The Harsh Realities Of Long-Term Travel: Why It’s Not All Sunsets & Beaches
If you take a look at my Instagram account, you will see months of idyllic, memorable, glorious images, showcasing the Mayan cities of Mexico, to the grand palaces of India, and more. What you won’t see though, is the time I caught bed bugs and spent three days clawing at my legs in itchy frustration. In other words, the harsh realities of long-term travel!
You also won’t see the numerous occasions I’ve sat nervously on a plane, attempting to control an oncoming panic attack. Nor the time I was rushed to a Malaysian clinic while having an asthma attack, or a Thai clinic when I was struck with an intestinal infection. You won’t see any of this because the negative realities of long-term travel are not usually the parts backpackers tend to promote. After all, I write a blog to inspire females around the world to follow their travel dreams, how can I do that if I scare you with horror stories and unattractive images?
Well, today I realised that perhaps by omitting these important stories from my blog and social media, I am doing the future travel community a disservice. As somebody who adores long-term travel, I should be sharing every detail of my experience and allowing you to be fully prepared for both the ideal version of travelling, and the potential realities that will make you consider jumping on the next flight home.
As with anything in life, world travel comes with its downsides, and for these you should be ready. As somebody that’s here, living the nomadic lifestyle right now, I can promise you that despite what you’re about to read, you’ll have the most eye-opening and beautiful journey, with the good seriously outweighing the bad.
Reality 1: You will catch a travel bug
I’m not talking about the bug for roaming from place to place (that’s easily caught and not to be cured), I’m talking about colds, coughs, flu and, if you’re particularly unlucky or unprepared, tropical diseases. Please don’t panic, the latter is very, very rare! With new places comes new germs, so you can pretty much count on the fact that at some point on your trip you will develop an illness.
From ‘Delhi belly’, to the extreme of Dengue Fever, the best way to counter such illnesses is with preventative and relief medication, but sometimes you just have to weather the storm. At the time it will be awful, particularly if you’re travelling alone, but pharmacies and doctors exist worldwide so try not to panic and seek help from fellow travellers or your hostel if a particularly bad fever hits.
Reality 2: You may catch another type of bug
Let me start by saying that in the years I have been travelling and staying in paid accommodation, only once have I been unfortunate enough to encounter bed bugs. I should also mention that the one time I did, I was staying in a nice, clean bed and breakfast and not a hostel.
The chances of suffering with bed bug bites are extremely rare, but being on the road for so long and staying in places constantly frequented by many people, means it can happen. The best way to minimise your chances is to sleep in a sleeping bag liner. I didn’t do this on the occasion I was bitten, but on the positive side the b&b we were at allowed us to check out without paying for our three-night stay and they dry cleaned every piece of our clothing free of charge. In terms of my comfort, bed bugs were an awful thing, but for our wallets they were great!
Reality 3: Travelling means transport
With any transport comes the risk of delays, cancellations and bad service. These are even more likely to happen in less economically advanced countries, where you often don’t speak the language. You will become tired, confused and frustrated. The best piece of advice I can give you here? Breathe, think calm thoughts, and persevere with a positive attitude. There’s really not much else you can do so consider it part of the cultural experience!
Reality 4: You will have to face your fears
Whether it’s insects, heights, flying, or some other phobia you have, long-term travel means that at some point you will undoubtedly have to face your fear head on. For me, it’s both rats and flying. Rats I’ve had to deal with once in India, when a rodent decided to join us in our restaurant for dinner. The problem was, for Hindu people rodents are holy creatures, so the owner wouldn’t shoo the thing away – cue me in hysterical tears with my feet up on my chair.
My second fear, flying, I have to face every single time I set foot on a plane. The minute I’m on board my heart rate accelerates and I’m on edge, even more so if there’s turbulence. I have to physically calm myself with techniques I’ve learnt before a full blown panic attack begins, and every single time I think, “Why do I do this to myself?”.
The truth is though, if it weren’t for flying, the amount of travel I could do would be seriously limited, so it’s a case of mind over matter. I will sit on the flight and hate every second of it, knowing there’s a destination at the end that will make it worth the anxiety.
Reality 5: You will become the centre of attention
Maybe some people don’t mind the sound of this one, but for others who are less extroverted, feeling as though you’re under the spotlight in a foreign country takes some getting used to. Especially if you are travelling in countries less touristy, with your western clothing and backpack in tow; you will be fired questions, asked for photographs and sold item upon item from local people.
Some places are worse than others and for me northern India is the most intense example of a place where a foreigner is automatically seen as rich, therefore begging and dishonest intentions are prominent, alongside the genuinely curious majority. Begin your travels with a high tolerance level and don’t let it drop as you become used to the backpacker lifestyle, it’s the only way to truly enjoy and learn from your interactions with these people.
Remember, the lives many lead are non-wealthy and extremely basic, they can be forgiven for believing that you are rich, as you spend months with little, or no work, touring the world.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the majority of mine or any other travellers’ Instagram accounts, will portray an idyllic lifestyle full of exploration, wonder and beauty. This portrayal is one hundred percent correct, but there are thorns to every rose and backpacking is no different. As you venture into places unknown to you, take the occasional negative feeling or experience with the exceptional and you’ll be addicted to long-term travel forever.
Maybe you’ve had to deal with another not-so-ideal long-term travel reality that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below, and consider signing up for future posts while you’re here.