“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realisation that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is accented sex after good wine and too many unfiltered cigarettes. Travel is flowing in the back of a bus with giggly strangers. It’s a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.”
|—||Nick Miller, Isn’t It Pretty To Think So?|
Let me start first by saying that travelling is one of the most fulfilling and beautiful things in the world. It broadens your horizons with different cultures and languages and people. It tests your ability to be frugal and friendly. It shapes your views on politics and history and food. Backpacking around is quite possibly the most exciting I’ve done, but it’s important not to completely romanticise it.
I’m not talking about the ever present dangers of crime, but smaller things that build up after weeks or months of backpacking. There are moments you feel homesick, moments you don’t want to move from your bed, get frustrated about language difficulties – and that’s perfectly fine. That’s actually all part of it.
It is widely known that Britain talks about the weather. A lot. But with good reason – Britain’s average temperature is 18.3 °C and weather changes tend to be for the worse. Even sunshine for an hour warrants a trip to the park. Travelling to an unfamiliar continent, like Asia, Africa or South America can be a major shock in terms of weather. In the summer, temperatures on average are 30-40°C and for a lot of travellers it’s not something you get used unless you stay there for a very long time. I’ve been in China for a year and I could probably fill many, many bathtubs with my own sweat. Here the winter temperature can dip to about -9°C to 2°C, with plenty snow and rain. The weather can change your plans drastically, so it’s good to know what the temperature will be and to appropriately dress for it.
Any good backpacker knows that picking up bits and pieces of a country’s language is crucial to travelling. Even if it’s just “how much is this?”, “thanks”, “hello”, “where is this place?” It goes a long way in making you feel like you’re experiencing another culture and not useless. On the other hand, there is some truth to the idea that your thoughts aren’t going to be properly constructed, in broken English or otherwise. Sometimes people just don’t understand you, and it’s all the more aggravating when you’re in a pressing situation like communicating with the police or a bank.
It doesn’t matter how long you travel for, whether it’s 6 months or 6 weeks, travelling tends to test friendships. Often you’ll be close to each other (physically as well as emotionally and mentally) – train journeys can get cramped and rooms can get suffocating. So it’s important to travel with people you won’t want to kill, because that can just ruin a holiday for you. You know that saying, you can’t choose your family…? It works for travelling as well. Travel with like-minded people, people you get along with and who will bring out the best in you.
Wherever you go and whoever you are, you’re likely encounter racial issues. There are some places where it’s more of a concern than others. In places that have been isolated or insular in terms of immigration, like China or Russia, this is more apparent. As a person of Chinese descent, I haven’t been subjected to the inappropriate and, well, rude zoo-like stares the Chinese tend to give foreigners. It’s only recently that the Chinese have started large scale emigration (in the past 40 years to, say, Britain’s past 200 years or so), so foreigners are a huge novelty, especially for the rural folks. It doesn’t make it any better, but it is something you have to get used to travelling around these areas.
Overseas born Chinese people (or anyone looking East Asian) are likely to find that Chinese people won’t believe that you’re from another country. Quite often they will follow with the ‘fact’ that I can’t be British because I look Chinese, which is a shame because it’s something I get at home and in mainland Europe as well. Sometimes you can’t win. It’s important to remember that racial ignorance is not the same as racism – it’s a definite fine line though, and it can put a downer to what should be a great trip. But racial issues can get depressing, and if you’re a having problems let someone know.
Another major factor that can affect your trip is losing your stuff or being robbed. I’ve written about how I dealt with the theft of my bag already. It’s a huge thing that seriously makes you feel shit for a while. But it happens and the best thing to do is either move on or go home. The latter is a good choice if it’s become such a fundamental part of your travels – you have no money or means of communicating to anyone who can help. Moving on and sorting out your stuff so that you can travel is a big decision and if you can do it – do! You’re more likely to be safer and ultimately, it’s an experience that you can pass on to others.
An issue that pops up when travelling is the feeling that you’re just sick of travelling. It occurs in almost everyone – it’s akin to the feeling you get when there’s a party going on and you’re just not feeling it. Travelling with this feeling is so much worse because most of the time you’re in a dorm full of other people, there’s a certain lack of privacy. You have no stable home where you can lay in all day, eat in your bed, just watch TV shows – and not look like a slob. Travelling is fun 90% of the time, but every now and then you get these moments where you’re just tired and hungry and you want something easy and dependable. It happens to every backpacker, but it passes and you’ll feel the desire to travel again.
The above quote was written by Nick Miller and it’s circulating around the internet. It is a pretty accurate portrayal of all the greatness and unbelievable things backpackers see or do or feel, but it’s also romanticised. This article is a counterpart that, in reality, is dwarfed by the list of experiences people come across when travelling. It’s just important to know the side effects you’ll run into as well.
Carmen Hoang 07/07