How To Not Let Guilt Get in the Way of Your Travel Dreams

Adventure is out there, if you don't let your guilt stop you from finding it.

How To Not Let Guilt Get in the Way of Your Travel Dreams

I have this habit of doing things when nobody is looking and then letting the chips fall where they want to. That's what happened when I bought my one-way ticket to Europe: I bought it on a regular Wednesday, in between writing two articles and on the end of my second cup of coffee. Nothing really shook me awake- it wasn't like I felt this prickling on the back of my neck where I felt like my life needed to be put on its head.

It was just that — as I watched the sun try to sneak its way passed my blinds and as I had the outline of my next piece working its way through my head — I felt something. I felt like something interesting was waiting for me, but it wasn't here in my little suburb just outside of Chicago.

So going with instinct, I agreed to meet it. It would pick me up in the airport on the other side of the Atlantic, waiting for me with its hands in its pockets in Dublin. And maybe we'd like each other, and maybe we wouldn't, but I was willing to find out.

But there was one hitch to my decision: Once I bought that ticket (in the next five minutes,) I had to deal with a couple of things that tried to make me feel guilty. They didn't succeed because I'm a stubborn, hard-headed type of person, but if you find yourself wanting to do the same as me but finding yourself held back by these imaginary strings, here's what I have to tell you:

1. Guilt From Your Closest Crew

I live with my parents and when I told my mom I was leaving for, um, I'm not really sure how long, she laid her Slavic-mother-guilt on me. How could I do this without talking it through first, why was I leaving for all the holidays, it's going to be so sad without me, yadda yadda, yadda. My friends were more understanding and excited for me, but in their own way hinted that they hoped I wouldn't be gone for too long. Which is understandable, because the squad was losing one of its key players and Taco Tuesdays weren't going to be the same.

But that's the thing: People want you to stay because you're key to them. No one likes the feeling of waking up and missing someone, so they're going to start scheming ways to avoid it. And it'll be in the form of laying the guilt on thick, trying to poke holes in the spontaneity of it all, dreaming up worst-case-scenarios like they'll be the first things that'll happen to you once you get out of the taxi cab — all to try to convince you to stay so Sunday morning brunches could resume on like normal, with you ordering the Eggs Benedict.

But if they can be selfish (in a loving way), then you can be selfish, too. It's okay to make yourself a priority for a while, and to do something that'll really, really, help you grow. You're not going to find out what you're capable of sitting in a cozy routine. You're going to see it while being lost, being scared, and being determined while somewhere completely, awesomely new. So if you're leaving significant others, best friends, and scowling moms behind, be okay with it. If they're truly your people, they'll be there when you get back.

2. Guilt Over Spending Money

Ah, the wallet. Probably the biggest naysayer, right behind your mom and her million-yard-stare. You can feel guilty when you book a trip to Budapest with the plan of eating your body weight in pastries when you know, in the back of your mind, you should be a responsible adult that's putting away money for adult things. Whether you're saving up for an apartment, feel it's time to upgrade to some proper furniture, have student loans hanging over your head, or whatever else it is that's trying to pancake you with guilt, just remember: It's better to have memories, not pretty leather sofas.

You'll have time to build all that back up when you get back. You'll be behind, but who cares? You're only behind on your own schedule, so take out the eraser and change the plan. When I was 17 I saved every dollar I earned working minimum wage at a bakery to buy a French Connection dress. I'm 26 now and can't even tell you what it looked like, but I do remember it was imperative that I owned it. But what I do remember, though, is how I went to California around that same time and drank whiskey for the first time on the beach, and kissed boys underneath hills dotted with pretty houses like Christmas lights, and walked down boardwalks to get burgers and let my bare feet dangle over the ocean. The stuff from 10 years ago, I don't remember. The memories — I don't think I'll ever let those disappear.

3. Guilt Over Throwing A Wrench Into Your Career Plan

I'm going to level with you: Two years ago I had a steady job, in a steady office, that helped me pay my steady rent checks for my steady Chicago apartment. Two years ago I got it in my head that I wanted to see if India looked as colorful in person as in pictures, so about a month later I gave in my notice and booked my ticket. Seems crazy. Seems completely irresponsible and rash, and maybe I shouldn't be giving out advice on how you should follow in my footsteps.

But I was fortunate enough to grow up around people that made it good and known that they were middle-aged and still had no clue what the hell they were doing. I've had professors that would get coffee with me and, leaning back in their chair, fondly smirk over the memory how, for 10 years after graduating college, they didn't know what to do with their life and ended up working on a farm till they sussed it out. Another professor admitted that she did what she thought she should do and was a hella-successful lawyer for 20 years, before chucking it and starting over in school to get her PhD and become a researcher. I have grown family members who are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, and friends in their 30s that unexpectedly got fired from jobs they loved and are now starting over in something completely new.

My point is: You're not going to be on one path. It's not going to be a straight shot on this one career track you're on, and things are going to happen five, 10, 30 years from now that are going to make you veer or stumble backward and mess up your plan, anyway. So...why the guilt? There's always another job waiting when you get back home. But when you say no to an opportunity to travel, you have no idea what you're actually saying no to —  who knows what's waiting? And the thing is, sometimes chances like those don't come knocking twice.

4. Guilt From Ditching Your Responsibilities

Like I said before, I'm stubborn and I believe that my responsibilities are what I make them. If I don't want to work somewhere anymore, then I won't. If I don't want to live somewhere, I'll go, and if I don't want to be with someone, I'll stop. That being said, I'm relatively unattached. I don't have rosy-cheeked kids, I don't own a car, I don't – I don't know – run a book club where the newsletter will fall apart without me. But even if I did, I'd find a way to make it work because — here's the kicker — there's always a way to make it work.

There is. We have an unimaginable number of choices and chances at our disposal at any given moment, and you just have to be brave enough and stubborn enough to grab at them. I've met people in bathwater-warm beaches in Thailand that have been traveling with their toddlers for close to a year; I've met women that sold their California homes and used the money for years of plane tickets; men that have sold all their furniture to buy RVs; girls that put everything in their apartments on Craigslist and went with nothing but a plan to see as much of the world as the world would let them. These are all extreme examples, but these are all people who didn't let responsibilities be their excuse. Because that's all guilt is: An excuse you're letting make decisions for you.

Jack Kerouac said it best, “Because in the end, you won't remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

So, go. It's up to you. You can let guilt hold you back, or you can gather up the courage to step around it. My money's on you. 

Marlen Komar is a writer living in Chicago with a penchant for mom jeans and kimchi tacos, and primarily writes about fashion history. She has bylines in Bustle, CNN Style, Racked, Allure, Curbed, and Apartment Therapy, and rarely stays in one place too long as she travels for most of the year. Website: