The Hardest Part of Travel

The hardest part about living a life of ongoing travel is not the visa red tape. It is not language barriers, or long flights, or even managing finances.

The hardest part, the worst part, the thing I dread…

is saying goodbye.

People asked me how my parents felt, now that I was leaving again. I knew the answer – sad. Gutted even, but with the understanding that living in Australia is what I want to do. Supportive, but disappointed. I think that deep down, they will always wish that it was different – that I wanted to stay in the midwest, buy a house, and have babies – but they know that that’s not me.

L and Mom Indy
My mom, a Florida native, and I. Neither of us is a fan of the Indiana snow.

But what people don’t tend to ask is how I feel about leaving again. There’s a general assumption that moving to Australia is exciting, all sunshine and kangaroos, beaches and barbecues. Because it’s what I want, I must be looking forward to it.

All of this is true.


Leaving my family was devastating.

I wrote a post about this last year, “When You’re the One Who Leaves,” and I still believe everything I wrote. For me, leaving is the worst part about travel.

Travel is not without its compromises, and the biggest one of all is that I’ll never be that daughter, sister, or friend – the one who lives down the road and you see every other week. And sometimes, that kills me. Of course I want to be that person, but the reality is that I’m not.

I can’t be that person and follow the driving force in me, the one that propelled me back here, to Australia. Wanting to live here, however, does not necessarily mean that I don’t want to be there, with my family.

This time, leaving was harder than it’s ever been. I was in the States for almost three months – the longest I’ve spent on my native shores since 2007. Possibly the longest period I’ll ever spend there again, although Jared and I haven’t ruled out moving there in the future, albeit the distant future.

In the days leading up to our flight, I wasn’t excited. I was sort of gobsmacked, actually, and felt like I’d been bum-rushed by the departure date. I knew I’d have to say goodbye to my parents, again. I’d already said goodbye to my friends and one of my sisters, and that had sucked.

What can you say to someone when you love them and don’t know when you’ll see them again? And worse, because you chose to leave?

Saltwater Cowboys
Sunset at Saltwater Cowboys in St. Augustine.

My parents took us to the Indianapolis airport. Our flight was delayed, so we ate dinner at Café Patachou. For a little while, I was able to pretend like this wasn’t it, the Big Goodbye, but I knew that it was. You can’t forget something like that.

Our final hugs were painful and upsetting, but necessary. I cried on and off on the plane to LA, realizing that it’s always going to be like this. I’ll be leaving or they’ll be leaving.

I don’t want to live with my parents in Indiana, but I’m glad that I got the opportunity to do it, however briefly. I am happy to be here in Australia, looking forward to setting down roots and establishing a home base.

Hollywood, CA
Visiting my sister Kate in LA on the way to Oz.

But it isn’t easy, leaving little parts of your heart all over the world, wishing things could somehow be different. Wishing that following your dreams didn’t mean sacrificing time with your family.

This is the life I’ve chosen. It’s what I want. The sadness will fade into the background, and the stimulation of daily life will come forward.

I once worked with a guy whose personal mantra was “Do the best you can with what you have.” So that’s what we’ll do. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be as close as we can get it.

Also – now everyone I know has a real good excuse to get on a plane to Australia.

So what the bloody hell are you waiting for?

Opera House
If you come, I promise beaches, barbecues, kangaroos, and this – the opera house.

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  1. I know what you mean. For me, the hardest thing is the long-standing relationships that are lacking on the road. It’s definitely hard to keep saying goodbye to people who could turn out to be amazing friends

    1. Yes. I found myself really craving ‘real’ friendships while traveling, because everyone’s in and out of each other’s lives. Maybe that makes it even harder when it comes to saying goodbye to people who are permanently in your life, because that kind of relationship is so rare!

  2. Well said. I think everyone who has ever left home to travel can relate to this. It’s hard to be the one that is leaving and saying this isn’t for me, and even harder I think for friends and family to understand the sentiment. Just remember that life evolves and every choice you make opens new possibilities and a new chapter in your life. Keep making choices that are true to yourself and you’ll find a life of happiness.

