I’m going to be honest: traveling isn’t always easy. It isn’t always picturesque or comfortable or pleasant. It’s tough; it’s sometimes awkward, trying, and even distressing. Travelling is all-nighters and napping on linoleum airport floors. It’s dirt in your hair and blisters on your feet and mosquito bites in places you didn’t even know existed. It’s a minefield of sometimes rude people, sometimes contaminated foods, sometimes bad weather, sometimes difficult language barriers. It’s a constant battle between being prepared enough, while simultaneously being flexible enough for the unpredictable.
Literally, anybody can travel the world. Most people talk about wanting to do it. But not everybody does. Why? Because it’s not all easy. It requires hard work and a little ingenuity to find a career to fund it. It requires self-discipline to save, save, save. It requires time and attention and research to plan everything out. It requires perseverance through the difficult moments, and inner strength through those moments on no sleep, with no food, and no cell phone service to get where you need to go. It requires a lot, and it’s not all just pretty beaches and Nutella crepes and FOMO-inducing snapshots.
So, here’s what no one tells you about the tough aspects of travelling the world:
It’s not all Instagrammable moments: Case in point, the following Instagram picture from atop Table Mountain in Cape Town:
What is not pictured: The process of attempting to hike to the top, before turning around halfway in exhaustion. The subsequent journey down the mountain, complete with numerous slips and tumbles down the steep and slippery, unpaved pathway. The waiting in line amidst thousands of tourists, and then being crammed with said tourists in a tiny tram (the ability of which to accommodate our weight was questionable, at best) for the ride to the top. The incredible gusts at the peak that made 90% of our pictures a mess of wind-blown hair and Marilyn Monroe dress moments, including a moment where I completely flashed a large pack of onlooking Chinese visitors.
Don’t get me wrong – this was one of the best days of my life, and a picture that I will treasure forever. Standing on top of one of the natural wonders of the world and taking in the beauty of the southern cape was a truly pivotal moment in my life, and fuelled my wanderlust more than any other one instant. But, it is a constant reminder that seeing others’ travel pictures and experiencing that unavoidable, jealous-filled wanderlust is sometimes unwarranted. Nobody chooses to highlight the thunderstorm that ruined their beach day plans in Thailand or the moment after they’ve been awake for 48 straight hours or the excursion to find a drug store for seasickness and double ear infection meds (speaking from experience on all 3 of these), but these are the unavoidable side effects of having the privilege of seeing the world.
Travel tests you: Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it tests you. If you travel enough, there will be times you break down in tears, and there will be times you want need to be home – where you know the language, the currency, and the ways of the land. There will be times the unfamiliarity of a destination loses its magical luster and is just, plainly and simply, frustrating. Plus, vacations are not immune from illness, from natural disasters, or from devastating news from back home. Getting a sinus infection in Peru seems infinitely more daunting to overcome than when you have your couch, remote control, and loved ones back home to help you recover. However, there’s nothing quite like that boost of pride you get when you realize that you just navigated your way through a completely foreign country on two days of no sleep, or had an entire conversation with a local in a language that you once struggled to understand even the basics, or simply did the most basic of mundane tasks (successfully purchasing groceries at a Bangkok supermarket?) like a local. Travel may test you, but the accomplishments – no matter how big or small – are so worth it.
You will be unprepared…Just accept it. You can never have all of the answers. Perhaps you’ll be materially unprepared – limited to a single suitcase for a month-long trip (case in point the photo below – can you tell my teeth are chattering since I brought zero clothes for the -7-degree weather in northern China after two weeks of 90-degree Thai Island Hopping?), or devoid of sunscreens since your liquids got confiscated right before you land at the beach. Perhaps you’ll be intellectually unprepared – (side tip: always have a rough knowledge of currency conversion rates, before you’re stuck with no wifi and pay $130 for a 10-minute cab ride in Beijing). There will always be some degree of unpreparedness and a necessity for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-ness, no matter now Type A of a traveler you think you are.
You’ll learn as much about yourself as you do about the world. Travel will inevitably push you to be spontaneous. To be less judgmental. To be grateful. To relax. To savor the moments with loved ones and strangers alike, rather than the Facebook pictures or expensive souvenirs. To appreciate without expectations. To be okay with branches breaking from underfoot and learning to fly on the way down (or, in my case, figuring out how to hitchhike back home to Italy from a bus stop in Slovenia). To realize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of the world, but simultaneously how powerful we are to make this life exactly what we want it to be. To know that anything worth having doesn’t come easy. To fall in love with life. To know that there is always more to know, see, discover: about the world, about life, and – most importantly – about yourself.