How I Cope With Being Away From My Family

family and friends marko danny blair northern ireland

Hanging out with my two brothers in October 2011 – first time back in Northern Ireland in over two years.

A reflective and personal post now having reached 6 years of travel blogging and almost 10 years of living away from my home country of Northern Ireland. I’ve done a load of interviews recently for other sites and they often ask me:

1. Do I travel alone all the time?

2. Do I ever see my family/miss my family?

This post should hopefully give you an understanding of how I juggle my nomadic lifestyle around keeping touch with my family. Admittedly I don’t see my family often enough, but that’s the way it is and my family know that. They know where to find me.

jonny blair cregagh belfast

My family in Cregagh in Belfast in the 1980s. I’m the one in the navy jumper.

Firstly, I am a family man at heart. I have two brothers and one sister. I haven’t talked about them much before on here, not for any reason, but this is my travel blog from my journeys. I haven’t seen them much in the last 10 years, the way things have worked out. I grew up in Northern Ireland with family all around me. I saw my grandparents and cousins all the time as a child. I see it as a gradual change in my life. Slowly in my teens I’d start to see my cousins less. My the time I was in my twenties, I would go months without seeing my cousins, yet still see my grandparents about twice a month and my brothers and sisters basically every day. Then the day came when I left…

Muriel Blair Jonny Blair Northern Ireland

At home in Bangor – Ballyholme Beach with Mum.

So how do I keep touch with my family?

In the early days of being away from my home country, I’d invite them over to where I was anytime. This was Bournemouth, Dartford and London when I lived in England. Fairly easy to sort out that – buy a cheap flight and you’re there. I’d meet them at the airport if I wasn’t working and we’d have a few days together. The same worked the other way, I’d fly back to Northern Ireland and visit them, usually coinciding with a football match. After all my jaunts in and around Europe from 2003 – 2006, it became obvious that I wanted to see more of the world, so I headed to places like China, New Zealand and Russia. My family just had to understand I want to see the world and they know that. The truth is I wanted to go as far away from Northern Ireland and England as I could. So I did.

joe blair on ferry rosslare fishguard

My Dad on the Rosslare to Fishguard ferry on our sailing to Wales back in 2003. He didn’t realise that from that day onwards, I was on a journey round the world.

That’s when the phone calls stopped as I was too far way, and I didn’t even want a phone anyway. I’ll be honest and tell you I hate phones. I hate talking on them and I hate typing on a small keypad. But yes we did use text message sometimes, and we still do (I only really text my Mum now) but things quickly moved to e-mail, and then to Facebook and then to my travel blog. There have been times I’m sure where my family weren’t even sure what country I was in and only through my travel blog or Facebook did they see an update. “Oh Jonny’s now in Bolivia”. I camped in the mountains of Poatina in 2010 and worked every day on a broccoli farm, didn’t contact anyone else for months at one point. But I was busy working and saving for my next adventure.

hong kong family

Family meal in Hong Kong in July 2011

But it’s been better than that recently. In 2011 I hadn’t been back to Europe in 2 years nor did I want to go back (in the end it was only a mate’s wedding in October that I decided to head back for all of 2 days) so my family decided to come out and meet me in Hong Kong which was cool. Granted, I was working the whole week and it went fast and I got no sleep but we hung out, I took them round Hong Kong and they met my girlfriend for the first time. My sister and my youngest brother made it to Hong Kong as did my parents. My other brother Marko was travelling himself at the time in the USA!

bangor family

With my family in Northern Ireland – first full family meal in some 2 and a half years, back in October 2011

Then October 2011 I flew back to Belfast for 2 days for my mate’s wedding and we had the first family meal together for probably about 2 and a half years. It was great. But I had to be back in work in Hong Kong 2 days later and had to go straight from the airport to work. Times have been just too rushed and too crazy.

bangor family jonny blair

All together in April 2012 for my youngest brother’s 18th Birthday. I made a hell of an effort to be there!

So I decided to go back for a week in April 2012 to Northern Ireland to surprise my youngest brother on his 18th Birthday, take my girlfriend round the sights and relax with family. But, again it went too fast and it was crazy. We were all so busy and didn’t have a moment’s rest.

train in sri lanka mum and dad

Giving my Mum and Dad the backpacker experience on a train in Sri Lanka with Panny and I – this year.

February this year was my Mum’s birthday so my Mum and Dad flew over to Sri Lanka to meet us and we had a great time. Again – too busy – too fast and not honestly anytime to relax!

skype mum and dad

On Skype with Mum and Dad on my Dad’s birthday this year.

Last night I chatted to Mum and Dad on Skype, but nothing can replace being with them. Having been away for ten years now, perhaps I don’t even know my own hometown anymore, or my family and I don’t want that to slip away at all. I just wish there was a way to combine my love for travel, my girlfriend and my family a bit easier. There isn’t. But it’s my choice to live the lifestyle and we’ll get on with it.

Here are the ways I keep touch with my family:

– Postcards. The traditional way. I send my kid brother Danny a postcard from everywhere I go. He now has over 120 cards from around 50 countries.

– Letters. I occasionally send letters to my Mum still. This is the cheapest and easiest way to send them physical products.

– Text message. Occasional texts to my Mum and Dad.

– E-mail. I e-mail Mum and Dad a lot, my brothers and sisters less so.

– Skype. Log on and chat for a few hours as often as I can. Would ideally love to do it once a week, but life hasn’t been that kind. Most obscure Skype locations have been a bar in Ethiopia, a hostel in Suriname and Lijiang Old Town in China.

– Fly home to Northern Ireland and meet them. Twice in four years is not bad in fact considering the long haul flights and the fact I don’t get many days off work.

– Meet them on my travels. The best option!

blairs in hong kong

My family arrive in Hong Kong back in 2011. First time to see them in 2 years.

So that’s how I cope being away from them. I miss being with them of course but I’m used to it now. Ten years is a long time. But life is short and we need to make the most of our time here, and combine that with seeing our friends and family as often as possible. Every now and then, my advice is to see your family, get some family holidays booked, forget about the time lapse you haven’t seen each other and have fun. It’s tough being a nomad. But I’m still a family man. I’m just out backpacking all the time…

This post, for the first time is dedicated to my Mum, Dad, brothers Marko and Danny and my sister Cathy. I was on Skype to Mum and Dad last night.

Love and wishes to you all and see you soon hopefully.


6 thoughts on “How I Cope With Being Away From My Family

  • This is the hardest thing for me and I am not the child but the parent leaving our three daughters who are adults to travel the world. I keep saying it is ok as they have their own lives etc but when the day comes it will be hard.

  • Hi Michele – I hear you but as I have no children of my own, I’m thinking of my parents and my brothers and sisters. I admire you for doing that and hopefully they will be special moments when you see your daughters! Safe travels. Jonny

  • A very honest post, Jonny. I’m in a similar position to you, and use a lot of the same means of communication to keep in touch…except for postcards! I’d love to send more (120 to your brother; that’s impressive!), but often the postage is so expensive, with the fact that I can send some photos by email for free, it seems like an extravagance!
    Sam recently posted…European Cities: A Wish ListMy Profile

  • Sam – I agree that emails are free and easy, but postcards are a permanent physical memory and they take more time and effort (buying it, writing it, putting a stamp on it, posting it etc.) so means youre really thinking of your family. To check my kid brother’s whopping postcard collection from me, have a look at this post: safe travels! Jonny

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