Truths, Gripes, and Other Confessions
I’ve avoided discussing the negative aspects of long-term travel because, well… it seems really petty for me to be complaining at all while in such a spectacular situation. However, like anything, there are plenty of downsides to this lifestyle. For authenticity’s sake, I’ve compiled them here to give a taste of the not-so-flattering side of this life.
I forget where I am four times a day everyday. I don’t know what city, country, or continent I’m in. Every time this happens, my mind goes blank for about 15 seconds and then I use cues to remember. Surprisingly though, this isn’t waking up in the middle of the night, it’s when walking around listening to music or I hear someone speaking in a different language. I start thinking, “Oh wait, I don’t live here. Wait, where is ‘here’?”
Don’t close the shades on the train, please. Doesn’t this seem kind of obvious? The whole reason I am taking the train is for the view out the window. I know it’s sunny, but you have sunglasses.
Hostels are like adult summer camps – for better or worse. It’s so funny when you check-in to a hostel and reception is walking through what room you’re in, breakfast details, maps, and things to do in the area and they say something like, “Are you here for the Pornography Festival of Berlin?” I inevitably blush and get really awkward in these moments. I forget that I’m not actually at summer camp and people don’t have to be quite as buttoned-up due to their traveler status and subsequent anonymity.
Instead I’m in this place where anything goes and people are open about wanting to do things go to a nightclub’s Naked Night (exactly what it sounds like) and do animal tranquilizers for fun. I’m not really sure what I am supposed to say when I get into these types of conversations. Usually I end up responding something like “Good for you!” or “That sounds really interesting!” and feel like a mid-Western soccer mom, trying to wipe all traces of horror off my face. I can be a bit naive at times. It isn’t that I judge people, but more that I don’t even know them and I really don’t need that much information right off the bat. However, when I’m sharing a bedroom with a stranger, it is a reality that I have learned to live with.
People know I’m American before I speak. It’s probably because I’m wearing plaid.
There is always, always someone who snores. Generally it’s the men. I try to get small hostel dorms (ideally 6 beds or less) and if there’s an option for female only, I will choose that. The men backpackers tend to be a bit dirtier from my experience and more likely to drunkenly try to get into the wrong bed.
I relish the nights when I don’t have to wear earplugs. But those earplugs are the key to my sanity. In a hostel room, people are up at all hours and they have the right to be – someone will be partying all night and someone else will be packing up at 6am for an early train. They will probably have a loud conversation when they cross paths.
You no longer get the question “What do you do?” It’s replaced by “Where are you from? How old are you? Where’d you come from?” But no, I am not 22 and I’m not a student. Yes, I have a blog.
Whenever you are with people, you want to be alone. Whenever you are alone, you want to be with people. It’s the biggest grass-is-always-greener part of the travel world, from my perspective. I am pretty extroverted, but I get exhausted by the amount of socializing that is required by staying in hostels. People go out every night and want to hear each other’s life stories. You’ll talk with someone all night and then they will leave and you’ll start talking to whomever is in that bed all over again. I totally love it, and as I explained in past posts, the relationships are really special and very real. But damn, it’s a lot!
I have at least four types of currency in my wallet right now. They are all gold coins. I look ridiculous buying a metro ticket.
Selfie sticks. What can I say? They are everywhere. They have their merits I suppose, but I don’t really understand who is going to watch a GoPro film of your facial reactions as you walk around the Sagrada Familia.
I packed way too much, but also not enough. I have been lugging this huge bag around Europe for almost three months now and I have a constant backache to show for it. Packing for both Stockholm and Barcelona was a huge challenge, but I ended up bringing pretty much one of everything. And I’ve used every single item. People say they’re impressed by how little I packed, but I don’t know how I could really bring anything more. I have worn the same dress to a beach bar, a Parisian dinner, and a snowy walk around the city. The wool hat I threw in at the very end for good measure has become the key to my cold weather wardrobes. Getting rid of things is hard but necessary.
Two single beds pushed together doesn’t make a “queen” bed. I can feel the crack. I won’t sleep across the crack, therefore I am just sleeping on a single bed. Just something to consider…
Creeps aren’t that hard to come by. There was a man on my overnight train from Lisbon to San Sebastian (12 hours long) who I thought was a part of the sketchy druggy crew pacing the cars the whole night, meeting in corners. I was in and out of sleep, keeping my items close and minding my own business. However, I opened my eyes on hour three for a minute and got a tap on my shoulder. This man was sitting behind me and had a big smile on his face.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “Umm…. a lot further…” I said, trying to hint that I didn’t want to tell him any personal information. “San Sebastian?” he asked. “Ummm…. yep.” I said, not sure what to do if we got off at the same stop and I had told him some other answer. “Cool! Me too!” He exclaimed. I nodded and pretended to fall back to sleep.
Nine hours later, I got off the train and booked it to the ladies room. The main door to the room was open and the same man saw me inside and stopped. “Where are you staying?” he asked. I said “I’m sorry, I don’t know the name.” And he kept going, not taking any hints. “A hostel?” … “Yep. Look I have to use the rest room. Good luck.” I closed the door.
I had a weird feeling from this guy, so I hopped into a cab as to stop him from following me anywhere. I arrived at my hostel and was checking in when the door opened… Guess who? Yep, it was my friend from the train. We ended up staying at a 18-bed place (the smallest hostel I’ve stayed in) for five days overlapping. As it turns out, he was pretty harmless, but I kept my distance from him, or as much as I could anyways.
He found out that we were going to overlap for a few days in Paris. It was really unfortunate that I “forgot my email address.” I took his and, also unfortunate, I “lost it” so we were unable to meet up.
Moral of the story: my guard is always up.
An iPad is not just a big iPhone. I cringe at the sight of someone holding a full-sized iPad up at a church or inside a historical building. It looks ridiculous to begin with, but then the person is blocking ten other people trying to get a photo that is straight and level. iPads are fantastic, but not for the purpose of taking snapshots.
I saw a man with the keyboard part of a Surface tablet tucked into the back of his pants walking around the Alhambra. It looked so odd… and unsanitary. I vow to never do that.
You use places for Wifi. There is a really unfortunate moment when I’m trying to figure out where the heck I am or how to get somewhere when I go to a cafe and, before ordering my tea, I have to ask, “Do you have Wifi?” It sucks, especially when they don’t have it and I have to walk out the door. A lot of places are really smart about it – they print the Wifi username and password on their menu.
As a side note: I have read comments on a lot of blogs, when people are really judgmental about travelers staying too connected or using their phones or computers too much. I am not interested in having meals where we scroll through our Instagram feeds the entire time and don’t actually experience the moment, talk to each other, or realize what we’re eating. However, I also think that people are allowed to travel however they want to.
It’s a really intense lifestyle and I am so glad to be able to have ways of staying connected to my family, friends, and former coworkers. It’s something that is really important to me, personally. However, some travelers try to go off-the-grid during these types of trips. I can absolutely respect that, but that isn’t me. For example, writing this blog helps me experience my trip on a different level, as I am able to put my experiences in perspective, look back at photos, remember people I met, and re-live the stories I tell. Being able to then share this with people is an added bonus. I cut down my Skype time considerably because when I get on a call with someone, they already know a lot about what I’m up to. Tit for tat.
I am positive that when I get to Southeast Asia next week there will be a whole new slew of realities to deal with. I look forward to learning them and toughening up a bit. Until then, I will stop whining.