Don’t Have (Travel) Regrets

walking down the beach with a cameraWhen I was in university, many of my friends studied abroad. They all came back speaking of life changing stories and experiences. They made it sound like a movie and it was something I always thought of doing. Being in a foreign country, learning a new language, reinventing yourself, meeting girls, and being able to legally drink. For a college student, it sounded like the perfect experience.

Except I never went. I was always too afraid. Not afraid of what would happen but afraid of what I would miss back home. What if I miss “something” – never really sure what that something was except I knew I didn’t want to miss it. I didn’t want to hear stories from my friends. I wanted to be part of them. In my mind I knew I would have created my own stories abroad but I was too afraid about what stories I would miss.

So I never went abroad.

And I regret that decision to this day.

I let fear rule my life. I went with the devil I knew because it was easier. I took the easy way out.

If I let fear hold me back from travel like it did in college, I never would have experienced the world and started on the path that led me to this life. I put off a great experience because I was once afraid. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.

living life at la tomatinaDon’t let your fear hold you back. In previous posts, I’ve written about how now is a good time to travel because of the economy and about how the only secret to long term traveling is desire. But even those with the greatest desire to travel can be held back by fear. It can consume us and hold us back.

It’s always easier to go with the known than the unknown. As the Dutch say, “He who is outside his door already has the hardest part of his journey behind him.”

Fear of what we might miss keeps a lot of people home. What if someone gets pregnant? Married? What about the celebrations? The crazy weekend antics? My favorite places to eat? The list goes on and on.

But if you talk to any traveler, they will all tell you the same thing: nothing changes back home. People might get a new job or a new girlfriend. Maybe they will move. Someone might get married. A restaurant might close. A bar might no longer be cool. But the day to day life will be the same and when you know that, you’ll thank yourself for not giving into fear.

Life never gives you the same chance twice. You’ll never get another chance. Door don’t reopen. Once they shut, they are shut for good. It’s a lot easier to travel than you think. Once you take that first step out the door, anything is possible. Whether it’s a two week trip to Bali, a year long trip around the world, or finally taking the family to Disney, get going now because you are missing a big world out there.

Because at the end, what will you regret not going more than you’ll regret going.

  1. All very true. Although its not travelling as such, I’ve recently moved back to Scotland after living in London for a couple of years and have noticed that absolutely nothing has changed. Same people, same places, just a different day.

  2. Matt,

    All very true points. In a couple of my recent blog posts I have talked about how passing on great opportunities can lead to regret later on down the line. With that being said, if you had traveled abroad maybe that would have set you on a different path and you wouldn’t be where you are today? In some ways I imagine that it was a good decision not to study abroad, because it sounds like you are living quite the life at the moment.

    • NomadicMatt

      Well, hindsight is 20/20 and the path I am on now is because I didn’t go away. That being said, I still wish it was something I experienced but I do enjoy my life now

  3. Well said – I feel exactly the same way about not studying abroad during the college years. Fortunately I got a chance at a “do-over” two years after graduation, when I was sent to live (on my own, with no Spanish skills) in Madrid for a few months of work – a life experience that was tremendously influential, more on account of the personal lessons learned than of the work experience.

    I never hesitate to share my opinion that every college student should seriously consider study abroad – here’s to hoping your post convinces a few more to do so!

    • I should also add to my comment, that I too did not study abroad in college and completely have regrets about it. Todd, thats awesome you were able to get a similar experience through your work!

  4. I wish everyone could learn the “nothing changes back home” lesson. So true. I cringe when people tell me they’re not going abroad because they don’t want to miss out on something back home. That’s just crazy talk.

    • NomadicMatt

      Reading the comments here, it’s amazing how many people also felt that when they came back, nothing has changed.

  5. Yep, I can relate all to well. In college, I told myself I’d miss school and my friends too much if I went away. None of my closest friends or I went away, but after I graduated, a few friends studied abroad in India and Russia, and I even bumped into an art classmate while she was doing a semester abroad in Venice, Italy. I was beyond envious.

