Travel or Family, Do You Always Have to Choose?

Today is my birthday. It is not a significant birthday, the last one of those was three years ago, and the next one is still way off in the future—although we all know that the

Today is my birthday.

It is not a significant birthday, the last one of those was three years ago, and the next one is still way off in the future—although we all know that the next significant birthday is never really that far away. On birthdays we tend to reflect on our lives as age is often a signifier of success: don’t you remember saying ‘by 25 I hope to have a career, by 30 I hope to be married, by 35 I hope to have children…’. Even if you’re not saying it you can be sure that the society around you is. How many times have people commented on your age and asked if you’re married or when you intend to have kids? Or that question that no doubt every traveller dreads, ‘travelling is all very nice, but shouldn’t you settle down now?

Dressed as Sandy and surrounded by my Pink Ladies on my 30th birthday

Well today I turn 33. I am not married and I don’t have kids. I have forged a successful teaching career and paid off all my debts. And then I quit a good teaching job in order to travel, in the full knowledge that I will spend all the savings I have worked so hard for. Many people would say I am reckless.

Today would also have been the birthday of my Grandmother, or ‘Nana’ as we called her. For 32 years we shared a birthday. She died in August last year after old age, and the various ailments that come with it, finally finished taking its merciless toll on her body. In her last months she said to me many times that ‘old age is cruel’ and she was right. Right until the end it was clear to see that while the spirit was willing, the body was oh-so weak.

My Grandmother was born in an age where travel was only for the wealthy, for six years during the Second World War it was impossible. But she also lived through an age when even the impossible became possible—a man could stand on the surface of the moon. In her later years she lived in a society where getting on a plane is as common as catching a bus. She even had family members who lived overseas. When she became confused and could barely remember the names of her own children and grandchildren, she always remembered that I had lived in Japan and then Vietnam. To somebody who lived through both WW2 and the Vietnam War living in such places must have seemed incredible.

My Nan (far laft) with her friends in Canada

Years ago she visited Canada with her friends. She travelled around and rode a Greyhound bus. I remember her excitement about this trip. In the hospital at the end she had her photo album of this holiday by her bed.  It stood alongside her numerous albums of family, and she proudly showed it to the nurses and all her visitors. My Grandmother lived a difficult life which included the tragic deaths of three of her children—two in infancy—and her eldest daughter in adulthood. She lost her beloved husband at a young age but remained the strong matriarch of a large family, including an army of grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. But she also had a good life. Her family loved her and she had many, many friends, all of whom were recipients of her frequent handwritten cards and letters.

All of her friends and family were present at her funeral.

My Grandmother's Children and their families, taken at a meal in her honour the weekend of her funeral.

After the funeral, many of my Grandmother’s friends spoke to me about what I was doing. I was about to leave for my South America journey. Every single one of them said to me ‘Well done! Do it while you’re young, you’ll only regret it later if you don’t. I wish I had travelled.’

Like my Grandmother, for many of them it had been impossible during their own youth. Many of them pointed out that in this day and age, having a family can come later. And they are right.

I do not criticise anybody who marries young and has a family. I do not criticise anybody who stays at home and works hard to create a career and raise their children. When I see people happy and content in their lives, whatever they are doing, I admire them.

I do criticise a society that suggests that there is something wrong with you if you do not wish to live this way. On the whole, we live much longer these days, there is time to travel and have family later—if that is what you want to do.

To travel the way I have, I have made sacrifices. I don’t have a permanent home, I do not have children, I am always far away from my family. Maybe in time I will settle down, even have children. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I will regret some of my choices later in life, maybe I won’t. These things sometimes keep me awake at night. Should I feel guilty about travelling, because sometimes I do? Should I stay at home and suffer with recessions and the rising cost of living because that is what we are taught life is all about? Does travelling mean I am running away? Should I turn back and face adulthood responsibly by paying my taxes and raising the next generation? Will I look back at the end of my life on my hundreds of travel pictures with pride, as my Grandmother did, or with regret for what it cost? She died surrounded by family, but will I?

