Sometimes I Suck at Traveling
I love to travel, I really do. I think it brings wonderful experiences, makes you look at the world differently, and builds confidence. One of my main reasons for blogging is to encourage others to travel. But sometimes I suck at it. Sometimes I wonder what was going through my mind when I booked the trip. Sometimes I wish I was back home sleeping in my comfortable bed or sitting on my comfortable couch or showering without flip-flops on my feet. Sometimes I feel like I have no right to try to encourage anyone to travel when I’m so bad at it.
Things I get sick of real quick
It’s almost impossible to travel and not, in some way, end up outside of my comfort zone. Our current seven week trip in Southeast Asia has kicked me way out of my comfort zone more times than I can count. Deep down I know that’s a good thing, but in the moment while I’m dealing with those things, I get frustrated and sick of them very quickly. Here are a few examples, in case you’re interested.
I’m sick of having to wear flip-flops in the shower. Even aside from that, I’m sick of showers that are just a nozzle on the wall with nothing to keep the entire bathroom from getting soaked. I’m also sick of washing my hands in cold water because none of the sinks have hot water.
I’m sick of uncomfortable beds. I never expect a bed to be as cozy as the one we have at home, but quite often we end up on a bed that is so hard I wake up sore the next day. We’ve also had a mattress so old it should’ve been replaced years ago, and a mattress so new the guesthouse owner wouldn’t let me take the plastic off it. Sleeping on a mattress with plastic still wrapped around it is not fun.
I’m sick of bugs. We’re in the tropics, there will be bugs, I get it. But I hate them. I’m sick of the flies trying to land in my food or buzzing around my face. I’m sick of the mosquitoes that always find the one teeny tiny patch of skin I missed with the bug spray, though they seem to ignore Andy almost completely even without bug spray. And that one bug that bit me on the back/bottom of my second toe? I hate that bug the most.
I’m sick of having to throw my toilet paper in the trash can instead of directly in the toilet. In many, many parts of the world, the pipes just can’t handle toilet paper. I don’t quite understand the physics of why those pipes can handle everyone’s, um, waste, but a few squares of flimsy toilet paper clogs things up. Anyway, it grosses me out and it smells and I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of decisions. At home, things like where I’m going to sleep that night or what to eat are pretty simple. But on the road, the decisions are constant. My brain is tired from making so many decisions about picking the next destination, the next guesthouse, the next meal.
Things I keep screwing up
As much travel experience as I have, you’d think I’d stop making the same mistakes. You’d think that by now I’d know better, that I would remember the previous trips and do things differently this time around. But somehow it doesn’t work out that way. I’m a routine person, and I guess even my travel errors are, in some way, a routine.
I travel too quickly. Every time I tell myself, must travel slowly next time. But next time rolls around and we’re off to the races. I can’t go all the way to Thailand and sit on one island for three weeks, I tell myself. So we bounce around from one place to the next, and the constant motion wears me down.
I don’t thoroughly research the location of the guesthouse we book. Sure, we read the reviews to make sure we’re staying in a safe area, to make sure the hotel itself sounds decent. But both of us keep forgetting to look for restaurants within a block or two, and too often we find ourselves walking 15 minutes just to find any option for lunch.
I forget that things almost always take longer than I think they will. Just because the bus from point A to point B says it will take seven hours does not mean it will actually take seven hours. More likely it will take eight, nine, or even 10 hours. Food almost never comes swiftly at a restaurant. Walking to lunch, packing our bags, even taking a shower all take more time than I think they will.
I keep trying to use my normal logic in places where they have a different set of logic. Their normal is not my normal, and vice versa, so I get frustrated. We’re told our pick up is between 8:00 and 8:15 but they don’t actually arrive until 8:30. We don’t want to backtrack to the nearby mini mart to get water because we assume we’ll pass one on our way, but 20 minutes later we’re parched and sweaty and haven’t passed anyone selling water. We assume a bus ticket will get us either to the center of town or to the bus station, but instead we are dropped at a travel agency too far from the center to walk. Then we have to buy a transfer from them, then we feel ripped off.
Towards the end, I adjust
I’m starting to get better about some of these things now, though it didn’t happen until about a week or two before the end of our trip. I do wonder if, by taking these one to two month trips, we’re actually just traveling during the difficult time, that period at the beginning of a long trip when you’re adjusting to life on the road. When most long term travelers continue traveling and things start to get a little easier, it’s time for us to go home, and we start all over on the next trip.
I try to remind myself that showing you this side of travel is important too. That travel is not all sunsets and fruity cocktails. Unless you’re restricting yourself to a cruise or an all-inclusive resort, chances are you will run into things that will stress you out, frustrate you, or even make you angry. But I also try to remind myself it’s all worth it. It’s worth it when I experience something new that I could never experience at home. It’s worth it when I visit a place I’ve been dreaming of for months or years.
It’s worth it when we’re eating amazing satay at a market in Penang, and the self-proclaimed “crazy” Chinese/Malaysian woman running the drinks restaurant we’re sitting at drags me over to a hawker selling Chinese pies that look like big dumplings filled with pork, onions and who knows what else.
