A friend of mine asked me to write about the down sides of travel, and after the day I had yesterday it will be slightly less difficult than usual (I stepped in mud up to my knees, got my first blister and dropped my phone in a river). Please keep in mind I’m collecting all the negatives here in one place for entertainment and not because these items weigh heavily on me and are ruining my trip. I don’t need advice (unless it’s really innovative) about saving money on food or how to find cheap train tickets. Also, all the photos for this post have been taken in my bedroom, partly because I think it’s funny but mostly because my shoes are still soaking wet and I can’t go outside without putting my feet in my wet shoes, blurgh.
I don’t like thinking about money all the time and I certainly don’t like spending money all the time. Travelling is like getting stuck with a pin 20 times a day. Every time you want to eat, sleep, see or do almost anything, your hand goes into your pocket. I have set myself a tentative budget of $100 a day but I know I’m going over it. I have enough savings to cover this trip but it is always a little stab when I check my bank balance or my envelope of currency and it has noticeably dropped. Obviously this is inevitable and there are ways to mitigate it (camping helps, so does being able to cook my own food) but after a while it gets oppressive.
Most of our accommodation in Europe and London has been booked and paid for already so I’m hoping that helps too. Also stuffing myself with a hearty B&B breakfast means not having to eat until early evening. Still, the money thing can be a big downer at times.
Obviously food is a highlight of travel, but it can also be a real pain. After travelling for a few months I start to resent the amount of time it takes to find a decent place to eat, read the menu, wait for our order to be taken, worry if I forgot to ask an important question (for example: “sorry, when the menu says the steak comes with beans, do you mean green beans or baked beans?” – it turned out to be BAKED BEANS. What the heck), wait for the food, eat the food (the best part of the experience), wait for the bill, wait for the waiter to take the little plate with the money and bring back change and then collect your coats and bags (check under the table or you’ll be back in 30 minutes for your scarf or shopping) then finally leave.
It exhausted me just typing all that.
Obviously you don’t need to eat in restaurants for every meal and Luke and I have streamlined our process by only eating two meals a day and staying in self-catering places when possible and we do buy sandwiches and eat them in parks etc, but restaurants can be a better option. They are a place indoors when they weather is bad, they usually have wifi and they often serve the kinds of national dishes (like pork knuckle in Germany or fondue in Switzerland) that you would have trouble eating on a park bench. Also the restaurant in itself can be a destination, like the Austrian cafe where Sacher-Tortes were invented. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t take long for me to miss my well-stocked kitchen and toasted-sandwich maker.
I love a fancy hotel as much as anyone but sadly I can’t afford to stay in luxury all the time. Even if I could there’s annoying things about all hotels, no matter how humble or Hilton-esque. Like light switches. Where in god’s name are they? You will find yourself asking this at least once a day. Also, how does the shower work? Where is the plug? Why is the sink hole closed and how do I open it? I have had a door handle fall off, trapping me in my room all night when I was up at 3am to go to the toilet. This was many years ago but the memory of my terror and desperation will never fade. I have been in hotel rooms where I can hear neighbours vomiting, where there are no windows, where the windows open onto an indoor pool, where the air conditioning is like a waterfall running onto the floor.
This is one of those tricky sinks. Took me a few minutes to work out that it spins, you have to press down on one side to open in.
Hotels are like those lucky dips you get at school fairs. Theoretically if you pay more you should get a better bag of treats but often paying more just means a bigger disappointment when you realise what you’ve got. I’m not saying this happens all the time, but I have learned not to get my hopes up after looking at the hotel website photos.
My current bath-in-room arrangement is very fancy looking but the water insists on coming out of both the tap and shower head at the same time.
Well, I could get myself into trouble here so I won’t mention any names, thereby leaving everyone I’ve ever traveled with suspicious and offended. Don’t worry, I’m obviously not talking about you! You were great!
First, traveling alone. It’s been better than I expected but there are two times when I really want company. The first is when I’m looking at something amazing and want someone to appreciate it with me. The second is when I have a decision to make and I’m not sure what to choose. I’m not a particularly indecisive person but I like input from others and Luke is particularly good at looking at things in a different way and offering another perspective. I miss having him here but I also know he’d be miserable sleeping in a tent or walking through a bog. For something I didn’t really anticipate encountering, bogs have featured pretty prominently in my experiences here, but that should fall under a different heading I guess. Are bogs worth their own heading? Probably not.
Of course, traveling with other people can also be a real pain in the proverbial. When planning to travel with others there’s so much to take into consideration. Do you have similar budgets? Do you want to see similar things? Do you get up and go to bed at the same time? Do either of you snore? There’s no one in the world I’d rather travel with than Luke but we still had a few epic fights when we did our last really big trip. I learned a lot about myself through that. I need time by myself at least once every few days, even if it’s just a walk for an hour or two or an evening reading in bed. If I don’t get a bit of solo time I can rage out at the most unassuming and trivial things… it’s kind of like travel PMS or something. I’m not even sure why it happens.
