There are so many reasons to travel, and the online community is dominated by various people’s versions of these reasons. From cheap travel to luxury vacations, dorms to private rooms, backpacking to guided tours, everyone you ask will tell you that they love to travel! And that you will too.
But isn’t that all just a bit optimistic? Travel can be horrible! And scary! Trust me I know.
Top ten reasons why you have to travel in your 20s, top 5 things to see before you die, why you should get on the road NOW, etc etc Ask any writer – you should travel.
Travel is sunny, travel is relaxing, travel is the best holiday ever! Right?
You get to see new things! You can grow as a person! You can make new friends, learn about life and do weird things like get very drunk in the middle of a desert… and no-one will care! Pretty much, when you travel the world is your oyster.
And yet, it totally isn’t – travel can defeat you.
Travel is rarely the fabulous, life-changing thing people make it out to be. Especially cheap travel. I’ve been on the road for almost two years now and honestly I am still yet to experience that incredible ‘slap-in-the-face’ journey of a lifetime that people promise. Life just doesn’t work like that! Life is subtle. Dorm rooms are cramped, backpacking is tiring and even for the richest of travellers budgets are still not limitless. Honest!
If you travel you ABSOLUTELY will not love travel 100% of the time, and it’s so important to understand that before you go.
That’s why I am giving you 5 reasons why I hate travel – to bring you back to earth. No rose-tinted glasses for you! This is your reality check, to get your prepared, so that when you do get on the road you will experience everything exactly as it is… and in the end you’ll probably love it more.
1. Everything is heavy
Backpacking is a bit like transforming into a turtle for a few weeks. Or months, or years… and the longer you spend being a reptile, the less you like it. The thing is, you’re carrying your whole world on your back. That hairstraghtener you can’t live without? Half a kilo on your shoulders.
Those mountains of cute T-shirts and seven pairs of sandals you will DEFINITELY need? A few more bruises on your hips. Your lover, friend and best travel companion, Lucy the Guitar?
Yes, I have a Lucy the Guitar and she travelled round India with me…despite being a musical treasure, by the end of my trip I wanted to break her in two.
Ok, so most of us don’t backpack with out entire existence and wardrobe on our backs, but the point still stands – no matter how light you pack, you still have to lug your stuff wherever you go. I myself have a 50L bag now which is rarely full, but after two years on the road I am sick even of that.
There’s also the mental weight of worrying about your stuff, and yourself. Is there a safe in the hostel where I can put my passport and cash? Will my bag make it through customs? Did it even make it to this country? What will I do when I ride that super crowded local bus and my mammoth of a suitcase knocks out most of the little old ladies seated around me? Your stuff is a weight too!
General rules of thumb include:
– wear your money in different places: a bum bag, some stuffed inside your sock and some in the depths of your hard-core backpack
– keep all cards, passport and other important thingies in a hostel locker or safe
– avoid knocking out little old ladies on public buses
– pack light, and try to get everything into the one bag – day sacks tend to be irritating after a while
You’ve also got to consider your personal safety. How do I get from Agra to Delhi without becoming very lost, exposing myself to a great number of strangers and sitting solo on a local bus for 6 hours? Where can I stay that is safe, and how can I be sure it is safe?
How late is too late to be out in Saigon? Who should I trust to book my flights to Hanoi, without ripping me off? And the list goes on.
I tend to think of all of these things as personal challenges and rise to them accordingly, but the fact remains that travel, especially cheap travel, is heavy. Hard. And requires thought.
For a packing-related giggle, check out my thoughts on excessive amounts of trousers!
2. Money goes away
Did you save a lot to get on the road? Did you leave with a nice nest egg? Well, like in normal life, that nest egg will not last. Be prepared to watch your hard-earned funds disappear at a much faster rate than you imagined, and get ready to tighten your budget as you watch said funds trickle away down a spout of backpacker beers, tourist attractions and delicious street-food.
The best way to avoid this is either to budget like a frugal maniac, or to work as you go! Check out my post on earning money online for some great ideas that anyone can try. I know they work, I do them!
3. Nothing works as planned
‘Go with the Flow’ is a mantra that you must now adopt, fully understand, embrace, and be prepared to re-embrace as your travels unfold.
The absolute reality of travel, especially travel in Asia, is that everything is late and most things don’t work. That dorm bed you booked is actually filled already, no-one knows why, and you end up sleeping on the floor.
The local bus that should have taken 5 hours rocks up about 20mins walk from it’s supposed destination 8 hours later, and no-one bothers to explain why. Let alone what you should do next!
No matter what careful plans you put in place, external factors will very often mess them up.
Here are some good tips for how to avoid the worst of it:
– allow a 1.5hr buffer for all bookings or trips, and for connecting flights allow at least 2 hours
– ask for a receipt EVERY time you book something with a travel agent, and for online bookings
– keep the business card of your hotel, in case you get lost and need to ask to be taken ‘home’
– when you plan your budget, allow at least $300/month extra for unforeseen complications
– ALWAYS buy travel insurance
– book accommodation before you arrive in a place, or arrive there before 3pm to allow for enough time to find a place
– add about 2hrs to all projected bus and train trips as a precaution
And the top-tip to top all others – fix your attitude! Life on the road is confusing, and things rarely go as planned. You can’t do much about that, but you can change the way you deal with it – so embrace it!
Laugh at it, make fun of yourself, and go with it…
4. ‘Tired’ becomes your most used word
I know how to say ‘I’m tired’ in at least 4 languages. I also know ‘How much is beer?’ and ‘Where’s the toilet?’ but that’s irrelevant.
The thing is, between sleepless nights in a hostel, stomach upsets from local food/water and hours of travel between destinations, the average backpacker tends to live in a state of permanent exhaustion.
You begin to develop a very keen nose for caffeine, you run on adrenaline and you find yourself taking siestas because that’s the only time when the dorm isn’t full of snoring, back rummaging tourists.
One tip for dealing with this? Invest in that siesta. It’s probably the best hour or two of snoozing you will get on the road, quite apart from being a great way to avoid the heat of an Asian afternoon.
5. Comfort zones are your enemy
When you travel, no matter what your budget or where you’re going, you will always have a better time if you get out of your comfort zone. And I HATE this! To fully experience a place you’ve got to take a deep breath and dive in – you can’t fluff around in the shallows and expect to get the most out of where you are.
So to all my fellow hermits – get outside, take that local bus and eat at the that street-stall. To all my fellow introverts – talk to people. To all my fellow lovers-of-comfort – don your boots and go searching for an adventure.
That being said, getting outside that comfort zone can be both terrifying and literally dangerous. I’m not suggesting you go leaping into downtown Mumbai in the middle of the night or jump across a canyon because that backpacker you met said it was a good idea.
Be careful always, and never trust anyone else as much as you trust yourself. If you want to know more about this, read about the time I trusted my life to a man in Delhi and what happened.
So…all in all travel is both very great and very bad! And to fully enjoy the ‘very great’ you’ve got to be aware of the bad bits. Take note, prepare yourself, and get out there!
Want to know how to make money as you travel? Check this out!