The Unspoken Challenges of a Life of Travel

When you look at pictures on Facebook, or on travel blogs, it’s easy to assume that it’s such an easy life. I mean what can possibly be difficult or stressful about travelling and discovering new places?

I don’t want you to think I’m complaining. I’m not. I would never change my life for anything in the world right now. But you must hear about some of the, often overlooked, difficult things that most people rather not talk about. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll have to deal with it too. It’s not popular or sexy to look like you are complaining when some people can’t even afford to travel, but before you set off for a life of travel, keep these in mind!

Everything and everybody is always new

Meeting new people is great, but having to start new relationships all the time is not always easy. It makes you realize how we take things for granted. For example, relationships where people actually know who you are, what you like, and what you dislike. People with whom you share a common history, stories you can laugh about; all of this is almost non-existent when you travel. Unless you have a travel companion for a while and have enough time to make up such stories.

One other thing that you will quickly realize as well is that you will get so sick of answering the same three questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? And how long are you here for? It is nice to discuss these things of course, but sometimes I long for slightly deeper conversations! Plus answering where I am from is getting increasingly difficult every time. Where I was born is quite simple to answer, but having lived in multiple places I can never pick only one place where I am ”from”.

One advantage of meeting new people all the time is that when you meet someone you don’t connect with or simply have no interest in talking to. You know you don’t have to try and force yourself; chances are it won’t last anyway! And soon you, or the other person, will be heading somewhere new, where there will be tons of other new people you’ll want to talk to.

If you move quite regularly, you’ll also more often than not be in an unfamiliar environment, trying to work out buses, street names. Feeling lost will become your new normal. Some days, though, you might wish for a place where you can actually feel like you know where you are going. You will, however, learn what things to notice when you walk somewhere new so you can make your way back easily. You’ll also get really good at using street maps if you are not already.

When you go back to a city, airport or bus station you were before, that feeling of familiarity might even make you feel like you are back at home even if it lasts just a few minutes. I know it happens to me all the time when I walk through a bus or train station I was in before. All those little details we don’t even see anymore will be the ones you’ll happily notice. Even seeing or hearing words in languages you are familiar with will bring that same feeling of excitement and feeling at home.

Which way to choose?

You are far away

Not being home when something happens, whether it’s good or bad is another challenge. Of course, you left to go travelling to be away from it all, but it does mean you will miss a lot of important moments in your friends and family’s lives. People won’t wait for you to be back to get married, you might meet your friend’s kids when they can already walk or talk. Or all of a sudden you’ll realize that your friend’s little baby you were just holding in what feels like yesterday is in Kindergarten already.

Live goes on even, or especially, when you are not there. People are born, people die. You might be too far to go back for really important moments in your own life. Of course now with Skype and the other different ways to keep in touch it’s not as bad as it once was. However, it still does not allow you to hug your friend who’s just broken up with her boyfriend. Or to go celebrate with that friend who just got a new promotion.

A more positive note is that you will most likely be too far for the ‘mandatory’ holidays celebrations with the extended family! Being on a different continent means it will no longer be expected of you to be there for the Easter brunch, or the many family dinners during the winter holidays. Of course, if you really want to be there, there’s nothing stopping you from buying a flight or a train ticket, visit with the family and resume your trip afterwards. At least, you now have options!

One of the many dorms I called home lately

Not sleeping in your own bed

This is one of the things I find easy to deal with as it usually takes me about 48 hours to really feel at home somewhere, but from what I’ve heard, most people are not like that! Some people miss sleeping in their own beds, finding their kitchenware in the right cupboard, having a shower with decent water pressure, etc. Not all the beds are equally comfortable and not all the rooms are as quiet. A good thing that came out of living in hostels for me is that now I can sleep anywhere. Even in a room when there’s a snorer, or two!

Never being in your own stuff, or owning much sometimes can take a toll on your morale, or, at least, your motivation to cook! Since first arriving in Scotland in May, I’ve had to buy three potato mashers, every time craving mashed potatoes, and later deciding that there’s no way this is an essential in by backpack. And then a few weeks later having another craving in a different location where I couldn’t find a potato masher in the kitchen of course! Sometimes you’ll be lucky though and you’ll get somewhere where there’s a fully equipped kitchen, with all the cookware and bakeware one could, and probably did dream of at one point. And then you’ll go crazy. Cooking and baking for an army, only to remember you are leaving two days later, so you’ll also have to eat and share all your tasty goodness. How unfortunate, right?

