The Other (Unglamorous) Side of Travelling

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”  

– Moslih Eddin Saadi
                                                                                                                                                                   

Shoes in a boat, China, Fenghuang
Exploring Fenghuang, Hunan province, China by boat

 

How many times have you heard from your friends and family that “you are so lucky to travel”, “you are having a perfect life”, “your life is wonderful, every day is stress-free” and “you don’t need to worry about anything”? They all wish they could swap with you, but not many of them realize how stressful, exhausting, dangerous and uncomfortable travelling might be. There is a lot of risk we, whether full-time or part-time travelers, take every single day when backpacking through South-America, Asia, Africa or even Europe. Of course nobody can see it when when looking through our photos of beaches, pictures of delicious food and us smiling with locals and beautiful landscape in the background, posted on social media channels.

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Exploring Macau on a very hot day

 

In today’s post I would like to share our “bad” travel experiences to prove not everything is so perfect as it looks like when you travel.

1. Sickness.

Yes, travelling is so much fun. You might have a blast every single day meeting different people and experiencing new things. Everything might go smoothly and you may enjoy every single second of it until you… get sick. Nobody likes to be sick, right? But it feels even worse when you are alone in a foreign country, you don’t speak the local language, you are not insured and you are seriously sick (and I’m not talking about having a cold or a running nose here).

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The Get Well card sent by fellow travel bloggers of Travel World Passport

 

So far, it happened to us 4 times – twice to me, twice to Cez. My first time sick was back in 2011 when I firstly came to China. While sleeping in my bed at night, I was bitten by a toxic spider and my whole neck and face got infected by the poison. I was transferred to the hospital within a few hours after the bite, got some painful injections and I was prescribed some medicines I had to use for the next 2 months until I fully recovered. My whole body was swollen, I had a rash all over my body and I sometimes could not breath properly. Luckily, I recovered within 2 months and the wounds disappeared after 4 months.

The second time I got seriously sick was again in China (guess it’s been unlucky place to me), in around April 2012 when I passed out during one of my jogging sessions at school I was working in at that time. I was given a drip in one of local hospitals that made my body shiver and when I woke up after few minutes (with bruises all over my body after reanimation) I was told I was clinically dead for 42 seconds (this is exactly what you want to hear right after you regain consciousness, right?).

a white boy is sleeping in a bed, hospital
Cez in Dongguan hospital after his knee accident

 

Cez suffered from dengue fever (infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus and its symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain) while in Cambodia and he seriously injured his knee during one of his classes in China.

Chinese girls are visiting a boy
Kindergarten teachers have paid Cez a visit during his recovery

 

How do you feel when you get stuck abroad seriously injured or sick? Although we are both tough people, these 4 times made us realize how fragile and unpredictable our lives were. We missed our friends and families, but we luckily had each other’s support. Let’s  imagine someone travelling solo getting a food poison, malaria or even something worse. It is not much fun then, huh?

2. Missing home.

When you live in China, a country not necessary familiar with Christmas, Easter and other common (for us) holidays you celebrate annually in your home country, there are moments when you miss home terribly. You wish you could just teleport yourself back home in the blink of an eye and share the happiness with the loved ones. Instead, you are working your ass off to be able to support your travels and carry on making your dreams come true (which is amazing, I’m not complaining here).

A girl is celebrating Christmas with her family
First Christmas back home after 2 years of voyages across Asia

 

There are moments during your travels that you miss your family and friends and you feel kinda guilty for missing out another wedding of your cuisine, your mom’s birthday or the birth of your niece. Calling home helps a bit to leverage this feeling, but it’s just not the same as being there in person.

3. Tiredness.

Think of all of these hours spent on the train, at the airport and on local buses. Wasn’t it exhausting? Gosh, travelling is tiring! You can feel absolutely knackered after 10 hour overnight bus ride or your 8 hour flight back home.

