When the Going Gets Tough

This is the line that really got me about this guest post: “In the world of nomads, the admission that you would genuinely rather be home at any point breaks an unspoken code.” I think we all feel like that at some point in our travels and it’s really hard to accept. I think this post has a lot of wisdom in it so I really wanted to share:

Huddled by the baggage claim after 72 hours of rerouted flights and no showers, waiting for my bags (which I would soon discover had been lost), about to board an 10 hour bus journey and surrounded by foreign languages, I found myself longing for my own bed and a relationship I had ended specifically because I’d wanted the freedom and adventure of living in South America. Although I was famous for my inability to stay in one place and my bizarre love for foreign places, even I had to admit that at that moment, I truly hated traveling.

In the world of nomads, the admission that you would genuinely rather be home at any point breaks an unspoken code. But the truth is even the most avid aficionados get tired and lonely. Being away from home is hard, and constant relocation is taxing. There’s a reason they call it ‘outside’ of your comfort zone. Nonetheless, the travelers I have spoken to admit that they sometimes feel obligated to enjoy every single moment in a new city. Pressured by the limited time they have, the gushing reviews about the marvels to be found on every street corner and personal effort made to travel there, when they simply don’t connect with a place or embarrass themselves in a different language, it can feel like a personal failure.

With time and perspective, however, I’ve found that the hardest times can also be the most worthwhile. While it would be great if we could build character by strolling atop the Great Wall of China, those moments are the proverbial spoonfuls of sugar of travel. Learning to laugh at delays, patiently sticking through a language barrier or forcing yourself to get up and go experience the world outside when you really feel like staying home and feeling sorry for yourself are just a few of the tough-love lessons that travel foists upon us. Though they are at times painful, they are hardly ever insurmountable and are the most transferable skills anyone can have.

I have no shortage of less than proud travel moments – for example, the time a restaurant in China nearly kicked us out because we were so incompetent at ordering from the Mandarin menu, when we nearly got into a fistfight in a McDonald’s in India, the time I tried to get free wi-fi in Chile and asked at the counter five times what was wrong with their service (it turned out they’d been telling me to type the password in caps lock. Nobody teaches you ‘caps lock’ in class.) The worst, however, was an 8-hour-turned-3-day Odyssey from Quito to Buenos Aires.

After lovely but exhausting weekend, I had a one-night window to get back to Buenos Aires before the start of the week. At the airport, my plane was delayed by a few hours, which is more normal than it isn’t, so I read my book, bought a scarf, ate some famous Ecuadorian chocolate, and generally played the delayed flight game. 4 hours later, we were told that our flight would be rerouted from Buenos Aires to Lima, and we’d go from there. Still vaguely fresh faced, I was okay with it. I’d never seen Peru before. It would be an experience.

In Peru, we were delayed a further 6 hours. I wasn’t thrilled, though I managed to find a bathroom to wash at least my face and my arms and a tacky but charming store where I bought Che’s memoirs and played with magnetic stones. Then in the air in Peru, they informed us that they could not fly into Argentinian airspace and would be rerouted to Santiago. At this point, I was exhausted, not to mention dying for a shower. I broke on the Santiago flight when fifteen minutes (fifteen minutes!) away from landing, the plane took a sharp turn to Cordoba, pleading continual problems at the airports in Buenos Aires.

After we landed in Cordoba, I was filthy, miserable, tired and alone. Crying by the luggage claim, out of telephone credit, with visions of myself cuddled on a sofa with my ex-boyfriend, I’d never regretted anything more. I thought I would never get back to Buenos Aires. The only thing that saved me was a lost family, who spoke even less Spanish than I did. Coming from a slightly less hellish, but nonetheless uncomfortable reroute, the mother was taking care of two young children in a language she had no idea of, and doing it smiling. After assisting her with some (terrible) translation, I asked her how she managed to be so positive. She shrugged and smiled at me, saying, “If it’s happening anyway, I might as well enjoy it. Plus, it’s all part of the fun.”

We got trundled onto a ten-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires (sans my baggage), but the bus was comfortable and had coffee. I was seated by a window and procured a notebook and a pen on a stopover. For eight hours, I wrote and thought and napped and watched South America pass slowly by through the windows; from flat open landscape, with mountains and grazing cattle, to small towns, with friendly locals offering mate and finally, the Buenos Aires city lights by morning, glittering to welcome me back.

