Just An Ordinary Day…
On the morning of April 26th I was sleeping blissfully in Phoenix, Arizona. Not all of my hotel stays are a dream, but sometimes I get lucky and find one that almost feels like sleeping in my bed at home. Usually there is something off: the pillows are too flat, the room temperature control is wonky or there are annoying lights that I have to spend 10 minutes before bed covering up, so I can sleep in absolute darkness. As I roll over to reach for my cell phone and a quick time check, I internally acknowledge that it’s my first and worst habit of the day, everyday. I realize it’s early, much earlier than what my alarm is set for. I also notice 2 missed calls, both are from “Mom & Dad;” the first at 5:16am and the second 2 minutes later. Not a good sign. I’m filled with a long moment of dread before I hit redial. It’s bad news – a family member in the hospital.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Some people are afraid of dying, public speaking or spiders. The things I fear the most are missing out on family moments and people passing when I’m away. So this was basically my worst nightmare coming to life; for the next day I wrestled with whether to stay put or to go home to Ontario.
To put things a little in perspective, my decision was so difficult due to the timing and uncertainty of the events, as I only have 2-3 days bereavement leave, and I was currently mid-way through a business trip. All the worst case scenarios ran through my head. If I go now, I won’t get to go to the funeral; if I wait, I won’t get to say goodbye… Since I was an absolute emotional mess, work happily supported my decision to leave. I hopped on the next flight to my childhood home. I won’t get into details, but I don’t think there is ever an easy way to say goodbye, especially to someone who has been a fixture in your life, for your whole life.
Beginning To Heal:
After 3 weeks, I think I’m finally starting to feel myself again. One of the side effects of my grief is my inability to put pen to paper. Some call it writers block, but for me, my heart was absolutely broken. I couldn’t even put into words what I was feeling, aside from: I love and miss my Grandpa. It still feels like the whole experience was surreal and I’m waiting for someone to tell me that they were just kidding and he will be there the next time I visit. Admittedly I haven’t been taking things so well.
The one upside, is that it has given me time to think. I’ve been reflecting on my life, reliving memories through photographs, and thinking about the ones I’ve loved and lost. And not all in the morbid sense either – I’ve lost many, many friends throughout the years. (And for you optimists out there, I’ve had the pleasure of an enriched life with many great people in it, even if it was for a short time). However, any type of loss is hard. You internalize it. Maybe if I hadn’t moved around or traveled abroad so much we would have had more time together. Should I have made a bigger effort to “come home” to visit friends and family more often? The one recurring thought that I’ve been wrestling with for the last few weeks is: Is it selfish to travel?
Is Long-Term Travel Selfish?
And I don’t know the answer, because I feel like it is a subjective one. One that would make a great essay topic, as the answer can be Yes and No. It’s all about your perspective. When I think of a selfish person, what comes to mind is someone who doesn’t consider the thoughts or feelings of anyone else before making decisions. I do the complete opposite; spend way too much time over-thinking everything. I guess in the end, in terms of “selfishness,” the definition is really the degree to which you can live with it.
Chris and I are currently chasing our dreams in British Columbia, but it’s a rough go as our families live in Ontario. It’s only a short 5 hour plane ride away, but it often feels like the other side of the world, even with the added benefits of technology. In living away, one way to look at it would be that we have missed out on many life events. But on the other hand, is it selfish for our families to ask us to stay close to home, living in a place where we can’t follow our dreams? We are happy, but it doesn’t mean we don’t miss everyone. Having lived in different places across Canada, I feel like I have a home in each part, where a little piece of my heart stays. In an ideal world you would always be with the people you love the most and could easily transplant them to wherever you were, permanently.
Let’s Not Forget Mother Earth
Of course there is also the environmental impact factor of travel being selfish. Just thinking about all of the fossil fuels being used on a daily basis for planes and rental cars, the wasted water going into washing ‘one-time-use’ hotel towels and bedding and the food thrown out daily at lavish resorts is enough to make anyone feel guilty. These activities all feed directly into the impacts of global warming, pollution and resource wasting which could be rerouted to end world hunger. This reality is enough to suggest travel is indeed incredibly selfish. All in all the traveler often takes more than he/she gives when visiting a place. It definitely weighs on my mind.
Solutions? So Now What?
I honestly don’t know if there is a one-size-fits-all approach for making travel less selfish, other than not traveling at all. However, I’m not sure that is a solution either, as I honestly believe there are many important benefits to travel. Going forward, if I’ve learned anything from the last few weeks, it’s continuing to prioritize making and maintaining connections with friends and family. Taking a bit of a breather from the whirlwind of travel isn’t such a bad thing either. It gives you time to reflect and make sure you are thinking about your environmental footprint as well.
I’m not in the practice of making life altering decisions at a moment’s notice, but I’m planning on continuing to life life to the fullest in Vancouver. I’ll try to make peace with the decisions I’ve made that have led me to this moment in time, especially the harder ones that have taken me away from sharing special events and milestones with friends and family. I know that the people who love me the most, including my Grandpa who was a world traveler himself, would want me to be happy and I’m grateful for that support. Hopefully with ongoing self-reflection, advice and encouragement I can keep my selfishness, or at least my guilt, about travel to a minimum.
Have you ever felt that travel was selfish? Any advice?
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