As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been doing a little sulking about my lack of traveling lately. Instead of changing the name of my blog and making too many people roll their eyes at me, I’ve decide to put together a list of reasons traveling sucks, purely to make me feel better. Travel isn’t all exotic encounters with locals, sipping Belgian beers under starlight, and horseback riding into the sunset. PSH! When we travel — like, really travel — we usually encounter some (many) bumps along the way. Sure, that’s half the fun, but what about the other half?! It SUCKS! Today, I shall focus on that half — take it or leave it, travel idealists.
1. Seasickness. So, yeah, maybe I got to spend five days, four nights on a luxurious out-of-my-league catamaran in the Galapagos Islands. Maybe I got my own bottle of champagne when I arrived, and maybe the food was the most delicious food I had eaten in months. But you want to know some other details about that trip? There were handle bars… in the shower… and I had to white-knuckle cling to those handlebars when I showered because the seas were so rough. I was almost thrown out of my bed one night (and I did physically fly out of it exorcism-style at least once — that is a fact). So yeah… Catamarans are awesome until you’re in the middle of the ocean sailing between islands that are literally DAYS apart. No amount of Dramamine or little weird bracelets and ear patches could save me from the nausea I felt that first night… but I never puked. That was my small victory. AND I’d take seasickness over altitude sickness any day (a true traveler has experienced both — or so I like to tell myself).
2. Public bathrooms. With the exception of Japan, where a public toilet in a train station offers ambient ocean sounds, a heated seat, and air-freshner that sprays automatically when you move away from it… (take that Penn Station!), most public bathrooms I’ve encountered abroad — particularly in Central America, sorry ticos — are pretty scary. Kind of like the pile of used toiletpaper (etc… ick) that accumulates within a 3-foot radius of the garbage can because the plumbing can’t handle more than a #1, the garbage cans are toy-sized, and most Central Americans are used to using their feet rather than their hands to hit a target. I once took a 6 hour bus ride through some mountains in Costa Rica, during which the only bathroom break was at a roadside hut that sold coconuts (pro) right in front of a doorless-bathroom that lacked flushing capabilities and toilet paper (con). I met a lot of locals that day without every saying hello.
3. Long flights. I’d be lying if I told you that I have done a lot of domestic flying. Most of the time, when I book a flight, it involves a number of time zone crossings, at least 3 meals, and usually a really sorry attempt at sleep. Take, for example, my direct flight from NYC to Tokyo — the last time I ever purchased a window seat. Despite the in-flight yoga, which I definitely appreciated, I was locked in by 2 zonked-out Japanese businessmen sleeping on their tray tables while I — usually someone against taking any sort of sleep medication ever (and, now, ever again) — consumed my first and last Ambien. I never sleep on planes, but figured this was a good trip to try out the whole sleeping pill thing. After popping the Ambien, and waiting for it to kick in, I spent 8 of the 14 hours drooling in a perpetual half-awake state. Most of the time, I’d “wake-up” positive that I had finally fallen asleep, only to realize each time this happened that only a few minutes had gone by. This is how you torture Tavel.
4. Language barriers. Sure, this is an obvious one, but whether you’re in an emergency room being asked to do things no doctor has ever asked you to do, or lost on horseback in the middle of a foreign countryside, dehydrated and hours away from your group and your hostel, everything is a little trickier when you don’t speak the language. I remember my first day in Barcelona — it was my 20th birthday. My friend Lisa and I had no clue where we were or what we were doing, but by 7pm we knew that we were starving. Lisa and I began wandering the streets in search of food. There was not a single restaurant open until 9pm. After getting shut down by one Spaniard after another, we began to get desperate. Two hours later, Lisa and I were so hungry, so tired, and so disoriented (nobody spoke Spanish — it was all Catalan!) that at some point, we just sat on a stoop, hugged each other, and cried — me because I was so hungry I couldn’t function, Lisa because she felt bad she couldn’t make my birthday more special. We eventually drowned our sorrows in sangria, and never looked back. I’ve come a long way since that night, but boy do I remember that feeling!
5. Unidentifiable cuisine. Ok, so exotic cuisine might seem cool until the whole “adventure” thing wears off, and you find yourself fighting a parasite, really just wanting your comfort foods… but they are nowhere to be found. All that you encounter is cuy (spit-grilled whole guinea pig) and mysterious soups with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink thrown into them (this includes actual chicken feet and the occasional animal penis, and excludes — oh, I don’t know — real noodles).
Confession: I was going to make this a list of 10 things that suck about travel, and then I realized I couldn’t come up with ten things. Darn it. The truth is, I actually enjoy many of the things that suck about travel. You can’t travel hoping for perfection every step of the way! You’ve got to go into a trip open to all the shit that might hit the fan before you go to bed (that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a fan at all!).
So, I will stop here. If you like me, you will add to this list by leaving a comment below about something that sucks about traveling (PLEASE DO!). Now here’s the bottom line:
Sure, there are many things that suck about traveling. But, while this post was intended to make me feel better, I will say that sometimes the absolute worst thing about traveling is that I can’t just fly away any time I want. That said, for a good amount of time, I could… and I did. So cheers to those days, and to a future full of more of those days, which I am now humbly working towards.