I have traveled with all kinds of people on all sorts of budgets and with all sorts of interests. Sometimes I think traveling with a huge group is easier than with one or two people – a variety of people to talk to and possibilities for splitting into smaller groups to do different activities rather than feeling like you have to stick together – which leads to my least favourite thing about traveling with other people. Waiting. Waiting for people to pack, to find tickets, to finish eating, to arrive, to shop. I don’t mind waiting for people to arrive if a bus or plane is late, I mind waiting when people are disorganised and I hate waiting when it seems someone is going to make me late for anything. I am quick in the shower, quick to pack, quick to walk and quick to eat. Waiting for people who can’t get going in the morning until they’ve had their coffee/breakfast/whatever drives me crazy. I’m sure my impatience is just as unpleasant for them too but let’s be honest, it’s entirely their fault (and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise).
The company we don’t choose can also be a nightmare. Like the guy on the train who chews with his mouth open, the people with the screaming child in the breakfast room, or the lady who harrumphs and won’t stop talking. At least these people are usually easy to escape, even if you have to wait until morning.
I don’t think I really have to elaborate here.
Living Out Of A Suitcase
I quite enjoy living out of a suitcase/backpack in the beginning. Fewer choices to make and I keep everything in small bags so my pack only takes a minute to pack and I know where everything is.
This lasts about a week until everything somehow gets rearranged and impossible to find. Then another week later I’m sick of my clothes. Another week in and all my leggings and undies have developed holes, which is what happens when a normal six months worth of wear happens in three weeks. Then one sock from every pair disappears, then I start looking like a hobo. Right now I’ve been away for three weeks and my shoes stink and look like they’ve been through a war, plus they are soaking wet from yesterday’s bog encounter. My two new pairs of leggings both have holes in them, the trousers I bought are so loose around the waist (but tight around the thighs, so no cause for celebration there) that I have to pull them up every few steps, and I am thoroughly sick of hand washing things. I rarely use laundromats because I have so few clothes that paying £3 to wash six items at a time hardly feels worthwhile, but if I don’t wash every three or four days it means I stink. Fine if I’m camping but not ideal when sitting in a breakfast room with polite families at a B&B.
I always have a kindle, iPad and phone but waiting is inevitable if you’re like me and don’t enjoy the adrenaline rush of arriving at an airport or bus terminal with only moments to spare. If you are like me then you will spent at least 10% of any holiday waiting. A good reason to start a blog. There’s only one thing worse than extended periods of waiting, and that is missing your boat/bus/plane. This happened to me in Japan once and I hope I never again experience the sensation of running through an airport in tears, filled with adrenaline, dragging a heavy bag and barely being able to converse with the people at check in.
Depends on the type of holiday I suppose, but weather can make or break any holiday. I’ve been inordinately lucky this time around but walking any city or stretch of countryside in the rain isn’t huge amounts of fun. If you’re in the city then it means having to deal with raincoats and wet things every time you go in or out, your photos don’t look great (if you can take any at all) and you have to put up with ducking and weaving past other people’s umbrellas on narrow footpaths when you’re at the added disadvantage of not knowing where you’re going. Wet weather walking in the country just means a greater chance of bogs.
Sunny weather, as I’ve seen on this trip, also has its disadvantages. Namely, crowds. In a country where a sunny long weekend can be headline news, you can bet every scenic spot will be rammed with people if the temperature is over 14 degrees (balmy!). We’re heading to Italy, Croatia and the south of France in July and August and I’m already worried that we’ve made a terrible mistake as all of Europe will be on holiday at the same time. Plus I feel sapped of energy when it’s actually legitimately (+30C) hot, so I am a bit worried I won’t make the most of our time there. I was utterly useless at Angkor Watt years ago when it was 40 degrees and chucked in the temples for the hotel pool and bar. I still don’t regret it.
There are two main problems with coming home. The first is when no one expresses the slightest interest in anything you’ve been doing. My Dad is offender #1 in this department. I can write this because I know he doesn’t read this blog, only Mum does. (Thanks Mum! You’re the best!). The other main problem is when too many people express an interest and you get tired of relating the same stories over and over. The way to get around this is to write a blog so that the people who are interested can come along for the ride with you and then ask pertinent questions (not just ‘what was your favourite bit?’) when they see you in person. Or better yet, leave a comment on the blog. Hint hint.
Actually, coming home has many down sides. Returning to work, having to live in a space where someone else isn’t changing your bedsheets and towels every other day (let alone dusting… I am always appalled by the amount of dust in my house after I’ve been away… or any other time really), not eating out, having to do boring things like get your car serviced, pay bills and so on. All the things you don’t have to worry about on holidays. Oh and don’t forget that your bank balance has, at the very least, been halved.
On the other hand, it is nice to know where the light switch is when you get up in the middle of the night.
So this was my nowhere-near-complete list of Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time. If you have any more reasons that I could add please list them in the comments, I’d love to read them!