It is easy to assume that with the filtered Instagram photos and highlight reel blog posts that the traveling life is glamorous. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. You can’t even begin to prepare for the unexpected delays, miscommunication, language barriers, and screw-ups that life on the road entails, so all you can do is be flexible, have a beer and hopefully, one day look back and laugh.
It wouldn’t be interesting if everything during our travels always went perfectly, there have to be some challenges along the way to give us something to laugh about later. It is overcoming those tough days where one thing after another goes wrong that build character and push us to learn and grow. While I don’t wish bad luck upon anyone traveling internationally, things are bound to happen and keeping an open mind and a good sense of humor is really the only way to make it out the other side.
The only constant is change
Love it or hate it, there is a lot of change involved in travel. Aside from giving up your life as you know it, quitting your job and living out of a backpack, things are always changing. There is a huge learning curve everytime you enter a new country and it always takes some time to get adjusted. Currency, customs, language, dress, food, meal times, are all different everywhere you go. When you go on vacation and only go to one country, you are able to do adequate research, make sure you have dressed appropriately, have the right money, and have a basic understanding of what to expect. When you’re visiting different countries every couple of weeks, that is a lot of research and sometimes you end up in a place a tad unprepared.
Along with those big changes are all the little ones that come along with it. New hotel/Airbnb, different bath/shower techniques (yes this is a thing, we were definitely unprepared for), how to order food and when to pay (varies greatly), nuances of public transit (women in the front, validate your ticket, buy your ticket before or on the bus). On their own, these all seem like easy adjustments but put them all together, and change them constantly and you have a lot to learn.
If you are adverse to change or think you are, I would suggest you challenge yourself. You would be surprised how adaptable and flexible you are when you let go of what makes you comfortable and embrace the change. I have come to love the excitement of exploring a new country as every new place we go has so many unique attributes. Yes, it may not be easy but it is by far my favorite part of travel. Devin and I both find the adventure of learning and adjusting to a new place just as fun and rewarding as the place itself.
People have a visceral reaction when they hear the word change and I am here to reassure you that while traveling, you will come to love it. That is one of my greatest achievements this trip, being able to let go of my comfort zone and jump in, head first!
Under the Weather
The most common and unavoidable reality of travel is getting sick, either from the food, water, or a weakened immune system. This will at one point or another make you hate your life, want to crawl up in a ball and teleport back to the comforts of your home. I can say from experience, in almost 11 months of travel thus far, my single worst day to date was being sick in India during a full 12 hour travel day. I could barely stand, let alone haul my 15kg bag around in 40C+ weather, waiting hours for buses and flights, puking in the air sickness bag on the plane and getting lost trying to find our Airbnb. Fortunately for Devin, he didn’t get hit until the following day, but we were both completely wiped out for a full ten days. At that moment in time, I thought I was going to pack up, leave India for good and never return.
Mentally and physically getting sick has been the toughest part of traveling in my opinion. You have no familiarity or comforts around that usually ease the pain when you are sick at home. No mom there to bring you ginger ale and a cool cloth, no chicken noodle soup, no call to your GP to get you in last minute. The good thing is that time is on your side, so you can take the time you need to recover without the pressures of having to be in the office.
No Restroom, Big Problems
Another somewhat related issue is the lack of public restrooms (washrooms for my Canadian peeps). It’s one thing to not have access when nature calls, but it is a whole separate issue when you’re sick and you may not make it. As disgusting as it is, a “near-miss’ is a very real concern while traveling and all those out there who have backpacked to some remote places will definitely know what I am talking about.
My only advice on making it through this issue is to always pack toilet paper or wet wipes with you at all times. You never know when you will have to pop a squat and you will be glad you were prepared. Let’s just say for those girls out there who only have princess poops and toot fairy dust, you are in for a rude awakening. If you’re traveling with your bf/gf, you will get to know each other very well in a short amount of time, whether you want to or not. You know its love when you hear/say “I’m going to shit my pants” more times than you can count and still want to be with each other.
