When You’re The One Who Leaves
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)
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.
Now I share all of my travels with my fiancé, which makes my experiences even better.
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.”
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.