One of the most common things you hear as a backpacker is the romanticization of what it means to travel long term and travel light. While yes, there are many wonderful aspects of traveling, isn’t not all glamour and sipping Mojitos in the Mediterranean (do they sip Mojitos in the Mediterranean?…this tells you what I know of both beaches and the Mediterranean, which is scarcely any knowledge at all). But I don’t need to sell you travel, because there are already many blogs dedicated to doing just that. I have to admit that some of them make ME want to go to a resort, and I can’t stand resorts- they’re just that good at the travel blogs they run. So instead, i’m going to tell you what the reality has been for me to travel. This list isn’t saying that travel is ‘bad’ or dull of disillusionment, instead, its goal is to relay to you how normal travel can be. First things first, you still need to do basic things. Not just showering, and going to the store (although grocery shopping in a new country is always an event unto itself), but you also need to do laundry. Ew, gross! Nobody really wants to take time out of their experience in a new place to do laundry! Well no, nobody WANTS to do laundry- but you have to. Except, that doing laundry when traveling isn’t always an easy feat. In much of Europe, hostels don’t have dryers, furthermore, some hostels don’t have drying racks or working washing machines… Instead, you can only do laundry at these hostels in warm months, they won’t let you do laundry in the colder months. What does that mean? It means that you may have to keep wearing that, “two weeks worth” of clothes you brought for longer than two weeks. You shouldn’t bring more clothes, you just need to figure out how you’re going to do laundry and whether or not you’ll be comfortable wearing the same clothes long after they should’ve been cleaned. Along with the ‘basic things you need to do. You’ll find that despite the dramatic lifestyle change that is ‘living a life of travel’, some old habits really do die hard and some habits you’ll need to keep. If you need a cup of coffee (like I do) in order to be able to socialize or be willing to go out into the world, then you’ll STILL need that cup of coffee (or three…) when you’re traveling. It’s not going to change overnight. If you have some elements of routine (maybe you like to run in the mornings? Or maybe you want to do Yoga to start your day?) then you need to take those into account when traveling. You’ll still need to do those things for yourself in order to remain in a healthy state of mind. So if you have things you need to do in order to go to sleep or to wake up at the top of your game, then you need to be mindful of those- ask the receptionist at your hostel what areas are ‘okay’ to run at 5am! Or ask if they mind if you hog the common room at 6am to do an hour of meditation. Whatever it is, you’re going to need to set aside time to do it. Second, depending on your reasons for travel, you’ll find that your overall needs will differ. What I mean is that some people travel to party, other people travel to hike mountains, some people travel to learn a language etc. everyone has different reasons for taking the leap to travel. Moreover, some people like to travel really fast, hitting say seven countries in two weeks; Other people don’t like to be rushed (i’m one of those people) and need at least two weeks in a country to really get what they want out of traveling. Taking that into account, it makes sense that people have different expectations of a new place. If you’re someone who likes to take time, then you’re probably going to spend more time in your hostel than someone who only has three days to see everything Florence has to offer. It might seem weird at first but it’s rather normal, as long as you’re not missing out on the culture of your destination. You don’t HAVE to get up at 7am everyday and pack your entire day with sites all over the city (unless that’s how you do things). For example: I find that I take a while to warm up to a new place, which is why I prefer to go slowly. I try to stay in a location for at least two weeks because initially i’m really excited about the landscape/architecture etc. and then towards the end of the first week I tend to taper off a bit. I may think to myself, “Why am I here?”, “I want to go back to *insert most recent city visited, in which I also had this same thought process*” *insert brooding facial expression* etc. Sometime around the second week i’m totally comfortable in this new place. Overnight, like magic, I realize that I find it easier to navigate through the cultural differences and maybe I feel fully capable of crossing the street without a crosswalk. This is why I prefer to ease into a place, I like to reach a point in which i’m presented with the opportunity to experience the people and what it’s like to try to order food in a part of town where nobody speaks English. I see tourist attractions, sure, but that’s not why I travel.
I travel because i’m interested in the place and the people, for me, that means I prefer to be there longer than a week. I need to be in a city long enough to navigate the public transportation without help and wander around the city comfortably lost without a map. Those things take time. Third, always do what you need to in order to feel comfortable where you are. This ties into the above two points, but I find that travel can be really taxing on the body and mind. After experiencing numerous time changes and daylight savings time in other countries, i’ve reached a point where i’m just happy if I vaguely know what day of the week it is.
When experiencing a new destination, especially in a different country, you’re being overloaded with sensory information. The smell of this new place as your eyes dart around looking at the signs (you may or may not be able to effectively read) and how structurally sound the buildings are as you soak in the landscape. You hear the chattering of locals and the sounds of various animals etc. all of this information is exhausting at first. It’s exhausting because it’s so much new information at once, this is why it’s important to take your time (if you have time, you should have time though, just my suggestion…). Nobody should chastise you for deciding to stay in on a Friday night and watch Netflix or the most recent episode of whatever TV show, not even when you travel. Why? Because just like when you’re ‘home’ and you need to take a moment to unwind, sometimes you need to do the same when you travel. Especially if you’re traveling long term. It’s not uncommon to hear people say things like, “Why take electronics on your trip! You shouldn’t be on your laptop watching TV, you should be out in the world! Such a waste!”, on one hand yes, you need to do what you came here for (whatever that may be), but you also shouldn’t feel pressured by others to live up to this ideal of what it means to “really travel”. The reality is that travel is taxing on both the body and mind, leading me to my next and final point.
Fourth, travel is incredibly exhausting. Changing time zones, riding on buses and trains for days. Spending entire weeks sleeping on various forms of transportation. I usually spend my first night in a new place sleeping and eating delivery pizza (the horror!). There’s no way that i’m going to go exploring after it took me three hours to get to this hostel after my two hour plane ride, and twelve hour red eye train across the border to make that flight. Sorry to break it to you, but I’m not leaving this bed. That being said, travel itself is marvelous and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But, you have to be comfortable pacing yourself and your expectations when you’re in a new place. Tell me, What do you think is important to know about travel?