The travel lifestyle isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Sure, the travel photos that take over Instagram and Facebook are incredible – they inspire you to pack up a bag and buy a ticket to a foreign country…..but I hate to break it to you…..there are bad things that come with this lifestyle.
I’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower, drank out of coconuts on the beaches of Brazil, and bathed elephants in Thailand….but I’ve also gone weeks without running water, have cried in airports, been robbed of valuables, and slept on the floor of a bus station…..
1) Culture shock and language barriers
I don’t experience this as much anymore, but I’ve experienced culture shock plenty of times before that sent my mind into “WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING?!” phases. There’s nothing better than sitting down in a restaurant and playing eeny, meeny, miny, moe with the menu…..then getting a weird peanut soup with a whole chicken foot in it. Or traveling to countries where they kill their food in front of you before they take it to the grill. Playing charades and using your hands trying to get directions to the bus station, or accidentally telling the guy cooking your pizza you love him instead of asking him his name (I hate myself). I still have language barrier issues that….well….turn into funny stories. Check out some of my awkward moments: 5 Stories of the Language Barrier Gone Wrong!
How to handle it: Before you begin traveling, you need to realize there are REALLY crazy cultural differences. Some things may make you uncomfortable – but you need to be prepared for these situations and know how to handle them. Research the culture before you dive in. Something I have found EXTREMELY helpful is learning words and phrases that are useful wherever I may be traveling. For example, learning simple things like “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “where is the bathroom/bank”, or “how much does it cost?”. DOWNLOAD GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Screenshot useful phrases and download the languages you need to your app so you can use the ‘camera’ feature and use it on restaurant menus. No more chicken feet. Another way to break your fears of language barriers is to carry a pocket dictionary. I’ve never done this – but I have met many people that survive thanks to those little things. Pop into a shop and buy a English-Spanish dictionary and you may be thankful you did.
2. Bathrooms abroad can be a nightmare….NIGHTMARE.
My god….I don’t even want to think about some of the bathrooms I’ve encountered during my travels. I’m talkin’ hole in the ground, no toilet paper, is there even a light in here????? I traveled to a lot of countries in the Caribbean as I was growing up, and my first trip solo was to Europe…..these trips didn’t prepare me for Asian or Latin American bathrooms, however. I’ve only experienced it in Asia, but if you’re a diva….look into your hostel bathrooms before you book. I found myself showering with only buckets of water more than once. I was fine with it, but if you need that hot shower….do your research. OH. If you think the McDonald’s bathroom in Chicago is something to whine about – LET. ME. TELL. YOU. WHAT. For some reason – most bathrooms in Asia are literal holes in the ground. Once you walk into the non-lit or dimly-lit bathroom, try to find a stall with a door. If you’re lucky, it will even lock!!! You will be in a full squat and holding your breath just trying to pee….then you realize they don’t have toilet paper. Then you go to wash your hands and there’s a 36% chance there’s soap and a 12% chance there’s something to dry your hands with. In Latin America, I find myself seeing extremely similar situations…..but more bearable I suppose. Most of the “nice” bathrooms come with a price tag…..I’m a penny pincher so I go with the less-desirable….but I PREPARE.
How to handle it: Before I leave for any trip abroad, I purchase a pack of those travel tissues. This is one of my #1 tips for traveling…..always carry tissues. You need them all of the time….for so many weird reasons. Another thing to think about carrying is a travel hand sanitizer – they come in handy in nightmare bathrooms along with long bus/train/plane rides. Baby wipes. And maybe I should start carrying a head lamp every where I go considering it’s a little difficult to pee with a flickering light. I just deal with the bathrooms at this point because well…..I know I’m going to be in the middle of no where at times and bathrooms aren’t always ~taken care of~. Deal wit it.
