This time last year (looking at my calendar it might actually be exactly a year to this very date!) I was riding along in the passenger seat of my friend’s super fancy car in India, going about 1000mph and trying to ignore the sound of the horn honking for no good reason every 2.5 seconds.
That’s not even an exaggeration. It was crazy. We could have been the only ones on the road within a 20 mile radius and he would still be honking like there’s no tomorrow.
How else are other cars going to know I’m coming?
Hm, I don’t know, with their eyes maybe?
Driving on Indian roads is like a real-life game of Mario Kart except noisier, and with a super high number of characters of the bovine variety.
I’ve gone way off topic now.
We were talking, my friend and I, about how he, at twenty-eight years old (or maybe 27?) will never move out of his parents’ home. For me it was a little bit difficult to get my head around.
Us British young’uns, well, we just can’t wait to break the reigns and escape the grasp of parental control, move into our own dingy flat somewhere and live paycheck to paycheck for a while because grad jobs just ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.
But over in India, or at least the part of the country I was in, the general consensus is that the oldest son stays in the family home forever. When he gets married he brings his wife into the home. Together they raise a family there, look after the parents when they get too old, and the circle continues with their own children.
It’s actually quite sweet.
Still, it was something I found difficult to comprehend. Didn’t my friend want his freedom? At least for a few years? Didn’t he want to move out into his own place, live independently for a decade or so and then move back home when his parents are a bit older and more reliant on him?
I asked him all of the above, and this was his reply.
It’s not the same over here as in the UK, Rhiannon. Over here we care about our parents. In the UK it’s different. You guys don’t care. Kids move out at 18, go for studies and enjoy their lives and never look back until their parents are dead. They just leave them to die. Like you – you left for one year to travel. We could never leave our parents like that.
For obvious reasons his comments hit a little too close to home.
I got angry, I got defensive and my voice got a little too loud. It was kind of a good job he was driving to pass me over to someone else or else our time together would have gotten pretty awkward.
He didn’t know that as he spoke those words, my mother was however many thousands of miles back home in the UK battling what we now know was the last year of an insidious and life-limiting disease. He didn’t know that I had effectively done exactly what he thought British youths were so callous for doing – I’d gone off to travel, to enjoy my life, and “left my mother to die“.
And as much as I didn’t appreciate his words, how was he to know?
On the exterior I was living the high life! I was at the start of what would become an epic eight month adventure, taking in 15 countries across 3 continents. My Instagram was full of pretty pictures from my previous week in Sri Lanka, this blog was full of excited posts about what was to come, and I talked non-stop about all the places I would be visiting in the coming months.
For anybody on the outside, I was living the absolute dream.
Because the thing about social media, and the world of blogging, is that we project only what we want people to see. We omit the icky parts of our day and our lives and only share the fantastic, the epic and the mind-blowing!
Until she passed away, I can guarantee that not one single person reading my blog would have known that my mother was even sick. Except for my brother and my 2 IRL friends of course.
The same goes for Instagram.
And it’s because I didn’t share it. It’s because I didn’t parade it around like it was some sort of trophy.
The amount of times in my life I’ve been on the receiving end of comments like “Oh, you’re so lucky you get to travel” “I wish I didn’t have responsibilities” “You’re so lucky your family don’t care!” “Do it now while nothing’s tying you down” is off the chart. And I’ve bitten my tongue every single time.
Because it’s not cool to retort with “Actually, I’m not lucky. I’m selfish. My family do care about me leaving, but I care more about my own selfish desires and doing what I want to do. And oh actually, while we’re on the subject, my seriously ill mother does kind of tie me down but I don’t actually care because I want to go off around the world chasing pretty landscapes“.
Makes me seem like a first-class A-hole right?
Every single time I’ve gone off travelling in the past five and a half years, I have felt so guilty. I’ve worried about what people think of me swanning off to the other side of the world and leaving not only my sick mother behind, but also my stepdad and brother and sister.
