THOUGHTS: the nitty & gritty of travel

Photocreds to my dear friend Chris! 

Hello from Munich! It’s day 55 of 73 and if you’re wondering how I am, the homesickness attacks that began 3 weeks ago seem like a distant memory 🙂 .  I am currently sitting in a Coffee Fellows drinking an iced caramel macchiato. There’s just nothing like sitting in a cafe on a cool day with blue skies and finally being able to write about my thoughts.

Today, I want to talk about what travel really is – from my experience. The sugar, the spice, and the not-so-nice.

When we think of travel, we often think of the beauty of it – the sun, the sights, the smells of delicious food, and the sense of relaxation. Why? Well, when our friends travel, we only see their beautiful photos and hear about their adventures. Nobody really talks about the tougher parts, like:

  • sleeping in a humid hostel where people come and go as they please,
  • showering in a bathroom that is already wet everywhere,
  • getting robbed and/or chased by a drunken man,
  • waking up early to catch cheaper flights/trains,
  • forcing myself to go out on a rainy day,
  • eating in a sit-down restaurant alone,
  • carrying a heavy travel backpack on a hot day,
  • and just… fear.

The future is more uncertain than ever before. I don’t know anything. I don’t speak the languages, I don’t recognize a lot of the brands/restaurants, and I don’t know my way around. Don’t get me wrong – uncertainty is exciting… but it’s also a little scary, especially when there’s so much of it ahead of me.

Before I get into the nitty and gritty of travel, I want to talk about how I feel myself changing – both inside and out. 

  • Caffeine addiction: I’ve never depended on caffeine, but on this trip… a wave of exhaustion hits me at 2-3PM every day and it doesn’t go away until I have an iced caramel macchiato – and it’s like magic. This is the only thing I can have because tea is too hot for the summer, and I don’t like coffee… Bye, money! LOL. Sometimes, I sleep it off, but that’s not super productive, considering how much sleep I already get 😛 haha.
  • Lower tolerance for negativity: during my travels, I’ve met a lot of great people. But I’ve also come across people who complain about every little thing. I don’t mean to be inconsiderate, but they must realize how ridiculous they sound. An interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that if I do one nice thing for them, they treat it like it’s a miracle! And it really makes me wonder… how must they see the world for them to take everything so negatively, and consequently, how does the world treat them? The more negative you are, the less likely somebody will treat you with kindness. So if you think you are somebody who is prone to complaining, try making extra effort to be positive. It’ll be challenging at first, but I promise it will be rewarding.
  • Craving silence: I need a few hours of silence in every day. This has always been the case, but not to this extent. It doesn’t matter how amazing my fellow traveler of the day is. I need me time. It’s just so refreshing!
  • Craving a hearty conversation: one that doesn’t revolve around where are you from? Where have you been? How long is your trip? What is your study/job? I haven’t come across many people who make me want to really share myself with them. I love personal conversations, and it’s just been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy one of these in person.
  • Greater appreciation for the little things: there is no greater relief than waking up to a day that’s 15-25 degrees and sunny with a light breeze. My favourite thing to do is reading a book in a park while eating several scoops of ice cream. Discovering that the hostel I booked is walking distance from city centre makes me so happy. What makes me happier is if the bunk beds are made such that I can sit up straight without bumping my head on the ceiling/top bunk. The best hostels are those with the perfect showers – great water pressure and the right temperature doesn’t take 5 minutes to achieve.
  • Rain doesn’t bother me anymore: it’s just a reason to wear my new rain jacket!

So about the not-so-great parts of travel…

THE PHYSICAL ASPECT 

Warning: sorry, the descriptions might get kind of gross.

