Often in today’s world of Instagram selfies and finely tuned Facebook profiles, we always seem to be presented with the idea that everything is perfect, and travel in particular can be very guilty of this. Each photo is filtered, packaged and engineered to convey the perfect impression or experience. I’m guilty of it myself, and it’s always natural to want to show others the best of something, but it isn’t real. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that travel can be hard sometimes too, you miss home, get lonely, get sick, run out of money, and meet less than pleasant people sometimes. Things don’t always go to plan, for example you may have planned a guided trip on the Frans Josef glacier in New Zealand, but the weather has other ideas so you end up walking there in pouring rain with a blurry selfie the best picture you can get (see above)… So in this post I’m going to go through what travel is really like and why it can be hard sometimes. But don’t think I’m saying it isn’t worth doing… Because even through the highs and the lows, it’s actually still pretty great.
It can get lonely
When I’ve travelled I’ve often chosen to travel with friends or in groups to try and avoid this exact problem. I’m naturally a social person, I love meeting new people and have always worked with and around people. Fortunately even if you are travelling solo you’ll likely meet plenty of people on the road you can do things with and experience things with. However, as is inevitable when travelling, you’ll go your separate ways at some point, leading you to need to start all over again to try and meet some more. That moment when you leave your new found friends to jump on a plane, or when a certain period of a trip ends, can be a really lonely and sad time that always comes too soon.
Unless you’re with a close friend or partner all the time, there will be times where you’ll be on your own fending for yourself. At some point you’ll probably end up being one of those people you see sitting on their own having a meal, or going to the cinema solo with nothing but a chocolate bar and popcorn for company for a bit of normality. But it’s all part of the experience, and if you’re ok with a bit of lonliness some of the time, you’ll come back a much stronger and more independent person because of it.
Burning out/Getting sick
I did not see this coming. At all. Happily being adventurous and getting stuck in trying rat and snake in Vietnam (see above), before going on a binge for the third night in a row drinking nothing but ‘jungle juice’ (vodka, red bull, and squash…), having just been mud fishing, I was getting fully involved and making the most of it. Unfortunately it took its toll, and I ended up getting really sick and being wiped out for a couple of days. It sucked being sick. It sounds stupid, but I’m not good at it… I’m not used to being sick and I hate it. Luckily I was staying in a relatively decent hotel at the time with good bathroom facilities, which helped. But I felt absolutely horrible for a couple of days, didn’t have the right if any medication (completely my own fault), and definitely learnt the hard way that if you go too hard too long you will get sick.
I wasn’t even one of those people drinking every night (which you will meet). The difference was, they were on week 2 and I was on week 14. Having been on the road close to 3 months and trying to cram in as much as possible all the time I got run down, and my immune system wasn’t it’s usually feisty self. I did only get badly sick once though, and luckily learnt my lesson before some of the more remote parts of my trip where a toilet was a hole in the ground you needed to visit in pairs in case of hyenas (I’m not making this up, this happened). My advice would be, learn your limits and don’t push it, and bring plenty of different drugs with you (rehydration sachets are also great to avoid a nasty hangover so nice dual purpose there). It’s much better to miss one night, or avoid those last few drinks at 1am, than being stuck in bed missing out and feeling like death.
Money, money, money
I thought I’d been really clever in paying for loads of my trip up front and budgeting with what I had quite nicely. However, as in hindsight was inevitable, I ran out of money. I maxed out my credit card and ended up needing to borrow a bunch more money from my parents, which as a supposedly independent 25 year old man wasn’t ideal. I squeaked through in the end, but it was extremely tight and has taken a long time to pay back what I spent and borrowed.
Money is mainly a pain not only because you’ll spend a load of it, but because it will be a constant nagging worry in the back of your mind throughout your trip. Am I spending too much? Can I afford this? If this one debit card I have gets lost I’m screwed. It’s a massive first world problem I know, but once you’ve worked full time earning a moderate salary you become used to splashing out 20 quid on a dominos, or paying 10 for a cocktail and don’t bat an eyelid. When you travel and are on a budget however, that money becomes possible experiences you might miss down the line, and it can be a bit stressful. So my advice is whatever your budget, assume you’ll go over it and budget more. Prepare ways to get hold of extra cash if you need to as being right on the edge isn’t the most fun place to be.
You won’t like everyone/everywhere you go
Whenever you look at travel photos, it always seems like everyone is happy and loving life, with their arms around their new travel buddies and big smiles on their faces. You don’t however see pictures of when people are banging on all the doors in your hostel at 4am, or when fellow travellers are being rude and obnoxious to locals supporting the most negative stereotypes about Westerners. You may be sharing rooms with loud snorers, people with ‘different hygiene standards’ (no more info needed…), or just people that are rude, selfish and not really that nice. Luckily they are in the minority, and I didn’t meet too many, but they are out there unfortunately…
In the photos you also don’t see the many, and I mean MANY, people trying to sell you stuff. If where you go has tourists in any number, there will also be people trying to flog you things, repeatedly and annoyingly. And fair play to them trying to make a living, but it can get on your nerves a bit. Sometimes in Asia I’d feel like everyone was either another tourist, was trying to sell me something, or was trying to get me to go to their bar, and it can really take away from the experience. This can’t really be avoided in some places, but the best remedy is firstly to just be firm but polite in saying no (no need to be rude to anyone), and also to include visiting places that aren’t tourist hotspots. Often you can get a much better experience of what a country is really like off the beaten track anyway.
Missing home comforts
Luckily I didn’t get too homesick on my trip, but for a lot of people missing loved ones and home comforts is one of the hardest things about travelling. We are lucky in that technology means we can be a screen away from conversations with our loved ones back home, and there are plenty of methods of communication other than just the letters of decades ago. But you will at some point likely miss a friendly face, family, or normal home comforts (like a decent cup of tea!). I would advise as I did, trying to get a friend or two to join you for legs of your trip. No matter how close the travel friends you make become, nothing beats seeing a close friend of years, or family member. You feel like you can relax back into really being yourself and catch up with what’s going on back home.
You might also miss just relaxing in your own space with your dog in front of the TV. I know, I know, who wishes they were back in grey England when they’re in a tropical paradise? Actually a lot of people do, it’s normal to miss home comforts every now and then. Not to mention if you’re used to grey England, 40 degree heat with 80% plus humidity and mosquitoes is not something that is too pleasant. Also without going in too much detail, a decent bathroom and shower, that isn’t shared, a hole in the ground, or open to the elements, will become something that you will learn to cherish and love…
Why it’s not all doom and gloom
I hope this post hasn’t seemed too negative, especially as it’s one of the longest I’ve written so read into that what you will. I just wanted to cut through the perceptions that travel is always perfect and it’s going to be awesome all the time. Even though that sounds a bit ridiculous, it’s actually what we’re presented with most of the time and it’s just not the case. But the light at the end of the tunnel is this: travel is still incredible!
Did I enjoy the hard parts of travel, often no. But I wouldn’t change them for the world. The rough edges and hard experiences are where you learn about yourself and also what gives colour to the experience of travel. If you didn’t want these you’d go on a week long vacation staying in a 5 star hotel. The hard times are what tests us and challenges us, and it’s the things we overcome, that often stay with us the longest and make our experiences the most memorable.