I think traveling has been glamorized quite a lot, and while it certainly can be glamourous, with white beaches and jungle panoramas, it can also be decidedly unglamorous. From the toilets to the famous stomach bugs. And if you follow anyone who travels on social media, I'm sure you'll hear about how life changing it is and how they've had an incredible time, but did they share about those times they were so lonely they wanted to cry? Or about how much they missed their friends and family? Or how exhausting it is to be constantly moving around, living out of a backpack with no real clue where you'll be in a week let alone a year?
Certainly it has its glamorous side but it also has another side, one that isn't quite as pleasant.
Firstly, let's talk hostels. 20 people to a room is surprisingly fine, sharing one bathroom is also not that big of a deal; if your hostel is nice. In 30% of cases the hostel is not nice. Hard matress and pillows, spiders and lizards, toilets you really don't u want to use and showers you felt cleaner going in to than getting out of; these are the hostels that remind you why your paying around £5-10 a night. But, let's face it even these are just a place to crash between exploring. My worst hostel so far is without a date Myanmar and it wasn't even a hostel, it was a hotel: a fan room, no space to move, no windows, rats in the walls, ants in the bathroom (which has no lights) and a shower that didn't even work. Despite this, it was one of my favorite places in Myanmar; Ngapoli. Gorgeous beaches I could post on Facebook and a sunset to die for. So whilst everyday I showed my friends beach pictures, at night there were rats centimeters from my head.
Okay, toilets, hmm feel free to skip this paragraph! It's a rarity that I find a nice toilet, and my standards for nice have lowered considerably, at this point I'm happy if there's toilet paper and ecstatic if I can sit down. I strongly object to being charged to use the toilets just because I'm white as well, even if it is 10p. Most of the time we are talking a hope in the ground with a bucket to u flush it with, can and yes you would normally pay for the privilege. So very not glamourous, but when nature calls there's not a lot you can do. So make sure you always carry tissue and hand sanitizer!
When you leave for a long trip, you expect that you will miss people and especially family, so in a way you're kind of prepared. I do miss my family a lot, but I'm lucky in that they have been able to visit me twice so far. I'm not sure I could have handled it otherwise. Missing friends again is part of the deal, but strangely you don't miss as many as you'd think. I've only video called 7 people, 2 were family and another 2 friends I met at work. So that's 3 friends I've video called. I honestly thought I'd stay in touch with more people, or they'd try and stay in touch with me. I was more than a little disappointed at those I thought I was close with who I didn't speak with in months. I know the phone works both ways, but even a few of those I messaged either didn't reply or didn't keep up a conversation. This was one of the harder parts in the first few months, but then I realised a few things: it shouldn't be a hassel to stay in touch with good friends and so ifb be we're not staying in contact, it's ok, we weren't as close as I had thought and I'd have to accept that. The surprise to me was how well I stayed in touch with my work friends, or as we like to say “not work friends”. I think that goes to show the strength of those relationships and how close you can become with those you work with. Sometimes they are the only thing that will get you through the day.
What I wasn't prepared for was the big things I'd miss. I've already missed a funeral (that was a tough week), the birth of my second God daughter (hopefully I'm still God parent even though I'm not there!) and in a few weeks a friend's wedding. Not to mention mine and my families birthdays, mother's day, Father's day, exam week and soon results day. It's at these times it really hits me I'm so far away, there's only so much I can do; a call, a text or send something.
Missing the big things can make you feel really lonely, being alone can make you lonely, heck, being surrounded by people can make you feel lonely. And that is the lowest of traveling. When people ask: “aren't you lonely?” It's hard. Right then I'm probably not, but at t some point, when i see a family or someone who I reminded me of someone back home or when everything's going wrong, that's when i get lonely. When I wish someone was there for a hug. It's not often and it doesn't last long but it happens and it's the only time I ever consider getting a flight home.
But it's also what makes me feel strong when I stay. When I chose to go see something rather than wallow. When I chose to go talk to a stranger rather than sit on my own. When I chose to be happy. It's these choices that make traveling worth while for me. It's how I know I made the right choice and it's how I know I'm not ready to go home yet.
If you conquered the obvious issues and you still wanting to travel, right around the 6 month mark there are some other issues. Money is a big one. Do you need a job? Are you budgeting right? How long will your money last? Even if you have enough, you'll worry and that's a good thing! Traveling isn't cheap but it can be done on a budget, in fact, it should be done on a budget, or else you don't learn half as much about the culture, the people. And I swear I'm b going to have an excellent response to the next student that asks me when they'll need maths in life!
But the thing that really takes it's toll? Living out of a backpack. My life right now boils down to 2 bags weighing less than 20kg combined. If I want to buy something I have to carry it for a year, that will definitely make you think twice! I rarely get to unpack, I've been wearing the same 7 outfits for far too long and my shoe choices are very limited. It makes me wonder why we feel we need so much stuff, things. We all have a wardrobe full of clothes we don't wear, a bathroom full of toiletries we don't need, a house full of things we forgot we had. Is it necessary, I have to say, I don't think so. I'm learning to live without a lot and it's hard but I think it's better.
I've left out one thing here and that's dealing with depression thousands of miles from your support system. I've left it out not becausei don't have bad days because I do, but because traveling for me, conquering all these fears is my way of coping. I have friends I can call and it's surprisingly easy to open up to a stranger. But mostly, I don't have time to be depressed, if u can't get out of b bed i won't be able to see something amazing, I won't be able to do something incredible, long story short I have something worth getting out gu of bed for. But on those rare days when even that thought doesn't get me out of bed, I just stay in bed. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a break. It's ok not to be ok. So I'm not going into depth, not now anyway.
So you see, don't believe all the beautiful pictures you see, because behind every sunset is an awful hostel, behind every selfie is a person with their life on their back and behind every group shot is a person feeling completely alone.