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Sleeping at a bus stop in Laoag, the Philippines

 

Think of how many times you got stuck at the airport as your flight was delayed or how many times you had to wait for the next bus to come as the last one just left. There are times when you don’t take a shower for a day (or even longer), you sleep on the floor or you don’t sleep at all feeling frightened you might get robbed while asleep!

Beijing- Cez1
That’s how we travel in China when all regular tickets are sold out

 

4. Risking your life.

When you travel and you are not very familiar with local areas, customs, prices, etc., you might often become a target of local scams.  It is ok if you get ripped off from time to time when buying some food and souvenirs, but sometimes things might get more complicated. Think of all solo female travelers who hitchhike at night or have to take an overnight local bus but they have no clue where they are going. There are moments when we need to trust some random people we meet in the middle of night and hope they can help us out find the right direction without robbing us or worse!

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Visiting a local family in China

 

Me and Cez are extremely open people who enjoy interacting with locals a lot. We rarely turn down dinner or lunch invitations and often get invited by locals to their homes. What if these people were psychos or murderers? We could get easily killed and nobody would even know where our bodies were buried (I guess I’ve watched too many horror movies). The point is that we take a risk every single day when being on the road, doing some extreme sports we never had a chance to try back home or trusting random people.

5. Dirt and stench.

Everyone’s travel style is different. There are some travelers who like to travel in a very posh and expensive way, stay in glamorous hotels and drink a glass of champagne before their bedtime. There is nothing wrong with that, but for me and Cez (as you know we call ourselves tramps not without a reason) every single dollar counts when it comes to spendings and controlling our travel budget. We travel under $25 a day and we mean it. Due to our budget limit, we often need to stay away from high quality hotels and stick to cheap motels or hostels.

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Our room in Vietnam

 

We often stayed in very gross, filthy and grubby rooms with no windows or proper toilet. There were days when we had no access to the hot water or internet so taking a shower or contacting our families wasn’t an option.

The toilet in one of Sri Lankan trains
The toilet in one of Sri Lankan trains

 

When you travel cheaply, you become a friend with cockroaches, ants and bed bugs. As first you are shocked and disgusted to see them crawling on the floor of your room, but after sometime you get used to your new roommates, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia and some other south-east Asian countries where the level of hygiene is not and never been a top priority.

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Our roommates in one of Vietnamese rooms

 

To sum up, although travelling is the best thing that ever happened to us, not everything is as perfect as it looks or seems to be. There are some hard moments we all experience during our epic voyages such as feeling lonely, sick, tired or disgusted. At the end of the day though, we all remember the good things and make fun of the bad which makes each journey unforgettable.

Have you ever experienced loneliness or sickness on the road or have any bad travel memories you would like to share?

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90 Comments

  • This article is soooo true! People have illusions about such way of life, that it’s always great and fluffy, whereas sometime you might get so sick, or sleep in such a bad place, that many who would’ve experienced that would never want to go on a trip again. Great topic, thanks!

  • We couldn’t agree more with you guys. People often think that travelling is super easy with no stress or worries, clearly they haven’t experienced it and they don’t know what they are really talking about. Traveling the way we do it’s not like going on holiday for a week or two a year, it’s a lifestyle and it has its own issues and dark sides. Fortunately the best part of travelling always wins and makes everything else worth the pain :)

  • Thank you for writing this! I completely agree.

    A lot of people think I have it easy travelling so much – but really it’s hard (totally worth it, but hard). Sickness, being tired, insecurities… they’re scary. It’s frustrating.

    I love travelling, but every once and a while, I just have to take a break and go home. Sit in my apartment for a couple of weeks until I recover.

  • Hahaha I love all the photos of you sleeping! It’s so true- travel is definitely not always glamorous, especially when it is your lifestyle. I think getting sick on the road is the worst. It always happens at some point or another, and every time all I want are my comforts from the U.S. :)

  • Like the rest of life, when you travel, stuff happens. For people like me who take trips- we hope that we stay healthy while away. When travel is your lifestyle, it’s inevitable that it’s not all a bed of roses- or in your case, sometimes, roaches. I love your intrepid and cheap travel style.

