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. Very well said. Every traveler has felt burnt out and then felt guilty about it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking a break, admitting you don’t feel like moving, and camping out in a hotel or something for a few days. When I moved to Buenos Aires, I had a few of these freak outs. Once, when a bus passed me by and I knew it would be an hour before another would pass. I just cried. I snapped because I was sick of being away from home. It was an attitude that passed, but I still felt guilty but not being 100% happy all the time. It’s important to admit that nomadic life is still life, and thus contains ups and downs.

  2. Wow, what a great post! I definitely would have broken down into tears. I loathe the actual transportation part of traveling. Next time I have a long trip, I’m going to think of that advice.

  3. Aren’t real nomads those people who don’t really have a home and just wander around all the time? Those people who take it too seriously and ‘can’t miss home’ annoy me… I miss home all the time. And I hate home… cause I’m complicated lol.

  4. I really like the honesty here because it’s so true – traveling sometimes sucks! But for those of us who love traveling, for some reason, every traveling tribulation is all worth it in the end. If nothing else, it adds to the richness of our experience and makes for a good story. 🙂

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