By Amanda Bensted*
I had been in Singapore less than 24 hours when I got a text message from home, telling me distressing news about a loved one. I got straight on the phone and spent the next half hour trying to calm the inconsolable.
I was already sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and suffering the onset of the flu; this news sent me over the edge. I curled up in my bed in my windowless room and wondered why the hell I did this constant traveling thing.
It’s not easy to tell the truth about travel. We’re all so obsessed with painting the idyllic picture on our social media channels that nobody wants to confess a trip was anything less than heavenly.
If you catch yourself in a moment of loneliness, fear, or simple travel-fatigue while overseas, you feel an instant twang of guilt. Are you being ungrateful? Aren’t you meant to be living The Life? Weren’t you supposed to be coasting on a permanent high?
Let’s get real about travel
With travel publications, bloggers and social media all publishing endless pictures of paradise, it’s understandable that any traveler would get overblown expectations. These publications promise us nothing but an amazing experience.
And it’s not just the travel pros. Check out your traveling friends’ Instagram accounts and it’s all cocktails by the beach and flamingo floaties on infinity pools. Forget the jetlag, the sunburn, the travel diarrea. They’re living the dream!
We’ve been conditioned to hype up the benefits of travel – and trust me, there are many! But it takes courage to fess up to having a few off days – or simply “not feeling it” at a destination.
But it does happen. Especially if you’re a solo traveler. And I think it’s time we show the whole picture – the beauty of travel, and its pitfalls.
The bad times are as important as the good ones
Long-term travel can mean missing out on all the milestones in your loved ones’ lives.
Solo travel can mean an overwhelming loneliness as you flit from place to place, building up a community around you only to leave it and start over again and again.
Budget travel can mean sleepless nights with snoring roommates in rock-hard bunk beds, in dorms over rowdy backpacker bars.
Travel means adapting to new cultures, new languages, new people, new rules, time and again. Getting a grip on a destination just as it’s time to move on.
Travel isn’t always an escape. It demands you to be constantly switched on, ready to haggle, to translate, to mime. Sometimes, you need to be ready to defend.
And it demands all this of you, regardless of your emotional, mental or physical state. Jetlagged, flu-ridden, homesick? Suck it up and carry on.
So sure, if you have enough time, cash and luggage allowance, maybe you can achieve that perfect sun-kissed look in that enviable dress on that remote beach.
But better to expect the zebra-striped tan in your well-worn travel clothes on a garbage-strewn beach with a storm brewing in the background.
I don’t mean to be the party pooper. If I didn’t find travel more liberating and fulfilling than anything else on earth, I wouldn’t be pursuing the digital nomad lifestyle.
But I think it’s worthwhile embracing the bad days too. They’re an essential part of travel – especially solo, budget travel. They’re the times that will challenge you, teach you about yourself and help you grow.
Plus they also make some killer stories when you do eventually return home!
* Founder of ARoamerTherapy Amanda Bensted is a solo travelista who shares on her blog, Instagram, and Facebook her experience with the realities of travel – including unfiltered travel stories, and advice for your wellbeing while on the road.