Travel Insights

Why don’t we ever talk about the bad days?

Yesterday, I had a long wait in Yogyakarta Airport thanks to flight delays. I was in one of those troughs characteristic to solo travel, coming right off a soul-soaring high.

I was sleep deprived, hung over, and sad at having had to farewell more like-minded travel souls. Another hostel family loved and lost.

But I was also excited to begin my next journey in Bali. I anticipated rice paddies, hipster heaven and a whole bathroom to myself. This wasn’t a bad day.

Yet when I was sitting by the mobile charging docks waiting for my phone to juice up, I started talking to a Dutch guy who was on his first ever solo trip overseas.

He was heading home, having reduced his trip from 6 weeks to two. On the second day of his holiday, he was involved in a car accident in Jakarta and spent a night in hospital with minor injuries.

Tired, jet lagged, injured and suffering culture shock, he decided to hell with it and brought forward his home-bound flight.

It takes courage to admit defeat. In this exhibitionist, social media-frenzied world, it takes courage to confess that it isn’t all orange sunsets and tequilas by swimming pools.

It’s almost taboo to say, “I didn’t have fun”. You feel criminal if you lie down at the end of a long day of travel and think, well that was shit.

But what most shocked my new Dutch acquaintance was how little the travel community had prepared him for the bad times. From all the blogs he’d read and all the travel sites he visited, he was promised nothing but an amazing time.

Because it’s what we’re prone to do. God forbid we book a trip and spend one day of it feeling exhausted, sick, lonely, shitty and simply wondering whether the whole thing is worth it.

Aroamertherapy in pokhara

Social media has helped create a false idea of travel

Just jump on Instagram, look up any travel-related account and you’ll find perfect pictures of perfect people in perfect locations. We post Facebook statuses about the fun times, but never the bad.

And while those perfect moments exist (and for me, are so worthwhile I’d go through hell to have them), it’s not the whole story.

In this day and age, we only ever present a sanitised version of our holidays to the public, our friends and often even our families.

And it creates a lot of misconceptions about travel, especially solo budget travel.

Acknowledge the bad times just as much as the good

Real solo travel means that you miss out on significant moments in your loved ones’ lives.

It means arriving in a foreign city as a totally anonymous person and feeling utterly alone. Readjusting, over and over again, to new faces, new currencies, new cultural norms, new words.

It means endless nights without sleep because of loud noises or jet lag or beds that are too hard or soft.

It means getting the flu from your flight and diarrhoea from something you ate. And it means meeting people you come to cherish and having to say goodbye over and over again.

Real travel demands extra work just to get around, haggling for taxi prices, decoding metro lines, miming what you want, or trying to recall those foreign words you worked so hard to memorise pre-trip.

And you have to do all of this no matter whether you’re tired or sick or lonely.

No. Travel isn’t an Instagram account of sun-filled skies and sun-kissed hair. It’s filthy and draining, and frankly, kind of abusive.

traveller-in-pain

And sure, you’re going to have a lot of good days. You’re going to have a shit-tonne of amazing days. But the bad ones exist as well, and they’re as intrinsically a part of solo budget travel as the good moments. And they’re just as important, if not more so, since you’re likely to learn far more about yourself from the tough times.

All I can say is, embrace it. The bad days do pass. And when you finally return home to your cosy own bed and friends and family who want to hear all your stories, you’ll hardly remember the bad days. Unless they were really, truly atrocious. And then they make the best stories.

In the spirit of embracing our bad travel days or moments, I’d love to hear your own stories. And if you’d love to hear the full picture about travel, read some of the other stories on my blog, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram (I’ll try to post some “bad day” pictures, I swear!).

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Michelle
    August 15, 2017 at 11:34 am

    So very true! Thank you for making us all feel much more normal…My most stressful day of travel was my last of 4 months in Europe. I was due to fly home from Rome and had my bus ticket sorted to get me to the airport, so spent my last euros on gelato. I printed my bus ticket from the hostel computer, said farewell to my friends and headed to the bus terminal…only to be told by the emotionless ticket lady that my ticket was for the following week. I had printed out the wrong ticket from the hostel computer!

    I also didn’t have time to head back to the hostel to print my real ticket, and had no wifi to access it. So the only option was to buy a new bus ticket, but I had literally spent all my money. With tears in my eyes I asked the people next in line if I could please have 7 euros…no paying back, no interest, just plain old begging. They were so kind, they handed me a bunch of coins, which the ticket lady accepted with a humph. She asked no questions, just got me a ticket for the next bus to the Rome airport…the wrong Rome airport. Who knew there were two??

    I walked away feeling relieved but that relief turned to panic when I realised I now had a ticket to the wrong airport for my flight. Surely I couldn’t beg for enough money for another whole ticket! I was in full panic mode, this was a crazy busy bus terminal and I felt truly overwhelmed by myself.

    It took a few minutes but I finally got my brain in order and thought of a plan. I walked along the line of customers waiting in the ticket queue and asked if anyone was lining up to buy a ticket to the ‘wrong’ airport…”No”, “No, sorry”, “No”, “Not me”, “No sorry”…no-one was going to this airport, how was I to get home?! I got to the end of the long line, with tears rolling down my cheeks and this girl at the end smiled at me and said “Yes”.

    I explained my situation and asked if she could buy a ticket to my airport, so I could then give her my ticket. She seemed skeptical and I wasn’t sure if she would do it for a stranger, but she did. And she instantly became my best friend! I laughed with relief and all went to plan from there. Thank goodness for kind strangers!

    Stressful day, but got home in one piece and my parents loved the story. More horror stories please!

    • Reply
      Amanda Bensted
      August 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      I loved this story Michelle, thanks for sharing!!! One of the best things about travel is how totally stressed you can be and how thoroughly everything can go wrong, and yet through a few simple acts of kindness from strangers, everything turns out OK.

      I had a similar experience, where I needed to get a very early morning bus to travel two hours from Melaka to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. My taxi never arrived to pick me up and it was so early in the morning, there were no cars, let alone taxis, on the road. A kind hostel worker ran through the streets in search of someone and eventually hailed a motorbike driver for me while I tried to quell a panic attack. The motorbike driver sped to the bus station and careened in front of the bus so it couldn’t depart. I told him to wait a moment while I checked that it was the right bus, and when I returned to pay him for the trip, he’d disappeared into the night. My angel. 🙂

  • Reply
    yasmin
    September 25, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Hey Amanda! I like your article and I think it’s so true. Social media only portays the perfect picture of traveling, the fake perfect picture. I get sick of it too sometimes, becaue in reality that’s not what traveling is like. The real stories and the bad days are part of it too and I think it’s very refreshing to share those aswell! It can’t be perfect all the time right? The most scary times of my life probably happened while travelling, but it’s also the times I remember so well. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Reply
      Amanda Bensted
      September 28, 2017 at 9:12 am

      You’re welcome Yasmin – and thank you for reading! Even I struggle to overcome my desire to suppress the horror stories and paint a rosy picture of every trip. But the reason travel is so amazing is because of how much it forces you to grow, and the bad times play a crucial role in that development! Keep journeying 🙂

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