1. Boredom, or the trip not being as fun as you expected.
If you mention you’re traveling for longer than a week or two, you often get inundated with comments about how lucky you are or how jealous someone else is. Everyone expects you to be living it up, and if you mention feeling anything less than enthralled with your experience, sometimes they get mad at you. But nonstop excitement is just impossible, even if you’re in the most beautiful and stimulating parts of the world. Everybody gets overwhelmed, overstimulated, or just plain bored, especially without a regular daily routine or long-distance job to keep you motivated. It’s okay to just do what you actually feel like doing. I was so exhausted after three and a half weeks of struggling through Vietnam that I spent my last day in the country in as Western a cafe as I could find, re-reading Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and eating grilled cheese sandwiches.
2. Getting sick.
Especially if you’re from a country where communicable diseases are mostly under control (except for surprise visits from whooping cough and measles…Thanks, Marin County!), the risk of illness can seem very daunting. Getting sick is actually a lot like Australia’s dangerous wildlife: visitors think it’s everywhere, lurking around to kill you, but, if you take the proper precautions, it’s pretty hard to get bitten by a tiger snake unless you chase one down. Make sure you are vaccinated for diseases common to the area where you plan to travel, ESPECIALLY if it’s rural. Take and use a mosquito net and bug repellant, if you go to areas where malaria or Lyme disease are common. Be aware of what you eat and drink; ice cubes are notoriously made with tap water in countries where tap water may not be safe. Pack some Imodium in case you need it. Get travel insurance in case you need more extensive medical care. If you are aware of your surroundings and plan ahead, you will likely never even have to use most of the emergency resources you bring with you.
3. Not being able to communicate effectively.
Thanks to Duolingo and Google Translate, you will be able to manage mangled sentences in almost any language you can think of — like phrasebooks used to suggest, you can even just show someone the words in their language on your phone if your pronunciation is so terrible they can’t understand you. Pilot, an instant translation earpiece (think Babelfish), was just crowdfunded to the tune of over $2 million (they only asked for $75,000) (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/meet-the-pilot-smart-earpiece-language-translator–2). Technology has kept pace with the needs of travelers, and you can expect even more useful apps, tools, and devices to help you communicate effectively no matter where you are or who you’re with. Also, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, most people in the world really do speak at least a small amount of English. You have to go pretty far into the wilds to find people that will be completely baffled by what you say… Especially if you’re going to places with well-established tourist industries. Also, remember, the international language of the medical profession is English; I’ve yet to meet medical personnel who couldn’t speak flawless English, except in Quebec, which is a different story.
4. Missing transport, or not being able to make your trip effectively.
I have such a pathological fear of missing flights that I always show up to the airport at least two hours early, even for domestic flights. My husband prefers to walk up to the gate just as boarding starts, which leaves me twitchy because what if, as recently happened to us, you forget something in the cab and can’t go through security til it comes back? You’ll be glad of that extra forty-five minutes then, buddy! I don’t know why this idea upsets me so much, since missing your transport can be inconvenient, but it isn’t insurmountable. Most airlines will rebook you on the next available trip. If you happen to miss the only train out of town for an entire week…there, I can’t help you, you should probably try to be on time for those. But, if you are deeply concerned about this, make sure you get the kind of travel insurance that covers trip cancellation or delays; it will help you feel more secure.
5. Having your stuff stolen.
In all the years I’ve spent traveling alone and with other people, I have never had anything stolen. The best way to avoid losing valuable items is to avoid taking them with you, honestly. If you don’t need your laptop or your very expensive SLR camera, leave them at home. I managed to work remotely from internet cafes for the several months I lived in Chiang Mai. Spread money and valuable cards out across various locations, so you don’t have a ton of cash in one boot or something like that. Now that ATMs everywhere accept almost all cards, you don’t have to carry huge stashes of cash or traveler’s checks anymore. Keep an eye or a hand on your wallet and phone, and avoid stashing them in back pockets where they can easily be taken without your noticing. Use common sense, most of all. Don’t carry expensive jewelry, large wads of cash, or your first edition of Kipling… No matter how much you love it.
6. Being alone.
And this is especially true when you feel out of place — Imposter Syndrome, or feeling like you aren’t a “real” traveler for some reason — makes being by feel doubly lonely, downright scary if you don’t like going to restaurants alone. But there are usually new friends everywhere, if you want to do the work. Hostels and tourist hangouts (cafes or restaurants listed as “off the beaten path” in Lonely Planet are good jumping-off points) are rife with small groups or other singletons who are looking for friendly faces to stare at over lunch. I start most trips alone and end up with a traveling buddy or two; travelers are a sometimes aggressively friendly bunch. If you’re worried about starting your trip alone, consider booking a small group tour as your jumping-off point.
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