  • Can’t agree more with the points Agness. We miss home always, and it just gets worse when we fall ill; And the thought of missing the celebrations and festivals back in our country just makes me homesick. True, travelling has this other side which most of them do not realise unless they are travellers themselves!

  • I think the being sick part is the worst especially if you travel alone. Heck even if you are not traveling and just moved away from home for work (like me),falling sick is the worst feeling. At home you know mom and dad has got your back and taking care of you, outside you are just so alone.
    I had the misfortune of having a friend who passed away, away from home. He moved to Kuala Lumpur for work,and shared a rental apartment with some strangers. He fainted in his room and non of his housemates noticed until a few days later because he usually just stick to himself and doesn’t interact well with others. By that time it was already too late. I felt really bad for many weeks after learning this news.
    I suppose when we are away from home, always make it a habit to keep in touch with family frequently, and more importantly make new friends so that there will be people who remembers you at all times.

  • Great post! Love the photos…traveling can be a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it! Every experience whether we label it good or bad is an opportunity to learn and grow.

  • Great post, Agness! While the majority of the time travelling is all great experiences and fantastic interactions we do put ourselves through situations that most people who do not travel would never see the appeal in. We’ve been woken up at gunpoint on a bus in Mexico, robbed by the police in Guatemala, survived a head-on bus crash in Myanmar and been stranded in remote villages and towns without any way of communicating. Won’t even start on the dodgy accommodations and food!

    But for all the frightening and disillusioning moments we have had, there are hundreds more incredible experiences to shift the balance to the positive. You have to put yourself out there to reap the rewards. I’ll happily have a few more disheartening scenarios in my future if it means we get to continue living a life of travel!

  • much of backpacking is Unglamorous! got to love train toilets in Asia right? Great post can really relate to most things you wrote. Boy have I stayed in some dives!

  • Such posts are so much fun to read! Yeah, I fell sick too on my last trip, and yes, dirt is a big turn off for me. Wherever I go I make it a point to get clean bed and toilet. And if I’m traveling by a train, I avoid using toilets at all.

  • This post is sooo true, Agness; Cez’ and your bad experiences are a lot worse than mine. The worst thing which happened to me on my travels was being robbed out in the French quarter in Hanoi, right in front of the Opera House in broad daylight in October 2011. I also probably risked my life several times when hitchhiking with absolute strangers, often males, by day and at nighttime who sometimes even didn’t speak English nor any of the other of the languages I can speak. My friends apparently think that my travels are only positively exciting and great fun the whole time. They are not adventurous, but prefer a more luxurious travel style and have no clue that these gross and disgusting accommodations, many of us here probably know, even exist.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your bad experience in Hanoi. Cez was attacked in Hanoi as well. One night he was coming back to his hostel room when 3 guys surrounded him with knives and tried to steal his laptop from his backpack. Luckily he had a pepper gas with him so the guys ran away… Be more careful!!!

  • People often see the glamorous side of travelling and often forgot the bad side of it. It all comes in a package, you have good days and you have bad ones. Some days you just need to lower the expectation and accept the down days. :)

  • That spider bite is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard of. That’s horrible. Travel definitely has a unglamorous side to it. I always tell myself that it will seem glamorous when I look back 20 years from now

  • Great post and I can relate. I got to a point when I heard comments like this from strangers, I would just agree and not get into it. I have two bad travel memories and the first one was getting dengue fever in Thailand. It was the worst thing I’ve ever had but I was so delirious that I didn’t go the hospital since I had delusions that I would get my kidneys removed at the hospital. I was lucky and the fever broke a couple days later but I lost my memory for 2 or 3 days. The other one was crashing my motorcycle in Bali and getting a concussion. Both of these incidents were over 15 years ago and I they make for interesting stories.:)

  • girl I feel ya! I’m happy to be an expat now and take shorter trips so I can spend a little more. when i look back at some of thing things I did traveling broke it’s scary! I stayed in filthy places while trying to recover from dengue, couchsurfed with people I didnt even like bc was running low on cash… went way too many days without actually staying in a room and showering (just traveling through th night from bus to bus) I must say I don’t miss that way of travel. I’m happy to be an expat and travel a little less rough now! I still get majorly homesick though, especially when I’m physically sick!