A luxury you didn’t know you needed until it is taken away from you, laundry. I am not even talking about in-unit washing machine and dryer, I am just talking about any option to clean your clothes. There have been times during our trip where laundromats were unheard of, washing machines were nowhere to be seen, and all we had was a small bucket and some detergent. I am by no means saying I am above doing my own laundry by hand, but to wash all of Devin and my clothes in a bucket by hand, wring dry and do it all again in a few days is tough.
I am not trying to be dramatic but holy cow, I do not know how these women do it in these countries without modern appliances. Taking me a couple hours to do our clothes my hands were blistered and my forearms were numb. Our room always looked like a bomb went off with clothes hanging on every piece of furniture possible because hangers and drying racks were not a thing.
There is only so long you can stretch between washes before the stench is too deadly, especially with our daily workout and 34C+ temperatures. So needless to say we have a new appreciation for laundromats, laundry-service and having a washing machine in our unit makes us feel like we are royalty.
Beauty, Hygiene, and Skincare Products
I will say the accessibility to prescription drugs outweighs all the negative of not being able to find anything else. That doesn’t mean I am not going to mention the difficulty we face trying to find products we use daily that you would think would be no issue to replace.
A few of the items that have been hard to come by are face wash, deodorant, dental floss, feminine products, and sunscreen. This is a brief list of the items we use most regularly but it is not uncommon to go to 3 or 4 places just to find any one of these things. I think it really just comes down to culture, and since most countries we have visited do not wear deodorant, sunscreen or floss their teeth, in remote areas those items are simply not available.
I have learned a few tips that have helped immensely and I will share them to hopefully make travel a little less uncomfortable for others. We learned from a shop owner in Sri Lanka a very important trick to buying sunscreen. Since many Asian countries will sell fake everything, it is crucial that you look for the UVA symbol with stars on the bottle. If it does not have it, do not buy it or you will have a blistered back with second-degree burns (we may know that bit from experience).
Ladies, if you are a loyal makeup enthusiast, buy your products when you see them. For example, I only use MAC studio fix foundation so even if I am not completely out if I am in a big city or airport that has a MAC, I buy it! Same goes for expensive skin care products like face sunscreen, don’t count on there being any sort of thing around so pack extra or stock up when you can.
Men – skip this part! One of the best discoveries of my life has been the Diva Cup (Canadian I believe) but there are probably American equivalents. This is a lifesaver while traveling because good luck finding tampons anywhere! I will spare you the details on how this actually works but just take my word for it, it will change your life if mother nature pays you a visit on your travels.
Food allergies and dietary needs
I cannot speak to this from experience per say, but I have been witness to quite a few people who had strict dietary requirements along the way. While you may have options while traveling to select restaurants that cater to your requirements, I would encourage you to do your research before you go to find out how easy those dietary needs are to manage in that specific country.
In Vietnam and Thailand, it is very easy to find non-gluten options as almost every dish is prepared with rice and wheat is essentially non-existent. Sri Lanka and Southern India, on the other hand, are almost 100% vegetarian but wheat is a part of almost every meal. Of all the countries we have visited, Sri Lanka is the easiest for vegans to navigate since in place of dairy they use coconut milk. Whereas in India, chai tea, lassi (yogurt drink), and cream-based sauces are the standard.
As long as you are prepared and do your research before traveling you should be okay but be prepared to get some blank stares if you try to explain your particular dietary need to the locals. Other than vegetarian in many cultures (religious purposes), most locals do not come across allergies or sensitivities like us westerners are accustomed to.
It is all worth it
This post was an important one for me to share because as much as I want to post about all the amazingly beautiful destinations, I also want to show that it is still real life. I don’t want anyone to think that during this trip we do not experience our fair share of mishaps and challenges, but to realize that just as at home, shit happens.
We have been so fortunate to have had this opportunity and I have tried to shed light on the good, bad and ugly parts of our trip, this post is no exception. For those who have done any type of travel (camping, backpacking, visiting Asia or Mexico) I am sure you will find at least some of these points relateable and if you can’t, well consider yourself lucky!
There are always going to be a few tougher days where being on the road is harder than being at home but I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. I have learned so much about myself during those difficult times and those are the things that will stay with me forever. Bottom line, the amazing experiences we have had far outweigh any little mishaps that have happened. You should not let a couple of challenges hold you back from experiencing the incredible gift of travel.
As my favorite cultural explorer once said: