Cedar Trees, Lebanon

Feeling Guilty For Leaving A Country Too Soon

Derek Lebanon, Perspectives 55 Comments

Cedar Trees, Lebanon

When I hopped onto the bus that would take me from Beirut back to Aleppo, Syria, I spent the first few minutes daydreaming about the Aleppan cuisine that awaited me at the end of the journey. And then I spent the rest of the 6 hour trip feeling extremely guilty for leaving Lebanon after only 13 days.

This is a feeling I often deal with, one that results from walking along a thin line between trying to avoid living a life full of regrets and trying to gain as intense an education as I can from my travels. If my goal was only to have the best time possible in every country I visit, then I would never feel guilty for leaving a place. But when a significant portion of my travel motivation derives from a genuine desire to educate myself through first-hand experiences, then I often feel that it is my responsibility to remain in a country for at least a month, even two or three. Of course, I am aware that even a few months is not a sufficient amount of time to truly ‘discover’ a place, but it does offer a significantly better opportunity than a much quicker visit.

And since I rarely have a set itinerary and I rarely have any place where I need to be, there is nothing stopping me from staying in one place for a long, long time. So was my decision to leave Lebanon after only 13 days, a decision I made not because I didn’t enjoy the country, but simply because I woke up one morning and decided to move on, fair to Lebanon?

This is what I was left to think about on that bus ride back to Aleppo, as I asked myself such questions as, ‘Did I properly explore the country?’, ‘Did I learn enough?’, ‘Did I meet enough people?’, over and over again.

And while 13 days might sound like a lot of time to some, I am certain that it will sound like practically nothing at all to others. I did a great deal during those 13 days and spent much time visiting regions outside of Beirut, however, I could have easily stayed longer, visited more places, spoke with more people and in the end, learned infinitely more.

So my question is:

Is it my responsibility as a traveler to ignore my desire to be surrounded by delicious Aleppan cuisine and super-friendly Syrians and instead stay true to my goal of educating myself as much as possible about every country I visit?

Or is this just me being silly and if I want some Aleppan cuisine, then nothing should stop me from jumping on the next bus that will lead me straight to it?

I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts on what you feel is ‘enough’ time to spend in a country. Do you ever wonder if you’re leaving a country too soon or feel guilty for staying only a short while?

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Comments 55

  1. Earl, I totally think you should listen to your instincts in regards to leaving. While I’m sure you have immersed yourself and love the culture, I think that if you still feel the same love for it after experiencing other countries that you should consider coming back to explore it further. No harm in wanting to learn more about another region.

    Not to mention, I’m sure I can say that all of us love to read your posts regardless of where you are.

    1. Thank you for the very nice comment Erica! And that’s another important point you brought up…it’s not as if leaving a country means that we stop educating ourselves, it’s just that we begin to learn about other places instead.

  2. The dialogue you generate with each and every post is inspiring to all of us! I can’t believe, well yes I can, how far down the page I had to scroll just to leave a comment, one of many who share their thoughts with you in hopes of giving some guidance on your journey.

    Regarding your article, I think that if you didn’t feel you learned all you could in your heart of hearts, then you would have remained a little while longer. But it was those experiences yet to be lived, that were urging you forward – even if they were driven by your appetite…a metaphor for more than those rumblings in your belly.

    As Auntie Mame would say, “You have to live, live, live” and so be it Earl, live life to the fullest and let it pull you along in new or old directions all the while adding “flavor” to your journey.

    God’s speed my friend!

    1. Hey Jeff – It’s interesting to read your comment and find myself nodding along in complete agreement with everything you said. It seems so obvious to me now but while leaving Lebanon, it was as if I had never relied on those travel urges before and had no idea what to do. But live, live, live indeed! When one adventure ends, another one immediately begins…

      And thank you for commenting even though you had to scroll so far down 🙂

  3. I have always felt this upon leaving a country after a short period of time. It’s all part of being an explorer. You always question if you have explored enough and you fear the sting of regret.
    I think if you woke up and decided you need to go then that is your higher self guiding you to the place only he knows you should be. You’ll work it out soon enough.
    I felt that this year when it was time to come home to Australia. I really didn’t want to leave, and the guilty feelings overwhelmed me, as did the regret upon return home. I feel it all the time.
    However, my decision came about in much the same way. I woke up and decided it was what I had to do, no questions asked. I didn’t understand it, I just knew that was what had to happen.
    My life is now full of unexpected twists and turns and with each one, I am beginning to see a little clearer just why my higher self was guiding me to return home.
    So let the guilt go, and know that you are in the perfect place at the perfect time.

