I think it’s pretty clear to all who know me that I quite like travelling. While I have always done my best to refrain from chipping into any and all conversations with, ‘That reminds me of the time I was in Peru/Budapest/China,’ I somehow still managed to garner a reputation as the gap year girl. Maybe it’s because all my clothes look like an Indian market stall threw up on them. I don’t know.
And I do love travelling. I’ve always aspired to travel, I love doing it, and I doubt I’m going to stop any time soon. But I think it’s also time to come clean: it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be.
Travel is held up to be this mythical, magical (and highly-Instagrammable) phenomenon. To travel the world is to live without restrictions or boundaries. To travel the world is to float through life on a cloud, to experience the whole world through rose-tinted glasses. Every day is a new adventure, filled with opportunity and possibility: stumbling across a deserted mountain path, visiting a crumbling temple steeped in history, riding a scooter through streets thronged with people, bathing in a thundering waterfall. No evening goes by without a trip to a hideaway local bar or a moonlit outdoor cinema. Each week that goes by sees a new beach haven, fringed with palm trees, soft white sand underfoot.
To a certain extent, this can be accurate. Because when you travel you do seek out these experiences; you go to places that provide you with opportunities to see and do things you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) at home. And it is a huge privilege to be in a position to do it.
But then again, it’s also not the whole story.
When people travel, obviously what they put onto Facebook and Instagram, what they tell friends and family, is an edited reality. It is never going to be focused on the sweaty bus journeys, the cramped hostel rooms, and the exhaustion that is inevitable when you up and leave for a new destination every three days. They might mention it, laughingly, as a fun anecdote – ‘Remember the time when we slept on a bench outside the airport?!’ – qualified by the fact that of coursethey’re having an amazing time, of course they’re in an amazing place, so what’s a bit of discomfort? And if you’re just doing a brief backpacking excursion, a month or two, you’ll soon enough be back home and ready to gush about the incredible experiences, the awesome people you met, and the awkward or uncomfortable or unpleasant stuff will easily fade into the background, because that stuff genuinely isn’t your presiding memory of the places you’ve been.
But what if you’re travelling longer-term? What if you’ve decided to visit a country that fractures your whole, comfortable world-view? What if the romance of long-distance journeys and incomprehensible local languages, of isolated rural landscapes and bare-basics accommodation is just that: romance? Maybe the reality is just exhaustion and confusion, loneliness and discomfort.
Now, I am just as guilty of this careful story-crafting as the next person. Perhaps even more so, because I’ve always blogged about the places I’ve been, and for one reason or another have wanted to keep it light-hearted. Of course I don’t want my family to worry about me; of course I don’t want to get in trouble with my boss for being honest about my shitty job with its low-paid, long hours. But I also don’t want anyone to believe that travelling the world is any less full of complication than boring, bog-standard Real Life.
Yes, at times it can be idyllic. At times I have moments where I take a pause, step back from the moment and think how lucky I am, how fantastical and mind-boggling it is that I have soaked in a hot-tub amidst the Ecuadorian cloud forest, that I’ve watched elephants cross the road in India and South Africa, that I’ve snorkelled amongst hordes of brightly-coloured (and frankly unnerving) fish along the Great Barrier Reef. I personally think that my life is brilliant. But.
I’ve had times when I’ve been lonely. I’ve had times where I’ve been scared. I’ve had times where, and I’ll just whisper this quietly, the seventeenth ancient temple we’ve visited that week has failed to inspire me, especially because we’ve walked what feels like several hundred miles to get there, in order to save money on transport, and my feet hurt. And, in and amongst the great friends I’ve made and interesting people I’ve spoken to, there have been a whole load of people about whom I’ve thought,
“You are such a dickhead.”
Just because I’m several hundred thousand miles away from the place I happen to call home does not mean that the basic facts of life change shape. Loneliness, fear, and self-doubt do not cease to exist just because you are in an exotic location. There will always be people you don’t get on with. And there will always be times when you are sick of your current situation, whether that is a 9-5 recruitment office job, or a nomadic existence living from the contents of a badly-packed backpack. We’re all still human, even if some of us are living the apparent dream, where yes, it is sunny and warm while you are all stuck defrosting your car windscreens.
However, in spite of the discomfort and the awkward encounters and all the rest of it, I still refuse to dismiss the notion that travel is better. I want to continue this version of life, because I enjoy being challenged by my surroundings, I like the person who I am when I travel, and – most importantly – I am not done exploring yet.
So while I encourage you to look past the romance and the Instagram filters, I still say go travel. Don’t believe that it will always be fun or always be easy, but go regardless.The gritty, shitty reality of it has taught me as much as the moments of pure joy and disbelief. Travelling excites me still, five-odd years after I took my first trip, even though I know that it isn’t always easy, and I will likely end up broke and possibly still without a life plan.
Go find out the truth for yourself.
When I’m not ranting about travel, I’m writing a travel diary about my current trip around Australia, or guides to backpacking on a budget. If you liked this article, please check out some of my other content, or share this on social media using the buttons below!