Personal travel blogs, magazine articles and even phone calls home from travellers themselves are typically full of all the wonderful things about travel. However, as any traveller will tell you, this is almost never the whole story. The truth is, like all life, some of it is mildly to severely challenging, some of it is vaguely to incredibly uncomfortable and some of it is just downright yuck!
The Travel Part of Travel
As ironic as it sounds the actual travel part of travelling – that is, the parts which get you from A to B – are often the least fun. There is no denying that sometimes the random experiences which happen while in transit do add to the adventure. Everyone in search of the culturally authentic and exciting is drawn by the idea of riding a chicken bus literally loaded with chickens, goats and traditionally garbed locals – right? The actual scenario however often has a few extra details thrown into the mix; tropical heat which seems to increase with every mile you cover, a bus so crammed you may have to sit (or stand) with some-one’s armpit in your face for more hours than there seem to be in the day and a bus driver who could be most kindly described as a little erratic. These are the realities which switch exciting into endurance exercise.
As travellers we often take on epic journeys we would never consider tackling in normal life back home. It is almost impossible to think straight on arrival at a strange destination in the middle of the night after a 20 hour bus ride. We do it because sometimes we have no other choices but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
So why do we do it? Because once we have arrived, showered off the dust of the journey, slept and started to explore our new destination it is ALL worth it.
The process of making friends while we travel seems a different kind of beast to the very same process in our lives back home. Feeling uninhibited and free, totally without schedules and rules, doing exciting things together – who knows why travel friendships are often highly accelerated and profoundly deep but they are. If you find yourself telling your deepest secrets to some-one sleeping in the dorm bed above you after only a day of knowing them you are not alone.
However, there comes a point – whether it is hours, days or weeks down the line – where you will go your separate ways. And if you travel for a long time you will do this over and over and over again. Practise does not make it easier and in fact can start wearing you down a little as you go through an emotional roller-coaster ride every time.
So why do we do it? Because along with 101 goodbyes there are a 101 hellos and you never know when the next soul mate is going to cross your path. What’s more, you now have homes all over the world to which you have an open invitation.
The Constant Fight to Lighten the Backpack Load
Every traveller dreams of travelling light but very few actually achieve it. No matter how many times we pack and repack each time we move on or discard items we still seem to end up adding more than we lose. Every destination seems to offer something more fantastic than the last; things which we simply have to have whether it is unusual clothes, things that remind us of specific elements of our fantastic journey or locally-crafted wonders such as hammocks, rugs, art works or drums. That backpack just keeps getting heavier and heavier.
So why do we do it? Because mementos of our travel become treasured possessions and because we only remember what a pain carrying a heavy backpack is when we are in transit.
If you travel long enough you will get sick at some point even if it just with an upset stomach. When we are outside of our normal routines and away from familiar medical systems getting sick – even mildly so – can seem like a nightmare and if you are travelling alone it can be downright scary. Where do I go for drugs? Should I be panicking more (because if I ignore this it might get more serious and it could be some tropical lurgy) or should I be more laid back (because after all it turns out to be nothing)? Visits to foreign hospitals can be bewildering in the extreme especially as you’re in no fit state to be coping with difficult situations.
Also, there’s nothing worse than having to deal with feeling and looking terrible when you have to share your space with another 10 dorm mates when all you want to do is make the world go away or have your mum mop your brow.
So why do we do it? Because almost always travellers look after each other and somehow it always seems to turn out OK. Besides, stories of the crazy experiences which happen when we get sick make for great travel tales afterwards.
Overland Border Crossings
Although overland border crossings are far from being a compulsory part of travel, most of us tend to take in more than one country if we have long enough. Flights make things easy but doing it by land – typically the cheapest way to go – can end up being the proverbial pain in the backside at best and a marathon torture exercise at worst.
