When You’re The One Who Leaves

Chiang Mai
Sisters in Chiang Mai - these kinds of trips should happen more often.

When you’re the one who goes away, you assume a responsibility.

You’re supposed to come back.

People often ask me “Where are you going next?”

But the question they ask even more is “When are you coming home?”

For the first few years of traveling, I was able to give an answer. My time away was directly linked to my visa’s expiration date – when it ran out, I returned to Indiana.

Things aren’t so simple anymore, especially with a cross-cultural wedding in the works.

While working here in Korea, I marked the longest span of time without seeing my family: 18 months. A year and a half.

As my mom said when we finally sat down over coffee in Hawaii, “Lauren. 18 months – it’s too long.”

It is too long. Way too long. I’m not going to let it happen again.

But now it’s my turn to ask a question:

“When are you coming to visit me?”

I know it’s unfair. Travel isn’t cheap, and vacation time, especially for Americans, is at a ridiculous premium. My sister’s boyfriend gets a mere FIVE DAYS’ vacation a year.

It blows me away. FIVE DAYS.

No wonder people aren’t falling all over themselves to book a trip to Yeongwol, South Korea. (Even if it is a charming little town nestled at the convergence of stunning mountains, mere hours from the beach. HINT HINT PEOPLE I’M ONLY HERE UNTIL AUGUST)

But still.

I’ve been lucky – several of my friends have visited me abroad since 2003.

Marabeth stayed with me in Ireland. Alexa and I went to Australia together. Bridget slept on my couch in New Zealand for five weeks and again for a few days in London. Anne came to England and we went to Italy for a few days. Courtney and I had a whirlwind 5 hours in the heart of London. My mom and sisters came to London and Coffs Harbour, Australia. Jared and I went to see my sister Megan in Thailand.

Mouth of Truth Rome
These are the kinds of things we do when you visit me abroad. Awesome things.


Trafalgar Square lions
See how FUN it is when you visit me abroad? SO FUN.


Now I share all of my travels with my fiancé, which makes my experiences even better.

But still.

Now that I’m marrying an Australian, things have gotten a little bit more complicated. We have to make some decisions, like where we want to get married and where we want to live. The US government in particular sort of frowns on the idea of flitting in and out of the country, working there when we feel like it.

So I started fretting.

Maybe we should live in the US for a while, a couple of years, so I could soak up that American heritage and visit my family more often. Somewhere on the west coast, like Portland or Seattle. We’d get jobs and a car, find a place to rent. Scrounge around for health insurance. It could be good.

I told my friend Bridget this idea during a recent Skype conversation.

“But is that what you really want to do?” she asked. “Do you really want to come back to the US?”

“I…I don’t know,” I admitted.

I desperately want to share my life with my family, but living in the United States isn’t where my life is.

And I realized that we can’t live in the US solely because I feel a responsibility to do so. It wouldn’t change things in the long run. I don’t want to live there permanently. I don’t feel a pull to live in one particular place. Jared would have to declare permanent residency, which would restrict our travels for a very long time.

So what, right? Isn’t that what many people think of as normal life?

Yes, it is. But it isn’t my life.

If it was, I’d already be living it.

I’m not ruling out living in the States for a while, but I’m not ready to eliminate other options, either.

Travel isn’t an escape mechanism. It energizes me. It excites me. It motivates me. I love having the option of going where I want, and when those options are taken away, it makes me nervous. I feel like committing to residency in the States means that the last ten years will be wiped away – “OK, great memories, let’s be grown ups now. Here’s your mortgage.”

I don’t plan to give up this lifestyle, so I’ve got to learn to live with it.

“So what are we going to do?” my mom asked. “I hate the idea of you being so far away.”

“Well,” I said, “We’re going to have to make an effort. We’re going to have to go back and forth.”

Family photo Hawaii
When families collide - mine & Jared's, minus his brother, on our recent Hawaiian trip. Happiness explosion.


And yes, that means coming back. Often. But it means that my family and friends are going to have to come to me sometimes, too.

Because to me, they’re the ones who are far away. My parents truly gave me wings, and I will forever be grateful – a priceless gift, but painful once used.

I understand that I’m the one who made things difficult. By going away, I didn’t just change my life. I changed that of my family and friends as well. Although it might be selfish, I’m asking a big favor:

Please come visit me. I’d love to share my life abroad with the people who are most important to me. It’s bittersweet to follow your heart all over the world, yet only share it with your family through the camera on your iPad or pictures on your blog.

It might not be easy, it might not be cheap (think of what you’ll save on accommodation!), but let’s make it happen.

The responsibility lies with both of us.