  3. Saying goodbye is definitely the toughest part of travel, but I’m sure the people who really matter will make an effort to visit you and you to visit them – and in the meantime, there’s always Skype! At least it’s much easier to travel and to stay in touch than it used to be. When I finally make it to Oz, we can console each other that our families are so far away!

    1. I can’t even imagine what it would be like without Skype! When I first went abroad it didn’t exist, and looking back I can’t believe it. See you down under!

  4. Excellent, excellent post. When I’m abroad, I have this vision of home and family in my head, but when I actually go back to the US, it feels so real… their lives go on after our Skype conversations and often times those lives are include sadness because I’m not there. Unlike you (from what you wrote), I probably will be moving back to the US within the next few years, not to my hometown, but somewhere within a timezone or two. I love traveling, but I’m looking forward to having a garden, communicating in English, and not saying goodbye for so long. My husband and I said that whenever we have kids, we’ll travel again, and I’m sure by then, we’ll be ready for more goodbyes and new explorations. It’s all about what you choose to prioritize. But choosing what those priorities are isn’t always the easiest thing.

    1. I totally get what you’re saying. I had all of these images of what it would be like when we came back home, however brief, and it was actually not like that at all. Many of my friends hadn’t even seen each other in nearly a year, and I realized that everyone had kind drifted off into their own lives. I, too, am so ready for the house, the garden, and ease of everyday activities. We’ll always travel, but it’s time for a home base.

  5. I knew it! You already have a pet kangaroo right? You should name it Klyde (w a k as a nod to your American roots & the Kardashians).

  6. As pleased as I am that I found your post and read it nodding in agreement, I also don’t like the post for those reasons 🙂 In October this year I’m due to leave for the ‘world’ for at least four years leaving my mum (aka best friend) behind and already I can cry over that thought. At least I know I’m not the only one that goes through it.

    1. You are certainly not alone! I’m 31 and still found myself going, “I miss my mom” through tears. It’ll be hard, but it just means finding new ways of staying in touch. I’m encouraging my parents to visit, visit, visit, as often as possible. Good luck to you – that is an epic adventure you have planned and I hope you and your mom can share at least a tiny bit of it together!

  7. I can completely sympathize with everything in this post… I’ve been leaving home for long periods of time since I was 18, from going to university 2000km away, to moving to New Zealand to study unsure of if and when I’d return.

    I’m headed home for the first time in 4 years, but I know it won’t be long. My parents are THE most supportive of all of my choices, never putting any guilt or pressure on me to return, because they know I’m happy abroad. But that doesn’t change the fact that some days, I would give anything to call in and have a cup of tea and a catch up with my mum!

    1. Four years away! I feel for you. As incredible as it is to live a traveling lifestyle, it’s still tough to be away for that long. I am right there with you on the popping in for a cup of tea – those are exactly the little things that I miss.

  8. Well said.. I know how you feel. I’ve lived away from home for 10 years now and even tho I only moved from New Zealand to Australia, it’s not as easy as everyone thinks to get home often.. there’s work commitments, money factors etc. I’m lucky if I get home twice a year. I have found it harder in recent years to come back to Australia, especially with my parents getting older and then my dad passing away. I decided last year it was time for me to go home.. so I am now in the planning stages of doing so.. in saying that, everyone is different and has different priorities in life. I am glad I made the move here just as I am glad I’ve made the decision to go home.. let the next adventure commence

    1. Even though Australia to New Zealand doesn’t seem that far, I can see how it may as well be across the Pacific. I know that even if I lived a few states away from my family, I probably still wouldn’t get over as often as I’d like to. Good for you for making what I imagine was a tough, but exciting decision to go home. Good luck and I wish you the best in your move!

  9. I agree that saying goodbye is the hardest part. I actually just cried when I read this because it hit so close to home. I just moved to Korea a month ago, and it is hard being so far away, but I have to remind myself that I have not lived in the same state as my family in 10 years. So I can probably talk to the, just as much while living abroad as when in the U.S.

