I love traveling, and we all know the benefits of it are numerous.
But I’m also tired of everyone putting the idea of travel up on a pedestal of perfection. I’m guilty of this myself, with Instagram photos that show a highlight real, rather than an unbiased reality. Maybe my friends and family would believe that every day is a vacation and that the world is my oyster. And sure, sometimes it is. But why can’t we expose the negative sides of traveling too?
I’m here to take away the smoke and mirrors. Let’s stop glamorizing traveling as this perfect ideal and get REAL about what goes on behind closed doors. This is important. People need to expect these types of experiences, and they also need to know that they’re not alone if they ever feel this way.
Let’s get down to it. Here’s why traveling sucks #$$@#.
1. Superficial friendships + Loneliness
Humans are pack animals by nature. We need social interaction; we thrive by being accepted by others. For those who have roots somewhere, it’s much easier to satisfy this basic need. For people on the move, you have to make new friends much more often. This means that you are constantly saying hello and goodbye. Constantly trying to get to know someone, and just when you think you do, they’re gone. As a result, even when you’re surrounded by people, you feel alone. The superficial friendships you made do not truly fulfill your need of community, love and deep connection. You don’t even know their last names.
This is a hard pill to swallow, but not necessarily the worst of it. The worst is when utter loneliness knocks on your door. When you just moved somewhere new and you know no one. Or even worse, when the shit hits the fan and you’re completely alone. All your belongings are stolen, your grandpa dies, or some other tragedy occurs and you realize the only thing there to comfort you is the gnat that just flew into your room. I had never felt so lonely until I moved to Maryland, where I didn’t know a soul. One day, I became deathly ill and I remembered thinking I could pass out and no one would find me there. Not until they smelled my rotting carcass.
Traveling is not the same as vacation. You have a lot you want to do and see and not a lot of time. You’re not going to just sip mojitos on a white beach, you’re going to experience the world. These expectations often induce a lot of anxiety-ridden questions. When you don’t feel like your optimizing each nomadic moment, it’s easy to get down on yourself. Some of my favorite anxious thoughts are: Why am I always running late? Am I going to be able to see everything I wanted to see? Where’s all my money, agh?! Am I going to make my connection? This bag fits in an international flight but will it fit the domestic one? Where am I going to sleep tonight- all the hostels are booked or too expensive? Fuck, there’s no vegan food- is there? And on, and on, and on.
Routine and habits are a way for your brain to just relax for a minute. If you live in one town, you know your way around, you recognize what’s around you and you fall into a life routine. This allows your mind to cruise on autopilot for a bit. However, when you’re traveling, everything is completely new. The language, the culture, the people, the places, the roads, the food, the systems. So your brain is constantly analyzing and looking for things to flag as threats. There’s so much room for anxiety in this type of scenario. When your familiar with how things are done, you can just relax and enjoy yourself. But always moving around means always feeling uprooted and relearning basic things. This could even give a Buddhist monk anxiety.
3. Falling behind in life
I’m a big fan of the idea that you can still progress your life as you travel or live abroad. But I will admit, this is not always realistic. Living in Australia for 6 months, I can’t expect to find the perfect career or buy a house. I’m watching friends buy homes, dogs and even have kids, and I’m just here trying to figure out where I’m going to live come September. Settling down somewhere means you can fully invest in your life. The symbol of trees and roots is all too perfect. If I keep uprooting my tree from place to place, it will grow less efficiently than those who grow long, strong roots in their communities. So in some ways, my life is going to be a bit behind those who stay put.
Also, I’ve noticed a trend that some travelers are partiers or a bit immature for their age. If this is the crowd you fall into as a nomad, then it’s definitely easy to get swept up in the “now” and forget about growing a future.
4. Searching for something that is found inside
This is the hardest one to admit. Of course, you travel to feel adventure, to learn about other cultures and advance as a person. But there’s probably also a part of you that is searching all over the globe for something that is right inside of you. One of my favorite quotes is by yogi Kino Macgregor. She says,
Sometimes you have to travel the distance of the universe only to realize you hold the universe in the palm of your hand”.
