No one talks about the ugly side of travel
I traveled with all the delusions a Millennial typically has about seeing the world: I expected to suddenly gain deep, revelatory insights about myself and make tons of brand new friends from all over the world.
Sure, I learned some things about myself, but I realized that the wanderlusty photos that we see online literally represent one second of one’s travel experiences.
You see, I studied abroad in Prague where I traveled to ten countries in ten weeks. I spent my weekdays in Prague and once the weekend hit, I jetsetted to somewhere else in Europe. After that, I’ve lived abroad in Paris.
The most salient thing I noticed is how no one talks about the ugly sides of travel.
I’m so sick of reading articles that purport that traveling unplanned is a superior form of travel relative to the hokey Instagrammable moments.
Even the articles that urge Millennials to not go on idealistic adventures will start off with “get a backpack, make no plans, be open to meeting people” and that “to travel” is superior to “not to travel.”
I’d like to share two transformative experiences from my trips:
1) The gritty reality of travel is that you can’t escape from yourself when you’re only with yourself.
The first one was when I was in Budapest. My Airbnb host, who spoke no English, but was a super nice woman, insisted on taking me grocery shopping so I could pick out what I wanted to eat for breakfast.
Since I only had 36 hours in Budapest and had just gotten off a 6 hour bus ride, I really wanted to recharge with a quick nap and then start heading out on the plan that I had mapped out.
I remember being so irrationally angry about her wanting to take me grocery shopping because it disrupted my plans, but then realizing how selfish my thoughts were.
Here I had a local who wanted to show me her grocery store so we could pick out my breakfast while I was there, and all I wanted to do was wanderlust around the city by myself.
This was a huge turning point for me.
Budapest was probably the seventh city that I had visited when I realized that I was traveling as a way to escape from my old self. But the gritty reality of travel is that you can’t escape from yourself when you’re only with yourself.
The grocery store incident helped me realize that I was never going to grow by running away. I was going to grow by acknowledging those ugly flaws and figuring out what I was going to do about them.
2) The world is a dangerous place even when you do everything right.
The second incident was when I was living in Paris. I was waiting for a metro to come around 11am on a Monday morning in a public, safe stop in the 15th Arrondissement.
Suddenly, a man dressed in khaki shorts and an unmemorable plaid shirt came up to me and said, “parlez-vous francais?” To which I responded with a no. He then asked if I spoke English. When I didn’t respond, he lifted up his shirt, showed me his gun and said,
“I’m a police officer, and I have to make two random bag searches today. I’ve chosen you. You need to open up your bag and show me what’s inside.”
Naturally, this was a bad situation. Long story short, I got out of it alive and unharmed with my belongings by more or less pretending I was a very confused Chinese tourist.
Lesson: the world is a dangerous place even when you do everything right.
As someone who has only traveled alone, I am hyper conscious of everything going around me. I do not walk alone in front of males, I rarely go out at night alone — these are all things that so many of these “go out and travel” articles take for granted. Females can’t easily take trips to South America without plans and itineraries and just rough it.
When you have someone threaten you with a gun, the appeal of going out and exploring to explore declines fairly significantly.
And that’s okay.
I learned to find peace with my own definition of travel. I may not be roughing it in hostels making new stranger friends, but I learned to find joy in eating in local restaurants and hanging out with my Airbnb hosts.
There are so many different sides of travel, but even the off road trip stories often exalt dangerous moments as “growing moments.”…no. Being close to death isn’t something fun that should be used to get Medium likes.
There’s a lot of beauty in the duller sides of travel that are rarely talked about.
— Jasmine, 22, SF Bay Area
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