I can’t answer these questions but right now I feel happy about what I am doing. I shouldn’t live a life that society dictates just because that’s what has always been done. Just because I choose travel over raising a family right now doesn’t mean that I won’t choose a family later. Perhaps I can even find a way to combine family and travel successfully as other travel bloggers have done. My Grandmother’s generation had no choice yet I don’t believe that they would begrudge their own grandchildren the chance to do what they themselves could not. The freedom to choose how we live our lives is what many of them fought for.

So I should not feel guilty about it.

As a devoted Christian, my Grandmother looked forward to her final destination, even though she didn’t enjoy the last few stages of the journey. At the end she talked of hearing singing and entering Heaven to be reunited with her God, her beloved husband, and the children that she had lost and missed so dearly. She made the ultimate journey to a destination where even the Lonely Planet has not been and I hope that she found peace there.

I know that she is proud of me whatever I do, and I think that she would tell me not to feel guilty about travelling.

Birthday Girls. Me and my Nana

Do you feel guilty about travelling? Do you sometimes feel under pressure to live in a particular way, and that travelling is an easy escape from the realities of life? Have you settled down after being a traveller? What changed your mind? Do you think that you can find a balance between travel, career and family or do you believe that something must be sacrificed? Leave me a comment below.

11 thoughts on “Travel or Family, Do You Always Have to Choose?

  1. This made me shed a tear. She sounds like a wonderful woman! I am sure she is very proud of you for what you have accomplished. I know I am still kind of young to comment much about settling down etc. although I have been asked MANY times-much to my dread-when I am getting married, but I think when I get old it is much more likely that I will regret what I haven’t done rather than what I have. I am sure if you hadn’t lived abroad, went travelling, squandered your savings (money is just bit of paper anyways) of magical destinations you’d be kicking yourself! After seeing your amazing pictures I can safely say you should never regret travelling! Just do what makes you happy 🙂 and you will never regret it.

    1. Thanks Jordan. I think doing what makes you happy is the best advice in our world – life is too short to live by somebody else’s standards!

  2. What a great post, I can so relate to what you’ve experienced. I’m another restless 33 year old who’s rapidly becoming the only unmarried/child-less one of her friends. I gave up my full-time job to go freelance a year ago (which most people thought was insane in this job market) to try and combine my love of travel and the rest of my life. I do have a home base in the UK, but am able to be flexible about where I work and how much, and take up all the travel opportunities that come along. Last year I spend a third of the year travelling and the rest with friends and family. It’s not easy prioritising travel sometimes – no expensive clothes or fancy dinners out when you’re always saving. But it’s so worth it. Long may it continue for all us restless types!
    Lucy recently posted..Cheese Heaven: A tasting at London’s Neal’s Yard DairyMy Profile

    1. Hi, I have just been looking at your blog and notice that you are in Cheltenham which is where I went to University. I spent five wonderful years there 🙂 I would love to combine working and travelling, which is generally easy to do but as an International school teacher I am generally tied by two year contracts. I would love to do something more freelance to be more flexible. I totally relate to the part about no expensive clothes or fancy dinners too, I’m always saving for the next trip. Backpacker clothes are fine when you’re away but a bit embarrassing back at home 🙂

      1. How strange that you studied in Cheltenham! I’m from Herefordshire but lived in London for 10 years, but moved back for a cheaper/less manic way of life and loving it so far. I hear you on the backpacker clothes, am currently selling off things on eBay and buying others to have a bit of a change and get to wear something different as I haven’t been shopping for so long!
        Lucy recently posted..Cheese Heaven: A tasting at London’s Neal’s Yard DairyMy Profile