There have been times when I’ve left for the airport and almost convinced myself that I’d never see her again. That she’d be gone by the time I come back.
I’ve felt sick to the stomach at the thought of just how selfish I am, at how little disregard I have for people back home.
So why exactly do I still go?
Because it’s my life and I will live it.
Because travel is my thing. It makes me happy. And I know that my mother, more than anything, would have wanted me to be happy. Even if happy meant only being there for a quarter of her final year on this planet.
After she passed away, and I published it online, I was even more worried about what people would think. Now my crazy level of selfishness would become public knowledge, my readers and online friends would know that I only think of myself. I would lose friends, I would lose readers, I would lose credibility.
But you know what?
None of that happened.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
I received an outpouring of love and good wishes, and people reached out to me to tell me that I actually wasn’t alone. That they too had sick relatives at home, or responsibilities they’d seemingly abandoned. That sometimes, despite their social media being full of sunshine and daisies and good times in Koh Lanta, they had struggles. They were putting on a brave face to the world too.
Travel was as difficult for them as it was for me, but they did it anyway.
And knowing that others were in the same boat at me was oddly reassuring, comforting in a way.
I felt less alone.
Travel bloggers often talk about the struggles they face on the road, the dramas they experience in far-off lands, but they very rarely reveal the struggles going on back home. They don’t often talk about the magnetic pull that they have to fight against to do what they love; travel.
I reached out to the ladies from one of my favourite Facebook groups and asked if anybody would be willing to share their stories. A few got back to me, for which I am extremely grateful. Sharing a snippet of your personal life with the whole world is kind of daunting, so from the bottom of my heart I thank you ladies.
And to anyone reading this who relates to any of these stories, just know you’re not alone.
Chiera from Young and Undecided
My mum has been ill almost my whole life with what we recently found out is a heart condition.
Unfortunately the only reason we found this out is because she had a pretty major heart attack in 2014. The treatment since the heart attack has been slow as she only recently received a formal diagnosis explaining everything from the past 20 years or so. Just a few weeks after my mum’s heart attack my dad had a major stroke, leaving him hospitalised for 3 months. He now has decreased mobility with no use of his left arm, but can still walk with a limp.
Since then, my role in the house has changed and I’m left to pick up on what my mum can’t do anymore i.e. cleaning, chores, running errands etc.
Typically when I go away my trips don’t last longer than a week, but this past summer I visited Romania for 3 weeks.
Not once did my parents complain about me being away. In fact, they were nothing but happy for me.
I’m planning on moving to New Zealand at the end of this year which is pretty overwhelming. I see how much the rely on me and think they’ll struggle when I’m not here, but sometimes I feel like I’m giving myself too much credit and that they’ll be fine without me.
Still, I feel selfish.
But having had this conversation with them (kind of, in passing comments. We’re Scottish so not much into deep emotional chats!) I know that they don’t want me to stay for them. They know I want to travel and very much want me to do just that.
I do tend to feel guilty about my desire to travel. But it’s all on me. My parents are so incredibly supportive of my travels and almost want it for me even more considering everything. But that doesn’t stop the guilt. I feel like sometimes I should wait for my mum to finally get the right treatment, hopefully get better and then I won’t have to feel so bad.
But at the same time I really don’t want to live here for very much longer.
Having 2 sick parents is a stress that I sometimes don’t realise, and I carry it with me every second of every day.
When I speak about it with friends they tell me to just think of myself and go. But I don’t think they understand that it’s not as easy as that. I guess you wouldn’t unless you have sick parents yourself. I wouldn’t wish my situation on anyone. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when you hardly notice it, but they are few and far between.
I would hope that someone going through this would also have super cool parents that don’t put it all on them with no sympathy or understanding. Just be strong. Take it a day at a time. But stay happy, don’t let it get you down too much.
Kelly from Girl With the Passport
In 2008, before I left the United States to teach English in South Korea, my grandmother was ill and completely bedridden. I knew her situation was rapidly deteriorating and was faced with the ultimate dilemma; do I stay home and be with my grandmother, or do I leave the country and follow my heart?
