Confession time: Sometimes long term travel really takes its toll on me.
This shouldn’t be much of a surprise really, but I feel like sometimes travel is portrayed as a glamorous pursuit which is totally exempt from the harsh realities of life. Maybe it is if you’re a millionaire travelling in style, staying in 5 star resorts. But if you’re a backpacker like myself, then no, this could not be further from the truth
I love my life. Yes, sometimes I get homesick. A lot. Sometimes I genuinely consider flying back to the UK and being with my friends, my family, my dog. Sometimes I miss the warm embrace of my loved ones, the home comforts, the little routines and rituals, the parties and the festivals. Naturally, I miss these things. But I know deep down I’m not ready to go home. I know I’m not finished here. I know there is a lot left to see and do, a lot of adventure and laughter to be had. I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. But when you travel long term, of course there will be lows. Because believe it or not, travel can’t all be one big high.
Yes, there are all the regular travel horror stories you hear, that are very real and do happen. The scams, the thievery, the deception. The food poisoning, and terrible hangovers from questionable alcohol. The long journeys on public transport, the hostels from hell, the moments you realise you’re running out of money. It all happens. It’s not as commonplace as people may make out. It’s not a reason to not travel. But it happens.
But today, I want to talk about something a little deeper, a little bit more obscure. I’m not on about those classic travel horror stories. I’m not on about the time I got scammed out of $30 on the Cambodia – Thailand border or the time I ran out of money on an island with no working ATMs. I want to talk about that feeling of burnout that is honestly inevitable when you travel for a long period of time.
‘the fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore’ – Vincent Van Gogh
Like I said above, I am not finished travelling. Even when I do go home, I don’t think I’ll be finished travelling. But long term travel can take a toll on you on a physical, emotional, and mental level. Think about it: you have no long term base. You are surviving on a backpacker budget. Even if you stay somewhere for a while and you adore it, it’s hard to ever truly call it home.
Travel can wear you down. Travel is late nights and early mornings. It’s long haul journeys on all manners of public transport. It’s living in dorm rooms with little privacy or personal space. It’s often needing earplugs to get a good nights sleep. It’s hard to stay healthy on the road. It’s hard to have a good routine. it’s hard to eat right, to exercise regularly, to sleep well. You’re always on the move and it can wreak havoc on you mentally and physically. Even if you know you need to make time for yourself, sometimes you are so enamoured with your new surroundings, or so excited to go out and play with the new people you’ve met, you just don’t make yourself and your own wellbeing a priority.
Travel has it’s ups and it’s downs. Yes, you get to explore, learn, discover. You get to make your dreams a reality. But you still may find yourself frustrated because of the situations you’ve got yourself in. You still may find yourself craving comfort and feeling homesick, in a place that feels so far removed from everything you’ve ever known. You still may find yourself one day living in a hostel in the middle of Australia, with a lot less in your bank account than you would have liked, picking fruit for a pittance just to get by, wondering ‘how the hell did I get here’ (Hello, that’s me!).
Travel isn’t always a laugh. It’s not always partying and basking in sunshine. But it’s always worth it. Even when you genuinely consider whipping out your credit card and booking the next available flight home, even in those moments where you don’t know why you’re travelling anymore, there is light. There is clarity. There are lessons to be learnt. If you fight through you’ll be a better person.
I once met a girl in Bali and she told me that she will never allow herself to go home unhappy. She doesn’t want to go home because she felt hopeless and homesick. She doesn’t want to go home unless she feels totally happy, a little reluctant, but ready. I think this is a good way to think. Sometimes travel can take an emotional toll, but unless you literally have to leave, it’s best to just wait it out instead of going home. Because who wants to go home on a low right? And the lows exist for a reason.
Sometimes you wander if you should have done things differently. If you should have gone to this or that place. If you should have been wiser with your money. If you should have changed your travel priorities. If you should have gone to the yoga retreat instead of the party island – or vice versa. But there is no point in regrets in life, especially when you travel. Because when you travel each day is a new opportunity at life. It’s a rebirth. Yesterday is behind you and all you have is today.
‘Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road’ – Jack Kerouac
Don’t go travelling if you want a life of constant happiness and contentment. Don’t go travelling if you think it will, or want it to, all go plain sailing. Don’t go travelling if you have every last detail planned meticulously down to a T, and have no room for change. Because when it changes it will just be all the worse. Go travelling because you’re willing to take the ups with the downs. Go travelling because you know sometimes it won’t be plain sailing. You know you may run out of money or run into trouble. You know things might not go to plan. Travel isn’t always glamorous, no. Travel will wear you down. It will shake you up. It will spit you out. it will leave you exhausted. But it wears you down in the best possible way. It changes you irrevocably. You will never be the same person. It can be scary, but it is worth it.
What do you think about the downsides to travel? How has travel worn you down? Do you agree with everything I’ve said? Let me know in the comments!