, but living outside your own lines of what makes you happy is only going to leave you unfulfilled and exhausted.

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New Zealand

How To Deal With Your Travel Guilt

In my opinion there is a three-step programme to overcoming your guilt. They are equally difficult to master, however once you do, I guarantee you’ll be right there with me with the zero f*cks given attitude.

Step One

The first is to recognise that whatever you are feeling right now – that little niggle of discontent that is making you feel simultaneously lethargic and stressed – is travel guilt.

Recognising your guilt gives it a kind of legitimacy. And we all love to give things legitimacy; categorising our feelings by labelling them and putting them into a little box makes us feel a whole lot better. We don’t like the unnerving feeling of being cut loose, drifting in the wind, unable to get a foothold on our emotional tide.

Step Two

Now you have identified your travel guilt and traced it back to its source. Stop right here and give yourself a moment. Take some time to give yourself a hug and tell yourself that it’s ok to feel the way you do. Wallow in your grumpiness for a short while because now you actually know what’s bugging you.

And it feels really good to have finally realised that you weren’t just inexplicably miserable and failing at this travel lark.

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Kakadu National Park, Australia

Step Three

Up next is the final hurdle, which although may be the biggest seems less daunting now that you have figured out the root cause. Knowledge is power and being attune to your own thoughts and feelings whilst on the road is key to your emotional survival. Acknowledging that something is not right gives you the power to turn it around.

We’ve all heard that little adage: “turn that frown upside down” right? I believe that the energy you will get from shining a spotlight on your worries will incentivise you into action to overcome them.

For example, if you are worried about money then it’s time to sit down with your finances. Download a money tracking app to figure out what you’ve been spending it on and hash out a plan to cut costs and save more. Can you change your accommodation or travel style? Should you consider looking for work? Are those daily coffees and dinners out really in your budget or do you need to reign it in a little.

Now that you recognise it what can you do to overcome your travel guilt? Use this light bulb moment to illuminate your way out of the fog and back on to the path to Happyville.

Happy travels, friends.

Tell me; have you ever suffered from the travel guilts? What’s your story? Have you had an ‘aha’ moment whilst reading this post? Share it with me in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.

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6 Comments

  1. September 21, 2016 / 6:20 PM

    Good post! For now, I am guilty of not traveling as what I was used to.
    Change of situation makes my traveling limited to how many times a year only and not as per months. 🙁

    • September 26, 2016 / 5:11 AM

      That’s another guilt that we have to deal with, Vinneve! The ‘I’m not travelling as much as I want to’ feeling!

  2. Joleene
    September 28, 2016 / 1:53 AM

    What a truly fantastic post! I get guilt sometimes, but hell…I deserve these adventures! PS…I like the original name of your post. 🙂

    • September 28, 2016 / 2:59 AM

      Thanks, Joleene! We definitely deserve our travels so it’s often a weird thing to struggle with but I find it happens to most people I chat to! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. October 1, 2016 / 2:39 PM

    Absolutely love this. I’ve experienced this so many times and being an expat makes it even harder since it means that I’m not with my parents. I’m slowly coming to terms with it, but great read. 🙂

    • October 8, 2016 / 11:03 AM

      Thanks, Karen. I think it’s useful to admit to yourself and others that there is a tough side to travel and choosing to live abroad; sometimes I think that people just don’t believe you! Glad you enjoyed the post.

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