When you travel for more than a few months at a stretch, it becomes a job. A job you don’t really like all the time. A job you start to complain about.
I should know – while skipping around the world for a year, I did a lot less skipping than I did budgeting, reading transportation timetables, and gesturing wildly to unsympathetic street vendors.
But eventually the journey ends, you return to your normal life, and something magical happens: you find yourself wanting that old job back, warts and all.
Here are ten things I couldn’t stand then, but am pining for now.
10. Talking to strangers
Forget asking for directions or buying something – most of the conversations I had were with random, curious folk on buses or in train stations wanting know all about me, where I came from, and why I was in their country.
I got really sick of answering the same questions over and over and often curbed the banter with my iPod earbuds. But now that I’m back in America, where nobody cares to hear anybody else’s sob story, I miss the feeling that others were fascinated by who I was and what I was up to.
Can you imagine the clerk at the supermarket cash register asking me how my day was, and actually expecting any other answer than “fine”? It was fun to be a celebrity.
9. Eating like crap
Eating in a new country is always exciting. You’re trying new things, discovering what you like and don’t like… except that sometimes you’re tired and hungry, in a hurry, and in no mood for experimentation.
So you eat crap. Being overly health-conscious normally, I had a really hard time with this. A box of cookies for lunch? A Snickers bar on the bus? A quick samosa? Another beer? Bring on the guilt.
Looking back now, I realize what a blessing it was. I got to eat crap all day, because I HAD TO! These days, I have to eat omega-3s and spend 5 hours a week at the gym. Not nearly as fun.
8. Low standards of hygiene
Extended travel does not bring out the beauty in people, and I was no exception. I took daily showers whenever possible, but sometimes all I was offered was a cold tap and a bucket, so let’s just say my primping routine was abandoned early on.
For a girl who started working on her outward presentation at a very young age, giving up on my beauty regimen was difficult. I felt dirty and ugly all the time, and I hid from incriminating camera lenses regularly.
Now I have access to hairdryers and eyelash curlers and high heels and 24 hours of hot water a day. Unfortunately, I’m also expected to use them.
Talk about a waste of time. Life would be a lot simpler if I could just be dirty and ugly again. It’s an infinitely easier way to go through life, and frees up so much more time for other activites, like talking to strangers and eating crap.
7. Power outages
A reality of life in developing countries is the lack of regular electricity. Without electricity, there is no television. There is no battery charging. There is no light, period.
It’s like camping indoors, which is frustrating and terribly inconvenient. Staring down a 12-hour train ride without a charged iPod was occasionally enough to bring me to my knees. In tears.
But not having electricity simplified my decision-making process in a big way. When the power went out, I grabbed a book. If it was already dark outside, I lit candles. Or maybe I just went to sleep. Why not? There was nothing I could do about it.
If the power went out right now, my day would be ruined. Ruined.
6. Haggling over pennies
Backpacking and budget travel usually go together because people who have the money usually opt for rolling luggage and first class carriages. But when you’re on a budget, it’s easy to go overboard constantly trying to get the best deal.
Once in a while I’d have to step back and remind myself that anything under a dollar was not worth getting worked up over.
But there’s something quite lovely about being quoted a price on bananas and demanding what you know is a fair price… and GETTING IT. In many countries, vendors will rip off travelers if they can, but will back down if called out.
Haggling can be a very rewarding experience. In California, a soy latte is $3.50 and I can either pay up or take a hike. Everything is way too expensive, and nobody cares.
5. Living out of a backpack
While traveling, I used to joke about having a backpack-burning bonfire upon my return to the States. I loathed that thing. It was heavy, hot on my back, always overstuffed, unforgiving to the natural shapes of souvenirs, and so on.
But it was my life. I was literally able to put my life on my shoulders and go wherever I wanted. Any split decision was manageable as long as I was wearing my backpack and my legs were working. I miss that freedom.
We are taught from a very young age that feeling bored is bad. If you’re bored, you need to get out there and do something. Be productive. Be stressed and unhappy, even, but don’t just sit around being bored.
I was often bored while traveling. It happened on beaches, in museums, and during long, leisurely walks. I was uncomfortable not needing to rush around accomplishing tasks. If I didn’t have a deadline, or a small crisis, I felt bored.
Now I understand that what I thought was boredom was actually relaxation. I had so so much time to relax that it almost felt negative. Needless to say, I’d kill for a little more relaxation now.
3. Being around other travelers
Travelers are annoying as a whole. They’re preachy, self-righteous, and often stinky. They’ve also reached every corner of the earth and are impossible to avoid, so unless you’re in Antarctica, you’ll probably have to talk to some of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of fun, interesting people abroad. I also met some idiots.
But all of us, even the idiots, had something in common: we were adventurers. No matter what kinds of losers we were in the real world, out there we shared a certain wanderlust that was impossible to pretend we weren’t proud of. A mutual admiration, if you will.
Which is not the sort of thing I share with my friends here at home, who love me but don’t understand why I spent a year being dirty and ugly by choice.
Once in a while, usually on a locally unrecognized American holiday, I’d feel a little glum and chalk it up to being homesick. I think it wasn’t so much homesickness as a desire for familiarity. Because now that I’m home, I don’t know what I was so homesick over.
The traffic? Obesity? Rampant overuse of plastic grocery bags? I realize now that I was just appreciating how lucky I was to have such a pampered, privileged life. I wish I felt that way more often, but I take it for granted when it’s all around me.
1. Not needing a car
I know what you’re thinking: Number one? Yep. See, I’ve had a car (and used it daily) since my sixteenth birthday. Having to rely on planes, trains, automobiles, rickshaws, camels, bicycles, wheelbarrows, and my own two feet was a humbling experience.
I never arrived on time. Sometimes I never actually arrived at all. I missed having my own set of wheels and the power of getting from Point A to Point B on my own terms.
I have my car back now, and it costs me $35 to fill up a ten-gallon tank. It needs its own insurance and it’s impossible to park in urban areas. I hate the darn thing. Where’s a rickshaw when I need one?
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