Personal: never travel without saying goodbye to your loved ones
This post was written last summer but I’ve only found the courage to publish it now… an update can be found at the bottom.
As I’m writing this, I’ve opened up my Macbook for the first time in over a week. It’s been eight months since I went without my computer for that long. I’m currently on the way home from Iceland, a bit earlier than planned. Today I’m going to talk about something that I have almost never read a blog about before. And trust me, I read a lot of blogs. Today’s blog is about family. And what it means to them when you travel.
For some reason not a lot of bloggers write about their families. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s something you don’t want to write about as a travel blogger because it’s too personal. Or maybe you don’t think it’s none of anyone’s business. Well maybe you are right because my family never asked for being mentioned on this blog. But sometimes I just get curious. There are so many bloggers and digital nomads these days and people who travel full time. Almost none of them ever speaks about their families back home. How they feel about them being gone all the time and/or what they feel like when they need to come home for whatever reason.
Someone once told me that when you want to become a good blogger, you should treat your blog as a business. This kept me thinking over the past days. Does this mean you can’t write anything personal anymore? What if I’d own a bookstore, would my customers like to hear about my personal life? Not sure. Let’s say I’d head to a bookstore and I’d ask a employee an opinion about a book. And what if she tells me that her father, who passed away recently, really enjoyed that book and that he would have definitely recommended it. Would I no longer see that store as a business? Or would I appreciate the personality behind the business which makes it feel less impersonal. I know the answer. I’m curious about yours!
However, let’s get to the point of my story. As I travel nearly one third of the year, I knew that there would be a moment that I’d need to return home from one of my journeys because something is going on at home. I never leave home entirely carefree. Some say that’s stupid because anything can happen at any time with one of your loved ones which is entirely true of course. Some people head to work in the morning and never come home again or some just pass during their sleep. Thing is, my dad is 87 years old and although he is in excellent health for his age, it always worries me a bit when I leave home. Will I see him again when I get home? Will he still be the same? We have had some scares over the past years. Once I returned from a trek in Patagonia where I was out of cell phone reception for over a week and when I booted it up, I instantly received a message that I needed to call home. Not a message you want to receive.
When I went to New Zealand, my mother’s husband had serious cancer and we all knew it would be a matter of months. However while we Skyped when I traveled for six weeks, she never once told me that he had been taken to the hospital again or that his situation was getting worse. She was always optimistic and telling me he was doing fine, just to make sure that we could have our long dreamed of New Zealand adventure. Only a couple of months after we came home, he passed away. During the week he died, we had originally planned a trip but canceled it. The first time ever we had to cancel a trip over something like that.
As I said earlier, you know there will be a moment you will need to go home because something has happened. It’s always unexpected though. Just before I went to Iceland for my summer vacation, I had dinner with my dad for Father’s Day. I told him I’d see him a couple of weeks later and as he stood in the yard waving good bye at us. He always does that, steps outside the house and waves me goodbye. As I drove away, I wondered if that would be the last time I’d see him like that, standing in the yard. It’s something I’ve been wondering for years now. This time, it was indeed the last time I saw him like that.
Our vacation in Iceland was awesome. The weather was not as good as we had hoped for (rain every day with low clouds and sometimes no visibility) so eventually we had to change our plans. We tried to make the most of it, did plenty of things we had never done before and on the day Martijn moved on to Alaska, I caught a bus to Iceland’s highlands. I’d be there by myself, in the cold, up in the interior. Sure, there would be other people, but I was a bit anxious being there by myself. I recall Landmannalaugar to be unrelentless. Cold, bitter and potentially dangerous. Of course I happily told everyone I’d gone hiking by myself which I did, but I never really made the treks I planned to make. There was too much snow left on the treks and the conditions were not awesome. I realized that in case something would happen to me, I’d be all by myself and noone actually knew where I was, other than the position of my tent. So I stayed around the site and only did some short hikes in the backcountry, always making sure I wasn’t the last one out on the track. In the evenings I warmed myself up in the hot stream and one evening, I was so extremely cold that I couldn’t even put myself to bathing. When I got back from my hike, I just crawled into my tent, got into my sleeping bag and tried to warm myself up. I was shivering for hours and the wind was nearly blowing my tent away. I never bothered to have dinner or take out my contact lenses, I just laid there while I ate some Icelandic candies to stop my stomach from rumbling.