    • Hi Rachel! I also enjoyed my expat life in China and I am so excited about my expat life in Amsterdam which starts in September =). Yes, I’m moving to Holland for a year!

  • Those illnesses are serious stuff. Dengue fever, poisonous spider bite, being clinically dead… You guys have been through a lot!
    You actually took that huge brick-thick Lonely Planet book on China with you? It must have been damn heavy, but I guess China is huge too :)
    Where exactly (geographical location) did the spider bite occur?

    • Being sick on the road is not so much fun. It was in Huayuan, a small town located in Hunan province – south central part of the Chinese mainland.

      • It’s definitely not “fun”…
        I had a coupple of sicknesses, like a few when trekking and I even got a severe pneumonia once, which was terrible.
        What you’ve described here is pure horror. Especially the toxic spider bite and the dengue fever…
        Health is always a top priority.

  • Love the sleeping photo, I’ve got similar! There’s certainly an unglamorous side to travelling, it can be hard and dangerous. One time that sticks in my mind: when I had to swim through potentially crocodile invested waters because I didn’t really know the area. Most terrified I’ve ever been – wouldn’t have happened at home!

    I have to disagree, though, when you say most people don’t realise travel is unglamorous at times. Among the people I know at least, its one of the main reasons they don’t do it (along with money). They like the idea of the sightseeing and the beaches but they’re put off by nights in dirty hostels and potentially being in danger. They realise travel isn’t all easy sailing, and that’s why when it comes down to it they’re happier to stay at home.

  • It’s so refreshing to hear real life take on travel. I think people forget that behind the nice photos and laughter, life is very real and can be very challenging. Great post!

  • Dead for 42 seconds?!? That is so scary! Do you know what is was that made you collapse?

    Glad you still think travelling is the best thing to ever happen to you though – made me even more keen to start my travels!

  • Perhaps we need to get more real in our social media messaging ;)
    I think any of us who’ve had comparable life experiences realise the “behind-the-scenes” of the stories people share. Life never is a bed of roses. To achieve anything great, we need to sacrifice, beat out the competition and go out on a limb. The view wouldn’t be as sweet if you didn’t climb the mountain to get there. Thanks for the post, just some of the hazards of living an interesting life.

    • Hey! So true – life never is a bed of roses :-), but we always cherish good memories and bad memories from the road ;-).

  • I’ve spent my whole life in Asia and I’m still not used to these toilets. I don’t like dirty toilets, I don’t like squat toilets. It’s agonizing when I have to spend hours on the road and they become inevitable. my least favorite aspect of traveling!

  • So true. Even though I’ve just began traveling (in a westernized country at that), every day isn’t the best day ever. You have your good days and you have your bad days. But the good days always outweigh the bad ones.

  • Goodness gracious! You’ve suffered a bit of bad luck traveling! The toxic spider bite sounds rotten… So far, cross fingers, we’ve been really fortunate not to get seriously ill (apart from the usual food poisoning, bad colds, eye infections, etc.) while traveling, and we haven’t had a bad accident requiring a doctor’s visit. Hope that time never comes… But the more time away from home, the more the chances of something bad happening is greater…

  • Oh man, loving the last few pics of the room in Vietnam! That must have been a right shocker. The first room I ever stayed in on my first backpacking trip in Thailand resembled the rooms from the opening of ‘The Beach’. Weirdly, because I was so excited to be travelling I didn’t mind too much, just laughed. Still make good memories, don’t they?

