Jan 26 2008

The other side of long-term travel

Published by at 8:24 pm under Andalucia,Spain,Travel

Last week Ben got an email from a friend back home asking him how our vacation was going. We were both momentarily confused. Vacation? Who’s on vacation??

Because here’s the thing no one tells before you leave: this sort of travel is exhausting. It is, by far, the most mentally, physically and emotionally draining experience I’ve ever undertaken.

But in all my hours of blog-reading and message-board-surfing to prepare for this trip, not a single backpacker mentioned the toll long-term travel takes on your mind and body. So that’s why I feel inclined to dedicate one entry to the not-so-perfect facet of travel.

Of course, everyone knows that this sort of travel is tiring. How could it not be? Enduring 24-hour international bus rides. Hiking several miles every day. Switching hostel bunk beds every night. Struggling to communicate your every basic need through an ever-changing language barrier. The daily battle to plan the next leg of your journey, with no knowledge of your next destination, no information on how to get there, and no internet access.

Yes, you’ll experience the happiest moments of your life while traveling. But along with the emotional highs come equally severe emotional lows – days when you just want to scrap the entire trip and go home where life is easy and people love you.

Which brings up the most emotionally draining factor of traveling: homesickness. I suspect this is highly personal and different for everyone. For me, after the initial pangs of homesickness wore off, I grew sort of numb to it. We were seeing and doing so many amazing things I almost didn’t have time to be homesick.

But along came Christmas (having never missed a holiday at home in all my 25 years). It also happened to be the halfway mark of our trip, which brought with it many conflicting emotions: I can’t believe our trip is halfway done! Wait, we’re only halfway through? So just when you think you’ve got a handle on the whole homesickness thing, you find yourself weeping profusely in a Prague metro station, clinging to your boyfriend, being eyed nervously by old Czech men, all because you’re not going to be there on Christmas morning to see what Santa brings your brother and sister. Your 18- and 23-year-old brother and sister. The exhaustion of traveling manifests itself in unexpected ways.

Compared to most backpackers, Ben and I take it easy. We never spend less than five days in one destination. We take time to maintain this blog to keep up with people at home. Many fellow travelers we meet scoff at our modus operandi (there are always a few travel elitists in hostels who think that they travel “better,” know more, and understand the world more than you ever will). “You’re spending how long in Prague??” they say. “But what will you do?”

I swallow the urge to snap, “see a little more than the museum, jackass.” But then I look at these people, who sleep most nights on trains, stumbling into the hostel, barely aware of where they are, smelling kind of funky, dark purple bags under their eyes, and can’t help but scoff at them when they insist they’re “having the time of my life, dude!”

It’s hard not to get sucked into the GO! GO! GO! mentality of these people – if you don’t see ____ then your whole trip was WASTED. Wake up at dawn! Visit the sites! Party in Euro-clubs until 4 am! Repeat!

I crashed in Barcelona. I think it was after our tenth straight night of sleeping on the floor. I had a bad cold I hadn’t been able to shake for a month. We were walking down Las Ramblas discussing the next leg of our journey: our tour of Andalucia. I was confused – why wasn’t I looking forward to this more?

It dawned on me suddenly: I just can’t do this anymore. So I stopped abruptly in the street, turned to Ben, and told him so. I don’t care if I don’t see all the “must-sees”; I don’t care what our guidebook says, or what other travelers say. All I want to do is chose a small town in Andalucia – one that isn’t mentioned in any book – rent a tiny apartment and do nothing for two weeks. I saw the relief in Ben’s eyes and almost instantaneously, at the mere suggestion, we felt better.

And so that’s exactly what we did.

I don’t know why travelers don’t discuss these aspects of long-term travel more. And I certainly don’t mean to speak for everyone (although it’s safe to say that I’ve never seen anyone more exhausted than a backpacker on month number six). I think it isn’t mentioned because when someone makes this decision – to drop everything, put life on hold, risk money and career – that person feels a need to convince themselves and everyone else that every single moment is THE BEST EVER.

But, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling or worthwhile. Because don’t all meaningful experiences in life require a little work? Do you think going on a life-changing, soul-searching adventure to places unknown comes without challenge? To ignore the hardships and disappointments seems to be ignoring an important part of the journey.

Okay, I’m done my proselytizing for the day. Ben and I put our self-discovery on hold in the small town of Arcos de la Frontera, where 70 degree weather and daily siestas made Operation: Rejuvenation a huge success!

NEXT: One Morning in Seville »



6 responses so far

6 Responses to “The other side of long-term travel”

  1. Allisonon 27 Jan 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Aw I miss you guys too. Your blog entries always give me this insane mix of jealousy and exhaustion… sometimes I am just glad to be in my apartment in pjs reading instead of wandering Spain, but mostly I’m hissing with envy from my half-cubicle while I wait for the workday to end.

    I hope you miss RVA enough to come back! It’s not the same without you.

  2. Jenniferon 30 Jan 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Umm, this really has nothing to do with anything, but, Britt, today Posh Spice came to the mall area that’s attached to the offices I work in, and half of my group went down to see her. Kick back to our nights in Jillian’s den. Made me think of you… Well, and Ben, actually.

    Hope all’s well.

  3. Brookeon 31 Jan 2008 at 12:12 am

    Yes, this post is great, and so true! Brian and I are taking a break every two weeks or so and splurging on a nicer place to sleep and take it easy. We don’t feel like we’re go-go-go all the time, but it is still exhausting (especially that whole communication barrier!). I now think that some of the best travel is when you stop and live in a place for a while :-)

  4. twink bunk bedson 17 Apr 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Keep working ,great job!

  5. Carpet Extractor ·on 13 Nov 2010 at 7:37 am

    bunk beds are quite comfortable specially if you use them in a tightly packed room or in a limited spaced room ;’*

  6. Alfredon 12 Sep 2011 at 2:29 am

    wonderful site. thanks for this excellent posting. i be thankful a lot.

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