I think most travelers don’t know or wouldn’t admit that traveling is often synonymous with searching. You’re looking for yourself. You hear this in movies all the time – I’m going to find myself. However, looking outside is fruitless when it’s something you can only discover within.
Sometimes it’s just hard to look at all. A lot of people don’t bother, and many that do need a medium to facilitate it- like drugs or therapy. Travel is just another one of those mediums. But then one day you’ll wake up, look at your palm, and realize that the universe was there the whole time.
5. Perpetual exhaustion
I feel like I’m always exhausted when traveling. Is this just me? Do I have SEID or something?
Regardless, it’s not without reason. If you’re not physically tired from lugging bags around and moving constantly, then you will be tired of always trying to make new friends, always getting a new lease, always buying new furniture, opening a bank, and finding a job. Making a new life takes a lot of work and A LOT of energy. Now imagine doing this every 6 months, every year or even every other year. The second you get settled in, you start all over again. Welcome to the world of the nomad; where adrenal failure is worn with a badge of honor.
6. Health issues
Did I mention the exhaustion? Even if you did have a surplus of energy, traveling is still hard on your health. Those 15-hour flights where you are at risk for blood clots are just the tip of the health disaster iceberg. Think about how much our bodies love a good rhythm, like a circadian rhythm. Your body loooovesss that shit. When you wake up the same time and go to sleep at the same time every day, it eats that shit up. It’s like YASS, GIRL GIVE ME MORE.
Now let’s add in the rest of your normal routine. You have a grocery store and a kitchen so you can eat home cooked meals. You have a park or gym nearby so you can definitely get in the daily exercise. You get 8 hours of golden sleep (possibly?) and your body is thriving.
Shift to travel mode and all of this is so much harder to come by. Good luck sleeping with those different time zones. Have fun working out in a concrete jungle. And let’s get real about always eating healthy. You’re overeating sometimes, starving at others, and always grimacing at the disturbing plane food. So when convenience and necessity make you choose unhealthy options, your health can take a grave hit.
7. Decision overload
When you travel, you are always responsible for your next plan. You can’t wake up and have a lazy day because, if you didn’t book your hostel, you’ll have nowhere to sleep. This means you’re often in survival mode, always making decisions about how to navigate your life and trip. You have to book all your flights, plan your hotels, have transportation, budget your finances, and locate awesome food (especially hard for vegans). These tasks all require decisions. And apparently, we only get 35k of those a day before we get bogged down with decision fatigue.
Here’s a little fact on decision fatigue from NY Times,
The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.
It’s clear that always taking the reins and making big decisions can cause real fatigue and possibly poor decisions. Sometimes it’s just easier to live a life with fewer choices, which is impossible for travelers.
8. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, but are you?
How many times do you stop and ask yourself if you’re actually happy at a concert, a theme park or on a trip? There are some things in life that society has just labeled as “fun”. Everyone says it, so it’s ingrained in you from childhood that “traveling is fun”. But what if it’s not always fun? What if the crowds at concerts make you anxious? Or seeing the Mona Lisa in person was actually really boring. You wouldn’t be considered cultured if you spoke that truth. There would be hoopla that, for once, someone said they didn’t like Bali or didn’t enjoy the Eiffel Tower.
When you set out on your next big adventure and your Facebook friends write supportive, “jealous” comments on your post, you actually begin to create expectations for how you’re supposed to feel. Everyone says their envious of your traveling life. So why aren’t you enjoying every minute of it? There are so many expectations that you need to be having fun while traveling that sometimes you lose sight of how you ACTUALLY feel.
And if you do reflect long enough to realize you don’t enjoy every moment of your trip, then you start to judge yourself for how you feel. I paid so much money, I did all the right things, why can’t I relax and just enjoy this? What’s wrong with me? But this is life. You can’t always be on the up. Things have to suck sometimes and there’s always going to be something that people like that you don’t. Traveling makes it easy to put a pressure on yourself to live up to the Instagram hype. But remember, it’s all just a highlight reel.