  • I’d also add that if you’re traveling on a budget you’re mentally prepare for those situations to happen… When you’re a posh traveler only you don’t expect that f.e. a place you’re staying at might be gross or you can get lost, therefore you’re really in trouble when it happens ;)

  • Agness, this was absolutely powerful and amazing! I’ve told you and Cez many times how much I worry about you two. You mention the risk and that is first and foremost my worry. You two are very smart and for that I am thankful. The spider bites…gawd, I’m so sorry that happened. I have a major case of arachnophobia just so you know. I think you posted that picture of you sleeping on a park bench before in the Philippines and that one really got me back then too. That bathroom?? I literally got nauseated! I HAVE to have at least a clean toilet!! All that being said Phoenix and I are always so very proud of you and send you watchful, angel blessings for your safety every day! We are incredibly proud of your courage and fortitude to never let a setback get you down for long. We love you both bunches our two special friends! :)

  • I’ve stayed in a few rooms like that ;-) I think the worse one was when they was a dead rat squashed underneath the mattress in Bangkok. All part of the experience I guess :-D

  • I agree with you 100%. Luckily, I haven’t been really sick while being on the road. Knock on wood. Your spider story made me shiver.
    Tiredness is my worst enemy. I’m so bad at sleeping in planes, busses or airports which is not the best thing when you arrive in a different time zone in the morning.
    We risk our lives everyday. Wow that sounds dramatic but actually it’s true. You never really think of it in such a dramatic way. But by trusting strangers you never know what’s going to happen it might be the best experience in the world or it might be the worst.

  • This is all so true! And I think it’s definitely not easy for people who make their living traveling (like you and Cez and many other bloggers). I know without a doubt that you guys work your asses off, waaaaay harder than people with “normal” jobs! Other people just see pretty pictures and don’t see the hard work! And OMG, I wanted to throw up a little at that toilet picture. I have a fear of public bathrooms so having a clean toilet is the only necessity for me!!!

  • So very true. I had my first experience of bed bugs and it.was.terrible. Yuck yuck yuck. I haven’t been really sick since morocco but I am sure I will come across some issues when I go to Nepal. And the tiredness thing- YES. Why is sitting around all day so so SO exhausting? And the not sleeping thing gets very old.

    None the less- ALWAYS so worth it!!! :)

  • Love this, Agness! Yes, travel is amazing and worth it, but sometimes it’s just plain scary and gross. I’ve gone 3 days without sleeping properly, and TWO WEEKS without a shower beyond the cold one on the beach. Haven’t been seriously sick YET (knock on wood) but I have had a raging case of PMS. ;) Haha

  • Love this post, Agness! The other side of travel.
    I haven’t been clinically dead… Spit three times :) But, three years ago I thought I would die of food poisoning in India.

  • Being sick on the road is the worst! You want to make the most of every day, but all you feel like doing is sleeping. We had to cancel our biking trip through the Mekong Delta because my husband got terrible food poisoning in HCMC. But it happens to everyone at some point.

  • Hi Agness, great article. Travel is indeed not always glamorous and not always fun but there are for sure more good than bad experiences. I’m not a budget traveler and also go home on a regular basis between trips so most of the time I do not face the issues described (luckily). Many of the items described in your article are exactly the reason why I would never want to be a full time traveller.

    • Thanks Freya. I agree, it’s not always fun, but I always cherish every single minute of being on the road!

  • Oh my gosh, Agness, those are thw worst travel sickness experiences I have ever heard! That must’ve been so awful for you, and for your family. I’ve actually never been sick when travelling, which is craazy lucky, I always think everyday how lucky I am to have not been sick but how it’s gonna happen eventually haha. Fingers crossed though!

  • So true Agness. So true. If I really thought about it, people would ask me, why do you bother travelling when it results in so many problems? I should write about it one day…!

    Anyway, in a nutshell: I was ill for a month. I picked up a bug in my Aeroflot plane in Russia and carried it all the way to Vietnam and back. For a month! I had delhi belly in India. Everybody noticed because I turned grey!
    I fell off the ski-lift in the Czech Republic and was lucky NOT to have broken my legs. The sign that I had survived was the fact that I was crying. A lot. I never cry!