And you know what, that was a damn good pie.
February 27, 2014 @ 9:57 AM
I don’t travel long term like this, but I have had some month long to six week long trips. It does weigh on you and things can become irritating. I just had a serious breakdown last week in Zanzibar after things did not go very well there. It happens to every traveler, though I don’t think it means you suck at traveling. Shit just happens sometimes, you know?
Maybe such long trips aren’t really your style? I know they aren’t my style.
Your photos are beautiful though. Hang in there!
March 1, 2014 @ 5:40 AM
Thanks! Yeah, I know I don’t actually suck at traveling, but in the moment when things are going badly and I’m miserable, I do start to question myself. Mostly we’ve realized that we’re ok for 2-3 week travel bursts or settling down in a different place for 1-3 months, but this in between long but not so long traveling stuff is too stressy for us. I’ll just have to re-read my own blog before we book the next trip or winter escape.
February 27, 2014 @ 9:59 AM
Travel can certainly wear you down, we need a ‘break’ every once in a while, just to stay in one place and feel settled, otherwise I think the joy to constant starts to fade.
March 1, 2014 @ 5:41 AM
Thanks Jennifer! We went into this trip thinking we’d stay in one place for at least a couple weeks, and it just didn’t work out that way. Hopefully I will remember all of this for next time!
February 27, 2014 @ 10:10 AM
I’m with you Ali! Its amazing how these little things bother us so much. It takes me half of every trip to relax and get into the groove of travelling again but once I do I always wonder, what was I whinging about? I’ll never learn!
March 1, 2014 @ 5:42 AM
Ha! Thanks Jen, I’m glad it’s not just me! This time I think it took me about 75% of the trip to loosen up, and now that we’re in the final days of it, I’ve completely lost patience all over again. I just need to be home and approach the next trip much differently.
February 27, 2014 @ 1:43 PM
I know you know that all that you describe is completely normal but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, does it? I think you need to listen to yourself more; you seem to know what you need (more comfort and moving much more slowly) and yet you won’t let yourself listen. I, of course, believe that being uncomfortable sometimes is important (hello bike trip around Europe!) but I also know what we need in the big picture (lllloooonnnggg stays in places) and try to balance the both. You guys are just starting on this experiment of work and travel – you’ll figure it out!
March 1, 2014 @ 5:44 AM
Thanks Gillian! I know I need to put myself in uncomfortable situations sometimes, but you’re right, I’m not listening to myself as well as I should. Our winter escape was really supposed to be about sitting in sunny warm weather and getting some work done, not running all over SE Asia sightseeing. Not that we did much sightseeing, but we definitely added a lot of destinations we never intended to. We’ll keep working out the kinks and get things going in a way that works eventually!
February 27, 2014 @ 1:52 PM
I got a laugh out of this. Knowing you, Ali, I know how irritating these travel discomforts can be for you. Not much you can do about it except stop travelling and I know that’s not going to happen.
I needed a laugh this morning, thanks for getting my lousy day off to a smile. (sorry)
Joan in GA
March 1, 2014 @ 5:45 AM
Thanks Mom, glad to make you laugh! No, we’re not going to stop traveling, we just need to remind ourselves what works and what doesn’t.
February 27, 2014 @ 8:41 PM
I could have written this post myself. For the better part of the last two years, I’ve found myself in these situations constantly and every time I ask myself why I’m doing it. Then you see an amazing sunset, or you meet a friendly local and it puts it back in perspective. But for some of us, travelling never gets any easier. We’ll always feel out of our comfort zone. But at least we try.
March 1, 2014 @ 5:52 AM
Thanks Julia! It’s so nice to know other people can relate! And it’s somehow comforting, not discouraging, to hear this from someone who’s been traveling for a few years now. I never want to hit a point where I say “I don’t want to travel anymore” because that sounds so sad! I do enjoy it, and there are so many great parts of travel. I just need to realize that this style of travel doesn’t work for me.
February 28, 2014 @ 2:53 AM
I can sooooo relate to this. What I’ve come to accept is that I’m a westerner, through and through. It’s ok! I suck at travel sometimes, too. It is all out of our comfort zone and sometimes all we want is to get back there. But then we get back there (like us now in Australia) and honestly, I miss it. Well, I don’t miss the rock-hard beds and the bathroom showers.
March 1, 2014 @ 5:54 AM
Thanks Carmel! I’m definitely accepting that as well, that I’m a westerner and as much as I like parts of Asia, overall it’s not someplace I can handle long term. I think with time and distance, we start remembering the good things more than the bad things, and that’s probably good. Though I do need to remember that traveling in this way, especially in a part of the world like SE Asia, doesn’t work for me.
March 1, 2014 @ 1:04 PM
I don’t think you suck at traveling. You’re just noticing things that really piss you off and noticing them often which is bound to piss you off even more. I think it comes down to what is in our control and what we can or cannot change.
