Time To Be Honest: Travel Isn’t Always Easy, But It Is Always Worth It

London

When I was 22 and a senior in college, I worked 5 part-time jobs for the entire academic year. I sold wine at a local winery, made phone calls to raise money for the school and assisted in the language lab among other chores. I wasn’t trying to pay for school, loans took care of that, instead I had a goal firmly set in my sights; a goal I had dreamt of for years. My dream was to visit the United Kingdom and see as much of it as I could or as long as my money held out.

It wasn’t easy making those sacrifices, saving every cent I had instead of going out with friends or heading down to the beach with my fraternity. But I knew those short term sacrifices would pay off in the long term; I just never realized how long term those benefits would end up being.

It’s the 15th anniversary of that trip (wow I’m old) and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Thinking about how it changed me but how I ignored those changes for a long time. I think of the mistakes I have made over the last decade and a half and all of the intense challenges I have had to face. Death, disease, loss have all been focal points of my life, but so have moments of pure joy, exploration and wonder. That’s life though, the yin and yang without which our existence on this planet wouldn’t be very interesting. The same holds true for the travel experience, no matter how often travel magazines and blogs (including my own) sometimes ignore the negative.

Kruger Africa Sunset

I was killing time on Twitter recently when I saw someone write something to the effect of: “Be honest with your readers, they know life isn’t always perfect so tell them that.” And that’s true, life isn’t perfect. I’ve written how much I truly enjoyed visiting some parts of the world and sometimes I talk about the negative, but not always. The reason for that isn’t to hide facts or to paint a false picture. The reason is twofold. One, I realize that travel is subjective and while I may have hated an experience, I know many others would really enjoy it. So I tend to be more balanced. Second, I don’t want to come across as an over-privileged jerk. If I read an account of someone going on safari in Africa and it was laced with complaints, I would be annoyed. I’d think he was self-involved and not at all grateful. That’s something I always want to avoid because for every unique experience I am fortunate enough to enjoy I am truly humbled by it and intensely grateful.

But I now realize that this may have in effect made it seem as if bad things don’t happen when one travels, and they most certainly do. Travel can be frustrating, annoying, depressing and downright awful. At times. Nothing in life is static, we are all dynamic beings as is the world and while I may be upset I hopped on a train heading towards Italy instead of Switzerland, shit happens. Travel is not a perfect experience, no matter how much those lovely National Geographic images pretend that it is. But just as I haven’t tried to mislead, neither has National Geographic, or AFAR or any travel magazine. It’s because we see past a lot of these hardships (even if it pisses us off at the time) to look at the bigger picture. It’s a skill set I’m adept at when it comes to travel, but certainly not in my private life. At the end of the day I don’t remember as vividly the annoying people trying to constantly sell me rugs on the streets of Istanbul. The richest memories are instead of the Bosporus twinkling in the afternoon sun and of hearing the call to prayer at the Blue Mosque.

So you see, I never have tried to pretend that travel is a piece of cake, that nothing bad ever happens. It’s just that I don’t think these moments of anger and confusion are bad things at all. They are part and parcel of the overall experience and it is ultimately because of them that the experience is as transformational as it is.

I will try in the coming months to share the daily heartaches when I am on the road, just promise you won’t think I’m a grumpy curmudgeon who doesn’t realize how lucky he is. Believe me, I wake up every day wondering what I did to deserve this rich and full life.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

4 Responses

  1. Sally

    Really well put. It’s nearly impossible to write about the bad without sounding like you’re complaining, just because the act of putting something into words infers that it’s more than just a passing feeling, which many bad experiences are at the end of the day.

    Travel has bad and in spite of it, it’s worth it. You said it well.

    Reply
  2. Megan

    I totally agree with you Matt, although I’m as guilty as anyone of it. My current trip (2 months and counting) has been full of some really challenging and difficult events, some related to the trip, some not. At one point, for the first time ever, I just wanted to go home. But my readers wouldn’t have a clue that any of that has been going on and it’s been on my mind to write about it. I look forward to what you reveal about your own travel realities.

    Reply
  3. Gaelyn

    Funny that when bad things happen to me traveling I tend to take them in much better stride than when at home. But life isn’t perfect anywhere and hopefully the good is what I’ll remember most clearly while learning from the bad.

    Reply
  4. Sarah Shumate

    I always hesitate before sharing about my negative experiences while traveling for the exact reason you spoke about here – I cringe to think that someone might misinterpret these stories as ungratefulness. For that reason, unless I can somehow turn it into something humorous or put a positive spin on it, I refrain from talking about it on my blog. But I think you have something here – if you can find a way to share some of the not-so-good experiences without coming across as a Negative Nancy, then you’ll really be able to share a more well-rounded life of travel. As always, I look forward to reading all of your stories, the good and the bad.

    Reply

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