"You're leaving me."
An accusation I heard frequently following my announcement to abandon convention and travel for an undetermined amount of time. To them, I wasn't just drifting away as one does throughout the course of life, I was selfishly ripping myself away from the lives we shared.
For many, there was confusion about my decision to forgo a traditional lifestyle in place of uncertainty in a foreign land with foreign people. I was traveling to Asia, after all, an entire continent some had never seen and an even smaller subset never wished to see.
Despite the overwhelming abundance of calling and texting apps available, I know communication will be a challenge. There will either be an twelve or fifteen hour time barrier dictating when and for exactly how long we can interact. During those times they do not know where I am and cannot reach me, they will fear the worst.
Beyond the distress I cause, I will also miss the mundane minutes as well as the monumental milestones of their lives: birthdays, weddings, promotions, babies. One wedding in particular has been on my social calendar since the couple met four years ago.
In the process of making my dream a reality, I couldn't help but realize I was personally offending those I loved most. By breaking status quo and embarking on my own path, I was labeling their life choices mistakes. Ones not to be repeated in my own. I was saying families and children were not to be desired; that the American dream was not the ideal. None of this could be further from the truth. Convention just isn't for me.
But what's really been nagging everyone, what they've all wanted to say yet haven't, is that once you leave, you never come back. Not the same way that is. And with my plans, this will almost certainly be the case.
Or at least, I hope so.
How sad would it be to have caused all of this anxiety only to return the same person? I see my dream of open-ended travel as an incredible opportunity to learn, grow and give back.
During my time away, I hope to thrive outside my comfort zone-- whatever that may be. I hope my exposure to people and places from all across the globe strengthens my appreciation of diversity. I hope I pick up a language (maybe two!) so that I can satisfactorily address those around me.
Quite simply: I want to do something that will make me happy. I want to see cities and countries I have only seen in books and magazines; to explore corners of the world I do not yet know exist; to develop new skills with new people in new places. And I want to do this, alone.
Is my plan for long term travel selfish?
Well, it's not that easy to answer. A selfish person is said to lack consideration of others. I care deeply for those in my life and have clearly ruminated on the effect my absence will have on them. But if I'm pressed to choose their happiness over mine, I'm choosing me. I'm choosing to do what makes me happy.
To this end, I recognize it is far easier to be the one going than to be the one left behind. I sympathize with them. But I do not feel it fair to call my decision, or me by extension, selfish. On the contrary, I believe what I am doing is empowering those I know and am soon to know to go out and live their dreams.