    1. Hey Caz – You couldn’t have said it better and I almost never question myself when I suddenly wake up and just ‘feel’ that it’s time to move on to somewhere else. And as you have experienced in Australia, there is no way of knowing where each decision will lead and as long as we maintain an open mind, we will encounter those unexpected moments and changes in life. Slowly, we find some clarity as to why we made the initial decision.

      As for Lebanon, I wouldn’t be in Iraq right now if I hadn’t left Lebanon and so that alone, shows me that my decision was for a reason.

  4. It was funny to read this.

    I am feeling the inverse: guilty for intending to go back to Indonesia, a country which I adore, and of which, in over two months, we barely scratched the surface… And, in fact, for spending another year in Asia rather than heading over to Latin America…

    But, no. I don’t think you should feel guilty. Travel’s not just about learning. It’s about having fun, and great experiences. And if Lebanon didn’t float your boat this time, so what?

    What you may find, however, is that you go back. I ducked out of Vietnam half way up the country, because I just couldn’t stand the hassle. Then came back, geared for the craziness, and loved it.

    Or? Maybe you and Lebanon just weren’t meant to be.

    1. Hey Theodora – The reverse guilt is interesting as there are times when I think of going back to India for another visit but feel guilty for not wanting to go to a new country. But there really is no use in feeling guilty I guess as just like Shannon said, if we follow our travel instincts, then we should be quite happy with our adventures, regardless if it takes us to a new place or not.

    1. Thank you for the comment Greg. Things probably do even out in the end as leaving a place simply leads to new experiences that we otherwise wouldn’t have had in a new country.

  5. I like your perspective Earl and I am glad I found your site. You know, you could stay in one spot a lifetime and never fully appreciate it ( eventually it would become common place like everywhere else ) but the nature of the journey is to continue forward and that is not shameful.
    I think it is how you spend your brief time in a place that matters, not how much time you spent.

    1. Hey Joshy – That’s very true…it is about how we spend the time, no matter how short or long that visit may be. And that’s why I’ve always said that just because a person stays in one place for a year, doesn’t necessarily mean that they gained more than someone who visited the same place for only a week!

      I appreciate your comment and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts!

  6. I think that beyond everything else Earl you just have to trust your travel instincts…a place can be so perfectly jiving with you, but yet you inexplicably feel the need to move on – you may be moving on sooner from Lebanon, but you will get to know Syria that much more – you’re merely trading knowledge and experiences of one place for another, instead of viewing it as missing some experiences you’re gaining others. 🙂

    1. Hey Shannon – That’s some excellent points you make as I wasn’t losing out on anything, just swapping one experience for another. It’s such a good way to look at it and rarely are we disappointed when we follow those travel instincts.

      I hope things have still been going well with your ‘new’ position!

  7. Even after spending a year living in Korea, I still feel like I left too soon. I left just as I was getting conversational with the language, getting comfortable with the culture, and getting into a groove with my job. But, regrets get one nowhere.

    1. Hey Kelsey – It’s good to hear of others who have had similar experiences, especially after spending such a long time in one place. And I do agree with you that regrets get one nowhere. Luckily, I haven’t spent too much time dwelling on the fact that I left so soon now that I’ve moved on.

      Thank you for the comment!

  8. I know how you feel. I travel a lot and there are times when I have to leave a certain place even if i don’t want to. After all you can always go back once again and fulfill the things that you missed. There’s always a reason to do certain things. And food is actually a good reason to leave.

    1. Hey Nelly – Food is perhaps one of the best reasons to travel somewhere! Rarely can I ignore the urge to eat amazing food 🙂

  9. I’ve struggled with this sentiment often, even in countries where I stayed months, let alone weeks. In am aim to experience life intensely and learn as much as possible about a place before you leave, there will always be an opportunity cost. In this case, it is your peace of mind because surely Lebanon would be happy with a tourist who not only takes the time and effort to dig under the surface of its capital city, but still feels guilty after leaving so soon. Ultimately, as someone who interacts with new places and people on a daily basis, you need to be happy with the choices you make. As I’ve said to those who ask why I haven’t been to X or Y place: time and money are finite, and I’m not dead yet. 😉

    1. Hey Jodi – I do find that the guilt doesn’t usually last too long as it is not as if I left Lebanon and then hid in a cave for a month. I moved on to continue interacting with new places and people and so I am always quite content. And I like your ‘I’m not dead yet’ response. I would not expect anything less from you 🙂

  10. I felt the same way about Guatemala after only leaving two weeks. The truth is you can spend a year in a country and not really know it. But I’m like you and I usually consider a month minimum so I can understand your disappointment.