  3. Hi!
    Well this rang very true to me I must say!
    My Nan is still with us I am pleased to say, although at 91 years old, she is spending a lot of her time in and out of Hospital and Dr. surgeries and I know she hates that, her spirit is strong too like your Nanna, but her body is growing weaker :(.
    My Nan also encourages me to live and travel as she says to me she wished she could have and you should do it while you can! Of course I think she would have loved for me to settled down, got married and had children, so she could see her Great Grandchildren etc.. but she also knows that I have many more choices in life, I am not particularly maternal and that never would have made me happy.
    I am from the UK originally too, I left nearly 5 years ago and have been living in Sydney, Australia, I am about to become an Australian Citizen, something I dreamed of for the last few years and yet…
    I live in a suburb of my choice, which I love, close to friends, who I love, doing a job I actually like for the first time. I rent a lovely little flat, I have furnished it and yet… and yet.. I cannot shake the urge to up sticks and travel the world!
    I am 31 years old, I have been in 3 serious relationships, where I have lived with my boyfriends, I have nearly got married at least in one of those and yet I didn’t. I couldn’t.
    Am I totally selfish?
    Yes, yes I am.
    Does that mean I should be punished?
    If my choice in life had been different, if I had chosen to get married to my first boyfriend and have children, settle down and buy a house, if that was what I wanted, would I be judged as harshly by society and by myself? Hmm.. probably not.
    I understand your guilt I feel guilty every day for moving so far away from my family, then again a few of my family members have done the same, none of my very immediate family live in England. After I took the plunge and moved to Sydney, my parents moved to Spain and my brother moved to Singapore. I have family in the US too. Isn’t life too short?
    Anyway loved your blog and it is great to feel that I am not alone. Society makes you think that all women want to get married and have babies, settle down. Some of us don’t, even – shock horror in our 30’s!
    Plus there’s so much of the world to see and experience and shouldn’t life be an adventure??!
    In my old age I do not want to be thinking I wish… I want to be thinking I am so glad I did.. You also cannot have a family just so you are not alone when you are old (I have friends who actually use this as a reason to have babies), also what about the rest of your family and friends etc.. just because you do not create your own family, does that really mean you can’t still be part of one :).
    So my next step? I think I am going to start looking for my next adventure ?.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, I have a continual battle between doing what I want to do and doing what I think I should be doing so it’s great to hear that other people experience the same. I am 33 years old and have been with my boyfriend for 4 years. Hardly a week passes without somebody asking me when we will get married and when we’re going to have children, sometimes I picture that as my future and whilst I can imagine it I don’t know if it’s the path for me.

      I get annoyed with the way some people look at long-term travel like a disease, i.e. the ‘when are you going to get over it and get on with a normal life?’ attitude. I never question couples about why they married and had children or if they regret it, and I find it intrusive of people to question my lifestyle choices. I think that everybody has the right to be happy, in whatever manner makes them the most happy!

      Where are you planning to go for your next adventure?

  4. Great post, nice to hear of like minded people out there. My name is craig im 32 and have worked away since I was 18. I joined the forces for 8 years, I left and now work overseas constantly travelling. I do feel very guilty sometimes as I know my family would love to see grandchildren etc. I sometimes also Lay away at night wondering what the next step is, all I really know right now is I absolutely love travelling and I have been doing this for over ten years. will it come to an end ? I don’t think so . I would like kids one day but I know right now I’m not ready and there is still so much more of the world to see. Family and friends don’t understand why I choose to love this way and that’s fine, I can’t give up what I love doing. Picking up that rucksack to travel where no one knows me is the most liberating feeling in the world.

  5. I got brought to your website after having some time to think – my question was, “has travelling cost me a partner and children?”. I have asked the same question as everyone on here and I think we won’t know the answers until later down the line. Do I regret my travels? No! But I have also given up good relationships because my desire to travel outshone my desire to be pinned down in one place. I am 32 years old and I often get envious of my friends who have settled down but I’m sure they would also be jealous that I haven’t got a hefty mortgage to pay each month, bills left, right and centre and little people to be responsible for. Thanks to everyone who posted as this has made me feel less lonely and isolated about the way I’ve been thinking lately.

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