Long-Term Travel vs. Life-Time Relationships

Travel vs Relationships - The Ultimate Long Term Travelers Dilemma

When Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to go uncover the new world, I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through the two explorers minds… Were they sad about leaving home, excited about the new adventure, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed?

I wonder, out of all the emotion and anticipation, what did they tell their friends and family? Did their families understand? Did their wives stick around? What happened when they returned 2 years later?

As I prepare for my 3rd departure from home to South America, I find myself thinking a lot about relationships and how the dynamics change when I leave (and return). This is a topic very familiar to fellow travelers, expats and maybe even those famous adventurers, Lewis and Clark.

I think about friends and the family. I think about what home is and what sacrifices are. I think about opportunities, selfishness and glory.

I think about a life of travel and exploration as it effects the unique relationships in my life and why I do it, especially considering the government isn’t funding my travels and trade routes to South America are, for the most part, discovered.

FAMILY

The main objective of your immediate family is to keep you safe; mentally, physically, socially and financially. Through love and support my family has done an incredible job. This is why you can understand their concern as I continuously pull the bounds of my comfort zone and push all aspects of safety.

There is no doubt my Grandma would be much happier if I told her I got a nice job in Buffalo rather than that I’m moving into Pablo Escobar’s old neighborhood.

From the first trip to Buenos Aires, the family was concerned but supported me. They understood my need for change and thought I just needed to get it out of my system. What I didn’t expect however was that subsequent expeditions would become more difficult to justify to them.

I can explain my passion to travel and explore philosophically, emotionally and even strategically, but not practically. It just isn’t practical in a traditional sense. Most people my age are in the process of putting their lives together while I’m on a quest to shake mine up.

We all have a natural responsibility of being present. It’s what binds us and makes us a part of something. It’s for that same reason why I must travel now. I have to push the limits while I can. To begin writing my own story so I can be present without reservation or regret in the future. 

FRIENDS

 When I first started helping to build the textbook business, I took friends for granted. I thought money and success was everything and that friends would love me when I had it. Needless to say, I was lost.

True friends love to see you do cool stuff, but would rather do cool stuff with you. They push you to do great things and keep you grounded when you get ahead of yourself. They’re the ultimate co-pilots, wingmen and reality checkers.

I don’t want to be up-to-date on important events only via Facebook. I never want to be the friend who “looses touch” just because I’m away and I never want friends to think I’m unavailable for anything.

As time moves forward and we all grow up, there’s no doubt friendships will change. Work, marriage and kids will take priority, but being there for each other should always remain.

Although traveling keeps me away, it’s traveling that makes me appreciate this and drives me to maintain the friendship I cherish.

ROMANCE

Absence changes things. That’s truer with this category then either of the first two. Family and true friends will always be there, but girlfriends won’t. You have to put at least as much into this relationship as you expect to get out.

This is something I’ve struggled with. I focus my attention on the travel goals and personal aspirations that make me happy because I believe to make someone else happy, I must first be happy with myself and I’m not quite there yet.

At this point in my life I’d rather win a GoPro camera than the heart of some spicy Latina.

I realize this can most definitely be attributed to my dating history, but nevertheless, it concerns me.

Travel is addicting, it drives me to always want to do more, see more and experience new things. The concern is that I will always wonder what else is out there and that I might overlook a great thing when I find it.

While in Colombia, I came up with a new strategy to balance travel and these relationships. The plan is to keep things light but always have my eyes open for the real thing. Most of all, it’s the discipline and respect to be completely open and honest with everyone everything I do.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I don’t want to travel forever. In a few years I’ll settle down and be closer with family and friends. I want my nieces and nephews to know who I am. I want to fall in love and have some little adventurers of my own, but not just yet.

There will always be pressures to stay home and settle down. There will always be reasons to not do something.

It’s up to us to decide what’s most important in our lives and to make the sacrifices necessary to reach those dreams. For me at this point, it’s about traveling, exploring and creating something bigger than myself. For Lewis and Clark it was about influencing the development of the United States.

So as I sit here using this post as an open justification for my next adventure and future aspirations, I can’t help but to be inspired by the thoughts that this writing has uncovered…

Chase your dreams and strive to do more. Make big sacrifices and get lost in the moment. However, hold onto the people most important to you or you won’t have anyone to share your memories with when it’s all said and done.  