For example, in my little town of Morwell,Victoria, Australia, home to 14,000 people, we have massive smoke that is effecting everybody’s health and the southern part of the town of which I live 200 metres to the north of, has been told to evacuate due to a massive coal fire that has been going on for nearly a month now that was sparked by an arsonist who thought it was a really good idea to light a bush fire near an open cut coal mine.
Now by rights I would be entitled to be pissed off on multiple levels and I am to an extent. But on the flip side of that, it is not in my control to put the fire out and I have nowhere to evacuate to even if I wanted to leave town, and I don’t yet have enough information to make a decision to leave as there has been a total information stuff up by the state and federal governments here in Australia.
For the time being at least, I need to maintain a calm composure and a rational mind as panicking, getting upset or just being pissed off won’t help the situation. I think it is something similar when you are on your own and on the road. But when you are on the road, you have the added advantage of being able to chalk up everything as an experience and you don’t have to go that same destination again if you really don’t want to. And if you do go back to that destination, you can choose to stay somewhere else and do something else. My point here is that what is causing you dissatisfaction is really an acknowledgement that your attempts to find satisfaction and happiness did not result in success. That doesn’t mean you suck, it just means that the choices you made didn’t result in the outcomes you had hoped for. And the world being as big as it is, it means that choose something else and use the knowledge that you have gained to make better choices in the future. And of course, blog about it, Don’t forget to blog about it:)
March 3, 2014 @ 9:37 AM
Thanks Matthew! That’s really scary about the fires, please be careful! Even if you don’t have somewhere to evacuate to, be smart about leaving if necessary. Better to stay alive, ya know? And yes, we really didn’t make the right choices for the results we wanted. We definitely need to adjust our travel decisions in order to have the experience we’re looking for. I will, of course, keep blogging about it 🙂
March 3, 2014 @ 11:44 AM
Thank you for your concern Ali. It is a bit scary here as I don’t really know what the long term consequences of inhaling the smoke will be. I know the short term ones really well: exhaustion, headaches, itching eyes and nose bleeds. I’ve had them all in the last week. The air quality here has dramatically improved in the last 24 hours but it is too early for me to be able to say with any certainty that the worst is over. I could only say that once the fire is extinguished, if that is indeed possible. Situations like these are very challenging but character building also. So I’m trying to see the positive in all things and act in the most grown up manner possible as opposed to the angry and upset person I have been at times.
March 4, 2014 @ 8:13 AM
Been reading your blog for a little while now (first time commenter though!), and I totally hear ya on forgetting that things will almost always take longer than you think (and then being frustrated about it!). So true during all my travels in Latin America! And yeah, takes me a few days to get over my initial travel anxiety, but then it’s all worth it, for so many reasons 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I enjoy reading about all aspects of traveling.
March 5, 2014 @ 12:17 PM
Thanks Sam! Yeah, time is a weird thing. I have to keep reminding myself everything still works just fine even with a different concept of time in other countries. Thanks for reading, I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog!
March 6, 2014 @ 10:02 PM
It’s what happens when you travel… you love it and hate it at the same time. It’s not that we suck at it when we hate it. It’s just a million things happen at any given moment and you are outside of your comfort zone in a place you don’t know and top of that ALWAYS have to be alert. So it’s understandable to feel that, but don’t be too hard on yourself about it. When you mention about getting back on the groove of things after being home… I thought of myself, because I know it’s going to be hard for me to get back into the swing of things when I leave again in July.
March 8, 2014 @ 9:41 AM
I guess it’s that, even after traveling for so many years, I still think it should all just be wonderful or that it should get easier. I hear/read about so many people who talk about how wonderful travel is, that they only really talk about the good stuff and leave out the stressful and bad stuff. I think I just have to remind myself that everyone goes through this crap when they travel, they just choose to gloss it over. It’s probably good to do that sometimes, but sometimes I also wish other people would share their struggles more. I guess that’s why I share mine.
March 9, 2014 @ 3:23 PM
I hear your sentiment behind this article … the humidity of Indonesia is just killing me! Can’t wait to get back to the chill of Canada!
March 9, 2014 @ 6:56 PM
Thanks Selma! Yeah, the weather is a strange thing too. We went to SE Asia for the warm weather, then we were overwhelmed with how hot it was most of the time. Oops!
March 15, 2014 @ 10:47 AM
“I can’t go all the way to Thailand and sit on one island for three weeks”
I’m totally with you on this one. This is why I travel as frenetically as I do- I bounce from city to city like a madman because I want to see *everything* but my time is finite.
(and the toilet paper in the trash thing would gross me out too.)
March 15, 2014 @ 4:23 PM
Thanks Steven! The thing is, I *know* I enjoy travel better when I slow down. But the possibility of seeing more places is too tempting, and I forget that I need to slow down. This trip to SE Asia was really supposed to be 7 weeks in just a few places so we could relax, enjoy the warm weather, and get some work done. But it all broke down when we decided we didn’t want to stay in Cambodia and booked a flight to Thailand, where we never thought we’d end up this time around. Oh well, we’ll know better next time!