Traveling is a significant part of my life. Over the years, I have sacrificed career opportunities, relationships, holidays with family, weddings, and the joy of cooking in my own kitchen – all for my love of traveling. And most days, I’m okay with that. I thrive on arriving in new cities, eating exotic foods, meeting new people and having amazing, profound experiences around the world.
I love that backpacking is a huge part of my past and that it has shaped me into the person I am today.
But there are those days when everything seems to go wrong, days when I’m almost ready to throw in my travel towel and claim that I hate traveling. Sometimes, traveling just kind of sucks.
And you will have those icky travel days too. Oh yes.
There will be days when you find yourself staring at the water-stained ceiling of your cockroach-infested-hole-in-the-wall-hotel, so homesick that your body actually aches, and you would give anything for a hug from your mom. And you will ask yourself, “What. Am. I. Doing. In. Bolivia? Seriously…WHY?”
There will be days when you are physically and mentally exhausted from sitting on ANOTHER hot, cramped, seat-springs-pinching-my-bum bus, tired of negotiating with tuk-tuk drivers, sick of researching guide books to figure out how to get from A to B, from C to F, and…what country am I even in right now? HELP!
There will be days when it’s absolutely imperative to stay near a bathroom due to eating an “off” street-vendor samosa, when you wake up with weird, itchy bites all over your legs, or when you catch strep throat the first day of a three-day hike up Mt. Kinabalu. Or you might get some obscure sickness that leads you to the corner chemist and, due to a distinct language barrier, you will have to mimic some embarrassing bodily function to the kindly Chinese man before he finally understands and gives you a bottle of disgusting liquid…which actually works…but it’s irrelevant because you just want your bed, your tea kettle, and your flannel blanket so you can pout in cozy peace.
You will have those metamorphic travel moments when, upon entering one of Delhi’s squalid squat toilets, you will 1) thoughtfully reconsider choosing flip-flops as your sole choice of travel footwear and 2) seriously contemplate holding it for another four hours until you get back to your guesthouse…but that one might not be too much cleaner. So, here goes nothing.
There will be days when it suddenly hits you. You are < enter appropriate age > and you don’t have a career or a mortgage or a reasonable 401K, and then you will start worrying about things like retirement, life insurance, arthritis, and JUST WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR A LIVING when (if ever) you stop traveling???
There will be those wistful afternoons when you see Facebook photos of a Girls Night Out without you, sweet new babies snuggling in the arms of your best friends, or another kindergarten pal turned radiant bride at yet another wedding that you missed. And you’ll be 8,000 miles away, and sad.
There will be those days when you receive frantic emails from home, and your heart will break. And you will hurry home, whether you have to ride a donkey, hire an airplane, or stay awake for three days hitchhiking to civilization because you will stop at nothing to get to your family. And you will curse traveling for keeping you so far away from them at such a tragic time.
There will be days when you are just lonely, and you are so over traveling by bus, train, rickshaw, and moto that you just want to fly home and sit in your pajamas watching The Breakfast Club with a packet of strawberry Twizzlers and some Bud Light.
You will be ripped off, robbed, stalked, ridiculed, and groped, and you will cry yourself to sleep more than once. Sometimes, you will be dirty. Not just “a day pulling weeds in the garden” dirty. No, some days you will be a disgusting type of filthy.
Yes, there will be those travel days.
But, if you travel abroad, you will also have some of the most amazing experiences you ever thought possible. I promise.
There will be a day when you see a sunset so pure and exquisite that you can’t quite tell where the earth ends and heaven begins, and you think that perhaps Van Gogh himself chose this dramatic palette of hues because the beauty is overwhelming. And you will be there to witness it.
There will be bewildering moments when you learn that couples/families/cities can exist on less than you spend on a Starbuck’s latte. And they are happy. Joyful, even! You will be confronted with the realization that mass consumerism, materialism, climbing the corporate ladder, or the need to own four pairs of knee-high boots and an Audi DOES NOT lead to happiness. And your heart will soar with this new awareness.
There will be times when you will be AMAZED at the profound generosity of people who have far less than you. A woman will share her meal on an overnight train journey, a tearful parent will give you a gift for teaching her child to read, a local will go completely out of his way to lead you by the hand when you ask directions, or an entire busload of passengers will take up a collection to pay your fare after your wallet is stolen and you have no other way to get to your guesthouse. You will understand that human kindness is alive and well and has no boundaries. And your soul will sing.
There will be days when you grasp the sheer resiliency of the human spirit and its determination to survive whether it be in a community recovering from a natural disaster or in a haunted country still struggling to vanquish memories of a revolutionist’s regime. You will walk through remnants of concentration camps where unimaginable human suffering took place, and you will witness the vivid images and painful personal accounts not shared on MSNBC or Dateline. And though you will be forever scarred, you will be thankful and humbled by these experiences.
There will be times when you meet other travelers that share your passion, and you will have those “real” conversations and then exclaim, “yes, she/he gets me!” And you may only be given these special people for one night, or one week, or one month, but each one will teach you something and leave an imprint on your heart. You may fall in love, you may never hear from him/her again, or you may still be best friends to this day. Ultimately, you will learn to be nice to every person you meet and not to judge anyone – ever again. These friendships, however fleeting, are magical.
You will have days when you experience colors, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds that you never knew existed. You will look into the eyes of an elephant not constrained within storybooks or city zoos, and you will gaze at wild horses racing across blossoming meadows. You will be hugged by more grubby kids than you can imagine, and their pure, sunny smiles will melt your heart.
You will grow closer to your mom and dad because you will learn to fit more into those twenty minute Skype conversations than you did in a month’s worth of weekend visits at home. And even though you missed the birth of your best friend’s firstborn, years later, he will be the only kid in 5th grade that has a collection of post cards and souvenirs from around the world.
There will be moments that no job, college course, or life manual will even come close to teaching you. You will learn patience, acceptance, confidence and how to love every single kiss-ass part of yourself. You will learn about your strengths, limitations and weaknesses, and you will realize that these “life lessons” are so much more important than having a career or a mortgage or a reasonable 401K.
Of course, you’ll have those icky travel days when you’re ready to chuck your Lonely Planet across the room or scream at the next tout who gets up on your face. It happens to even the most patient, well-traveled vagabonds. But the wonderful, fabulous, outrageous, inspiring parts of travel will far outweigh any sort of travel hiccup, frustration, or fret. And in thirty years, you won’t remember when you lost your favorite shirt, got stranded at the bus station, or had your bootie grabbed again on a crowded street. Nope. You’ll just savor the memories of the laughter and the lives that touched you and changed you during your incredible journey.