3. Getting things stolen/getting robbed/losing items
I’ve been traveling for years and never have really had an issue with any of the above….until about two weeks ago. I was on the metro in Santiago, Chile and got robbed…..at 2:30 PM…..yep. Goodbye new iPhone 7s filled with work, photos, videos, notes, and calendar reminders. People get robbed everywhere – phones are stolen, they want your money, or maybe they take your passport. It f%$*ing sucks, okay? Or maybe you forget your lovely GoPro plugged into the wall charging (not me), leave your favorite sweater drying outside of the hostel (ok me), etc…etc. However it happens – at some point you may have to continue your travels with something valuable left behind.
How to handle it: This is really dependent on the situation and where you are. For example, police did not bat an eye at the fact that I was robbed on the metro in Santiago. It was basically like they said “They didn’t try to kill you? Okay. It happens all the time. Sorry for your loss…..NEXT”. *cringes* YEAH, some cities are more dangerous than others and sometimes the police aren’t the best help. But I know that they would be extremely useful in other situations – so always contact the police and get a report. I got a report still, so I’m going to try and work with my insurance with that one. If you forget something…..if it’s possible to turn your taxi around or head back to the city – reach out to the hostel and ask them to set it aside for you. If you are SOL and have to move on – do that….move on. It’s stressful and annoying and frustrating all in one, but you can’t change what happened….you can only react to it and you have a choice on how you handle the situation. Happened either way – cry about it for the next 7 weeks or shrug it off and figure out your next move.
4. Getting homesick…..
Whether you are missing your family, friends, your furry companion, or a #11 from the local burger place downtown…..getting homesick happens to everyone. If someone tells you they’re never homesick – THEY ARE LYING TO YOU. Little liars. I get homesick sometimes when I am alone. Maybe I’m staying in a hostel where there aren’t many other travelers and it’s difficult to make friends, so I end up going out to eat alone or going to the “must see” sights alone. Maybe I’m sleeping in the worst hostel bed in all of Europe and I just think about being in my cozy….layered with blankets…..full of pillows….queen size bed at home. *tears up* Or maybe I’ve been eating the worst food for the last week in Bolivia and I just want my mom’s Spaghetti (not an Eminem reference….although I do love him with every fiber in my being….) ANYWAYS….it’s hard to be away from home, and especially for extended amounts of time….it happens to the best of us, but you just gotta suck it up.
How to handle it: When you’re missing people – give them a call. FaceTime and Skype calls are a blessing and can help you out when you’re wishing you could be with your favorite people. Yeah, I FaceTime my dog….what about it? And although you may not be able to get your favorite home-cooked meal for a few more months….try and make it yourself. Head to your local supermarket and recreate it – or if you can’t cook….maybe find the best local Italian restaurant and pray they make Spaghetti as good as home…..?
5. VISAS. VISAS. VISAS.
I AM BEGGING YOU – PLEASE RESEARCH VISA REQUIREMENTS EVERY. SINGLE. COUNTRY. YOU. TRAVEL. TO. Visas can be a huge pain in the ass – especially for some nationalities. For example, getting into Brazil is as easy as pie….unless you’re from The United States like me. It took me 4 weeks, driving to Chicago 3 times, many tears, and $900 to get a visa for Brazil. (Although they decided to change the process two weeks into my trip, NICE). Bolivia is my next country and I have to go through another nightmare process of receiving my visa on the border. Sometimes you can hopscotch across the border and barely get your passport looked at….every country is different.
How to handle it: JUST DO YOUR RESEARCH, OKAY? Or you’ll end up like my fellow travel friend Sergei struggling to get his Brazilian visa shortly before heading to Brazil WHILE he was in Colombia. 😉 (Hehe, sorry Sergei.) You can save yourself extra money and spare your tears if you just look into it beforehand okay….?!?
