Dear Fellow Traveller, it’s ok to feel sad while travelling

sad while travelling

Two weeks ago, I was sitting on the longest teak bridge in the world in Mandalay, Myanmar where I had a deep and intense conversation with a friend who felt lost and sad while travelling. Last week, chilling and watching a sunset on a beach here in Canggu I had a similar conversation with another friend who was also overwhelmed by sadness as an early departure had to cut her trip short. I, personally, have cried more frequently in the past 19 months on the road than in my entire life.

What’s wrong with me?

Sadness while travelling can seem illegal and dishonest because you are not supposed to be sad while travelling. For a long time on this trip, I thought I was done. I thought I had to give up because sadness and depression had taken over the joy of altogether. I knew I was ruining my once-in-a-lifetime experience but the truth is that I will always thank my ex for that. My reaction, my heartbreak, my deep fall in the hole was simply normal and I cannot blame myself too much.

Being sad while travelling sucks. And it sucks, even more, when all the people around you think you have no right to be sad. But don’t worry, accept that strangers – but also some friends – have no clue about travelling long term and they are talking without any direct experience.

If you aren’t on a two-week holiday in Australia, Malaysia or Samoa, yes, you might want to push back any feeling of sadness for a later date. But when the road becomes your home, you are a digital nomad and your lifestyle is full-time travelling like mine, then life happens wherever you are. And emotions and feelings follow.

The world does not stop when you travel. Nor does life around you.

In the year and a half, since I have started travelling, several tragic events have happened in my family and life and I was alone at the other side of the world to cope with them. Often hugging myself to bed crying and without anyone to hold me tight. Two of my uncles died, my sister got diagnosed and cured of cancer, she also got a divorce, I got cheated on and dumped by my ex [all without a face-to-face meeting after a 4.5 yrs relationship WTF] and only a few days ago my 10-year old cousin died of brain tumour after 2.5 months since the diagnosis. [we are raising money for the hospice which took so much care of him in his last weeks; if you wish to donate click here].

If family tragedies and heartbreaks aren’t enough, there are also plenty of other things going bad on the road. As I was exploring from country to country, looking for something meaningful to keep me going, I lost my identity. Professionally and personally, I fell into a massive, black hole where I did not know who I was or wanted to be any longer. Facing myself in the mirror became a daily battle because my ego was crushed, my self-confidence smashed and my lack of self-esteem was overwhelming.

I always had so many expectations and goals for myself and suddenly, leaving my public role in society, my title and losing the only thing that kept me connected to my old self just crushed me. I was a lost traveller with no direction and no plans. During the same time, my freelance gigs went from bad to terrible and I soon started losing faith and confidence which were soon replaced by fear and anxiety. Slipping into depression again was certain and before I knew it…

I was stuck in muddy waters

sad while travelling

I had a motorbike accident which could have ended in a much worse way if I was distracted. The last time I checked, my ex – in the usual selfish style – was posting pictures of this new amazing “love” in OUR favourite London spots [WTF 2], completely crushing any sort of respect for me or what we had. Once again, proving what a heartless, calculating and lying narcissist I fell in love with (and wasted SO much time for! WTF3).

As that wasn’t enough, I also bumped into a few shitty clients who decided that I was going to work for them for free, a scam job offer, another client who cut our project (and budget) by 75%. Everything was falling apart. The little things I had built slowly and with so much effort were disappearing day by day. I fell apart.

I fell apart.

I had every right to be sad.

Yet I was still travelling.

And I kept travelling because that became my personal dimension, it is my home and the “place” where I can heal my soul. A year ago I wrote one of my most-read article “No, travelling did not solve my problems ” and today, 9 months later, I’m here to confirm what I wrote there.

No, travelling doesn’t solve problems.

Yes. It’s ok to feel sad while travelling.

Remember that EVERYONE eventually gets sad travelling. It’s unavoidable and probably necessary to get back up and enjoy the rest of the trip with renewed energy and joy because exactly like the roller coasters of life, without the downhill part and the following rise back up, your travel would just be flat and boring. So, I am not telling you to fall into depression, but to feel ok when sadness hits. You are going to be OK.

It is OK to feel sad while travelling, my friend. And you know why? It is important to remember that while we are quite egocentric human beings, the world around us does change. It isn’t static as we’d like to think. The conditions and the people around us take other, unexpected ways. Nothing is permanent. You, me and the world around us. Sadness included. So, when she comes to you next time at night, welcome her in bed, hold her tight, have a little cry together and in the morning dry your tears and tell her to go. Till next time.