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52 Responses to Long-Term Travel vs. Life-Time Relationships

  1. This one hit me hard, Gareth. Well said. Nearing the end of my fourth trip away and some things are becoming very clear to me. Mainly that I don’t want to experience these things away from the ones I love, especially my wife Sarah. Travel has proven that I what have at home is worth more than anything I’ll ever find traveling.
    Keith recently posted..No StrangerMy Profile

    • Gareth

      True story Keith. I can’t imagine being in a relationship and doing this. When are you going to start letting Sarah come along?

  2. Indeed,

    Home now for a short time, I realize why people get married … it’s because life here is boring and if you don’t have a partner of sorts, it must be unbearable. Feel bad for the random 40 something singles, life must be so boring.

    Got me thinking of travel, travel alleviates that but it will end one day, ideally find a wife / long term gf who does the same thing / appreciates / values same things -> Easier said than done.
    Rob Bloggeries recently posted..Finding Foreclosed Homes in the USA…My Profile

  3. Refreshing, honest post. As an expat, I have struggled to come to terms that life carries on without me back home, and not being in the loop really sucks sometimes. But the experience I’m having living in another country/culture/language is priceless, and I know my real friends will be there waiting when I get back to pick it up where we left off.

    • Gareth

      It’s those friends that allow me to keep traveling. They support me in everything I do and are ready to party when I return. Definitely couldn’t do it without them.

  4. wow man this is the essence of it, you put into words what many could not and I appreciate it it

  5. As the ‘Great One’ Wayne Gretzky once said, “do what you love, and everything else will fall in place”

  6. Very true. This kind of journey does require a lot of sacrifice. I wish my close friends could join me on my trips overseas. But you can’t wait or force everyone to be on the same page as you. So in the mean time, you have to do what’s important to you and have no regrets. At least we have the rest of our lives to settle down.
    Gerard ~ GQ trippin recently posted..happy 1 month, GQ trippin!My Profile

    • Gareth

      Absolutely Gerard. I try to bring one friend in on every trip, give them a little taste of this life. And you’re right, the rest of our lives to settle down.

  7. Great post my man. It is funny that the first trip was easiest to tell your family about. I fear that will be the same with us. Even though we have no immediate plans to take off again, we will at some point, and it will most likely be with child(ren). I shudder to think of the look on our parents’ faces when we tell them not only are we taking off again, but we’re taking their grandkids with us.

    Love the honesty in this post.

  8. Great post. Was something I struggled with myself when I returned home from South America in 2006. I knew life would carry on without me while i was gone, but actually SEEING that it had was a real shock. It’s such a fine balance, traveling and maintaining relationships back home. thank god for skype

  9. This one really hits home! I flounder between wanting stability (relationships/house/paycheck) and the nomadic, untethered life I have now. If there’s a way to have both I haven’t figured it out… maybe that’s what I’m looking for on the road! Glad I found your blog!
    Angie Orth recently posted..Life at “Home”My Profile

  10. I definitely need to read something like this at this point in my life, so I humbly and appreciatively want to thank you for writing this and being so open about your thoughts and feelings.

  11. Great post Gareth I honestly couldn’t have said it better. I am only 7 months into my 2 YEAR RTW TRIP & I am slowly realizing these things. I don’t miss home, but I miss being apart of my life at home. I too hate that I am watching my friends & families life through Facebook. I know they understand what I am doing, but at the same time I know they can;t stop living while I am gone. I know my friends & families will always be there, but it’s not the same. Right now I couldn’t be happier I am living my dream and exploring the world like I have always wanted too. As how I will feel a year from now who knows, but for now I will continue to keep in touch with them and mail them postcards. It’s the least I can do while I am on the road.
    Jaime recently posted..My tips for La Tomatina!!!My Profile

  12. What a moving and honest post Gareth. My situation is easier because I travel with my partner and best friend, but when we do leave our mothers in tears we feel so guilty. You can’t let it stop you doing what you love though.
    Erin recently posted..Hong Kong Stopover GuideMy Profile

  13. Great thoughts Gareth. When I was away for 2+ years, I loved the adrenaline of always new stuff and new people. When I was back home I missed it and craved it. But after too much time away, I too knew I didn’t want to be a lifelong nomad. I wanted some roots. Now I’ve got the apartment in Chicago, but I go away for a month or so at a time. Right now I’ve been gone 6 weeks. For me now, it’s the perfect combo. Either way you look at it…we are so lucky we are really ‘choosing’ the life we want.
    Lisa | LLWorldTour recently posted..Photo Essay: Feed Me, Hong Kong!My Profile

  14. And you said it so well!

    I struggle a lot, more than anything with the friendship aspect. By having gone home a couple of times now I know that I do have true friends who will always be there and support me, even if I don’t talk to them that often while I’m away. Sometimes it’s tough to remember that though when I’m away and missing out on their lives.

