What you never hear about traveling


The hostel room was approximately seven feet wide by twelve feet long. Somehow, they had managed to wedge three beds in there. Even with two of the three of us being a couple, this was going to be tight.

The room had a bathroom, technically, even with a shower, but the shower was really just a hole in the ceiling from which water fell from.

The hostel internet was technically “free,” but it required you to first log into Facebook and give it access to be able to post on your behalf.

Welcome to a not-atypical travel experience.

Luxury is relative

People think that travel is luxurious. From the perspective of a cubicle, the allure of wandering through a venerable old town in Europe, or even along a beach in a tropical nation, can seem overpowering.

But the truth is often a bit different from that. And this is because of the reality that you have to do everything that you usually do in life, but with an active rather than passive role. When at home, you generally don’t need to think about where you’ll eat or sleep, and you definitely don’t need to wonder where important things are (grocery store, train station, drug store, etc.) But when you’re in a foreign place, you can’t usually rely on any previous information; it’s all new.

I think this is a good thing, actually. Getting out of one’s comfort zone, while by definition uncomfortable, will often lead you to new and different places in your head. Changing your physical place can most definitely change your mental place.

But all this new stimuli is tiring. I’m usually a night owl, but after a day of traversing a new place, I’m like an 80 year old, thinking of bed time right after dinner.

Caution, travel ahead

In this spirit, here are some cautions about travel for those who have not yet had the privilege to get out and go.

  • You will be tired. This could be jet lag or it could be overwhelm. Unless you’re traveling along a line of longitude (like from the US to Brazil) the time change will be real, and it will mess you up for a short period of time. And unless you’re doing an all-inclusive type thing where you never set foot outside of a resort, you’re going to be exposed to a lot more stimulus than you’re used to. Prepare to want to sleep more.
  • You’re going to have to get up early or stay up late. Count on this one. You may think that your 9AM flight is not so bad, but it might be miles away across a sleeping city, causing you to get up at 4AM. (This happened to me flying out of Tokyo. Even with an express train, a 9AM flight out of Narita had me up at 4AM.)
  • You’ll probably have to sleep in a station at some point. Related to the above point, in that you may only be able to get to the airport the night before your early flight. Or perhaps: you’re connecting in a train station, and find that the train arrived late and your connection is gone for the day…and there are only two hotels and they are all full (or shut). Even if you micro-manage and pre-plan every detail of a trip, you’re still likely to encounter this at some point.
  • Something unexpected will happen. By definition, this is kind of a grab bag. On my first trip to Europe in my late teens, I was traveling with a friend, and we had just boarded a train from Amsterdam to somewhere distant (Italy, I believe), when my friend realized that he had lost his train pass. He had to explain this to every conductor who went past (in a variety of languages), until finally being forced to disembark in Switzerland and get a replacement. But even if you don’t lose something, chances are you will encounter some kind of reversal.
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Not all included

Now, some people seek to eliminate these “extra” aspects of traveling, opting instead for an all-inclusive experience, where everything is taken care of for you.

While I can understand the appeal, I feel that this eliminates a major purpose of traveling. But more importantly, I think it’s kind of a waste, akin to saving up for a first class airplane ticket (when you could get two coach tickets for the same amount of frequent flyer miles). All-inclusive travel experiences are about as expensive as travel gets, and for the price of one of these puppies you could get two entirely different trips. If you want people to wait on you, why not do it at home?

(But hey, just because that’s not how I travel, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a good way to do it. If you have the money and you have the means, by all means, go.)

Even still, all these little bummers and challenges need not take away from a life-enriching travel experience, where you’ll come home feeling different, and looking at the world from a different perspective. More prepared to tackle your upcoming challenges at home.

But enough about me. What was your most challenging travel situation?

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