Missing Some Familyar Faces

July 18th, 2017. Just arrived in Phnom Penn, Cambodia by boat after a week of travel in southern Vietnam. 

A sibling tattoo and rubber band bracelet crafted by my niece. Daily reminders of the tightknit— err, I guess in this case, stretchy knit—family I’ve been blessed with.

If anyone reading this doesn’t know me very well, let me start by confessing that I am a sappy person and this is a very sappy blog post. You have been warned.

I imagine it’s quite possible that the dozens of other backpackers around me simply left their families with a firm hug and an breezy goodbye when they decided to leave their homes for a life of travel, but I don’t think I have ever cried so hard and so often prior to leaving mine.

I am one of the lucky ones. Despite standard—and oftentimes humorous—family dysfunction, early sibling rivalry, and divorce, etc, I can honestly state that there is probably more love within my family than ten average families combined. I hope this doesn’t make me sound conceited. I imagine a lot of people feel this way. But maybe not. My family brings me pure, unadulturated joy (I mean, at least 85% of the time….we are human, after all).

It’s the kind of love that makes you and your siblings go out and get matching tattoos. It’s the kind of love that enables you to continue working closely with your family even though you want to pull your hair out (because secretly you thrive on it). It’s the kind of love that makes you go into your niece’s nursery before leaving for the airport just so you can open her dresser and smell every piece of her delicious smelling clothing one last time, just so you can try and internalize the scent.

Even last summer (a whole year ago) I would lie in bed many nights, anticipating what it would feel like to not see my sisters, brother, parents, nieces, and nephew on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. I would often fall asleep with a soaking wet pillow. It’s one of those physical pains deep down inside your heart and belly. It knocks the breath out of you and leaves you in the fetal position.

As I start this journey, I feel it necessary to confess that this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Not because of the language barriers, or having my feet and sandals constantly covered in toxic liquidy mud, or crossing an intersection with 27 motorbikes speeding towards you from both directions, or just generally not knowing where I will be laying my head to rest more than a day in advance…but because I love my family and I have an unspoken fear (unspoken until now, that is) that my being away will somehow degrade or desensitize the bond I have with them.

A fear that my intentional choice to leave them might make them forget how much they love me, or make them think that I’ll forget how much I love them.

I’m reminded of a moment several years ago when I first began planning and talking about my future travels. Gabriella (my 9-year-old, mini-me, and dangerously clever niece) walked up to me one day and said, “Juju. If you really love me more than the whole world, then why do you want to travel it so much?”

I was speechless. I couldn’t answer.

Of course, I know this fear of mine is irrational. It’s silly. It’s impossible. But it doesn’t make it feel any less valid in my heart, in the here and now. It makes me wonder how I could make such a decision.

All I can say is that a long time ago, there came this moment when I truly understood how vast and diverse the world was, and I knew I’d never be happy until I’d seen it all. It was enough to make me work hard for four years, paying off every bit of debt in my name and saving up all my extra pennies to make a dream come true. It’s enough to make me leave the most cherished and valuable thing in my life: my family. That’s got to say something about how passionate and committed I am to my goal.

So…Mom. Dad. Aaron, Mikaela, Laura, & Gretchen. Gabriella, Kepler, Eloise, & Becca. Cliff & Timothy. All my crazy relatives sprinkled across the 50 states. You too, Nhi. Thank you.

Thank you for being the best family one could ask for. Thank you for never ridiculing me for having this lofty dream of seeing the world. Thank you for supporting and understanding me (even though some of you **cough**dad**cough** confessed that you were convinced that I was either going to die or get sold into sex slavery over here). And if all turns to crap and I run home like a baby, or if I run out of money, or if I break both legs skydiving or something, thank you in advance for being there to take me back in without hesitation and without thinking any less of me for not completing my mission.

I now realize that your love is the thing that enables me to, literally, take on the world.

Additionally—as the world’s greatest aunt—I’m proud to be setting an example for my nieces and nephews, and making them understand and realize that life is an adventure and they needn’t miss out on anything because it’s too hard/too expensive/too crazy (sorry, Laura and Mikaela…if your children decided to take a Gap year someday and subsequently keep you up every night with terror, you can blame it on me). It made me so happy last week when Gabriella secretly slipped a letter into my bag the night before I left which read that I was a “big in[s]peration” and that my “trying to travel the whole world” shows her that she can do anything in life if she puts her mind to it. (I’d also like to mention that it was sprinkled with elementary puns, which makes me doubly proud.)

Fear prevents progress, exploration, and adventure. Deep down, I know that no matter where I go or how long I’m gone—though I may miss Christmases and birthdays—nothing can and will ever make us miss out on or lose our love for each other.

