Travel, and more specifically long-term travel, is often idolized and imagined as this blissful freedom where problems never occur, and happiness roams as free as the air you breathe. If you’re like me, just thinking about hitting the open road right now is giving you a warm feeling inside – one almost so consuming that you can’t possibly think of any better type of freedom and adventure than that. Heck, you might even think that this is your doorway to eternal sunshine.
However, many of us are eager to forget about all those tough, chewy bits that can make even the keenest of travelers question why they are doing what they do. We don’t think about how frustrating getting ripped off because of language difficulty is, or how awful getting terribly ill in India might be. What about those times when you don’t even speak a word of English to another person for days… or weeks?!
Only the Lonely
I was reading through Heather’s confessions after one month of solo travel around Australia (and 11 more months to go), and it was an easy “been there, done that, felt that” kind of read. Having done the solo route myself, more times than I would honestly like to, I understood exactly the type of loneliness she was talking about – eating alone, traveling alone, sleeping alone. It’s weird how it happens, actually, because I would generally call myself the type of person that prefers more “me” time than social time while at home. Somehow, being in a new country can take a feeling to the extreme, and simply feeling alone can actually resemble feeling like an outcast in an entire town, city or country.
I associate this feeling with my long, cold 20-hour bus ride into Ukraine for the first time.
Part of my outcast feeling was from the inability to communicate with anyone, but that sort of loneliness can happen anywhere. You can simply be a solo traveler staying at a hostel full of traveling pairs that have their own plans and own schedules, and not a care to incorporate someone new. I love solo travel when other people or groups are receptive to hanging out and meeting up, but I am often quick to forget about my time in Barcelona where connecting with anyone was like mixing oil and water. I was so incredibly excited to finally leave for Menorca.
Health & Well-Being
I remember reading through Jodi’s stories last year of her months of battling illness on the road, and it’s always eye-opening to hear of such struggles when we sometimes only associate getting sick while traveling with a bit of Delhi belly. Travel has a way of beating your body with a stick, even when we might not be aware of it. Just being exposed to new foods, a new environment or different standards of cleanliness all have their effects on the body, and the immune system in general. I’ve had my fair share of foreign doctor visits on a list of countries that is growing: Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Australia and Spain.
How could I forget that visit in Spain? “You are a very beautiful girl… but your tonsils are awful.”
It doesn’t have to be all about the late nights and excess alcohol either. Just changing time zones can throw your body out of whack. That’s right, your circadian rhythm controls more than your sleep schedule; it affects the secretion of hormones that can control appetite, your period and the way you feel in general. Combine that with the fact that you’ve made a possibly huge life change by traveling to crazy places or moving to a new country, and you’ve got yourself a situation that can lead to feeling more than a bit “off”.
It’s More Common Than You Think
As I was telling Heather on her blog post, these feelings and shocks are more common than you think. We often have a way of envisioning how a trip should or could be, and not many people focus on the negatives. And why would you even want to? The only problem with this is when someone does actually get so frustrated, upset or down during an extended trip, they often find themselves questioning whether or not it is OK for them to feel this way. I am reminded of Shannon’s post on Travel Fatigue that touches on her own struggles.
It is completely OK to feel this way, and it happens to the best of us. I’m lucky to have a friend (Bethany) who is always able to remind me of the crazy path my life has taken over the past few years. I love travel because it makes my life exciting, but I’m sure the sort of uncertainty it brings is only enjoyable in a bell-curve form.
There’s Something to be Said For…
Routines. If there was ever a time when people need routines and schedules more, it is probably when they travel. Without them, many fall into the abyss as I like to call it – the space of being an aimless wanderer or consistent partier on the road. Backpacking Matt mentioned in a comment how he likes to use his travel blog as a way to keep a schedule and focus on the road. Routines, in addition to friends and a place to call home, keep us grounded. How much people can live without is different for each person.
Back to my theming question: is travel all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows? No, probably not. And, if it is, you are probably being pampered on a first-class cruise or otherwise – not the kind of traveling that we backpackers tend to do. It’s definitely not all smiles and jokes and laughs, especially not when you happen to get pick-pocketed on the train, or if you happen to pick up bedbugs from a hostel. And, it’s probably not so fun at times to not have someone to connect with, or be in love with, as Nomadic Matt discusses as a difficulty in one of his posts on relationships on the road.
Then, why do we do it? Would it be poor form to simply end this post by saying that travel just rocks? Personally the challenge itself is a huge factor, but there are so many other reasons to travel than this that I’m not even sure where to start. I guess there’s something inherent in all of us that wants to seek out an adventure. Hope, expectation, adrenaline.