It wasn’t the way I’d planned to get there, and definitely wouldn’t have been my first choice. But I still thumb through the notebook, delighted by 8 hours worth of work. As for the relationship, I very soon after met someone who did much more for me than cuddling and overall I desperately miss South America. (Not to mention, I earned a hell of a lot of airmiles.) I’ve since found ‘if it’s happening anyway you might as well enjoy it’ to be one of the most wonderful practical life tips I have ever heard. Because that lovely, harried mother of two was right. It is all part of the fun.

Farah is a 22 year old Jamaican wanderluster with a passion for British television programming. She’s doing her best to enjoy her lost twenties in as many countries as financially possible. Her big dream is to one day speak any foreign language with any semblance of fluency and to hopefully settle down somewhere with a view of the mountains and a puppy. She blogs at Farah Collette.


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18 thoughts on “When the Going Gets Tough”

  1. Great post! I think every traveler has had those longing for home thoughts at some point.

    We were boarding a ferry that would take us from Santorini to Crete and the staffers were taking everyone’s luggage and just stacking it up on the prow of the boat. We were on a 3-week honeymoon and had a lot of luggage, which my husband adamantly refused to part with. We sat for the entire ferry ride with our huge suitcases between our legs and shooed away every staff person who tried to take them from us. When we were getting off the ferry, a women stood on the prow crying hysterically. It seems her bags had gone missing. My husband and I were convinced that they’d fallen overboard. I can’t imagine what I would have done in her situation. Whenever I’m dealing with something frustrating on a trip, I think back to that woman and it helps put my current problem in perspective.

  2. As someone who just started a year of travel, I really appreciated the candor of this post. I keep feeling like taking a day for myself to just loll about in bed and read/blog/be lazy is totally scandalous and like I will be disappointing everyone for doing so. Even though that’s all I really want to do! It’s not even like the travel has been hard at this point, I’m just tired because being on the go all the time really is tiring! But to take time to decompress in places that aren’t island paradises seems somehow wasteful and like I’m not making the most of this opportunity. I know that I just need to listen to myself and one day spent hold up in a hotel room not playing tourist isn’t the end of the world (and really, we paid $105 for this hotel room, which is no small piece of change, so I guess we should enjoy it however we see fit!). Hopefully with time, I’ll get better at dealing with “traveler’s guilt”!

  3. Oh god, yes. We just got back from a month in Morocco, which was amazing but exhausting- I sprained my ankle, he had a 10 day bout of food poisoning, we totally screwed up and missed our flight back to China…). There were many times when we thought, argh, I just want to be at home, just for today, to eat what I want, to sleep in my bed, to do nothing unfamiliar, just for one day. Tomorrow we can be back in Morocco!

    I’ve been travelling since 1994, fairly non-stop (if you count the fact that I’ve been living abroad 89% of that time, with several month long jaunts each year), and I still get those strong feelings of resistance. And I refuse to feel ashamed or embarrassed. Travel can be tough! What you wrote was totally normal- and incredibly difficult to actually slog through, emotionally intact.

    (For the record, I just got back from that Morocco trip and had a slow but steady meltdown trying to get back. Everything just went so wrong… http://www.ephemeraanddetritus.com/2012/08/11/sometimes-sometimes-i-just-hate-travel-notes-on-er-just-that-with-cute-cat-pics/)

  4. Unbelievably accurate!! It’s so much easier to stay huddled on your couch with your laptop, sometimes, than to go out and explore the foreign world you’ve paid to travel to. I understand this push and pull completely, and I think the author wrote it perfectly. Great guest post!

  5. Great post! Adaptability is so important when it comes to traveling: you will always have to cope with some unpredictable facts and your trip will never go exactly as you planned, but the good traveler is the one who just takes the most of it and turn the unforeseen circumstances into good memories. I travel to learn, and that kind of trip always teaches us something meaningful about ourselves!

  6. It’s so hard sometimes to remind yourself to enjoy something because you can’t change it and I love that you took the mother’s words to heart and enjoyed the bus ride as much as you could. Great post.

  7. Wow! I think I would’ve broken down and cried! I got stuck at LAX for 12 hours waiting for a standby flight and I nearly broke down in tears of frustration. Reading this makes me want to hang up the travel hat for a while and settle in somewhere…More power to you and thanks for the words of wisdom!

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