“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you…”
In today’s world, it’s easy to only know one side of something. Whether it’s politics, news, or something happening on the other side of the world, we’re all constantly being fed only half the story. Let’s be honest, it’s never been easier to pick and choose what we digest, and we live in a world where everyone has an angle. No one can help putting their own spin on a topic. The issue with that is the spin is never even, after all, that’s the very nature of spin.
We don’t broadcast the low points or the opposing view. We only put out what supports our goal and the goal, especially on social media, is to make other people jealous. We don’t Instagram photos of ourselves at the ER (well, most of us). We don’t tweet about being cheated on or hurt. We don’t post to Facebook about how we failed that test. The constant aggregation of “highlights” is causing massive issues in society. What I’ve noticed more and more lately is how it has us all believing something that just isn’t true — that traveling is easy and will make your life perfect.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before:
“Traveling is the greatest thing in the world and the only worthwhile way to spend your time.”
Don’t get me wrong, there’s truth in that, but it’s not the whole story. Let me be clear, traveling is one of my biggest passions and has completely changed my life for the better. But there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t see
Packing a bag doesn’t magically solve all your problems. When you’re traveling, not every day is as perfect as the photos on the internet may suggest.
Life, is still, well, life after all.
I’m as guilty as anyone in only showing off the “highlights” on my travels. Fuck, I literally do a recap “highlight blog” after each trip. I started doing it in the hopes of inspiring people to travel more. I wanted to show them that the world isn’t mean or scary, but an adventure waiting to be had, if you’re brave enough to leave the house.
As I look around at all the travel-themed blogs, Instagrams, and Facebook pages, I don’t think we’re lacking for inspiration anymore, it seems we have plenty of that. There is no shortage of people willing (and able) to tell you about how awesome traveling is. There are literally hundreds of thousands of photos on Instagram whose sole goal is to give you wanderlust.
What we do seem to be lacking is the other side of the story and here it is:
Traveling is hard. And the longer you do it the harder it is.
I understand that traveling is a choice. I understand that everyone travels differently. I understand that it’s a privilege and not everyone is able to do it. I even understand that some people who read this will scoff, roll their eyes, and talk about how they have ‘no sympathy’ for people who travel.
I mean why would you?
All of that would miss the point. The point isn’t to say, ‘feel sorry for those who travel.’ My point is that everything in life has two sides, including traveling. Yet in life, we do ourselves a disservice if we only focus on one of the sides. After all, nothing is all good or all bad, regardless of how it’s being presented. With every experience, you have to take the bad with the good and decide if it’s worth it. If it is, you keep going, but that doesn’t mean the bad parts go away.
There are a lot of things that perfectly shot and filtered Instagram picture doesn’t tell you. It doesn’t tell you about the long lines, cramped buses, and unending layovers. It doesn’t show the 18-mile hike (usually uphill) it takes to get there. It doesn’t show you the weird places or positions people force themselves to sleep in so they can be “well rested” when they land to ensure they don’t “waste any time.”
People never mention the time they had things stolen at a hostel. Or how lonely it feels to be in a city where you don’t know anyone. Or how terrifying it is to go to the emergency room in a place where you speak 3 words of the local language – none of which are medical related.
Why? Because these things are hard to talk about. They make people uncomfortable. They tarnish this the idea that traveling is perfect and make it more human, which is to say, less worthy of your envy. To talk about these things (even amongst other travelers) is taboo. If you ever tell someone you’re struggling with the mental, emotional, or physical toll of a trip, they look at you like you’re crazy. They fully believe you to be kidding, delusional, or both. They smirk and say things like, “Oh was backpacking Europe really hard on you?” “Was it rough on you working on a cruise ship sailing around the South Pacific?” “Man, the World Cup sounded terrible, how did you ever survive!”
And the thing is, we travelers have done it to ourselves. We’ve spent so much time trying to make other people jealous by projecting this ‘perfect travel facade,’ that we’ve backed ourselves into a corner. You can’t spend all your time showing off to people and then expect them to believe you (or care) when things get hard. You can’t present one side to the world and then be upset when it’s the only side they’re aware of.
When I travel, some things have always been harder for me than others. Regardless if I travel for a few days or months, here are three things that I always struggle with:
Overcoming “Tourist Guilt”
‘Tourist Guilt’ is what I call the pressure to always be doing something or seeing something when I’m traveling. The pressure that I ‘have to see everything’ because I’m here and who knows if I’ll ever be back. The first few times I traveled I couldn’t help myself. I would sightsee all day and party till sunrise I wouldn’t sleep. I wanted to do it all. Even if I was exhausted and my body was telling me, ‘stop being an idiot,’ I’d force myself to go do it. Unsurprisingly, I ended up worn out. Mind and body destroyed.
Like anything in life, if you try to do all the things at once (or in a short period of time) you won’t do any of them well. Over the years I’ve gotten better at picking my battles (note my 2:43 hard-stop rule). I’ve learned to say no and the acceptance that anywhere I go, I’ll always miss something. Accepting it doesn’t change the fact that it still breaks my heart.
Traveling pushed me out of my comfort zone. Which is great, but just because something is good for you doesn’t mean it isn’t hard on you. After all, people spend their entire lives seeking comfort and avoiding being vulnerable. Whenever you travel you don’t really have a choice. Vulnerability and helplessness are forced onto you.
When traveling, you have to trust people and in today’s world, that isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. If something requires constant effort it eventually exhausts you. You have to trust the taxi driver isn’t going to rip you off. You have to trust that the random person you asked for directions in Paris at 3 am has your best interest at heart. You have to trust yourself that you will figure it out because you just woke up in a city that you can barely pronounce surrounded by people you don’t know. You have to be okay with not knowing. With being at the mercy of those around you.
The fact you can’t completely rely on yourself and need to trust others is a complete mind-shift from how most of us live our day to day lives. Does it get easier over time? Sure. But as a super independent person, it will always be something that’s hard for me.
One of the best parts of traveling is the people you meet along the way. Places don’t miss you when you’re gone, but people do. Over the years, I’ve met some amazing people from all around the world. It was a really sobering thought when I realized that some of my best friends, people who I’ve made countless memories with, who have seen me struggle and grow, I will most likely never see again. That idea really messed with me and to be honest it still does.
It’s hard to explain, but the people you meet away from home have a different energy. They not only teach you about the world, but they also teach you about yourself. They give you direct exposure and connection to the world and show you a glimpse of what else is out there while allowing you to be whoever you want to be.
I know that saying goodbye is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable. There are few people I meet that I want to say goodbye to less than the people I meet while traveling. I guess that’s the consequence of someone opening your mind to new possibilities, you long for them to stay, and a part of you breaks when you have to let them go.
The Whole Truth. No Spin.
I just want everyone to know that traveling isn’t all hashtags, mountaintops, and perfect beaches. That to love traveling means, in some way, you have to love the struggle.
If you travel and expect it to be perfect you’ll be disappointed. If you travel and don’t want to be challenged, you’ll get frustrated. If you travel and only want to see the world you already know, you’ll get much more than you bargained for.
Traveling has a way of exposing you to the other side of the world in a way you can’t ignore.
No spin. Just life. It will teach you how to say no, but only after it’s exhausted you. It will teach you how to trust, but only after it’s the only option left. It will teach you to let go, but only after it’s broken your heart.
In spite of all the difficulties, I love traveling because it has changed my life. It’s taught me so much in such a short amount of time. Lessons I’d otherwise have had to wait years to learn I learned, I was able to learn spin free.