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