I was inspired to write this after a friend posted a blogger’s post about how travel isn’t always fun and easy like people think and that we are made to feel bad about complaining when travel gets hard. I completely related to this post, because after years of traveling, I know it isn’t the vacation our friends and loved ones back home always assume we are leaving the real world to have. Travel is dirty, smelly, challenging, and exhausting.
We may choose to leave reality to see the world, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t out there still doing some form of work away from home. I think the common misconception about true travel is that we are all out there laying on beaches, sippping umbrella drinks and having an endless ball with life. This is far from the truth most of the time. If we wanted to vacation, we would have stayed at our jobs and taken our two weeks off each year to visit a resort and veg out on the beach or by the pool for a while.
It is like those memes: This is what my friends, family, and coworkers think I’m doing (insert picture of me basking in the sun with a cabana boy at my beck and call), and this is what I’m really doing (insert picture of me shoveling cow shit on a cattle ranch in the Australian Outback with flies swarming every open crevice of my face). It isn’t pretty.
Going into it, I may have thought that I would be spending weeks on end sipping daquiris and taking in rays, but the reality is that to make long term travel possible you have to engage in work you probably would never find acceptable at home. I’ve worked as a maid, shopkeeper, cow shit shoveler in the Outback for three months for an insane and abusive employer just so I could save up enough money to backpack South East Asia. It wasn’t at all fun.
Of course it is not all bad as far as working for room and board or even pay goes, but one thing travel teaches you better than anything else is that you cannot plan in advance for anything. Shit just happens the way it is meant to. If you told me my dream of working in a foreign country would have landed me at Epenara Station, I probably would have just stayed home. But alas, I learned a hell of a lot from that extremely tough situation. Travel teaches you about your strengths and weeknesses and challenges you in ways you couldn’t even imagine.
I must acknowlege that travel is still a luxury of the privileged and I need to always be grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to me. I have never been rich or able to travel and stay at five star hotels or spend days on yahts, but I am still able to quit my jobs and take off for several months around the globe. There are many people who will never be able to even consider doing this, so it is important for us long term travelers to not rub it in other’s faces that a life of travel is the way to go. It isn’t that easy and I know this every time I set off again. I need to thank my parents for raising me with these opportunities and the universe for the privileges I was born into.
I just want to clarify that I’m not taking year long vacations, and I am in fact working along the way to earn these trips. I’ve of course had some really fun jobs like picking olives in Tuscany, learning permaculture in Thailand, and planting trees in the Ecuadorian Cloudforest. And you can too! I usually embark on these trips with bare minimum in my pockets and just volunteer my time for free room and board through programs like WWOOF, Workaway, and World Packers.
No matter what though, travel is exhausting. You never sleep in the same bed for more than a month, but usually much less. You share hostel dorms with loud, stinky travelers who snore and the bunk beds creak when you move. You live off of ramen noodles like in college or free hostel bread and butter. You only get to treat yourself to a nice dinner every once in a while if you plan a splurge day. You basically live at the poverty line just so that you can see that next monument or natural wonder.
It is not a lifestyle everyone would choose when they could easily stay at home in their comfortable bed, eat healthy and hearty, and take their allotted vacations if they can afford them each year. Most people wouldn’t care for taking a 24 hour bus ride with no water, food, or bathroom breaks. True story, I almost fainted at the border of Thailand after 24 hours on a bus overnight from southern Cambodia. It was so hot and humid and I was sleep deprived, delirious, and dehydrated. It was not my idea of fun!
Travel also means feeling itchy most of the time from bug bites, rashes, bed bugs, etc. It isn’t pleasant. The bugs are ten times bigger abroad and they leave a mark when they bite you. Sometimes you also wake up to find an enormous huntsman spider scurrying across your ceiling. Or you rub up against a plant and get an itchy rash on top of your already itchy sunburn. OUCH! That day I took tons of benadryl. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment though, because I just keep coming back for more.
Let’s not forget the intenstinal problems that accompany you on your trip. Eat something weird, drink the water, don’t wash your hands properly and you will probably end up with a fierce stomach bug that has you running to the toilet. I’ve had it all. I thought I was dying one night in Ecuador, when I woke up with tunnel vision and nausea. Somehow this doesn’t deter us though. Ask any longterm traveler and they will tell you about at least one occassion when they found themselves sick in a foreign country. It doesn’t even have to be a third world country. I had something knock me out for a week in London.
We chose this path though, so how can we complain? I try not to, but the truth of the matter is this shit wears on you. Livving out of a backpack for months with just enough clothes to last a week takes some getting used to. Some give up before it really gets tough. It isn’t for everyone. I keep coming back for more though, because of several amazing things that make it all worth it:
1. Adventure- my spirit soars when I get to trek in cloud forests, jump out of airplanes, and sled down the Swiss Alps. Adventure calls to me from every corner of the globe.
2. Newness- I love meeting new people, learning new languages, eating new foods. Everything is new and exciting.
3. Challenge- these tough aspects above challenge me to be stronger, more self-reliant, and independent. I know what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and I’ve survived a lot on the road.
4. Beauty- the world is a masterpiece. There are so many beautiful vistas, rolling hills, majestic mountains, and even man made monuments worth seeing in the world. They call to me and I have to see them.
5. Education- every time I travel I learn so much about the world, different cultures, people, and myself. It teaches me far more than any classroom or school book. It also teaches me to be even more open minded to the differences that exist between my culture and the one I’m visiting.
So, although travel as well as life can be tough, it is what we make of it that is the most important lesson. I choose to learn my life lessons across the globe, because my life can be too easy at home. I want to challenge myself in new ways, even if that means working for an abusive employer in the Outback. It has all shaped who I am in many ways and I may not have the luxury of ever vacationing, but I always know that travel is at my fingertips.
This will most likely be my last entry from the U.S. as my husband and I embark on our first adventure as a married couple to Argentina and traveling up to Mexico. Look out for my entries on this new adventure.