    I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it! I was searching teaching in Korea and stumbled on it.

    1. I’m sorry I made you cry! Though, confession, I cried while I was writing it. I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog – hope it helps you through some of the weird-but-wonderful aspects of living in Korea. Someone once told me that if you survive the first three months overseas, you’re golden. I don’t know if I believe that, but it does get easier. And you’re right – it doesn’t necessarily make a huge difference moving countries when you were already in a different state, but mentally the distance can take a toll.

  10. Crying. I can’t even form a proper comment because I don’t know where to start because so many emotions.

    Once again I have to think that we are kind of the same person. This is EXACTLY what I was feeling when I left the US (incidentally the same week you posted this). But you said it better than I ever could. The bit about not being that daughter or sister or friend; the part about wanting to, but knowing that’s not who you are. That being abroad doesn’t mean you don’t want to be with your family either. And the worst part being that you’re the one who chose to leave. The dreaded Big Goodbye. Not knowing when you’re going to see someone again. Bawling on the flight home and freaking out everyone around you (or was that just me?). Wanting to follow your dreams but hating that you sacrifice your family time in the process. That was ALL me two weeks ago.

    I’m going to stop quoting your phrases back at you because you get the point (and because it’s making me cry again) but seriously, thank you for putting those emotions into words so well. And good luck with your new life in Australia (and that visa)!

    1. Yes. All of this was written fresh off of the emotions I carried with me from the US. And you are not alone – I totally sobbed the whole way to LA from Indy; it was horrendous. It has gotten a lot better now; which in a way is sort of sad, too. I hope that you’re recovering again! I’d like to think that one day we expats can strike some sort of emotional balance, but I suspect that there are always going to be tears when it comes to saying goodbye 🙁

      On a lighter note, Australia has been pretty good so far and I’m glad you liked (or maybe I should say identified with) the post!

  11. This is pretty much exactly how I feel about living abroad and leaving. It’s gotten so much harder every time I go (the first time I waltzed happily through the airport and the last time, in December, I cried from security in Louisville to wheels down in Detroit) but I know I’ll never be the person who is happy with a house in the midwest. And then no one really understands why you are so upset when you’re the one who chose to leave.

    Great post, Lauren! I hope you’re enjoying Australia and your new kind of marriage 🙂

    1. You’d think it would get easier, the whole leaving thing. However, it is reassuring to know that so many people go through the same struggle! Hope your post-Korea travels are going well and that you manage to make it home every once in a while 🙂

  12. I really hate the goodbye part of travel. Everything else I’m fine with, even though being away from home can be hard. But those airport goodbyes KILL me. No matter how excited I am to be heading off on a great adventure seeing my parents at the airport is like a knife in the heart. I really do prioritise getting home to see them as much as I can just because the silver lining of airport goodbyes are airport hellos 🙂

    1. Same with me. Everything else is fine, and I don’t even get sad during skype calls, just that in-person goodbye. But yes, that means that next up is the fun part – saying hello again!

  13. This literally brought tears to my eyes! The longest I’ve gone without seeing family was 19 months straight after graduating from uni. Went back for 3 weeks this past Christmas, and promised myself I couldn’t go that long again without seeing my parents and sister.
    Just left Korea and not sure what’s next (in Thailand now, then Aus to see friends) but no plans to settle in the US–despite the fact that I know they’re happy and thankful I’m following my own heart, it’s devastating knowing how much my being away is hard on my family.
    At the same time though I’ve been gone again for 7 months now which doesn’t feel so long anymore. If only plane tickets didn’t cost a fortune!

    Thank you so much for writing this, I’ve loved keeping up with your blog–besides this post it usually makes me laugh (especially the rollerblades in Ireland one)!

    1. I’m glad it struck a chord with you and sorry it was a sad one! It really is too long, and that’s the trouble – eventually you stop realizing how long it’s been. I’ve been in Aus for four months now and it feels much, much longer. Glad you are enjoying the blog and good luck with whatever you choose to do next.

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