I chose to follow my heart because I had been there for my grandmother her entire illness. She had been sick for over a year and I had visited her weekly. She knew I loved her, and my family reminded me that there was nothing else I could do for her. They reiterated that the best thing I could do for her was kiss her goodbye, tell her I loved her, and go live my life to the fullest, the way she wanted me to.
And I did. But, that kiss goodbye was the last time I saw her. She died while I was in South Korea and I didn’t know what to do.
I panicked and debated whether or not I should fly right home.
Frantically, I called my family and unloaded all my guilt about not being there, to support them at such a difficult time. But my family listened to my tears and soothed my grief stricken soul. They reassured me that I had done everything I could for her while I was home.
And they were right. Just because I wasn’t there when she passed doesn’t mean that I loved her any less. I still gave her what she needed most, and that was all the love in my heart. In turn, she gave me the best gift of all; she supported me as I followed my dreams, no matter where they took me.
So thanks grandma. You are never forgotten and are always in my heart no matter where I go.
Alaska from My Dot On the Map
Ever since I left home at the age of sixteen, my mom’s been accusing me of running away and leaving behind the family.
It’s not an accusation, actually. It’s the truth.
My father passed away when I was twelve and, since my older brother is autistic, that left me as the default breadwinner of a family of four children. It’s a responsibility I’ve always pretended to be at peace with. A lot of the time, I wish I only had to look after myself.
Yes, I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunities I did and still do; it’s more than most people get. I had an international university education and, since graduating, I’ve been travelling almost non-stop for two years. During that time, I neglected family responsibilities. As soon as I graduated from university I was supposed to get a job and begin sending money home. The only reason I’ve stopped traveling now is because I promised to look after my brother as he finishes his last year of high school.
So, I work and bring the money in, waiting for my little brother’s graduation day. When I’ll be off again.
Every time that I choose to travel, that I decide not to be with my family, my little sister asks me, “When do I get to see you again? Why can’t you just be here, now?”
I don’t know why. I just can’t fathom being stuck in one place. I need to come and go to feel peace.
Am I being selfish? Definitely.
Do I wish I didn’t have so many family obligations? Yes.
But every time I talk myself into guilt, I eventually ask myself, “Who are you living for?” At the end of the day, you have to live for yourself. If not you’ll descend into resentment.
That isn’t to say I don’t love my family. It’s just that every time I go home, I feel like a stupid little kid again, not the independent woman I am when backpacking the world alone. It’s a total personality change. To be myself, I have to be away.
So, the best I can do is work on the road and send money back, Skype every once in awhile, maybe stop in and visit once a year. And every time my mom pressures me to go back, I remind myself to have compassion. I’ve been selfish, and I’m still quite selfish, but I’m trying to find a balance.
Not everyone has a door to walk out of their lives any time they want.
When you read blogs – particularly those that lean more towards the travel niche than lifestyle – and follow people on social media, it’s easy to get caught up in how perfect their lives seem. They’re relaxing on a different beach every day, the sun is shining and they’ve got no cares in the world!
It’s easy to make throwaway comments about how lucky they are, about how you wish you could just drop everything and go, just like them.
But those comments? They can dig deep.
Because real life drama goes on behind closed doors that just doesn’t show up on social media. People have battles to fight in their personal and family lives, and some of us fight long and hard with the voice inside of our heads about whether doing what we love, pursuing our dreams, is actually worth it.
It ain’t all sunshine and daisies in the world of travel and blogging; sometimes it’s worth remembering that.
And like I said before, to anyone reading this who’s currently overcome with guilt about wanting to leave everything behind and ride off into the sunset on the back of a donkey – you’re so not alone.
As a final note, I’m totally aware I’m full of nothing but doom and gloom recently, but just humour me, k? I think I’m going through my woe is me phase everyone goes through, except it’s about a decade too late!