    But, if I didn’t not travel internationally in my early and mid 20’s, I don’t think I would’ve been so motivated to save for a 20-month trip around the world which is about to conclude next month!

  6. Brandy

    I can totally relate to this post. Back then, I’d never been out of the country, and was worried and scared that I’d miss out on something back home and/or be so homesick I’d have to come back early, tail between my legs. Fortunately, I did end up taking a (little) leap and studying abroad for a month in Madrid between my junior and senior year of college, but my big regret is that I wish I would’ve known how much I would love it. If I had, I would’ve studied abroad in a couple of different places. Then again, I also wish I knew how much I loved traveling prior to college. if I had, I would’ve majored in something more conducive to a lifestyle of frequent travel.

    And yet, even after reading what you wrote, the comments and my own experience with “travel regret,” here I am with those exact same regrets. It’s been four years since I graduate college, and I’ve been seriously thinking about taking off now for like two years. Have I made saving money to take a trip a priority, though? No, I haven’t, and I kinda hate myself for it. Here’s to hoping I can have enough fiscal discipline to finally take the plunge at the end of this year.

    Wow, that got a little long, sorry. This whole concept of “travel regrets” really just hit home because I’ve been thinking about it non-stop lately, and it was on my mind today especially.

  7. Matt,
    Thanks for your post on this. With the way the economy is, now is the perfect time to travel and have no regrets. If you do have regrets, now is the perfect time to fix those regrets. I agree with the other comments who say that travel finds you when you are ready for it. In highschool, I traveled to Moscow, Russia for 3 weeks and didnt fully appreciate the experience till many years later. Now that I am working and can only travel 4 weeks out of the year, I definitely appreciate my experiences more. I am working towards being able to leave the corporate life behind…getting closer every day and month that passes. Thanks for this post.

  8. Nothing changed! Babies were had, marriages happened! For me, my little sister is growing up without me – I can’t take her to see colleges or help with homework. I don’t regret, I just wish they would freeze time while I’m gone – but that doesn’t happen.
    Also, if I had done a year abroad, I wouldn’t have started dating my husband!

  9. I never spent a semester abroad when I was in school and it has always been a big regret. I could have experienced so much more of the world earlier in my life. Now that I am living abroad, I’m so happy that I made the decision and I was able to overcome my fears. Fear really is the big thing that holds most of us back. And really, it is like nothing changes back home. I talk to my friends and it’s always the same. They’re not changing, or growing, or moving on with their lives. It’s boring! Now I am afraid that I will go home and get stuck in the same way, that I will never have a life as exciting as the one I am leading now. How do I move back to the US and still have a life that is always exciting and new and never stagnant?

    • Theresa

      I think it’s unfair to say that your friends at home are not changing, or growing, or moving on with their lives, unless you have some really amazingly static friends. My friends at home aren’t changing, growing, or moving on in the way that I am, but they are, for the most part, going down paths that appeal to them. They’re becoming wives and husbands and fathers and mothers, they’re getting PhDs or Master degrees, they’re succeeding at jobs that are important to them, they’re volunteering with organizations they care about. Their dreams aren’t my dreams, but my dreams aren’t their dreams. Life may seem the same to us when we get home, but I think most of my friends will think their lives have changed, often in ways significant to them, since we left. I think travel is wonderful and important, and I would encourage everyone to do it, but I think sometimes us travelers get a superiority complex, thinking our choice is better than others’ choices. I agree with Matt that you shouldn’t let fear keep you from traveling—if traveling is what you want to do.

      • NomadicMatt

        The travel path isn’t for everyone but having no fear and living without regrets is something that can be applied to all.

  10. Jac

    I sort of agree…

    I didn’t travel until my thirties. Then I did it big time. I got so much more out of it than I would have done in my twenties. And while I was at home in my twenties I was busy learning lots of things about life and love that I’m really glad I learned.

    I think travel comes and finds you when you need it and you’re ready for it. Do it too soon and you don’t get as much out of it (although it is always amazing!). But do it when you’re ripe for it, and it changes your life.