  • Accumulation of tiredness: I am… exhausted. No amount of sleep is enough. I pass out on every bus, every train, and every “let me just lie down for a moment”. I’ve been sleeping 10-12 hours in each day. If you count the naps, it easily goes over 12 hours. And I’m not even a nap person!
  • Sore, swollen legs: Every morning, I wake up and my legs are more sore than post leg-day workout. It takes a few minutes of awkward waddling around my hostel before I can get the hang of walking again. And my legs aren’t even getting nicer! In fact, they’re actually swollen.. from overuse..? I think I’ve walked more steps in the past 55 days than in the 365 days that came before that.
  • Dry skin: it doesn’t matter how much lotion I use. Over the day, my skin always dries out. I hate it. It’s disgusting. I carry a small lotion bottle with me everywhere I go because I cannot stand it.
  • Acne: dry skin everywhere except my face. Nope, my face is oily regardless of how many times I wash it. And I don’t even have an oily skin problem in Canada! I get acne on parts of my face in which I’ve never gotten acne before. I HATE ACNE. Make it stop.
  • My poor, poor feet: there is no such thing as a “pair of comfortable shoes”. It doesn’t matter if they’re $100 New Balance walking shoes. I have to change shoes several times a day because my feet scream “help me” after spending a few hours in any pair. Let’s not even get into how weathered my feet look. I give them a massage with lotion every day. I hate to think about how they’d look if I didn’t.
  • My back: carrying a heavy backpack everywhere is definitely taking a toll on my back. I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel the same. I try to straighten it and it just doesn’t feel straight. Even wearing a bra feels heavy because my shoulders are always tired. I’m serious.

THE EMOTIONAL ASPECTS

  • The sudden silence: when you leave for your trip, it may take a few days to hit you, but eventually, expect it to hit. By “it”, I mean the silence. It’s silence like nothing before. When traveling solo, we get a lot of alone time where our minds are free to wander. This can be a good thing. And it is. But it can also be dangerous when thoughts revolve around what the heck to do with our lives (am I going to find a job after graduating this year? what job? what city?) or how our friends are doing.
  • FOMO: for me, the fear of missing out hit 5 weeks into my trip. My friends are in their final university months. Some of them convocated. Seeing all their photos and goodbye posts was heart wrenching. A lot of them are moving away. I’m missing out on some of the most important times of my friends’ lives. They’re going to look back on their final term and I won’t be in their memories because I’m not there for them during this huge transition period. Yeah, I’ll see them again. One day. But when? Let’s be realistic – while two people saying “we’ll keep in touch” may be genuine at the time, it becomes less important to both parties as their daily lives progress without that other person. And when this actually happens, neither party will be hugely affected by it… but anticipating all this really sucked on those particularly exhausting days.
  • Loneliness: you might love being alone. I love being alone. Even before this trip, I needed me-time just as much as people-time. It doesn’t matter. As a solo traveler, you will feel lonely at times. It’s not loneliness like anything else (e.g. wanting company, a friend, or a romantic partner). It’s the kind of loneliness where you feel like you’re alone in feeling alone… (alone-ception?! 😛 ).
  • I want to go home: You might want to go home early. I sure did! My mom said “why don’t you come back early?” (What?! This coming from the lady who never let me give up piano because “YOU HAVE TO FINISH EVERYTHING YOU START!”) 😛 . It was surprisingly easy to say no. I wanted to stay. I wanted to fight. I was curious to know what the remainder of my trip held for me. So I stayed, and I’m glad that I did.

MY ADVICE TO YOU

Just remember: you are living your own exciting chapter. Be present in it! People come and go, and losing touch with friends is only natural. It won’t be as hard as you might anticipate it to be. So for now, live in the moment. Cross the future bridges when you get there.

The problem may be that you’re relying on life to create excitement for you. When you’re at home with family and friends, you’re used to having external excitement. It’s given to you on a plate. If you’re like me, you find it a lot easier to adjust to sudden increases in external excitement rather than sudden silence. When we’re faced with sudden silence, it’s only natural that it would take actual conscious effort to create excitement ourselves. Everything is good in moderation, and sudden large changes in any direction (be it toward more excitement or more silence) can be difficult.

There is excitement all around us. For me, excitement comes in the form of blogging, editing photos, making videos, exploring, trying different foods, reading, eating ice cream, and learning. I just had to dive in and stop thinking about my friends (sorry). I had to let go and really live in the moment. I had to take my life back! Home is where the heart is, and your solo hearts need to be in Europe (or wherever you’re going).

So, dear fellow solo travelers, here’s to taking control. We can do it! 화이팅! 🙂

P.S. it helps to find a song that really resonates with you. For me, right now, it’s called Fight Song by Rachel Platten.

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