The Dark Side of Solo Travel

August 5, 2016

I have been traveling for over a year.  Prior to quitting my job and traveling, I remember scrolling down my social media feeds, fixating on gorgeous photos of far-off destinations, envious of friends and acquaintances who were traveling to places I wasn’t traveling and doing things I wasn’t doing.

People tend to share and spread the highs in their life, the positives, which is absolutely great, but it can also paint a false picture.

Travel is not always easy-peasy and rainbows and happiness-overload.  

In the beginning of July, I had my iPhone stolen.  A few days after that I suffered a terrible allergic reaction causing the entire backside of my body to break out in itchy, inflamed welts.  It looked like a model case straight out of a medical textbook.  Patient with severe urticaria.  It worsened so I consulted a doctor friend back in the states who told me I needed steroids.  I took steroids for several days before finally seeing improvements.  Several days after that, my grandmother passed away.  I was alone in a foreign country thousands and thousands of miles away from home with poor infrastructure and spotty-to-nonexistent internet connection.  

For many people, traveling and vacationing are one in the same.  For me, extended budget travel is not a vacation but more of a lifestyle.  It’s not sitting poolside all day and drinking fruity cocktails.  It’s not staying at luxurious 5-star resorts and planing and first-class training from place to place.

Longterm budget travel is constantly being alert and vigilant because you’re a solo female traveler.  It’s staying at okay places and a lot of shitty places.  It’s patchy wifi and no air-conditioning and 14-hour bus rides.  It’s eating cheap, delicious street food knowing there is a 50% chance you’ll feel sick afterwards.  It’s eating at a respectable and clean establishment where somehow there is still a 50% probability that you will have a sour stomach afterwards.  It’s meeting people from all over the world and seeing things that leave you speechless.  It’s the most stimulating and interactive type of classroom out there, and I would argue the most rewarding.  The highs are highs and the lows are lows.   Thank god the lows are far and few between.

I have climbed the Great Wall of China and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  I have looked down the World’s Tallest Building while sipping on bubbly and eating sweets, taken a cruise through Norwegian fjords, swam with pink river dolphins in the Amazon, spent the night at a Buddhist Temple and have soared in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey.  I was also abducted and held hostage for several hours in Nicaragua in 2010.  Taxi drivers have conned me in Latin America and Asia. I have seen poverty so severe and ugly it’s heart-breaking.  I tend to not post pictures of these moments or times when I see a cockroach scuttling across my hostel room, but they happen too.

Quitting my job and traveling is one of the best decisions I ever made in my life, but my trip hasn’t just been a long cushy vacation.  I think every longterm budget traveler would agree that what we do is very much a lifestyle.  It’s a vastly different lifestyle from your corporate 9 to 5, but it’s a lifestyle and it’s complete with compromises.  There is a fine balance between action-packed days and rest-days, sick days and healthy days, cutbacks and splurges, challenges and routine….

So while my last year traveling has been incredible and I wouldn’t take it back for the world, I think it’s also equally important to mention that longterm travel is not always a walk in the park.  I realize how my instagram and blog posts would suggest otherwise, but I most certainly have had some terrible days on the road.  Travel can be dark and ugly.

All that said, for anyone who is on the cusp of quitting their job and trading it in for a chapter of extended travel, I can almost guarantee you the highs will outweigh the lows.  By millions.

The Key to Successfully Climbing the Great Wall of China
A Random Day in Mandalay

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