    Great post. Thought provoking for me. :)

  11. Rachael

    Good post. Having moved a lot as a kid, I was used to goodbyes and was lucky to not feel these fears about studying abroad numerous times in college (semesters in both Florence and Bangkok as well as a summer in Sydney). However, I have just graduated, am dating a guy from Sweden (who will be leaving me in the States and returning to his homeland in August) and am contemplating saving up for the next six or so months for a yearlong RTW trip. But now I am experiencing fears for the first time. Before, I always knew I wasn’t leaving behind or sacrificing too much, and that things would be the same. Now, I feel I am facing the sacrifice of a future career and/or prioritizing an important relationship. Tough stuff! This article reminded me, though, of my fearlessness in the past and encourages me to be strong and push toward my dream! Thanks!

  12. I was exactly the same in University as well. It is easy to make excuses to delay what we really want out of life. Travel, starting a business, committing to a relationship, following your dreams all have the same problem: an uncertain future. Uncertainty is scary, so people continue the same boring things they did yesterday and the day before.

    Travel reinvented who I am as a person. It completely opened my eyes to a whole world and different ways of living. The best advice I can offer is, JUST GO!

  13. Hi Matt,

    This really resonates. I wasn’t exactly scared of what I might miss, but I was scared I would miss the ‘career boat’ if I traveled after graduation. I’d traveled before but never on an extended solo backpacking trip, which is what I so desperately wanted to do. Instead, I was a good girl, got a job, rose through the ranks and all that – and finally at 43 it caught up with me – I quite the job, gave everything away, bought a backpack and a one-way ticket, and took off for six months. I came back three years later after crossing Africa and Asia. So, it’s never too late! And even when I returned, I was able to jump back on the career wagon without any trouble – chances are I would have found a job after my travels the first-time around too. Amazing what fear can do!

  14. Accurate article, I get regular ‘updates’ from home, and they seem to be the same every week; The temperature, who’s ill, what’s on TV. That’s it.

    In terms of missing things I found it works in the opposite way too, people thought they’d miss me and I’d pretty much be out of touch but thanks to the internet communication is easy as it’s ever been even on a big scale so connections with home is just not a problem.

  15. Jonathan

    This blog reminds me of a quote that I heard last summer. It went something like this: everyone has a disability. It’s called comfort zone. It prevents people from broadening and deepening their lives with new experiences, knowledge, information, and stories.

    Travelling can help one to knock down the walls of one’s comfort zone.

  16. I don’t have any regrets as I agree the path I have taken has brought me here. But I have finally ‘grown the balls’ to do the travel that I have always wanted and, like ‘Scribetrotter’, and at 41 we have also sold our house, packed up all our stuff and set out on a trip that I had never imagined.

    We all do what’s right at the time. I may be older than all the others at the hostel today but I know that it’s never too late!!

  17. Anthony

    “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”

    Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

  18. Thank you so much for posting this.

    I just graduated from high school and am preparing to move to London to go to a university there while most of my friends are headed to state schools that are only a couple of hours away. Lately I’ve been experiencing the fear you describe in that I don’t want to leave even though I know it’s what I need to do at this point in my life and I know that if I don’t go that I would regret it the moment I step foot on some other college campus. I really am afraid of missing out but after reading your post and all the comments it seems as if my friends are the ones missing out!

    Thanks again!
    : )

  19. This is a great post. I agree that don’t let fear holding you back on seeing the world. For me, I was traveling in the opposite direction. Moving to the States was probably one of the most terrifying and amazing experience at the same time in my life. But I have no regret.

  20. JoAnna

    I always regretted not studying abroad too. I had the program picked out and the application completed, but I never sent it in. I had the same fears you did, and I’ve always wished I had taken that leap of faith. Because of that, and because I realize we only live once, I’m really trying hard to do the thing that might seem scary, especially if it is the right thing to do. Logic says no, my heart says yes.

    More and more, I’m listening to my heart. How can I not?

