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.
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.
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!).
Editors note: Just a few months after writing this post, I had my worst travel experience to date when my romantic fling ditched me midway through our planned trip around Japan. At the time, I thought the experience broke me. In fact, it only made me stronger. You can read some of my coping strategies here.