Is travel all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows?

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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.

So…

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.

Thoughts?

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About Brooke

Brooke is a passionate traveler who has a love for any country that ends in -stan, languages she'll never be able to speak, and cannoli. She is the creator of the female travel focused FTU Newsletter and Her Packing List website. Follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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19 Responses to Is travel all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows?

  1. Kirsty June 30, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Hey Brooke!

    I’m not one to get too lonely on the road, more bored. Like you, I’m a big ‘me time’ person, but I’m also social and have realised over the years that, for me, at least, it’s not the things I see or do, it’s the people I share it with. However I do love the feeling of freedom that comes with being on my own. One of my favourite moments in my travels wasn’t really even a moment at all… it was just me, sitting on a bus in Bangladesh, knowing I’ll miss my connection and not really knowing where exactly I was or where I was going. I just remember this amazing feeling of not being in control and being forced to go with the flow and it a feeling that I love.

    I think a lot of the problems with people not enjoying their trip as much as they thought they would comes with them having too many expectations. With solo travel there is a lot more down time and alone time that there is time spent with other people… unless you end up picking up some buddies to travel with.

    Hopefully posts like yours will prepare people a bit better for their trips and bring their expectations down to a more realistic level.

    I can’t handle the aimless wandering nature of travel anymore and do like a bit of routine from time to time and I’m hoping to get that with a bit of couchsurfing and work exchanges here in Africa. It gives me places to be and things to do and, for me, that’s what keeps me happy on the road. Everyone has their thing that excites them about travelling, they just need to make sure to find it and not assume that travelling around for the sake of it will be enough to keep them happy on the road.

    Great post!

    Kirsty

  2. Vasavi Kandula July 1, 2010 at 1:58 am #

    Brooke,

    Thank you.. Am goin to be travelling around India in August. I needed to be told what you told very well in this post.

    Have a good time!

    Vasavi Kandula

  3. Keith July 1, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    I really enjoyed this thoughtful post, and Kirsty’s comment too. I think we put up with these potential ills in the name of finding understanding. Travelers seem to realize we often exist in the tiny bubbles of life we’ve created and they want to understand more about the world and their own personal reaction to it.

    Ultimately, I think our selves are most in need of exploration and physical travel often leads to personal growth, insight, and a feeling of belonging.

  4. JoAnna July 2, 2010 at 1:09 am #

    I agree that travel definitely isn’t all sunshine and lollipops but the good times must outweigh the bad, otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it.

  5. Heather July 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    You know it’s not going to be all lovely all the time (I’ve been saying “rainbows, kittens, and sunshine” :-)) and I was wondering when that first moment of “what have I done?” would hit. Knowing it’s normal and WILL happen makes it easier in a way. The more people talk about it, the better!

  6. Akila July 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    The first month is tough — I think for everyone — mainly because you don’t have a routine. Now, that we are ten months in, we have a routine and schedule in downtime. We try not to overdo things and don’t feel bad if we don’t get to see everything. In the beginning, we all treat long term travel like it’s an extended vacation but it’s not; it’s a way of life. Great post, Brooke!

  7. Bethany July 3, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    Awesome post Brooke! I remember sitting in a cubicle and hearing people (long term travelers) complain about the things that make being on the road tough. Of course I thought to myself that I would trade with them in a heart beat and that quite frankly they should just shut up because sitting at a job you don’t like for 40+ hours a week is FAR worse.

    I still believe it is far worse but as travel becomes more real, I see the aspects that make it a job. It’s tough. The lonliness, the illness, the confusion, the language problems – everything you noted above – it is actually a lot harder in reality than it seems when you read about it at your work desk.

    I think it’s because the lifestyle is also so foreign and not something that we grow up accustomed to. In any case of course, I would still pick it time and time again over the crappy desk job!

    Plus, going past your comfort zone in any way is something that really needs to be celebrated! You’re amazing Brooke and you’ve done some incredible things :)

  8. Anil July 4, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    I like the point about routines, I need mine to stay grounded in changing surroundings. It’s the little things that help bring that feel of familiarity. I think people often associate travel with “vacation” and assume it’s that. A break from troubles, ills, and life, but the longer you travel the more you realize it is life. Just in different places.

  9. Andrew July 4, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    What a well-written and thoughtful piece.

    I was asked once why I travel, after I had just finished telling some horror story about backedup toilets and overnight trains. In the end though, I remember the bad things and the good things in the form of stories. Somehow at the time I do wonder if I should never travel again, but then I get itching to move and forget about the issues that go along with travel. There are so many good things and stories that the bad things just flow along with them.

    As Bethany points out as travel becomes more real it ends up feeling more like a job. Meh, if we are going to have hardships on the “travel job” anyway, why bother? Because if we have choices between a “normal” job and a travel job, I think most of us pick at least for a while the travel job. Society prepares us a lot more for sitting in an office job and the hardships there, so we more easily deal with them. I wonder if we were more prepared for dealing with travel hardships, we would just get through them like we do in dragging ourselves to work every morning. I hope your article adds to that preparation.

  10. Brooke B July 6, 2010 at 2:09 am #

    Interesting post! I am a little concerned that I will have many of those “only the lonely” moments during my Oz travels, and glad to see that’s normal.

    Wait… you mentioned bedbugs…Aaaahh!!

  11. Dina July 6, 2010 at 2:27 am #

    Great post, Brooke! Maybe I don’t feel much loneliness because as you know I’m traveling as a couple with Ryan. And when I feel frustrated, he will calm me down. I always admire you guys, the solo travelers. I can imagine how lonely it can be.
    Health problem is definitely not fun to have, far away from home… Especially when you are by yourself. Kudos for you and all solo travelers!

  12. Luke Hamilton July 7, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    I’m so glad I found this blog, your style of writing is so approachable and your topics are so easy to relate to.

    This was a great post. Sure, it’s fantastic to get that “alone time” and do a bit of soul-searching but it takes courage to admit when you are lonely, or that things aren’t going as per your expectations.

  13. ayngelina July 8, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Great post. I can totally relate now being 4 months on the road alone. There have been lonely moments, although it’s just as easy to be lonely at home. I met 3 other girls the other night and while we were talking about how great it was to travel solo, we really bonded when we talked about the low points. I think we all prefer solo travel but it’s nice to know that other people struggle with it at times as well.

  14. Suzy July 12, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    I think anyone who has traveled for several months or longer can relate to your points here. I have found myself incredibly lonely throughout points on my solo travels, but there is that inherent yearning to keep doing it that you mention.

  15. Andi July 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    Such a thought provoking post! I agree, it’s definitely not the most stress-free lifestyle, however that’s what I enjoy most about it. The fact that it’s challenging on a day to day basis. If there was no challenge, then we would not grow as a person and I think it would become quickly boring. Reading your quote about your tonsils being bad in Spain made me laugh, because last month I had to get an emergency root canal in Spain!

  16. Audrey July 16, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    I found this great post from the latest installment of Suzy Stumbles. Nicely written and very realistic about the down sides of travel as well. Many people think that we’ve been sitting this whole time on a beach drinking cocktails instead of realizing the bumpy buses, bed bugs and bathroom runs we gone through. That said, would I trade our style of travel, even with the hardships? No. It’s what helps us to learn and grow. That said, I don’t might a nice beach and cocktail from time to time as well…

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