The road is waiting. 

  • Sonja Thomson

    This is such an important post! Long term travel is so different from a holiday, and a lot of people don’t realise it until it happens to them. I’m so sorry you’ve had all these hardships, but don’t give up on your dreams. If anything it should make them more iimportant x

    • Exactly. People think you are having the time of your life because you travel for a very long term, but they rarely take into consideration that on top of the amazing things, there is also Life. Thank you so much, I will keep your advice in mind. x

  • MelBTravel

    What an interesting read, I have cried a few times in the last 14years since I have been traveling. You are so right the world does not stop while you are traveling and you can feel guilty for being sad. All I can say is sorry and don’t give up there is always people out there who will listening 🙂 Sending you a virtual hug

    • You have been travelling for 14 years non-stop? WOW! that’s impressive! yes, I know the world is filled with kind strangers who then turn into incredible friends…i have been very lucky to find many on the road. Thank you

  • Exactly last week I was sitting at a gorgeous beach facing balcony at a resort and was feeling so depressed!!! So I relate to this!!! I’m so sorry about your 10yr old cousin!

  • Monica Suri

    I can relate to every word on your post, May it be journey, tragedies and people. Everyone gets her own share but it’s important to keep moving whichever direction one finds challenging. There are moments when life doesn’t make sense and those are the most important turning points that check once endurance and sharpen the saw to stay focused. Keep walking. Hugs.

    • I agree. But it’s also important to stop and reflect on what’s happening. To be honest, it’s also important to stop and feel the pain, live it. Only when we are really healed we should hit the road again.

  • I visited the teak bridge in Mandalay, I had no idea it was the longest teak bridge in the world. You had some tough things going on back home whilst you were traveling, what happened to your 10 year old cousin was a super tough event. I also have tough times with family (still today) whilst I’m traveling and do get sad about it, I have learned to accept that these things are out of my control but it doesn’t stop me getting sad, especially if I think constantly about it. On another note, something else that makes me sad whilst traveling is extreme poverty, seeing babies being brought up in the street or seeing people being exploited whilst in a country at war. it makes my problems seem a lot less in comparison.

    • This is what somebody told me, but I haven’t actually double checked..it did look pretty long though! Yes, losing my cousin was very tough and I’m waiting to go home to be close to my family and really give those hugs I’ve been holding inside me. You are right about extreme poverty and babies being exploited… it’s truly horrible.

  • AMIT AGRAWAL

    It is really sad to hear about your 10 year old cousin. And about your ex… Leave his thoughts from your mind. Sad while travelling is common but when you return from travelling then always you are rejuvenated and a new person.

  • Love your honesty in this account, but I don’t love what has happened to you. And that is one of the awful realities of travel – life goes on back home, including the really shitty stuff and you can’t always be around the people you love in those difficulties. I had about three hideous traumas to live through while living in Fiji with no family nearby and it really sucks. And sometimes I felt really lonely and sad, even though it looked like I was living the good life. But what travelling through these times teaches you, is ENDURANCE. That is all. There’s no secret to happiness to be discovered, all it is is endurance. And that’s good enough.

    • I loved your comment. Truly loved it. I’m sorry you had to go through those things while in Fiji. It must have been horrible. Sometimes you just need a hug from familiar arms, a kiss that smells like home. But ENDURANCE is what I loved more about your comment. I never put it that way, but you are right. That’s probably what I’m going to bring home from this trip. I didn’t find the recipe for happiness, but surely I know to endure all sorts of things now. Thank you.

  • Tasha Haley

    I have felt some intense sadness in my previous travels for many reasons, sometimes you just have to accept that that is okay and try to find a way to work it into your new crazy life!

    • exactly! when travelling long term it’s normal to have low moments and learn from them.

  • Lovely Sab…I put some time aside to come and catch up on your wonderful writing and well…this. You are truly amazing. I love your honesty but I’m so sorry to read about all that you’ve been through. Anyone with a heart as big as yours would feel sad, you’ve certainly demonstrated true resilience in your ability to keep moving forwards and now in your willingness to share so openly. Long-term travel is a fabulous thing, but we need more people like yourself who are brave enough to say exactly what you said, “Life happens wherever you are in the world”. Indeed. Sending you much love and I hope this next chapter is so much brighter. Esther xx