6. Don’t rely on transportation…..ever.
First of all, why are buses in South America set at freezing temperatures at all times of day? It’s winter in Chile, okay? I don’t want the air con blowing on my already frozen nose. I want hot chocolate and a blanket. ALSO….I have purchased tickets that were supposed to be “in one hour” and ended up sleeping on a bus station floor for the night because…..it didn’t show up! Or that time when I woke up at 5 AM and stumbled to the bus station in Argentina to find out MY BUS GOT CANCELLED! And nobody informed me…..so I had to wait 3 more hours until the next one. Also, the “10 hour” bus you sign up for MAY take closer to 16 hours. OK. I’m not going to lie….my least favorite way to travel around is by plane. I hate that you don’t know if you and your bag are going to make it to the same place, I hate going through checked baggage and security, and I hate turbulence and thinking I could die in middle of the ocean, alright? I had a really bad experience with Turkish Airlines (If you’re reading this, Turkish, I am still waiting for an apology….) and “missed” my flight…..when really they were just being a-holes and they could have checked me in. I got stuck in Sao Paulo for a few extra days and couldn’t change flights or find one to save my life….so I took a bus instead. It ended up working out, I stayed with a guy I met in Rio (Love ya, Fabricio…thank you for everything) and I got to travel to Iguazu Falls….SO IN YOUR FACE, TURKISH AIRLINES!
How to handle it: Breathe. It happens to the best of us. Delays suck – they can mess up your travel plans and make you late for things. That’s why I’m telling you…..don’t think “okay, my bus arrives to ___ at 1:30, so I will take the next bus at 2:30”. WRONG. Give yourself a lot of time. Especially in South America because….well…..time doesn’t exist in South America, basically.
7. Bad hostel experiences
Sometimes you book a hostel and they are cringe worthy. I have seen hostels with a 8.3 rating on HostelWorld, then show up and find out they’re more deserving of a 3.8…..maybe it was a typo? The beds feels like I’m sleeping on a slab of wood. There’s not even luke-warm water. I’m in a 10 person dorm….it’s 9 guys and me. They all smell weird. There’s not even free breakfast? I can’t sleep because they forgot to write that this is indeed a party hostel and it turns into a full club on the weekends….nice. Oh, there’s bed bugs in the room next to mine? GOTTA GO!
How to handle it: I LOVE hostels, and I mean LOVE. I do my research and I’ll pay the extra $2 a night for a hostel with a better rating. But sometimes a lot of them are fully booked and you’re stuck with one option….or maybe it’s the only hostel under $20 a night so you run with it. Live with it, buy some ear plugs, and cry yourself to sleep……or try and book another hostel that has openings the next day. Hostels have nothing to do with some of the bad experiences (your roommates may just suck) sometimes – but ya live and ya learn.
8. Getting sick in another country is not fun…..it just isn’t.
Even just getting a cold while you’re away from home is the worst. You can get sick for so many reasons while traveling…..you have to be careful. Food poisoning, maybe you get bit by something you should have avoided, altitude sickness, constant changes in weather, a gross eye infection, whatever…..dealing with pharmacies and playing charades trying to explain what is happening to you is awful. I got an eye infection in Chile last year when I couldn’t say more than “hola” in Spanish, and trying to get eye drops was an adventure in its own. I also stepped on glass and apparently didn’t get it all out in Thailand…..my foot was swollen and infected….I had to go to the hospital….I thought they were going to amputate…..but that’s a story you can read more in my article about funny stories thanks to the language barrier.
How to handle it: Making sure you’re updated with your vaccines is important – I’ve heard some horror stories about yellow fever outbreaks and getting sick because people didn’t get shots before their trips. When it comes to getting sick – try and use a translator before you go to the doctor/pharmacy so you can easier explain to them WTF is happening. Also – don’t be dumb and drunk and get glass shards stuck in your foot. I have scars from my “procedure” and they’re not pretty.
Travel isn’t all rainbows and butterflies – it isn’t. I know travel has its hardships – but if that means I can dance to Cumbia in the streets of Colombia, hike through the Andes in Peru, and mountain bike through the desert in Chile……then I’d take that over a normal, easy life any day.
Cheers to overcoming the hard times in life – and cheers to travel.
If you have any questions or want to tell me how much you laughed and related to this blog post – leave a comment or contact me here!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog! See you soon.