Every traveler knows the feeling of desperately needing someone to turn to. In our Women Who Travel advice column, we’ll be answering questions from our Facebook group members, readers, podcast listeners, newsletter subscribers, and travelers. Have a question? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected]
Dear Women Who Travel,
Like most people, I have spent the past year dreaming about the day I get to travel again. Now, with vaccines rolling out, I’m finally letting myself get excited about the prospect of the world slowly opening up, but I’ve also found myself feeling overwhelmed—not by the idea of getting back out there, but by the expectations others are already placing on me.
In total I have three bachelorettes and four weddings to attend before the end of 2021, almost all of which will require booking flights and accommodation out of my own pocket. I’m already worried that by RSVPing yes to all of them, I’m losing the opportunity to spend my limited vacation days and income on the trips that I am desperate to take for myself. Yes, I want to celebrate my friends. But I also want to travel on my terms, especially after a year when I’ve had so little control over, well, anything. How do I prioritize what I want to do without hurting my friends, or missing out on some of their happiest moments? Is that even possible?
—Overwhelmed and I haven’t even left home yet
Dear Overwhelmed Traveler,
You have hit on such a shared experience here—after a year of holding our breath and visualizing the moment when we finally can burst out the gates and travel again, so many of us have been slapped with reality checks. I think that in missing travel over the past year, we’ve romanticized it a bit.
Sure, the act of dreaming of a place, booking a flight, and having the freedom to explore every nook and cranny of it is something I won’t take for granted again. But it’s easy to forget all the other types of trips that made up our travel lives and pulled at our time. There were always obligations, be they weddings, visits home for the holidays, or work trips. That’s not to say those aren’t important things I want to do, but as they mount against finite banks of time and money, you quickly have to start weighing which trips are more (and less) important.
From conversations with other women, I can guarantee you aren’t the only one realizing this. I asked our Women Who Travel community via Instagram for their own experiences, and a flood of concerns came in. For some, the tension largely comes from a flurry of postponed events and weddings filling up their calendars, like you’re dealing with. For others, there are less formal obligations at play; rather, expectations by family and loved ones that rounds of visits and get togethers will come before any other trip.
Navigating all of this is going to take some work, but it’s a balancing act that can be done. First, I’d encourage you to take some time to step back, and remember those daydreams that have occupied your mind during the pandemic. What is the trip you’ve been waiting for? A week alone on a faraway beach, with just a stack of books and time away from those you’ve been quarantining with? Or is it a stay at a dude ranch in Montana, with family you haven’t seen since this all began? Maybe it’s a moment to grieve a loss by finally walking that pilgrimage trail or climbing a mountain. Whatever it is, crystallize that vision and turn it into a plan. It’s too easy to put our wants on hold when they’re vague ideas. But when you know where you want to go and why, you’re more likely to see it through.
Then, look at everything else filling your calendar. Critically think about what matters to you in the second half of this year. So many of us have seen our priorities shift; we’ve also become better (I think) at communicating our boundaries to others. You might not be able to attend every wedding, for example, so you may have to pick and choose which make the cut (we’ve talked quite frankly about how to navigate that on a past advice column—including how to respectfully break the news to the invitee). But what’s important here is that you prioritize your trip, then figure out how many vacation days (and savings) you can pull from after that—rather than committing to all the group trips, and limiting your own trip to what remains.
If you’re really struggling to choose one thing over another, WWT follower @rachmiller94 says her approach is a mix of everything. “I recognize the importance of both family obligations and my own mental health, so I am trying to make those family obligations into vacations,” she says. Two cases in point: A Baltimore wedding this summer will become a jumping off point for a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains; another the following month, in Vermont, will kick off a long weekend in Manchester with her partner.
Follower @kelseyvw says something similar: “Planning to combine! Solo road trip to see my new niece!” I’m borrowing their advice, and using a family wedding in Colorado as a reason to drive cross-country back to New York. To create the emotional space for that trip, I’ll likely miss a couple of summer weddings on the west coast—I’m just not mentally ready to do multiple coast-to-coast trips quite yet, and I need to prioritize myself and being with family right now.
Here’s the thing, though: Anyone planning an event, or inviting others to travel with or to them this year has to know that attendance won’t be at 100 percent, for a wide range of reasons. (In fact, they might be banking on that.) Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation—it is enough to say you cannot make it, and you look forward to celebrating them when it’s easier for you to do so. As a society, I think our literacy in discussing mental health has drastically increased over the past year, so if you choose to say something like, “I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of a lot of sudden travel,” or, “I need to take a trip alone before I’m ready to get together with the whole family,” I like to think that those who love you will know to respect your choice—and understand that your declining their invite isn’t anything personal, rather a means of self-protection and preservation. As I’ve written in the past, saying no to things that aren’t right for you can also be incredibly empowering.
We have a chance to exit this pandemic as different people than we were when we entered it. Maybe now is when you reprioritize your own travel needs, so that, going forward, you can have a healthy balance of traveling for others, and traveling purely for yourself—and not necessarily in that order.
—Women Who Travel
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