As the say…when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.

Also, there’s Skype.

22 replies
    • Jules
      Jules says:

      Oh trust me…I’m tasting everythiinngggg. Except, I may have intentionally not tasted the meat in my food last week that literally still had hair on the skin….

  1. Cheris
    Cheris says:

    Loving these.posts……growing up I always wanted to live in Nashville and be a back-up singer. Getting ready to celebrate my 60th and reading about your adventures, it makes me curious as to how my life would have been so different. I love my life, but different is good too. Sending love and prayers!

  2. Nhi
    Nhi says:

    No one wants you to break your legs skydiving or get kidnaoped or Sold into sex slavery, It’s just one of those things we worry about, but with boundaries and that’s okay. Everyone home is here for you, including myself, and you know that even if I show my emotions differently than most people. And you have everyone praying for you to venture off safely. It’s a part of living and growing and just life.. you are missed. No one will forget you or love you less, a sense makes the heart fonder! I was thinking this is my first eagle event without you I think, and you missed seeing Laura sparkle in her beautiful black dress releasing Mr Lincoln, and you would’ve been so proud of Mr. Lincoln, he was exceptional! Hundreds of people are there to help you see this thing through so do not hesitate to call on anyone. And don’t forget to forward me that banking info!!! As far as contacts in any country lemme know where and I’ll probably be able to find one if you need. ❤️??

  3. Mikaela
    Mikaela says:

    Julia, I only bawled like a baby while reading this!!! I love you so much. You have so much support and love from me, always and forever. You have to live life for you, especially while you are single with no babies! You’ve gotta do you and all the while with will keep up with your adventuring! Love you so much. ❤

  4. Buck Marshall
    Buck Marshall says:

    I’m in Nicaragua right now as I write this. I’ve been to 49 countries so far (including Cambodia) and before this year is through several more will be added to that list. I can tell you that each trip is unique but I have discovered some things along the journey.

    I’ve discovered that poverty looks the same in any country, that kindness has met me in every land, that evil has been present in every place, that beauty is all around and comes in surprising and unimagined forms, that when I cross geographical boundaries I also cross spiritual ones, that travel is its own invaluable education, that exposure to other cultures betters me…but most of all…the thing that means the most…what’s most impactful isn’t the beautiful landscapes, historic landmarks, breathtaking vistas, or even the adventure…

    I’ve discovered…it’s the people.

    The real value of these travels was meeting people of different lands and ideas, backgrounds and ways of life, languages and creeds…people. They are what you will most remember, highly treasure, often speak of and what changes you the most…people. Jesus asked Simon…”Do you see this woman?” He didn’t. But we can.

    So…go sky dive and back pack, hike and swim…taste and puke…laugh and cry…climb and take selfies…but see the people…really see them. Then you will be able to see yourself a little more honestly…and see your family even more clearly. You may find that at the end…you will even see…the heart of God. Because it’s always been…..


    I love you…don’t forget it.

  5. Sheila Hadley Schall
    Sheila Hadley Schall says:

    You go girl. What an awesome adventure you have embarked on.. See, taste, feel and eat it all in every step you take in every country. This is the time in your a life to seek out your Wanderlust.. When you are married with babies and a job you won’t have time.. We are all here for you in support and prayer to our Almighty for your safety and fantastic journey… I look for your comments and photos every day.. God bless you..

  6. Cara Corbelli
    Cara Corbelli says:

    Holy moly, eye balls are swollen after this one, hits home hard for me! Even though I didn’t have the guts to go as far as you did (man oh man am I proud of you and can’t wait to live through your experiences), I can relate to all of the emotions I’m sure you are feeling, in some way. After 7 years of living away from family, there will be days that just simply suck and others that won’t, but on those crap days just remember the reasons for where you are then and there. You can always come home. Love you so much Cousin! I cannot wait to keep reading and would love to Skype sometime too! Xoxo stay safe!

    • Jules
      Jules says:

      I bet!!! We are such devoted aunts…it’s so hard being away from the kids in our life, right? Like, it’s killing my soul. But thank god for video chatting 🙂 Love you too Cousin! Let me know if you wanna come meet up with me somewhere in the world 🙂


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] My oldest sister Mikaela and my mini-me neice Gabriella did the honors of dropping me off at the airport. I don’t think I need to reiterate how many tears were shed and how hard it was to leave my family. […]

  2. […] My oldest sister Mikaela and my mini-me neice Gabriella did the honors of dropping me off at the airport. I don’t think I need to reiterate how many tears were shed and how hard it was to leave my family. […]

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