Universal travel truths and valuable lessons

A gorgeous view over Sydney, August 2013

A gorgeous view over Sydney, August 2013

It is a truth universally known that traveling is a life-changing, soul-enriching, heart-warming experience. But contrary to popular belief, it’s not all rainbows and candy canes. Yes, you will meet inspiring people, see mind-blowing sunsets, and experience unforgettable moments on magical beaches. However, there will also be moments of loneliness and adversity. Moments when the only thing you seem capable of is booking the first flight home and lie in your own bed for 17 years. Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way that may help you through your hardships.

1. Even when traveling with friends, there will be moments of loneliness

Even though I thoroughly enjoy being alone and am 100% comfortable traveling solo, hitting the road with some friends is still my favorite way to go. During my exchange in Canada, I’ve made an abundance of cool friends who are dispersed all across the world and I make it my mission to visit as many of them as possible. But traveling with friends does not guarantee you an exemption from that sudden feeling of loneliness that can hit you with the force of a truck at random times.

Don’t get me wrong – I love all my friends to death and I wouldn’t give up any of them for the world. But no matter how long you’ve known the people you are traveling with or how good friends you are with them, there will always be that one moment in which you will feel lonely. Maybe a situation will present itself in which you and your companion react completely differently, emphasizing your difference in characters. Maybe you will get into a stupid, pointless argument with your girl/boyfriend over Skype one day and your single travel buddy just won’t understand why you’re upset. Maybe you’re traveling over the holidays and you just miss your family, who are all probably sitting around their heavily decorated Christmas tree and stuffing their faces with delicious bits of golden-brown baked turkey. It’s only natural to feel this way, so allow your self some time to feel lonely and homesick. I always find it comforting to Skype or talk to a friend/family member at home and get a new perspective from them. But don’t lose yourself while you’re having a self-pity party. Don’t forget: you’re in an incredible place with (hopefully) good people, so buck up and get on with it.

2. Overcome adversity

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. There will be moments when your plane is delayed, your luggage has gone missing, your passport has been stolen, or your planned accommodation for the night turns out to be fully booked. Maybe all of these things will happen at the same time. If you’re alone, this really fucking sucks and it will make you feel all alone in the world. If you’re traveling with friends, there’s the risk that you will drag each other down a big, dark well of anger and sadness, making things worse than they really are. I’ve had to deal with many a delayed/cancelled flights and other assorted strokes of bad luck. Over time, I’ve learned that the best method for me is to allow myself some time to be really fucking pissed off at the world. However, don’t lose yourself in this. There’s an unfortunate situation that needs to be taken care of and I truly believe that there is no problem that cannot be solved. Try to be patient and work with what you’ve got. Ask people for help and focus on putting your energy in fixing the problem, not sulking and being angry. The problem might be solved more easily than you’d expect.

3. Always bring a book

Whether it’s a physical book or millions of ebooks on a Kindle or tablet, I always bring a book while traveling. Because no matter how beautiful the landscape you’re traveling through may be, there will always be that one tediously long flight or train ride you have to get through. Those mind-numbing games on your phone lose their novelty after a few minutes and the battery of your laptop could always die, but a book will always be readily available. You’ll be happy to lose and immerse yourself in an imaginary world, even if it’s just for a few hours.

4. Plan ahead, but be spontaneous

I’ve never been one to just wing it. Aside from my flights, I usually always book my accommodation in advance as well. This is mainly because traveling during peak seasons often means you won’t be able to find a ho(s)tel or AirBnB last minute, especially not if you’re on a budget. I also do some research before I visit a city, just to get a sense of what the major landmarks are, how public transportation works (and more importantly: how expensive it is) etc. If there are tours or attractions that are worth doing/seeing but that are usually fully booked, I’ll book those in advance and work around it once I’m actually on the trip. However, over the years I’ve also learned that planning isn’t everything. You meet people – fellow hostel guests, AirBnB hosts, random friendly passers-by in the streets – who will tell you about that one exciting bar or museum that you absolutely must visit. Don’t hold onto your schedule too tightly and be open to those experiences. Spontaneous tips from locals often form the start of a pretty damn cool day.

5. Everything is replaceable

When packing for a long trip, I always am overly courageous. On my first go, I tend to pack everything I could possibly think of. What if I want to paint my toenails a funky color? Nail polish. Better bring nail polish remover too, then. But what about if I’m cold? Better take that bulky sweater. No, let’s take two, cause one might get wet and I’d want a dry one. Result: I end up with 10kg overweight or a backpack my shoulders can’t even support. This is how I learned the following lesson: everything is replaceable, so don’t bring anything you can get over there as well. Shampoo and conditioner? Don’t waste room and weight on those huge bottles, just get ’em at your destination for $2 apiece. Two sweaters? Take one and if it’s ruined, you’ll buy a cheap one over there. No one cares what you look like when you’re traveling, anyway.

Case in point: I once made the mistake of hauling a Game of Thrones book (you know, those ginormous, 5 million-page bible-esque bricks of paper) across 2 continents, all the way to Australia. I barely read 100 pages during my 6 week trip and ended up leaving the monster with my friend, buying a new one at home because the book would take up too much valuable space on the way back. Don’t be like me, my friends.

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