Now I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy with this one, but I feel it important to explain some of the realities of long term travel, and not the ‘it’s all shits and giggles’ you get from most travel publications. Backpacking on a budget especially is all encompassing, and for the most part overwhelmingly positive (i’ll cover that next time), here I have chosen three things that grind my gears, completely subjective of course, with a travelling lifestyle. Bare in mind throughout that this all makes up maybe 10% of the whole experience, I adore this life.
That guy with the acoustic guitar – So we’re in a group, half drunk and a little high, late night in a hostel discussing the deep intricacies of consciousness and its duality with a quantum world that too blinks in and out of existence arbitrarily, but yeah mate what I really want to happen more than anything right now is to sit and listen a 24 year old personal trainer from Tunbridge Wells sing Redemption Song on a ukulele.
Take this one fucking guy for example, we’re at the top of a white buddha temple in the north of Thailand, maybe twenty people have climbed the few hundred white steps up an hour before to catch sunset in the most sensational of mountainous surroundings. So we’re all up there, quietly chatting amongst ourselves, some just sitting and staring at the beauty unfolding. A serenity sat in the air that is seldom found in Pai, and then here he comes. The tail end of a group that have just sat near to us, he approaches maybe fifty feet away, with his guitar high on his chest like one of Mumfords sons you wish hadn’t made it to the egg, and with all the self importance of a child that had been breastfed for too long, he mounted each step with a purposefulness and a chord progression, stood for a second and repeated. He reached us all at the top, proclaimed himself a singer, and in an act of true humanity and altruistic community endeavour, we all ignored that fuck ’till he shut his stupid face a few minutes later.
Transport – Probably the only thing I have chosen that isn’t subjective, if you’re backpacking third world countries especially, you will at one point or another have a nightmare getting somewhere. Whether it’s being pulled off a flight for not having a transit visa as happened to us recently; having to take some awful rickety old night bus through the arse end of nowhere sat next to a fat old woman with two chickens in a bag, being ripped off for a taxi from a bus station because you’re white as hell, tuk tuk drivers taking you where you don’t want to go, trying to make sense of a timetable made of symbols, delayed buses, buses that don’t arrive, getting on the wrong bus for eight hours in the wrong direction, all whilst carting around 20kg or so on your back in blistering heat. The actual act of travelling, usually once every few days is absolutely exhausting work.
Culture Shock – Now of course you should be prepared for a culture shock, otherwise what’s the point in travelling anywhere right?!
Sometimes however, certain parts of the world can seem barbaric and just downright mean; take for example rural Vietnam, if you are one of these people that live and breathe for the rights of animals (luckily i’m not one of them), then you will have a nightmare strolling round a corner to find dogs heads where kebab skewers usually spin, or whole roasted cats, dogs and sometimes unnameable animals. Or Cambodians penchant for a turtle sandwich. I recently found the oppression of women in some of the stricter Islamic parts of the world quite tough to deal with, five year old girls in full hijab and robes in 35 degree heat whilst I looked on sweating out of every hole in shorts and a vest. But this is travel, seeing the world from another point of view, without Huffington post bias, or BBC rhetoric.
My personal way of dealing with the hard times on the road is in two parts; firstly, i’m not at work wishing my life away for two days of pleasure a week. And secondly, when something is going wrong, just know that you are at that moment in the story you will tell once all the dust has settled. We all know through heartbreak, loss and struggle that time truly is a great healer. Just tell yourself you’re in the story right this second, breath and plod on. The rewards far outweigh the obstacles.