On the last morning I’d had enough. I was cold, everything was wet, my phone battery was about to die and I had a rash in my face because of the poor taking care of myself. When I switched on my phone for one last time to see if there was any news, I received a message from my sister. My dad had been hit by a car and most likely broke his leg. I can hear you think ‘oh, just his leg’ but someone who is 87 years old will not just recover from that. I sat down in the rain and even though I wanted to cry I made all kinds of arrangements. It’s interesting how at such a moment your instinct takes over and you need to do what you are supposed to do: get your ass home asap.
On the bus back to Reykjavik it really hit me that I was about to head home early for family matters. The one thing I had hoped that would never happen, finally happened. Now that I’m on the plane home I’m not actually even sure why I’m writing this. Writing is what I do when I’m sad. My dad isn’t just a dad. He retired when I was still in school so he was there when I came home in the afternoon. When my parents got divorced, I stayed with him and he was the one who took care of me and my brother and sister. When I wanted to study tourism he supported me and he made sure there was enough money I could do all the courses that were needed. As an avid traveller himself, he never once told me not to go. He always encouraged me to go out, explore and travel around the world. Whenever he was out on the streets doing his groceries and he’d run into someone he knows, he’d always tell them I’m a traveller. My sister told me that, when he was taken to the hospital, he’d already told the nurses I was in Iceland and that I was always on the way.
That’s when the guilt kicked in. I’m always away. I know I can’t stay home forever because you never can be sure what is going to happen when you’re gone. I know it’s irrational of me to think that but it’s just what I feel like at the moment. I can’t help but wonder why that driver didn’t take better care when reversing the car. Why he had to hit my dad, who finally, after not being well for a while, was on his way up again. If you happen to be that driver and you’re reading this, I’m not blaming you, trust me. I just really hate you right now.
And so we’ll see what happens next. If he will ever be able to walk again. If he will need to move out of his house, the house where we all lived ever since we were born until we moved out, and if he needs to be taken care of. That one time I looked back over my should thinking ‘maybe this is the last time I see him like this’ feels scary. I will never travel the same way again. Anxiety will get worse. What if I’m not there again the next time? Should I stay home? Of course I should not, but I will probably need some time to make myself believe that.
Conclusion of this story: never forget to say goodbye to your loved ones when you leave to travel the world. It may be the last memory you have of them.
Update October: as unbelievable as it is, my dad has nearly recovered from the accident. A couple of days after I came home he went into surgery during which he had a stroke. He spent almost three months in medical rehabilitation and during my recent Patagonia trip, he finally came home. He is walking again, recently celebrated his 88th birthday and is waving goodbye again in the yard when I drive home after a visit, just like he always does. I’d like to call his recovery a miracle. He showed everyone that if you have enough will power, you can do anything, even when you are 88 years old. He is my hero!
Want to read more? You may also enjoy these blogs:
– Most embarrassing moments of solo travel in South America
– 5 Reasons why not to go to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
– Adventures while solo hiking as a female in Landmannalaugar
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Thanks for sharing!
I am so happy to hear your dad is okay. Sorry to hear that you lost your step father though. I think it’s very difficult for people to talk about their families, at least it is for me. My parents weren’t exactly supportive at first for me wanting to leave my job and travel. They don’t even have passports so they really don’t understand my desire to see what else is out there. Anyways, it’s put a strain on our relationship and I worry about what might happen to them while I’m away and they do the same for me. It’s not easy! But as far as keeping your blog as a business, you should still be able to talk about what you want to talk about. Do what you’re passionate about! Thanks for reminding me to pay a little more attention to my parents, I actually get to see them very soon and am really excited!
You’re welcome and thanks for your comment. Happy to hear you will get to see your parents soon, enjoy your time and treasure it!!
Samantha | There She Goes Again
Aw man, I was holding my breath reading this. I mention my family here or there in my posts, but I don’t discuss them a lot because a) they’re not traveling with me or even remotely interested in travel (my sister once said the only places she’d think of going are Ireland and Australia… she’s never left the country) and b) my family over all is pretty private.
I’m so sorry to hear about your mom’s husband. One of my second aunts died quite suddenly of lung cancer since I was gone, and my mom hid most of it from her :/ I’m so glad your dad is making an incredible recovery! Maybe he can join you on a trip? 🙂
Totally good, I keep my family out of my blog as much as I can (they do sometimes visit my site though, at least that’s what they tell me haha) … I’d love for him to come along on a trip, who knows!
So true: we should always say goodbye to our relatives, especially to our family! I admit that I didn’t know what to expect from that update at the bottom (that you mentioned in the begging). But, as I got really sad reading the story, I got really happy reading the end. I’m very happy to hear about that miracle! Health is our most important treasure – at any age!
Yeah it’s a happy story in the end, not sure if I’d be able to publish if the end would have been different. I always admire others for writing personal stuff because it’s so much more difficult than a regular blog (at least for me) and love reading them. And indeed, health over anything!
I like personal posts so never question if you should write one! That’s the joy of reading blogs over travel articles.
I really hate to think about anything happening to my family while I’m away, but that being said I don’t want anything to happen to them when I’m not away!
Thanks Claire! It’s not an easy thought indeed … but it comes with travel and the passion for it 🙂
Tina and Jimmy
your story really moved me. but first I’ll start by saying I love to hear about family and personal quirks in travel post. It makes us human 🙂 Secondly, It almost brings a tear to my eye… I moved to England last year from the US. My parents are getting older now and my dad is not in good health. I call my mom like 4 times a week and my children once a month or so because they are so busy. This hits home because I know one day, I’m going to get that phone call to come home and I dread it! Thanks so much for sharing such a personal story!
I feel you, luv. My grandmother died when I was traveling South America in 2014. I am a long-term traveler and it was difficult to imagine that things like that can happen while I was out. Thank you for having the courage to share your truth. This is really a compelling piece.
First of all, I’m very your father is recovering well!
I know most bloggers don’t write personal posts that much (I’m also guilty!) but this was a beautiful read.
I must say that I also travel with that fear. I live abroad and the rest of my family is in Portugal, with some of them being quite old. It worries me that something happens and I’m somewhere across the world and unable to help.
Yeah same here, most of my relatives are fairly old. It’s hard to realize you can’t always be there for them, but luckily most of them understand my lifestyle and wouldn’t want me to stay home …
Thanks for opening up about such a personal part of your life – I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s accident, but so glad that he has nearly recovered!
I wholeheartedly agree with the message here – when Mike moved to Australia from the States to live with me, his goodbye to his dad was the last one. We got a call that he had been struck down by a brain tumor while we were hiking in the outback. It’s so incredibly important to make sure that you say everything you want to say before you leave. Every time. XXX
Sorry to hear about Mike’s dad. Those are the choices you make as a traveller but it doesn’t make it easier nonetheless. It’s just something that makes you re-think the whole meaning of travel every now and then, at least in my case …
I knew by the title that this was gonna be the type of read that you need to be mentally ready. Or try to be. Very deep and I agree you should say good bye. I definitely go see my parents and my brothers before I leave to say bye. One of my brothers travels as much as I do. So naturally he’s in a lot of my videos, my pictures and my posts as we always plan to meet each other when were overseas. I also include pictures and videos of the family that I may eet overseas in my blog posts. I think if you want to make money from your blog you should treat it as a business. Talking about family in your business is ok if it benefits the customer. Some people want to here your family stories while some people just want to buy what they came for and leave. When I finally get around to writing my Pamplona and running with the bulls post I will include my brother as he was there with me and I will talk about our mothers reaction to him running with the bulls. Lol
Thanks for your long comment Christopher, much appreciated! I’m making a little money with my blog, but just enough to cover most of my cost and do some additional travels. Let me know when you finish writing about Pamplona, would be very interested in reading about that!
This must have been a really tough post to write but kudos to you for having the courage to put this down on paper. Great to hear that your dad is making a great recovery, that’s the most important thing at this point. You can’t beat yourself up about things like this but I also know it’s really difficult.
Living in the States for the last 10 years has been awesome in one respect, but with my family back in England, it’s really difficult sometimes because I know they are getting older and I only get to see them once each year pretty much.
Thanks Chris! The writing was easy but editing it later and then finally hitting publish was a bit of an awkward moment. I haven’t gone without my family for long but leaving them for living in another country (which I have considered many times) would be hard for me, for anyone I think. Kudos to you for doing that!