On Coping With Travel Guilt

O. Christine in Monument Valley // Photo Credit: Doug Yazzie

O. Christine in Monument Valley // Photo Credit: Doug Yazzie

People ask me if I ever feel bad about traveling

The answer is, Yes! This may sound odd but I get travel guilt all the time.

I've always been hyperaware of other people's feelings. Wondering if I've upset someone. Wondering if someone feels hurt or left out. Wondering, wondering, wondering.

I suppose it is from nurtured empathy or simply being an older sibling. Maybe it is from growing up with humble beginnings or empath traits. Or perhaps it's a subconscious attempt to make up for the people who never wondered about me.

Either way -- the travel guilt is there. 

To be raised in a low-income, POC community means growing up with the feeling that 'success' is defined by one routine: working yourself to death, succeeding just enough to pay the bills, and returning to take care of the others.

It is not unusual to see our parents and family members perplexed by the idea of sending elders to retirement homes. "It is our job to care for them! Blasphemy!"

It is not unusual to find the concepts of financial health and investments, completely foreign. 

And it is not a surprise when our neighbors whisper through the block about our pretentious ways if we choose not to return home.

"She thinks she's better than us now..." 

Travel guilt entrenches my mind and heart just as deeply as when I went to boarding school as a teenager. Just as deeply as going away to college. Just as deeply as getting my first job and apartment. 

There's no true solution to the guilt, I suppose. It is hard seeing people struggle -- especially when they're my people. 

Should I be traveling the world when many people in Flint, MI still don't have drinking water? When thousands in Puerto Rico still don't have power? When the NYC public education system is still a joke? When the U.S. is seeming more and more like The Handmaid's Tale? 

Why I travel despite travel guilt

I remind myself that if I don't take care of me, and prioritize personal wellness, how can I be there for others?

Travel is part of my solution.

Travel helps me relieve stress and acquire global knowledge, bringing it home to share. And international exposure helps me debunk stereotypes and soothe fears of the unknown.

Travel helped me take control of my life and health.  

Travel helped heal old wounds.

It's been more than four years since my first solo trip; since I realized my high-stress work environment and negative outlook on life were worsening my lupus; and since I started taking advantage of the opportunities in front of me -- even the scary ones. 

To change the world, I must ignite change in myself

In order to make change I must be healthy with a positive mindset, and I must lead by example. 

I want to show people (especially my community) that while home is where the heart is, it isn't the limit in life. That home can be anywhere if you allow it. That the world is attainable and global exposure can release you from mental imprisonment. From fear.

Instead of letting travel guilt consume me, I focus my energy on giving back where I can. On supporting non-profits and charities that are actively making change.

  • Whenever I do freelance work (website design and marketing services), I donate a portion of each booking to programs that enrich kids in underserved communities and promote mindfulness, travel, and the arts.

  • I use Amazon Smile when shopping online (it donates 0.5% of all your purchases to the registered charity of your choice).

  • I also try to support my friends' small businesses and fundraisers (which is sometimes totally contradicted by using Amazon in the first place but hey, I'M TRYING HERE).

Does this fix the world? No. 

Am I the best person ever because I donate money? Absolutely not.

But I am trying. I am trying to serve my passion, send a positive message, and inspire our future leaders (who don't all come in shades of healthy, white cis male with generational wealth) to live outside of their comfort zones.

Because despite my travel guilt, I know that somewhere out there, people in the inner city, or with health issues, feel ignited with hope and curiosity when they see people like me living our dreams.

Somewhere out there people are realizing this so-called predestined misfortune is part of a deeper systematic oppression. An oppression that's trained them to believe there is no 'out'.

Somewhere out there, there's a young woman with lupus, a pile of debt, and a broken heart who was ready to give up before she heard my story. 

And that is enough for me.

xx, O. 


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how to deal with travel guilt - ochristine