5 Unpleasant Experiences Every Traveler Should Have

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Five Unpleasant Experiences Every Traveler Should Have

Travel is a lot of fun. It’s a fascinating way to see the world beyond that you were brought up in and, if my luck on the road versus my luck at home is any indication, travel makes you sexy.

Travel is beaches and parties and selfies at sunset. It’s exotic foods and life-affirming experiences. It’s broadening your mind and creating the kind of memories you can remember fondly on your deathbed.

My brothers and I living the dream on a beach in the Philippines.
My brothers and I living the dream on a beach in the Philippines.

But as anybody who has traveled can tell you, it’s not all peaches and cream. Sometimes, shit happens.

It sucks at the time, but I’m here to say that this bad stuff is part and parcel of the travel experience. Some of the most memorable and life changing experiences I’ve had on the road have been the times when all hell broke loose.

I’m not saying you should actively pursue these bad experiences, and not just because they’re bad experiences. If it isn’t organic, it’s not really the same thing.

Nor am I going to be one of those pretentious travel bloggers who tells you that you can’t consider yourself a traveler until these things have happened to you.

Fuck those guys. You don’t have to slum it in a hostel and live on ramen to be a traveler. Travel how you want.

I will say, though, that I have experienced all of the below and I’m the better for having gone through them. Make of that what you will.

5. Get Lost

That moment of panic when you realize you’re hopelessly lost is justifiably terrifying, especially if you’re in a country where English (or whatever your native tongue may be) isn’t what they speak locally.

Let that moment of abject horror pass, though; and you’ll discover a hidden reserve of calm. You’ll learn that, amazingly, you’re actually capable of not only being away from the herd – but finding your way back to it.

With a little patience, a lot of frantic miming, and the kindness of strangers (touch wood), you’ll be back on the tourist trail in no time.

If I’m being honest, I’ve come to relish the experience of being lost. It’s lead to finding cafés or restaurants I never would have found and, more importantly, it’s allowed me to interact with locals in a way that is far more authentic than insincere smiles and pleasantries over the counter at a hotel.

Getting lost is not pleasant, but it’s a liberating experience.

4. Loneliness

There comes times on the road when you’re completely and utterly alone, even in a room crowded with fellow travelers.

Oddly enough, I find it’s usually when I’m surrounded by happy people that I feel most alone. I’m probably broken, though.

Travel can be a lonely experience. We’re far from our friends and family, and often surrounded by an alien culture that reminds us of just how small we are in the grander scale of things.

Don’t fight that! Embrace it!

It’s probably a bit rich for a guy who admits to not liking himself a hell of a lot to say that, but being comfortable in your own company is part and parcel of travel. You can’t truly appreciate the beauty of Stone Henge or the somber sadness of The Killing Fields if you’ve got somebody yammering in your ear.

I wouldn't have been able to truly appreciate Stone Henge had somebody been nattering away at me.
I wouldn’t have been able to truly appreciate Stone Henge had somebody been nattering away at me.

Growing up, we’re taught that being alone is something to be avoided. We are social animals, after all.

It can be a supremely unpleasant feeling, but feeling lonely doesn’t have to be the end of the word. In those quiet moments, you’re free to better get to know the person you ought to know best.

3. Fear

Of all the entries on this list, true fear is definitely the least pleasant. If you’ll have to miss one of these out, make it fear.

I’m not talking about the adrenaline rush you get from leaping out of a plane or going white water rafting, either. As scary as those experiences can be, they’re manufactured to give the illusion of danger in a very carefully controlled environment. Dangerous? Of course. But danger over which we’ve exerted quite a bit of control.

Coming to a halt in a rapidly darkening forest and realising that a bear is standing in your path? Now, *that* is fear.

True fear, when you’re absolutely convinced you’re spending your last moments on this earth, is a remarkable feeling. In its wake you’re left with such a vast appreciation for all you have that it was almost worth the fact you peed your pants a little.


Fear helps crystallise the things that you value most in life. It makes petty grievances slip to the wayside and, believe it or not, even managed to convince a perennially depressed son of a bitch like me that life was something I’m not quite ready to give up on yet.

2. Heartbreak

Eat, Pray, Love is a festering pile of dogshit. Nicholas Sparks is an opportunistic vampire douchebag who feeds on the sadness his awful, predictable novels conure up in teary eyed tweens around the world.

But heartbreak sells for a reason. If finding true love is one thing we all secretly want – falling admirably short is a close second.

Inevitably, the tide takes away all things.
Inevitably, the tide takes away all things.

Who among us hasn’t bemoaned the cruelty of fate as we’ve wailed and gnashed our teeth against the unfairness of it all?

You don’t need to travel to experience heartbreak, obviously. Girls at home have been every bit as skilful at reducing this bearded pile of masculinity to a weepy, bad poetry writing mess.

But there’s something all the more poetically tragic about heartbreak on the road. Your love affair, fleeting and doomed from from the start by geography and tragic circumstance, is all the more poignant for the knowledge that it can never last.

And when it ends? Oh! There’s nothing quite so deliciously melodramatic as crying under unfamiliar stars on some faraway beach or mountain top, I can assure you.

Heartbreak cuts every bit as deep as a physical wound, but nothing builds character quite like falling short. You refine what you want and who you are and, after a lot of binge eating and trashy romantic comedies, you move on with a clearer idea of who you are and what you want.

1. Discrimination

In his stirring eulogy at the memorial service of former Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam; Noel Pearson said of discrimination:

“Only those who have known discrimination can truly know its evil”.

I am not going to stand here and say that I have ever experienced racial discrimination in the way an Australian Aboriginal or any other oppressed minority ever has.