    1. Hey Ayngelina – The month minimum has worked well and it seems to give us the ability to delve just a little bit deeper into a foreign culture. And to me that difference is important, but like you said, it is impossible to do that all the time and sometimes a short visit is all we can manage.

  11. When I was binge travelling on purpose (in my past) or against your will (as it can happen when you travel with someone else), I get guilty about not lingering long enough. In my case, the latter was in effect and I only stayed one afternoon in Toronto, Canada.

    But in your case, don’t beat yourself up over it … when you’re in one place and you feel the pull of another destination or boredom with your current port of call starts to creep in (or both), just pick up your pack and follow your heart/inspiration.

    Likewise if you’re having a grand ‘ol time as I was in Bangkok (others express shock at this, as they only see it as a dirty, polluted transit point), don’t hesitate to stay and enjoy the place!

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts James. That idea of picking up my pack and following my heart is typically what guides my travels and usually I don’t even think twice. I think that perhaps with Lebanon, it was such a mystery that I felt guilty leaving without understanding too much.

      And by the way, I also have a ‘grand ‘ol time’ whenever I’m in Bangkok and find it quite difficult to only stay there for just a short period of time!

  12. I grapple with this all the time as well. But I agree with what most have said here: go with your heart, don’t feel guilty. Staying longer in a place because you feel obligated is not a great reason. Also, you can always go back 🙂 B well, Phil

    1. Thanks for the comment Phil. I agree that obligation is not the best of reasons to do something, especially if your heart is telling you something different. Over the years, it has been the times I’ve followed my heart that have proven to be the most rewarding…as I’m sure is the case with most!

  13. Totally unjustified guilt Earl! Just as long as you don’t plan on telling people you are an expert on Lebanon you should feel nothing but pride for yourself for taking the time out to educate yourself at all.

    If you feel the urge, go back there one day, simple as that.

    1. Hey Forest – I definitely don’t claim to be an expert on Lebanon, or any country I’ve been to, even if I’ve spent a year or more there. There is always more to learn and more to understand, so that would be a tough claim to make!

  14. I agree with Andi and Christy – just follow your heart and gut feeling about where you think you should be. I also believe in the saying, ‘regret is usually a waste of time.’ You can always go back, right?

    1. Hey Andrea – Yes, we can always go back to a place, so that is a comforting thought. If I wake up tomorrow and suddenly feel the urge to return to Lebanon, then nothing is stopping me from doing that in the end.

      Thank you for the comment!

  15. For me the greatest feeling is knowing that I’m leaving the country on my terms instead of because some week-long vacation has ended. I recently left Brazil after 1.5 years of living there. Hard to explain but it just felt right even though I was leaving behind a lot of great friends and memories.

    So yeah, one way to look at it: the country will always be there, so you can always come back anytime you want.

    1. Hey James – That’s a good way to look at it as well…I wasn’t forced to leave Lebanon, I simply felt it was time to move on. And that is indeed a much more powerful feeling than having to say ‘I don’t want to leave but I have to’ because of limited vacation time or a booked flight.

  16. That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. Even just a short, short period of time in a country allows you to know it like people who have never been there will – even a few hours, like a cruise stop, seriously – and you can feel the people, smell the smells, etc., although such a short time really does only allow you to barely scratch the surface. On the opposite end of the spectrum, living there for a year or so can give you deep insight or leave you wondering what it’s all about, depending on how much you get out and about, interact with the people and experience it. So although immersion is absolutely the better way to get to know a culture, if you make the most of it you can experience as much in one month as some people do in a year.

    1. Hey Sabina – Actually, what you wrote is really what I have learned as well. Even a quick visit somewhere is infinitely more educational than not visiting at all, and although it may be tough to admit sometimes, we simply are unable to spend 1 year in every country. It would be nice though 🙂

  17. You have to go with what ever feels right at the time. Like Andi says Lebanon will always be there. Maybe in the future, you will feel a desire to go back there. All the time in the world for educating ourselves but we can only do it one step at a time.