  21. Franny

    Hi Matty! Hope you’ve been enjoying your time at home :-)

    As someone who has lived abroad for extended periods twice in my life (a semester in college and a year after college) and now living as one of your friends who is home and ‘nothing has changed’, I have to say I agree with Theresa – ya gotta give us more credit! Isn’t that always true in life, you feel internally like you’re growing and changing and others’ lives are only staying the same, no matter who you are or what you’re doing? I might have the same job as I did before but it in no way means I haven’t experience as much growth this year as you have, even if you can’t tell from the outside (much like i might not be able to tell how you’ve changed this year – there goes Matt, still vagabonding, what has changed?)

    I realized I have now gotten off topic of what your original point was – to let go of fear and realize your life isn’t going anywhere. I obviously completely agree, but I just wanted to defend those of us who are learning how to have internal growth even though now we’re back at home. :-)

    • NomadicMatt

      It’s not so much you haven’t grown as a person- I can’t say you have or haven’t and I wouldn’t be egotistical enough to make that assumption but ask people what’s new and they say nothing. Even when you inquire deeper, people still have “nothing new” to share. I think that is telling. It’s not true for 100% of the people but in general, it seems to be the case. People are still following the same american dream path they were in the beginning.

  22. studying abroad is the #1 piece of advice i give any young person i meet. i was lucky enough to have 2 semesters abroad – one in paris, and the other on a ship around the world – both were very different, but both will stick with me always.

    i’m glad that you’ve had more than your fair share of travel even if you didn’t study abroad.

    long live travel!

  23. I don’t know how I have missed this post! Totally missed this from the feed. Anyway, Fear is indeed a powerful thing. Trust me, I know what you’re saying. I’ve been unhappy at my job for the last year or so after coming back from maternity leave (which I didn’t get my old job back-they gave me something stupid to do-colleagues think i should file a woman’s rights case- that’s another story, though). Anyway, so Terence Carter (photographer) told me to find the things I CAN’T not do (which is TRAVEL, write & photography). So, I want to do a career swticheroo, but fear is holding me back. What about my sweet hospital pension? my healthcare benefits? etc etc. Can you smell the fear? But when I read posts like these, I feel empowered and inspired and scared at the same time, because it makes me want to take that leap now!

  24. Traveling can provide us insights about the other parts of the world. This can be one of the way for us to grow and to learn also our independence. Although, you might miss something in your own hometown while your away, but the experience is worth the trade off.

  25. Sometimes, traveling to another place or country is worthy than the things that we’ll miss in our hometown. There could be lots of things that you’ll discover out there and you have the opportunity to meet different kinds of people.

  26. John C

    I have just seen this blog and everything nomadicmatt says is very true. I just got back 4 days ago after travelling Thailand and Australia for 9 months. I put it off years ago when I just finished uni in London went to my home town and got a job. In March of 2009 I just went, quit the sh** job and had the best 9 months of my life. I just wished I’d done it when I was 21 not 27.

    When I was out there I always missed my group of friends and my family, people were getting married and I missed out on a few things. I was very homesick and always thinking I wished I was hanging with them. So I came back 4 days ago to pay off a few debts and yep it feels like I’ve never left. People are still the same and I’ve got my old job back as a temp. I just think that I’m picking where I left off. Buts its true that nothing changes back home.

    Nice blog!!

  27. KD

    Hey hows it going? I just came back from a two and half months stay in SE Asia. While I loved it, I came back with empty pockets and no job. Since then, I been working and planning on going back to school. Now I am looking for a University that offers that an exchange program so I can do what everyone else here is doing. Thanks for everybody’s input! I’m going to try my best to do something amazing!

  28. kevinn g

    the only thing worse than not doing it is wasting more time having ‘regrets’ about it . artificially created feelings that cannot change the past. Once a ‘time machine’ is perfected perhaps ‘regrets’ will serve some kind of purpose

  29. Rob B

    I can totally relate to this! Part of me wishes I’d travelling in my teens and twenties just for the experience of it, but as someone above said the fear of what you might lose can really take hold. I guess knowing very little changes comes from the experience of seeing it not change in front of you. Now I’m 31, and despite the regret of not going earlier, I’m smart enough to now have an stronger idea of what I want and need from myself when I go travelling in March. The regrets will still be there in some way but the future and the past are just a thought, what matters is now!

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