There are borders between countries in the world where everything goes like clockwork and within the space of 10 minutes you find yourself stepping onto the soil of a whole new country. But more often than not the process is drawn out in the extreme, involving long waiting lines which seem to move at a snail’s pace or not at all and generally scenes of chaos and confusion. You are herded from one place to another (and sometimes back again to where you started for no reason you can fathom) and you seem to be handing out at a little bit more money with each new official who accosts you.
So why do we do it? Because there’s nothing quite like that feeling of stepping past a certain point and seeing a sign which says ‘Welcome to (wherever)’. Every traveller knows that no matter what language it is written in, this is universal speak for ‘adventure awaits.
Getting Travelled Out
The ‘travelled out’ syndrome doesn’t tend to kick in unless you’ve been going for a while but all travellers who have been on the road for a few months or more will be familiar with this.
It manifests as a kind of apathy…..or deep-seated tiredness. It is an aversion to packing your backpack and moving on every few days; the groan which involuntarily escapes you when you think about how – for the umpteenth time – you will have to familiarise yourself with and figure out all over again how things work in this hostel/this town/this country.
Travelled out also takes the form of experience overload which results in the inability to be moved or excited by what you are seeing any more. Your brain computes that the Buddhist temple/Mayan pyramid/idyllic tropical beach in front of you is incredibly beautiful but your soul doesn’t stir an inch.
So why do we do it? Because we know it is just a temporary state and if we allow ourselves a little rest and recuperation at some coconut-fringed beach the enthusiasm and excitement will kick in again once back on the road.
Every country and even every city sometimes has its very own special versions of ways to part unsuspecting tourists and travellers from their money. It has to be said certain scams are so ingenious you can’t help but admire them – just a little. Some of the scams are as old as the hills and easier to avoid because other travellers will make you aware of them or there will be advice regarding such things in your hostel. However, those clever scamming folk are always dreaming up new tricks and the truth is that travel long enough and sooner or later you will fall victim. In the majority of incidents scams are simply annoying and rob you only of your time (such as that tuk-tuk driver who takes you on a long detour to the middle of nowhere to visit his brother’s tailor shop).
Finding the balance between paranoia and stupidity can be super-tricky and a little exhausting.
So why do we do it? Because life in any form has its risks. Sometimes we know we are taking a chance but if we allow paranoia to reign supreme we say no to everything and end up missing out on genuine and exciting experiences.
The Laundry Dilemma
Travel makes you do weird things. None of us would usually consider burying our head in our clean laundry at home but on the road this action is widely accepted as the norm; receiving a bag of fresh laundry tends to evoke emotions something akin to ecstasy. Why? Because in the attempt to keep backpack loads light we have few clothes at our disposal. Hot sweaty journeys, tropical climates and trudging dusty roads with our gear means we work through the clothes we have pretty quickly. Truly clean clothes become the height of luxury when choosing what to wear typically involves opting for the least dirty.
We think we’ve struck gold if we chance upon a washing machine at a hostel but then as every other traveller staying there has the same idea the queue for doing laundry is so long we can’t claim our spot before it is time to leave again. Laundry services are often found for ridiculously low prices all over the world and the sometimes-encountered express services are wonderful. But more often than not we have no real idea of when our laundry will be ready and as we have a bus at 7 am it can get a little risky.
So why do we do it? Because we stop caring completely after a while – every other traveller on the road is in the same boat.
The ‘Where are you going’ & ‘Where have you been?’ Question Cycle
As already discussed travel makes us behave in ways that might be considered a little weird in ‘normal’ life. We would never normally share a bedroom with some-one we have never spoken to and we wouldn’t usually strike up conversations with total strangers on a daily basis but that is exactly what we do as travellers. However, the well-worn conversational direction of initial contact with a 1001 travelling strangers tends to take the form of ‘where are you from?’ – ‘where are you headed next?’ – ‘where have you been so far’ and so forth. These exact same questions and conversations get tedious in the extreme after a while and it can be hard to maintain any enthusiasm at all at times to respond or listen to the answers of others.
So why do we do it? Because we understand that some of these often-repeated conversational beginnings will lead to beautiful and profound friendships.