    I’m lucky that my family supports me so much in what I do and are more than supportive but quite happy for me as well. It was definitely 10x harder to leave them this time than last time though.

    I want to settle down one day as well, and I’ve really realized that lately. The problem is that I don’t know where and I have an international boyfriend to consider in the equation!
    Annie recently posted..9/11: Not Just a Day in American HistoryMy Profile

  15. Great post! Traveling makes relationships insanely difficult. Maintaining long-term friendships with me has been the hardest of all, and something I’ve failed at miserably. I hope you have better fortune in that area than I have :)
    Jasmine recently posted..Viva Mexico! – Celebrating Independence Day in OaxacaMy Profile

  16. Totally agree with you here, especially about the loved ones. Some of my friends don’t really understand “traveling”. They understand vacations, but long term travel, they don’t get. Luckily I have a boyfriend who loves it just as much as I do, but I don’t want to see the world without someone.

    However, I do love your comment about “right now I’d rather win a gopro camera then the heart of a latina woman” too funny. My boyfriend might say the same thing- those cameras are awesome!
    jade recently posted..When in Pohnpei, Raise a Feral CatMy Profile

  17. Great post Gareth. I definitely have never been away on a trip as long as you have but I know where you are coming from. I think I am on board with you in life with everything you have had to say. I’ll always keep my friends and family close and will stay in touch but another awesome thing that is happening is that I am meeting many more awesome people on my travels that I am also now cherishing and hope to know and stay in touch with and be there for when needed :)
    Cailin recently posted..The Nomading film festival, great food and Coney IslandMy Profile

  18. Travel has definitely made me realize the importance of good friendships and family. You find out who really does care about you and is there to support you.

    As for having a relationship, that’s one I haven’t figured out. I’m a relationship person. If it’s not meaningful, I’d rather be alone.

  19. Great post. With any dream comes great sacrifices and relationshps are the ones that hit the hardest. I always think of the wonderful new friends I make along the journey, who can never replace the old, but enrich my life nonetheless.
    For us now, the biggest sacrifice we make is taking our children away from the grandparents and extended family.The way we look at it though is that if we can’t be happy then we are no good to anyone, especially our children. You can find the balance to make it work.
    And in terms of romance, you just might meet a girl who is like you and wants to explore the world with you. Lucky for me I found that in Craig and we’ve been doing it together for 10 years now. There is no greater bond!

  20. Great post and you hit some good points there. Even though my family and friends support me, it`s still difficult to miss out on important events, like birthdays or weddings… And as for relationships, I can only hope to be as lucky as Caz, who met her match and together they are having their own travel adventure!
    IsabellesTravel recently posted..More Beach Photos from BeachThursdayMy Profile

  21. I know exactly how you feel. It was these same thoughts about priorities in life that inspired me to write my Elmer Fudd guide to balancing travel, family, work, and life. It’s all about priorities and what matters.

    When things settle down, you get a job, get married, and have kids, it makes it more difficult to travel (though not impossible). Like you, I still have that passion to travel and put a lot of effort and work into it. However, I wear many hats and as life changes, so does our perspective. The things that used to matter don’t seem as big of a deal any more. For me, family is the most important and I work hard to make sure my life reflects that. My passions don’t die but I just have to choose which passions come first.

    In the end, it is all about priorities. No one can tell you what thing is more important than another. You have to decide that. It does get more complicated as life gets older and things change. However, as long as you decide what is important and your life reflects that, you will be OK.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Weekend Fall getaways in northern CaliforniaMy Profile

  22. I love this post. I was there a few years when I left my own well-paid management consulting gig to live like a vagrant in the Caribbean. I have ZERO regret about it. It was the best thing I ever did and now I have a more settled-down life without feeling the restlessness I did at 23…and 24…and 25 :). And as for that long-term relationship, you sound like you know what you want and you will go for it when the time is right. Great writing!
    SZ recently posted..Debt Update: September 2011My Profile

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  24. It seems like you have a pretty good grasp of what you want long-term in your life. I think it is true that you need to do certain things for yourself before you can commit to “settling down,” however you want to define that. I think having your own adventures will make you much more content to spend low-key time with family and friends in the future.

  25. Great post! I just left home to travel about 6 weeks ago and evrything you said really hit home. My parents also think this is something I just need to get out of my system and are already making plans for when i return. At this point, I don’t have the heart to break it to them that I don’t know if/when I want to necessarily return, at least not necessarily to Chicago.

    Friends are tough too – many are interested in my trip now and are supportive, but I don’t know how long that will last. I already feel a lot of drifting apart and it makes me sad.