On the other hand, not sleeping in your own bed sometimes can be totally worth it. A few years back I celebrated New Year on an almost private island in Indonesia, calling a small hut located only a few meters from the sea my home for a few days. It was close enough to sleep with the lovely music of the waves at night and to be able to walk straight into the water with my snorkeling equipment. The bed was not the most comfortable by any means, however, the views, the coral reefs, the tranquility and the ability to spend as much time as I wanted with the fish made it some of the best nights of my life.

Home for a few days on Seraya Island, Indonesia

Learning to say goodbye

One of the best thing about travelling is meeting amazing people everywhere you go. You will create instant friendships with some people and you will not want to leave them behind. Or you won’t want them to leave. You will meet people for a few hours and instantly connect. And this means time will go by so quickly, eventually you’ll have to say goodbye. After a few painful goodbyes, you might even start blocking your feelings so you don’t get hurt when the dreaded time to say goodbye arrives. That would be the greatest mistake of travelling. If you have the chance to meet amazing and inspiring people, even just for a few hours or a few days, you should definitely take the opportunity. One great thing about meeting similarly minded travellers is that there’s a very good chance you’ll get to catch up somewhere else eventually.

For example, when I was flying from Switzerland to Germany, I saw on Facebook that my previous flatmate from Scotland was also in Basel, and flying out the same day. I managed to catch up with her and her sister as their flight to Edinburgh was leaving about 10 minutes before mine. Catching up with friends in airports makes the waiting time a lot more interesting!

Shortly after, when I was housesitting in Hamburg, I remembered my friend from the hostel in Pitlochry was travelling through Germany. I sent her a message and little did I know she was actually going to be in Hamburg a few days later! We visited the Christmas market one day, and I even invited her over for dinner one night in my temporary home. To meet again in a different environment and a different country was awesome.

One of the main advantages of travelling and meeting friends from all over the world means that you might be able to catch up somewhere else later on. When you get there it’s quite hard sometimes to really enjoy the moment without thinking that’s you’ll have to say goodbye, again. But after catching up with people in different places, the next goodbye is usually more of a ”see you soon in yet another country” kind of farewell.

Hamburg, Germany

Facing daily challenges

Everything will be more challenging than it would be at home. Finding your way in unknown cities or learning to navigate the undergrounds and public transports when you can’t understand a word that is written also adds a bit of excitement. Going grocery shopping also becomes quite an expedition sometimes. You might have an idea in mind of something you want to cook for dinner. You go up and down the aisles, and you might not be able to find the one ingredient that is paramount to your recipe. Or you might have absolutely no idea what you just bought. Sometimes what you expect to be apples in your pastry is definitely something else!

Making mistakes

When I was in Germany and decided I was going to go volunteer in Calais for a while, I started looking into ways to get there. I compared trains, buses, and flights. I was so excited when I found a cheap flight from Berlin to Brussels, I booked it right away, knowing that I could catch a bus to Lille straight from the airport. Of course, something didn’t work the way I thought it would, or else I wouldn’t have a story now! It turns out while I knew Brussels had two airports I had assumed the cheap flight would leave from Charleroi Airport, located 46km South of Brussels, and on the actual bus ride to Lille which  then connected easily to Calais.

Upon looking at my booking, once everything was paid for, I realized I was arriving in Zaventem, the airport located 11 km North of the city. A slight difference which meant I had to either take a bus across the whole city or change my plans. I decided to take the train from Brussels-Midi straight to Calais instead of the bus and spend one night in the capital city so I wouldn’t have to stress about the flight being potentially delayed. It worked out quite fine, as one of my aunties had just moved to Brussels. We ended up spending a lovely evening together. My cheaper option ended up costing me more money but provided me with an overall more enjoyable experience. I made the most out of my mistake and from now on I’ll be a lot more careful when I book a flight!

Moving on to yet another adventure!

You might become that annoying friend

You know the one that always has a travel-related anecdote to tell. Or the one that always starts his story by, ”when I was in Moldova…”, or ”this happened to me in Jordan!” Or if you are lucky enough you’ll be a mix of all those annoying friends. You know the ones who always have amazing adventures and awesome pictures. After a while, you might be ready to settle back into a ”normal” life, or if you are like me, you might find that even thinking about settling down makes you so anxious it’s not even an option anymore.

Even if it might look like a lot of trouble to go through, all the positive experiences and interactions make all of it so worthwhile. So go on! Book your ticket (to the right airport) and go meet your new friends!

Did you experience any of these challenges in your travels? If so what was the most unexpected challenge you’ve experienced?

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