Weeks From Our Year of Travel, Anxiety and Mixed Feelings
As we approach our departure, each family member’s unbridled enthusiasm for our year of travel becomes clouded with sadness for what we leave behind.
When our Big World Travel Adventure was still years in the future, our entire family anticipated it with longing. We fantasized about various destinations in Asia and South America. We introduced thousands of sentences with on our travels we will… (take a boat, get more exercise, spend more time outdoors, sleep in a hammock, spend more time together, learn to swim, have better scenery for our evening walks, learn Chinese, learn Portuguese, drink passion fruit smoothies). Any potential downside could be safely kicked down the road.
Not so anymore. Mere weeks away from our departure, this stuff’s getting real. New emotions are bubbling to the surface: fear, remorse, regret, FOMO, anxiety.
Up until recently our family has been in general agreement that this plan was an indisputably splendid idea. In many families you’ll find a mix of adventurous dreamers and practical homebodies. That is not our family. We all share a passion for travel and doing things differently.
But truth be told, this was all my idea. While it’s sometimes hard after 13 years of marriage to distinguish where my ideas end and Liuan’s begin, we are both pretty sure that I supplied the motivation and the enthusiasm for this, even though we both take an equal part in dreaming and planning this adventure.
So this is an article about all the perfectly normal emotions that even a travel-loving family might experience just before a major life upheaval. I thought it might be helpful for other families considering this type of endeavor, or about to embark on one, to share some of the doubts and big emotions each of us has experienced in the last few weeks.
My Existential Night Terrors
Overall, I’m the least worried and the most enthusiastic for this thing to begin.
That said, there are times I wake up in the witching hour, where that primordial urge for absolute safety and the sharpest existential doubts crash my waking delusions — the delusion that I am immortal for the next thirty years, that I am not a mere accident or stroke of bad luck away from hardship. What am I doing? Why am I leaving my safe job, turning off the money spigot, letting our health insurance lapse? What if something bad happens to one of the kids? What if everybody ends up lonely and miserable?
Those thoughts completely evaporate once I’ve had my morning coffee and I’m once again fully immersed in my waking delusional bliss. I deal with that issue by avoiding coffee after two in the afternoon so I can get a full night’s sleep.
The Weight of Liuan’s Ideals
Liuan is an idealist. As is true of many aspects of our personalities, we both are, but she is much farther along the spectrum than I am, so I often find myself arguing the on the side of pragmatism or realism, depending on the topic.
She cares deeply about the environmental impact of our modern lives, including travel, and regrets our contribution to it.
She has been exploring indigenous ideas of rootedness to the land, and here we are, jet-setting citizens of nowhere. Not only that, but maybe we are just the latest actors in the long history of colonialism.
And finally, she has made deep friendships in our neighborhood and values community. How can we “be in community” or “build community” when we are constantly on the move?
All those themes make our leaving bittersweet for her. But they give us something serious to wrestle with. Instead of just hitting the tourist sights and taking pictures to make our friends back home jealous, it will give us a mission of sorts. Liuan has already written the first chapter of a book that will work through many of those topics.
Those ideas will doubtless fill our conversations as we roam the earth and try to work through the moral contradictions.
Eight-Year-Old’s Chronic FOMO
Our eight-year-old son’s mixed feelings about the trip are the hardest to take because he used to be one hundred percent excited. He still is, sort of, but lately he has repeatedly expressed his wish that we were not going.
Actually, I could have predicted this would happen.
He suffers from a severe case of regret and FOMO (fear of missing out). Life is full of forks in the road. The best you can do is consider your choices carefully and then commit to a path. But for Oliver, each fork in the road becomes a pitfall of despair over the path not taken. In order to choose something, you must choose not to do something else, and that tortures his little soul.
He wishes he wouldn’t have to miss the next year of school. Or leave his friends. He worries about not making friends. Or making friends and then having to leave them.
Meanwhile, his friends at school all tell him how lucky he is to be able to skip school and go on a year-long vacation. Yes, they have a point, I tell him.
Five-Year-Old Doesn’t Want to Be Eaten By Snake
The chimney sweep came by recently to, well, sweep our chimney. He is a character. He enters our home singing Chim Chim Cherree, and has mountains of advice regarding fireplace maintenance, general home care and everything else under the sun. As a side comment, he told my wife to “watch out for all the dangerous snakes” in South America.
My five-year old heard that and took it to heart. Out of the blue, he started commenting about how scared he was to travel. I didn’t know it was specifically about the snakes, so I tried to soothe his fears about various potential dangers and what we were doing to mitigate them.
Finally, I thought to ask him what exactly he was afraid was going to happen, and he said he was scared of the dangerous snakes.
I explained that we needed to fear snakes in Brazil about as much as we needed to fear bears in the United States.
Three-Year Old Doesn’t Know What’s About to Hit Him
He’ll catch on eventually. Let’s all make bets on how many days it takes him to ask when we’re going home.
Managing Big Feelings About A Big Life Change
I know better than to push too hard against these expressions of uncertainty. Sometimes, I suggest a more positive perspective, but I do so with a light touch, and sometimes I just listen and sympathize. After all, we will all feel homesick at some point in our journey.
And anyway, getting cold feet is normal. I am reminded of when we moved from our one bedroom condo into our five-bedroom, fixer-upper house in a different neighborhood. My wife cried. I felt a pit in my stomach leaving our first home where our first son was a baby. The rooms echoed from the lack of furnishings, adding to the lonely vibe.
Nowadays, we wouldn’t go back. We love our home. We feel even more attached to it than we did to the old condo. And we knew that would be the case even back then. That’s why we moved.
And yet the end of an era always feels bittersweet, even when it’s step up and a step forward. I think deep down, it reminds of us how temporary we are. The end of a chapter puts us closer to the end of the book, and that’s a scary thought.
I find the Buddhist perspective most helpful for feelings like these. Accept that everything is impermanent. Life changes, as it must. Accept your emotions. Don’t deny them, paper over them, or put up a fight. Just feel them.
Last Sunday, my eight-year-old got on my lap while I was seated at my computer and asked if we could explore the places we were going on Google Maps together. As we looked at photos of turquoise beaches and narrow cobble stone streets of a small town in Brazil, the spark of anticipation burned brighter in both of us.