    Oh, and I have a 3 year old niece and 1 year old nephew and I definitely want to make sure they remember who I am! :)
    Katie recently posted..Free Day at the HermitageMy Profile

  26. Pingback: Long-Term Travel and the Challenge of Friendship Maintenance | Jasmine Wanders

  27. I StumbledUpon your blog, and just wanted to thank you for your thoughts! I don’t have many friends who travel as extensively, and it’s always great to hear a new perspective! I’m in line to do the Peace Corps (Morocco) starting in October, and you have definitely given me some food for thought.
    Best of Luck :-)

  28. I’m a mom of a person who sounds just like you…I encouraged, but not without fear…after reading your piece…I get it…totally…Thank You

  29. Good info! It’s great to travel while you can. Everything else will fall into place in its right time.

  30. Pingback: Meet the Nomads - Gareth Leonard | FlipNomad

  31. Ah. This. I’m twenty four now, and I originally left home (NZ) in November of 2010. In every regard it was one of the best decisions I made, but I wonder if I’m in some way sabotaging my future. I flick through emotions and have considered, on numerous occasions, that if I /ever/ want to get married I probably should go home, set up camp and wait… but, I’d be giving up everything I love.

    Friends and family will always be there, but, ah… I’d like my own family one day, I just gotta see the rest of the world, first.
    Izy Berry recently posted..Twenty fourMy Profile

  32. We have been thinking about exactly the same thing recently, so far we have combined a couple of ‘up to 3 month’ long trips with a few months at home catching up with family friends etc.

    This has worked perfectly for us but now we are planning a trip where we will be away for a year plus, lucky for us we are married (and both LOVE travelling) so we have each other but we will still miss family and friends.

    I say travel while you can!
    Chris recently posted..Have you heard about our experiment yet? #RTWIHEMy Profile

  33. Great post. I can relate to everything you said except the part about getting travel out of your system. I haven’t done that yet. But I have formed a family and have children, a husband and parents who are dependent on me. It makes it difficult to leave sometimes, despite the fact that I never really go away for more than a few weeks. But that seems hard enough. I get tears from my daughter, guilt trips from the others, and all I can think is: it’s you or me. One of us is going to cry if I get on that plane, and the other will cry if I don’t.
    Juliann recently posted..Natural Bridge State Resort ParkMy Profile

  34. Pingback: Travel and Relationships | The Blonde Abroad

  35. i dont know who you are, im not even sure how i stumbled across this page, but i feel like you just wrote my life story. thank you. (im from buffalo, currently in colombia)

  36. Well said! Haven’t been on here in a while but nice to stop in and see what you’re up to. Hope all is well!

  37. Hi there, i dont know who you are and i dont know how google lead me to your blog but wow after reading this blog it felt like i just read my biography of travels…very well written..can i add you on my facebook? thank you

  38. I think you already must be doing a good job at balancing travel and relationships by recognizing what people in your life must feel. My sister lived in Nepal for two years and is in the process of figuring out financial means so she can move back. My family and I try to be supportive, but deep down we love her, so obviously want her closer to home. But also since we love her, we want her to be happy and know that living the expat lifestyle right now makes her extremely happy.
    Gina recently posted..Photo Tour Friday: Bacina Lakes, CroatiaMy Profile

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  41. I know exactly what you are saying. While with technology it is easy to stay in touch with family and friends, it’s basically impossible to not drift. They have their life and you have yours and the longer you are away the greater the distance is between them.

    It’s a price to pay, but one I believe is worth it considering all the positives you get from travel:)
    Nicole @ Green Global Travel recently posted..TAHITI: Photos of Moorea 4×4 Safari TourMy Profile

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  43. great thoughts…..appreciate the honesty :)

  44. great story and it is true and i am completely agree with you
    thanks for share this beautiful article i appreciate it
    thank you again :-)
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  45. Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading a lot of posts about traveling lately, and definitely have dreams of more travel. My longest trip away on my own was 4 months, and I learned so much about myself. One of the things I definitely learned was how important my family is to me. I had such a wonderful experience in so many ways, but still called my family often (luckily time change wasn’t much) to share it with them. I have extreme wanderlust, and have been contemplating a year long trip. I’ve decided a shorter trip might be good for me… because of my close ties with family and now a great relationship that would be severed if I left.

  46. …I discovered this article after researching ‘travelling after ending a long term relationship’. Your words struck a cord with me, as my ambition to travel as felt like ‘the other man’ in my life for so long. Having ended my long term relationship I can finally realise that dream without compromise.

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