I’m a traveler. Not the kind that puts on a backpack and hangs out at the hostel all day, but the type of person who makes a hard effort to meet the locals and connect with the area. I turn my phone off, talk to people, and notice what’s around me.
As a traveler, I’m pretty good at putting a positive spin on every situation. I’m sure my fellow travelers and hitchhikers would understand this.
No car passing the road for 2+ hours? I stay calm and enjoy the view. Wow! Look how cool the grass is as it grows!
Dirty toilets and lots of trash? I feel grateful for having access to clean places at home.
I left my favorite hat in the bus? I hope that someone finds it and loves it…
But it takes a LOT of energy to stay positive all of the time. Sometimes waiting 2 hours for a car to go by while hitchhiking isn’t fun – especially if it is cold and you didn’t bring enough snacks.
Sometimes, your strength fails you.
And that’s when you get bitter and grumpy. And maybe you wonder why you even bother traveling.
My Worst Travel Moments
Vomiting in a Cave
For me, one of the worst travel moments I had was while camping in Bulgaria with my daughter (then 5). I thought it would be fun to camp inside of a cave.
It turns out that I was very wrong.
There was thigh-high tall grass in front of the cave, so no room to play (not like the short grass I’d seen in the pictures of the cave).
Because it never rains inside a cave, it was filled with dust that constantly blew around and got in my nose.
Then I saw a VENOMOUS viper snake ONE METER from our tent. It’s an understatement to say I was uneasy after that. I had nightmares while sleeping on the hard ground that night.
And then I woke up the next morning with diarrhea and vomiting.
AND then hitchhiked to the nearest town and walked 4 kilometers (vomiting along the way) to find a guesthouse. And then walked another 1km because the guesthouse looked so crappy that I decided I could trudge on a bit further and find somewhere to camp.
In short, it was a really terrible time.
And that Time I Had to Bite and Kick a Guy in Georgia…
I know a lot of people really love Georgia, but I hated almost every minute of my time there. The people were mostly xenophobic.
Hitchhiking was annoying because EVERY SINGLE DRIVER ASKED FOR SEX. Two started turning off the road and I had to scream at them. One truck driver even stopped and waved a huge wad of cash at me to change my mind.
And then I met a seemingly-nice local and went for a drink. He walked me back to the guesthouse, pushed himself inside, and wouldn’t leave.
Even after I went to my room (leaving him in the entranceway), he climbed onto my balcony and started banging on my window.
After 20 minutes, I put my boots on. I told him to leave. He got physical. So I kicked him in the shin while simultaneously biting him. Yes, I put my boots on in anticipation of that. He finally left.
Why Did I Keep Going???
Afterward the fiasco in Bulgaria, I was angry with myself. Not for getting sick or poorly planning some aspects of the trip. But because I kept going despite the sickness and tiredness.
As for Georgia, I was pissed off at the country for weeks afterwards. I’d given the country my best efforts and hadn’t had almost any positive experiences.
In reality, I could have immediately left the cave in Bulgaria and gone to a hotel. In Georgia, I could have said “screw the locals” and just hung out with travelers in a hostel. I could have given up on hitchhiking after the first creep.
But I didn’t.
Because Being a Traveler Is Part of My Self-Identity…
While all of these shitty things were happening, there was some voice in my head saying,
No, I can’t stay in a guesthouse. I said I was going camping, so I will camp!
No, I can’t hang out with other travelers in a hostel. I came here to meet locals!
No, I can’t just take a bus. I am a hitchhiker, and it would be “cheating” if I used public transport.
I’ve met a lot of other people who keep hitchhiking, even when they can afford a bus and the day is going really bad. Or who choose the most extreme locations and conditions, simply because that is the most “authentic” way of traveling.
So I know I’m not alone in this.
Why do we feel so compelled to always push ourselves to the extremes? Or consider it cheating to take the easy way out?
And Because Travel Is Also About Pushing Your Limits…
One of the best personal benefits of travel is that it pushes your limits of comfort. Like when you are the only woman in the room without a hijab on. Or you are a vegan and hitchhiking a ride with a hunter.
These experiences teach us tolerance, empathy, and understanding. And they shape our self-identities so we become better people.
The truth is, even though Bulgaria and Georgia were fiascos, they were also the trips that I pushed my limits the furthest, and gave me the most insight into my self-identity.
And I’m not talking about pushing myself by walking 4km while vomiting, or fighting off a potential rapist. I already knew that I was capable of that. Those were within my limits…
Including Pushing the Limitations of Self-Identity…
In my case, the real issue is that I’m stuck in this self-identity of a “traveler” who is “tough” and can “handle anything that comes my way.”
This identity is limiting me. And causing me to make stupid choices (sleeping next to a viper being just one of them).
It probably seems ridiculous to most people (though I’m guessing the travelers reading this will understand), but for me, the hardest thing is taking the easy way out.
I’ve learned that I need to let go of this tough-girl traveler identity that I’ve made for myself. I need to allow myself to slow down, relax, and be “weak” or “non-adventurous” at times. I need to not feel guilty about staying in a hotel when I’m puking sick.
At least I think I learned that. We will see what happens the next time I have a crappy time on my travels. 😉