    1. Thank you Natalie, I’m sure that I will have a desire to return and the funny thing is that once I did reach Syria, I felt quite comfortable with my decision as there was still plenty to learn in that country.

  18. I know exactly how you feel… sometimes I’ve thought back on my travels and wondered if I should have stayed longer, if I saw enough, or whatever. But traveling is an individual journey, and no one but ourselves can tell us how to do it.

    1. Hey Jasmine – You are perfectly right, it is an individual journey and there is no right or wrong in the end. Wherever the path leads us, that’s where we should go…

      Hope you’ve been well!

    1. Hey Christy – Actually, your comment proved to be completely true. After leaving Lebanon, I had an opportunity to come to Iraq, where I am now and as a result, I am quite happy that it all worked out this way!

  19. Earl,

    Life is too short to beat yourself up over things like this. Its great that you consider the educational side of your travels and that it is something you value. As a reader I value your honesty in your writing and if you’re just “not feeling it” I want to know what you were truly experiencing not what you feel obligated to write. Hope that helps, Jeremy

    1. Hey Jeremy – That does help a great deal 🙂 As always, I appreciate your kind words and comment. It’s honestly great to have you as a reader!

  20. Always follow your heart dear, it will never lead you astray! Lebanon will (hopefully) always be there and you can return when your heart says so. 13 days is a long time to me LOL. Usually my trips are less than a week!

    1. Hey Andi – Haha…exactly, 13 days is a long time compared to the amount of time that many people have to travel. And following my heart has always proven rewarding before, so thank you for reminding me! Something about Lebanon really effected the way I viewed my travels for a moment there!

  21. I know that feeling but you definitely have to let the guilt go. Everyone has a different experience in a place and if you aren’t enjoying it as much as you’d like there’s nothing wrong with moving on. The great thing about living this life is having the freedom to go where you like when you feel like it.

    We’ve decide to skip northern Peru and Ecuador and fly straight to Medellin, Colombia next week. I do feel a bit guilty about this but I also know it’s the right thing for us right now as we need a base to work from for a few months.

    Enjoy Aleppo!

    1. Hey Erin – That makes perfect sense as sometimes it’s not just about visiting as much as we can or learning as much as we can. There are other aspects to life and that may lead to decisions that might leave us a bit guilty for a while. But there is nothing wrong with it at all and usually, as soon as we arrive in the next destination, we realize that again. Hope you’re enjoying Medellin! Sounds like such a good base to work out of from what I’ve heard.

  22. Interesting thoughts Earl. If your goal is purely the education then you need to make sure that you have done all you can to meet that goal. Of course, that might mean spending a tremendous amount of time in one place…what is your criteria for saying you have learned enough of a place? It could take a lifetime! You obviously travel deeply and meaningfully and so I would think that if you thought it was time to move on…it must have been time. Cheers!

    1. Hey Gillian – That’s the thing, my criteria is when I suddenly wake up and feel that I’ve learned enough for that particular visit. And I usually don’t decide to leave until I feel that, but this time, it was a completely different situation and so it threw me off. But now that some time has passed, I understand that it was the right decision (as usually happens!).

  23. I think it’s a combination of both, obviously it’s your journey and if you want to move on you should.

    When we left China after 6 weeks it felt too soon but the size of China means we could spend years there and it not be enough!

    1. Hey Poi – That is another great thought. It could take a long, long time to thoroughly explore any country (especially China as you experienced) and so there does come a time when we just need to move on. But as I might return to Lebanon one day, perhaps you’ll return to China as well 🙂

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  25. I avoid this by remembering that I never know the future and with serendipity as my guide, I will be back to a country, town, region, etc if I am meant to explore it more. Places that I love will capture my attention later in my life and I will revisit a place if there is adequate “there” there. KWIM? I’m making a repeat visit to a few places this Spring with my son since he’s never been and I will be able to explore and discover them in a new way since I will be able to look thru his eye and see it for the new wonder that it is!

    1. Hey Jen – We don’t know where the future will lead us and I am definitely aware that I just may find myself in Beirut once again, either in the near future or later on in life. And I’m curious as to which countries you’ll be traveling to with your son? It will be great for you to revisit certain places and explore them through a completely different angle!

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