It’s been almost five months since I started traveling and I hear things all the time from my friends back home like, “Your life is so glamorous!” or “You’re living the most amazing life!” Or, my personal favorite . . . “You’re living a completely stress free existence!”
Nope. I figured it was time to dispel all the misconceptions about life on the road, which is tough sometimes. It’s amazing, it’s my dream come true . . . but it’s a big pain in the ass a lot of the time. So here is the unvarnished truth and some of the challenges of full time travel.
The Challenges of Full Time Travel
A few days ago I was coming home from the grocery store, and I couldn’t remember where I was. I remembered the NAME of the city I was in, but my brain got confused
about the set-up of the streets vs other places I’d been and I couldn’t figure out how to
get back to my hotel. Was I looking for the statue of the nun on the corner, or the horse with the fallen soldier? Did I see that store earlier today, or am I remembering the place from the city I stayed in last week? I’ve been on the road for approximately 135 days and stayed in over 30 different places. In every one of those places, I need to learn my way around, learn how to find a grocery store, an ATM, my hotel and a place to eat – bare minimum. If I want to see the sites, and I always do, things get even more complex. I was never good with directions to start with, and now I have unfamiliar situations almost every day. Not to mention that I have to do this in an unfamiliar language, not knowing the local customs and courtesies, and where it’s safe to be. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t remember where the bathroom is. Am I sharing a bathroom or do I have my own today? Left or right? Everyplace I stay is set up differently.
It gets exhausting.
Not to mention the planning. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen, figuring out how to get where I want to go next. Luckily, I love a good challenge, so I
actually enjoy this part, in fact it’s become a bit of an addiction – I must see the MOST
amazing places. I have to choose hotels and figure out how to get there, which is no easy task in a developing country. Sometimes I luck out and end up in an incredible place. Sometimes I feel like I’ve entered the depths of hell. Getting there is the hardest part. Sometimes, there’s an easy option – a tourist shuttle. But I try to avoid those (both because they’re expensive and I feel you miss an opportunity to experience the flavor of a country if you’re in a tourist shuttle), so I rely on unpublished bus schedules, which are almost impossible to figure out and the information I get is often wrong. Sometimes, opportunistic locals give me misinformation to try to get me to spend money with them. For example, at a bus station, multiple locals recently tried to tell me that the Costa Rican boarder closed at 5pm and the only way I could possibly make it across that day was to take a US$80 cab ride vs the $2 bus. That one I knew was bullshit, but sometimes you just don’t know, and so you get ripped off. And then there are customs officials, who want their share too, and gringo pricing at the market . . . the things you can no longer take for granted go on and on.
Eating healthy is a challenge too. Sometimes I have a kitchen at my hotel, where I can cook my own meals. Usually, it’s cheaper and easier to eat on the street or at a restaurant. When you’re on a two week vacation, it’s OK to eat anything. You can
splurge, you can eat fried food every day or whatever you want. When you’re on the
road full time, you have to try to get some vegetables every once in a while, which can be surprisingly difficult in Central America, outside the expensive gringo targeted restaurants. Not to mention that every country has their own specialties, their own names for things and sometimes they even call the same thing by a different name. Why, Central America, why? A lot of food is fried, or made with lard (rice and beans included). I can’t wait to see what my cholesterol level is when I get home.
In my old life, when I traveled, I had plenty of money to splurge. My goal was to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Things are different now. I have a lot more time, and I try to conserve money when I can. Sometimes it’s easy (Nicaragua). But sometimes, things come up. I recently booked an amazing, cheap place in a beautiful national park, but found out I’d need to spend the night somewhere incredibly expensive in order to get there, or pay through the nose to get there quickly. Local transport is sometimes spotty and you need to hire a taxi to get you where you need to go. Or you just can’t get an answer from a hotel . . . so you decide to go anyway, and end up without a reasonable place to stay, so you’re in a $50 hotel for the night.
And then there are the people. I have met some INCREDIBLE people on the road. Travelers in general are sophisticated, interesting people. In general. But not always, and you don’t really get to choose who is in your hotel with you. There are crazy party people, whiners, clingers and other unsavory, smelly or loud people. People who get up 20 times a night to go to the bathroom . . . slamming the door every time. I’ve had precious little privacy since I’ve gone out on the road, and occasionally I want to book my own island and be alone for a bit.
And I work. Usually, this is no problem. But sometimes, things come up at the last minute, when I’ve booked a day of travel and suddenly, I need to get something done. I’m never sure how long it will take me to get somewhere, so I never know if I can make the deadline, or if the wifi will work, or if there will be dogs barking or reggaeton music blaring in the background while I try to make a business call. I don’t want to have to dip into my savings or let my clients down, so this is a huge stress.
Despite all these challenges of full time travel, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. I love what I’m doing now, and every time I see an amazing site or get to interact or learn something about the people whose country I’m visiting, it’s worth it. I’ve had some of the best times of my life in the last few months and although I get frustrated occasionally, I love this life and the challenges it brings!
Just don’t ever say my life is stress free!