We’ve all seen the good side of traveling.
A reel in Switzerland at the top of a mountain in the Eastern Alps. A post in Italy with colorful, old houses in the background. A story in Peru in Machu Picchu.
The posts are too many and our vision is too narrow.
I’ve been traveling since 2014. Every year, I feel like leaving—my bed, my couch, my family, my friends…everything—and travel for a few months.
I have a backpack with only two pairs of pants and two T-shirts and a smaller bag for my laptop. As a backpacker, I don’t stay in fancy hotels or have fancy meals. I don’t plan my week in advance, and I hate itineraries. I don’t know what’s waiting for me, and I like to keep it that way: mysterious, undetermined.
But traveling the way I do and for more than seven days has its mishaps. I like to share a few stories and posts on social media along the way to inspire other folks, but I never share the setbacks.
I don’t share the blisters on my feet for walking too much or the rash on my shoulders for carrying heavy loads. Or the bed mattresses that look fancy by 9 p.m. but full of bedbugs by 1 a.m. Or the aches and pains I feel after a long-distance ride.
I don’t share how many times I toss and turn on a 50-cm bus seat as I figure out the best sleeping position for my upcoming 14-hour ride.
I don’t share the meals that make my stomach upset.
I don’t share the danger and unsafety I feel in a crowded subway in Paris as I squeeze my phone closer to my chest and worry about my backpack because I can’t afford losing my laptop (aka my work).
You see my photos on social media with a smile—probably holding a glass of wine that I won’t even finish because I’m already too tired from walking and moving—and think I’m having the time of my life while all I really want is a bed.
I don’t share the fear of missing a train, a bus, or a flight; when you’re traveling on a budget, you seriously don’t want to pay twice for any kind of ride.
I don’t share getting stuck in a remote town and not finding a single ride that gets me to the closest city. You don’t see my anxiety, worry, or upset as a I sit on the sidewalk trying to figure out how to leave.
I don’t share the long waits in railway stations, bus stations, or random corners on the street while holding a two-euro sandwich and an empty bottle of water.
I don’t share the ugly tears I cry when I leave a town I have always loved and dreamt of visiting. You don’t see me standing in the middle of the street, pausing, looking around, and realizing I might never see this street again. Letting go of places and moments is as messy as letting go of someone we love.
I hate to burst your bubble, but traveling isn’t always pretty; it’s not even comfortable.
You don’t see the ugly side of it, and maybe I don’t want you to see it.
I only want you to see the good side because trust me when I tell you it’s worth it and you should do it at least once in your lifetime.
You might even wonder why would someone put themselves in uncomfortable situations when they have it easy at home.
“When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Yes, maybe I’m perfectly safe at home, but it’s not what I’m meant to be. Every year, I get stuck in my comfort zone and think this is how I’m meant to live life—in the same place with the same people. And every year, I push myself to leave what’s predictable and manageable and jump into what’s dangerous and unknown.
This might sound crazy, but to me it’s pretty sane.
Traveling knocks me down but also helps me get up. It’s a persecutor but also a great teacher. It has taught me modesty, simplicity, patience, faith, humility, and acceptance—things we tend to forget in our daily, busy lives.
It has showed me how strong and capable I am. It has taught me that I can always overcome difficult situations and to never get attached to one outcome. Things may not go our way, but we should keep trying.
In my hotel room in Dinan, France, there was a quote on the wall by Victor Hugo, and it beautifully explained to me why traveling is so cathartic:
“We leave because we need distraction and we come back because we need happiness.”
I’m getting my dose of distraction now. I’m looking for what’s new, exotic, sacred, maybe ideal.
When I’m back home, I won’t remember the ugly side of traveling. I’ll only remember the new flavors I have tasted and the forts my hands have touched.
I’ll remember the soil I have walked on and tend to the blisters on my feet as they slowly dissipate into nothingness.
I’ll remember how little I have needed to survive and laugh at myself for having so much clothes at home.
I’ll remember that experiences—the good and the bad—have made me happy. Not my phone, not my hair, not my clothes, not my brand-new shoes.
I’ll remember that the greatest gift I have ever given myself is that plane ticket.
It has given me spontaneity, capability, adaptation, and most importantly, freedom.