    I missed my night bus and the area was dodgy so I slept in a casino! I paid for a hotel room and when I got there, the hotel was missing! I could go on Agness, but it’s all part of the experience and I love it!

  • Great article on the other side of traveling Agness. You’ve encountered some pretty scary stuff in your travels. Being sick abroad is not pretty especially with a language barrier added to the mix.
    Glad to hear that has not stopped you or hopefully others from not traveling. Every experience is a memorable (perhaps not a spider encounter though) one.
    Safe travels!

  • Totally agree, Agness. Travelling, and I’ll add travel blogging too, is not always as it seems. I think it’s important to discuss the down times too. I’ve had illnesses on the road that weren’t pleasant, but being clinically dead for 42 seconds??!! That’s terrifying! Just so glad you’re still here with us, lady!

  • I never felt homesick but my partner did and it was really hard for me to see that.

    For me the hardest part was always having to be thinking ahead – what’s our next step, how do we plan to get there. Balancing that with living in the moment and appreciating where we were…was hard!

  • Traveling can be fun and it can make your life better, but there are a lot of downsides. The most disturbing thing for me is not having a clean room and healthy conditions where I go and where can I stay. That’s why I can;t go in countries like Sri Lanka or Vietnam!

  • Oh you hit it spot on. I get that ALL the time…that travel is wonderful and glamorous and the perfect life. But the 24hr long dangerous bus rides through Asia, the sickness (my stomach infection for one) that can really do damage, and even just everyday life in new places is stressful. I almost got in a knife fight in a Haitian whorehouse because we asked for our money back after we found out that it was indeed a whorehouse! Or trusting a motorbike driver with your life as he wizzes around through traffic in Bangkok. The attempt at robbery someone tried to pull once and I was lucky enough to see it. Its all pretty crazy and photos may make it seem all marvelous and ideal, but it really tests your limits more than home does.

  • Oh man, that toilet looks awful!! Haha, but I agree, I think the worst feeling has to be being really sick away from the comfort of your home and those you love and will take care of you. I’d rather deal with the toilet than your jogging situation, YIKES! Glad you’re better!!!

  • Great post! Everything you wrote is spot on! It was like recently during our trip to Croatia, where we spent 4 nights on coach buses haha. Not the best sleeping situation but such a fun trip overall. And wow bit by a toxic spider!! :O I hate spiders and that’s always my worst nightmare especially when I stay at a kinda sketchy hostel!

  • I’ve traveled on the cheap and in luxury and sometimes stuff just happens. Category 5 hurricane in Cancun, Category 5 typhoon in Taiwan, 6.5 earthquake in California, Plane caught fire over the Amazon, chased by an angry llama in Peru, attacked by an angry Falcon in California, ran right into a deer in the pitch dark in Oregon, walked into a grizzly in Alaska, bus caught on fire in Costa Rica. I could go on…sometimes stuff just happens! You live through it, you have great blog stories, you don’t, well…

  • Before travelling extensively, my girlfriend decided on the region (south east Asia and India) and left me with the freedom of planning the route and lengths of stay. She put two conditions on me: We would stay in rooms with their own,separate toilet and shower, and the room had to have a fan, preferably an overhead fan. She was dead right because the fan prevented mosquitos from landing on us. Oh, and even though we travelled four months at a time, we never, ever caught anything. I put this down to our vegetarian diet since the only time I got the runs was after eating meat.

    But it depends. My worst trip was to Morocco where no amount of precaution was a defence against aggressive males, grabbing shop owners, receiving the wrong change, people harassing you non-stop in streets and markets and people trying to sell you drugs or something. It was hell and that awful experience made the rest of the world seem like various degrees of paradise :-)

  • Sorry about that knee accident and I understand that its not fun and we had few incidents like that. Its part of traveling and sometimes incidents happens and smile and move on. Its a great post and kudos for having the courage to write an article about.

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