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  1. So true, as the person who travels, you are expected to be the person who travels to see people. But visitors when you are travelling are so amazing!
    Hope you figure out your next move…certainly doesn’t sound like you are ready to be tied down to one place, and a mortgage and all that!

    1. As I was writing this, I realized that I’ve actually had heaps of visitors over the years – I love it & hope it keeps happening! I think we’ll play it step by step. Trying to keep our plans open until we get to South America later this year, to see if that sparks any new ideas. But no, I’m definitely not at the stage where I’m willing to plant permanent roots. Maybe that will come as I get older?

  2. Just a fun little update:

    Upon returning home, we found out that Alex actually has 0 vacation days. Thats.. ZERO. He was docked pay for every day that he was gone. After 1 year, he gets 3.

    so, YAY!

  3. well written. i think it’s important to follow your heart. for me, mine led me home to be by family. for you, it sounds like you may always be nomadic. it’s just key to be true to yourself and know what makes you happy. you might find that you never want to live permanently in one location, or maybe you someday long for roots. who knows 🙂 and if you’re longing for that mortgage, the house across the street is up for sale…

    1. Thanks, Gina. I do occasionally get waves of “I don’t want to do this anymore,” where I crave stability. We’re looking to strike a balance – I’d love to have a base from where we can travel,yet still return to a ‘real’ home. You’re right, the key is doing what really makes you happy. I think (or I’m hoping) that our path will become clear, even if it’s a step by step process and we can’t always see too far into the future. I think I’ll pass on the mortgage for the moment, though! Hope you & your fam are doing good.

  4. It’s funny, when leaving you get to learn who your real friends are. Matt and I live in Toronto, only 5 hours away from our hometown of Ottawa. And yet, only 1 of Matt’s friends has made ‘the trek’ to come visit while we’ve been TONS of times. Now that we’re leaving on our RTW, his parents and sister will be joining at 2 different times, looking forward to it! It’s exhilarating to explore and show a new environment to the people you love! Great post!!

    1. It’s true – my closest friends also happen to be the ones that I’ve either met up with or who have visited me abroad. They’re the ones who are on my tiny guest list for our wedding, because I know they’ll make the trip regardless of where we decide to have it. Sometimes it seems so daunting when you live on different continents, but I think you make a really good point: even when people only live a few hours away, you still don’t always see each other that often. I don’t even know you guys, but I’m pumped that you’ll get to share some of your travels with family! Jared’s parents came to Korea last year and it was so fun introducing them to the little things that you can’t really ‘get’ unless you’ve been there.

  5. This post really struck a chord with me and it’s been something that has been urking me ever since my visit home last year. I didn’t expect a lot of people to be jumping at the chance to come to Gabon but I offered to meet friends and family anywhere — Europe, South Africa, etc. I would bend over backwards to make it happen because I think it would be AWESOME. But no one on the other side will put any effort in – it’s all on me.
    If that’s not bad enough, when I do get home I’ve got friends asking when I’m coming to visit them in all of their respective cities. Last year, I bought a flight to Vancouver, spent a lot of money on gas and felt like I was rushing around the entire time! I wanted to scream “I came all the way to Canada – get off your butt and come to me!”
    Thanks for letting me rant!

    And… good luck with the big decisions!

    1. Don’t worry, I love a good rant!
      I completely understand where you are coming from. Drives me crazy how YOU’RE the one who has dropped the ball when you come ‘home’ but can’t run all over the country catching up with friends & relatives. I really don’t think it’s asking too much for people to come to you every once in a while, but it’s so hard to convince them to do so. I’ve been having that trouble with Korea – like Gabon, it’s just not one of those places on most people’s bucket list, but STILL. Free accommodation & local tour guide, PLUS quality time with a friend/family member. How good is that?

  6. Hi. This is going to be me. In 3 days I’m going away for 9 months (ish). I’ve done the goodbyes with most of my close friends, still a few more to go. But … my parents are going to drive me to the airport and I don’t know what sort of emotional wreck I’ll be when I walk through security. Any top tips? Cat

    1. That airport departure can be really tough. It’s hard to know how you’ll react until it happens – it might all hit you in a rush or it might take time to sink in that your big trip is really happening. I have definitely been the person wearing sunglasses in the airport to hide my tears! It’s scary but you do get through it. Will you be able to FaceTime or Skype with people back home while you’re away? My family also uses an app called PhotoCircle where we all post random photos of our daily lives (we’re the only ones who can see it). It’s mostly pictures of my sisters’ cats and other weird things, but it does help to have that connection so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the day to day with the people you love. Good luck with the good byes and the adventure! Hopefully the excitement will help you through the tough parts.

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