It’s been just over a month since hubby and I have returned from our round the world travel excursion. And my title may certainly seem a bit ungracious, but please let me explain. There IS a downside to travelling. One that most of us backpackers experience and often find difficult to deal with. One that can make us question everything about the way we live and the very nature of who we are. But what is this catch, this fly in the ointment?
Well, the massive downside to leaving life behind for a number of months with nothing but a small backpack, is that you eventually have to come home! (I know I know. It’s kind of a cheat title; like ‘it was all a dream!’) Well it had to happen some time. Our little adventure around the world had come to an end. Sad face 🙁
So apart from the obvious, why else is it so hard to return to reality? For anyone who’s travelled, you will know the plethora of different emotions that come to the foreground after coming home:
- You feel as though you have time travelled. You left in July and it’s been the same kind of climate; like a never ending summer. Then you come home and it’s Christmas. What the hell! Surely it should still be BBQs, beer gardens and sunglasses weather? Where is my eskimo suit? It has never been this cold. EVER.
- At the same time, nothing and no one has changed. Even the cat still favours the same spot in the neighbours garden. Don’t they know you’ve ‘found yourself’ and that you’ve discovered your purpose in life?! Whilst travelling, every day is a rollercoaster of highs and lows; moments where you truly learn profound things about yourself and life. Feeling emotionally vulnerable and having a PMT induced psychotic break? Want to curl up in your own bed and shut out the world for a week? Tough. You have no creature comforts for the majority of the time you are away and this forces you into continuous personal growth (whether you want it to or not). Almost on a daily basis you have to navigate yourself through situations that seem impossibly scary and daunting in countries where you don’t always speak the language: there is nowhere to hide and there is no time or place for your insecurities. But you come home and everyone is the same – with the same issues and the same dramas – stuck on a continuous loop of things you left behind long ago. In reality of course not much time has passed, and it is important to understand this so as not to be in danger of coming across as condescending. Yet you feel like you’ve lived a lifetime within just a few short months. Time travel and time stopping! Mind. Blown.
- You realise how much c**p you own. For months you’ve lived in 3 t-shirts, a bikini and flip-flops. When I first saw my clothes after getting home, I ran up to them like a long lost cousin I hadn’t seen since we were children. With tears glistening in my eyes I held up one of my clean, none ripped and miss-shaped strappy tops to my husband crying ‘I forgot I had her’ clutching the primark top to my chest like a valuable possession. I did this about 5 times. Truly heart-wrenching stuff. But as you sift through it all you start wondering why you need 3 of the same thing, just in different colours? Not once do you miss any ‘things’ whilst backpacking, because your life is literally filled with meaningful adventures and life changing experiences all the time. It suddenly dawns on you that real life can never be that exciting. And so instead we fill it with meaningless possessions. After a while I didn’t feel excited anymore. Just stifled and overwhelmed by the number of hair products and items of clothing I hand’t worn in 5 years that I’d kept ‘just in case’. I realised how often we are owned by the things we have, and not the other way around. And that was more terrifying than anything else.
- People think you’ve been on holiday. This is by far my biggest bug bear, because although travelling is THE single most exciting thing anyone can do, it’s not in any way comparable to two weeks on a beach in some holiday resort. Unless you have backpacked, you will not be able to understand the hard work that can sometimes be involved with it. Think about when you book a holiday. How long does it take you to decide where to go? Then which hotel you’re going to stay at? Well when you’re travelling you go through this multiple times A WEEK. And it’s not like you can treat yourself because your savings have to last. £2 extra per meal may not seem like a lot but times £2 by an average month and that’s £60. That’s usually 30 meals worth of food! This means you often end up staying in grotty hostels, eating dodgy street food which results in you spending days trying to stay near a bathroom, not forgetting to stuff enough loo roll in your pocket in case you’re caught out because public toilets rarely have any, or, as actually happened to my husband, being sick in a plastic bag at the bus terminal before getting on a night bus (ooo he was a delight on this day!). There’s also not as much relaxing as you would think. Sometimes you can spend hours trawling the streets with your backpack on (and towards the end of the trip, a front pack too!) traipsing around looking for a hostel which according to your saved google map (because there is no wifi), the hostel you have booked is meant to be on that corner and instead there’s a dodgy looking pub that looks like something out of a Stephen King novel. Asking directions using your phrasebook usually results in a whole paragraph of foreign words being spoken back at you before a pointed finger takes you in the opposite direction…where there’s usually no hostel either. Upon which you ask someone else who points you to the same place you’ve just been. Right about the time you sit down and cry at the prospect of sleeping in an alleyway, the place miraculously appears (and always right where you started).
- And last but not least: You forget. Literally after a week of being back, you feel all the magical energy of the life altering experience, start to drain out of you through the daily grind of what we have called ‘reality’. It’s a daily battle to maintain that happy-go-lucky, adventurous and energetic momentum that came so easily and a way of life whilst you were sharing chargrilled guinea pig with your latest tbff (travel best friends forever). But we mustn’t forget. Because it is through travel that we realise our potential. It is through travel and the highs and lows that come with it, that we truly see ourselves for who we really are, and what we really want.
Travelling with my husband was the single most important and exhilarating experience of our lives. The kind of mind altering discoveries in your mediocre existence, that you can rarely experience under any other circumstances. It gave us so much more than we could have anticipated and will give us memories to cherish in many years to come. If you have ever thought about wanting to go, do not let fear talk you out of it. There is no time like the present.