But I have known what it feels like to be refused service in China because I wasn’t Chinese.

I have been spat at and shouted at by drunken South Korean youths.

I’ve been made to pay massively inflated prices by Thai and Filipino vendors on account of my skin colour.

These small discriminations pale in significance to what many experience every day, but they’re a valuable lesson in what it feels like to be something other than privileged and white.

And while these slights do hurt at the time, I can laugh it off afterwards knowing that when I go home I’ll be treated like the first class citizen that society dictates that I am.

With that safety net, perhaps I’ll never truly be able to empathise with somebody who experiences discrimination on a daily basis. These acts of discrimination I experience are the exception, rather than the rule. For every uncomfortable moment I’ve had abroad – I’ve had dozens or even hundreds or pleasant experiences because of my background.

Free beer for being white at a Chinese beer festival.
Free beer for being white at a Chinese beer festival. Reverse discrimination favours us more often than not.

When you’re in that moment of discomfort, spare a thought for those who don’t have the safety net of returning to their country of residence and feeling at home again.

The next time you’re having uncharitable thoughts, remember how that moment felt and consider that some people deal with it on a daily basis. If nothing else, it gives a keen sense of perspective.

You’ve got it pretty good, kid.

Your Say

Have you experienced any (or all) of the above unpleasant experiences? How have they shaped you as a traveler?

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  • I would have added getting sick as well. Whilst travelling we are all prone to sicknesses that we might not even heard of, due to climate or water or bugs that we don’t have at home. I was sick few times, I caught Salmonella (something that Media make huge deal out of), but I met great people on the road who took care of me, who kept me company and supported me, even though we knew each other for a few days.

    • CWBush

      Getting sick is definitely something every traveler should (and probably will, haha) have on the road. Good call!

      I remember getting food poisoning early in my time in China and how some of my co-workers went above and beyond to make sure I was ok. It helped cement some friendships and showed me which friends were only there for the booze.

  • Traveller

    How about Ladyboys in Bali getting their tits out in front of you asking you if you want a play in an ally cornering you lol…. Kuta, gotta love the fucking madness there.

    • Traveller

      C’mon lets me real here. You can have this list without on of the seedy things that goes down in Asia in those parts haha.

      Or walking past the hooker windows seeing a tranny with her hands down them panties playing with it haha

    • CWBush

      While I’ve not experienced that in Bali, I *did* have an amusing run in with a trio of feisty lady-boys on Boracay last year.

      One of them flashed us and while I was still registering that it was not – in fact- a woman, another of them brushed past and copped a sneaky feel of the ol’ todger. It was certainly one way to welcome us to the island!

  • levyathan

    Great post! I haven’t had so many travel experiences, but lately I was in Malawi (Africa), and there if you are white, they are habiting in total different ways than usually. Strange, but just need to get rid of it, and knowing the real prices. 🙂

    For me the get lost point isn’t so big trouble. I like to find my own ways everywhere. 😉

    • CWBush

      To be honest, I don’t mind paying a little more than locals do – even though it is discrimination. I’ve been lucky enough to have been born in a country where I’ve had opportunities afforded to me that allow me to travel the world – so I’m fine with paying $4 instead of $2 for my three course meal in SE Asia haha

  • Amanda Kendle

    You’re dead right and I have definitely had all 5 of these! Some more often than others. And every time they make a good blog post!

    • CWBush

      I need a few more post inspiring ones. Aside from food poisoning and being peed on by a drunk Norwegian, none of mine have been particularly exciting.

      Yet >_>

  • Ed Rex

    I would say that being on the toilet for goodness knows how many hours because you attempted to try some street food, would be high onn the list 😉

    • CWBush

      You’re a man of strange tastes, Ed. I can’t say any trip I’ve been on has been improved by having food poisoning, haha.

      To each their own!

  • Jessie Roland

    Great post. Some of my absolutely favorite moments of traveling have been getting lost. I find myself purposely getting lost in new cities and areas as much as possible now. It can get scary when you’ve been wandering for hours on end and have no idea where you are but then miraculously and unexpectedly find yourself back where you started. It’s a beautiful experience, one you’ll hold closer to your heart than visiting the normal tourist destinations. I just love it. I wish everyone could experience the thrill of it rather than being caught up in the fact of being lost and learn to just enjoy the journey.

    • CWBush

      Exactly! Sure, it can be frightening initially (or if it drags on too long), but it can lead to such unexpected and exciting discoveries.

      A friend of mine shared her story of being lost in Sarajevo with me today, and how she initially feared being sold into slavery but actually ended up talking politics until the wee hours with some friendly locals.

      It can really break down your predispositions about a place and its people.

  • Amanda Z

    OMG the discrimination one is so true. I think I learned more about the world and different perspectives and life experiences through being actively discriminated against than any other time. I have much more compassion and understanding now that I know the REAL feeling of having no control over people hating you for what seems like no reason. Good post.

    • CWBush

      I used to get so outraged when a Chinese taxi driver would slow down, see I was white, and then accelerate away. I may have shouted abuse and even kicked a cab or two.

      Makes you wonder how people who deal with it on a daily basis manage to keep it together.

  • Mel Auffredou

    Love this! Sometimes for me travel can be all five of these experiences over and over again, but the good parts are definitely worth it.
    And I completely understand your thoughts about discrimination. Although it hasn’t majorly affected me, some French teenagers in Orléans spat on me after I told them I was American.
    Great article! 🙂

    • CWBush

      I have heard that being American can be a bit of a hazard when abroad. I have American friends who plead being Canadian rather than deal with it. It’s unfortunate, as virtually every American I’ve ever interacted with on the road has been quite lovely.

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