Lisbon: it is supposedly a wonderful city. But I have yet to know that because my time in Lisbon was plagued by illness, an ailing mother back home, and an emergency with one of my cats in my San Francisco flat. Thanks to all of that, I did not have an enjoyable time in Lisbon. In fact, I was downright miserable during my long weekend there. Thankfully, Portugal is just next door to Spain, where I spend most of my time these days, and I can easily go back and give Lisbon another go (for the record, I LOVE Porto and the north of Portugal, but that was a separate trip for me).
Every traveler knows that travel is not always enjoyable. When you are on the road for months at a time, there are bound to be hours, days, or even stretches of multiple days, that are not so great.
Obviously, I love to travel. If it weren’t my passion, I wouldn’t be a travel blogger and travel consultant. And of course, I wouldn’t have quit my job to travel the world. But even for me, there have been darker moments. I tend not to share these on social media, so my friends and family back home are not often aware of the struggle. But when the struggle is on, the struggle is real.
I am currently on an extended trip throughout Asia. And while this opportunity for slow travel has been a dream come true, sometimes the dream is more like a quasi-nightmare. For example, my first few days in Laos were not pleasant, and I had several near breakdowns. And when you travel alone, these breakdowns are magnified. Upon arrival in Vientiane, straight off the flight from Siem Reap, the taxi company ripped me off and shortchanged me. Since I was not yet used to Kip, the local currency, I did not realize this until too late to do anything about it. A surprise full day rainstorm pretty much ruined my only full day in the capital, confining me to coffee shops and my semi-depressing guesthouse room. Once in Vang Vieng, after realizing the backpacker town is not for me, and getting sick on the road there, I was ready to skip the rest of the country and hightail it to Thailand. My fellow travel friends talked me off the ledge and convinced not to skip Luang Prabang, which was sound advice. I ended up loving Luang Prabang and spending five joyous days exploring its beautiful streets (with French Colonial Architecture) and spending a fantastic day at a wonderful (and ethical) elephant sanctuary.
Then at the end of my time in Laos, unpleasantness struck yet again. “Delhi belly,” as travelers call everything from food poisoning to unstoppable diarrhea/throwing everything up managed to get the best of me. To make matters worse, this was on the long, hot, two-day slow boat journey to the Thai border from Luang Prabang, making my last few days in Laos equally as miserable as the start. Thankfully, I have the memories of Luang Prabang and the elephants of MandaLao.
Homesickness even gets the best of me from time to time. I spent a long night in a disgusting Bocas Del Toro (Panama) guesthouse snuggling a local stray cat, crying myself to sleep because I missed my own cats so much. Luckily, when I woke up the next morning, the sun was shining and I left the islands behind for Boquete, which was much more of my style. A few weeks later I was back in my own bed with my cats, wishing I were back in Central America.
Weather, like part of my rough start in Laos, can also play a significant role in travelers’ unhappiness. I’ve heard that Melbourne is a fantastic place, but I did not get to enjoy it (outdoors) as it was cold and rainy every day I was there, apparently not unusual for the Australian summer. The sun finally came out, on the day I was scheduled to fly to Cairns.
So how can one combat the travel blues? Obviously, no one can control certain things, such as the weather. And I am no expert on this, but I’ve traveled quite a bit and have found coping mechanisms. Although I am an introvert extraordinaire, I’ve learned that connecting with others, especially if you are a solo traveler like me, in these moments can help. Travelers are generally a very friendly community and welcoming of random travelers into their fold. Of course, there are those miserable moments on the road when I just want to curl up into my introvert cocoon. Sleeping it off also helps me from time to time, especially if I am not feeling 100%. As does reading a good book to escape reality. And contacting friends and family back home, when these moments strike, can really cure the travel blues. Of course, simply remembering that this too shall pass helps a lot. And if it doesn’t, maybe it is time to move on if you are traveling long-term with some flexibility. There are a million places to explore, and if happiness can’t be found, go somewhere it can.
Of course, there are some grave issues that these coping mechanisms cannot really cure. Sometimes illness, or other factors, requires you to cut a trip short. That is why I will scream it from the mountaintops (or from my Chiang Mai guesthouse) once again: travel insurance! I know I say this all the time, but travel insurance will save you in the event of the unexpected. World Nomads is my provider of choice. After breaking my foot in Andalucia, and finding out that my mother was dying, travel insurance saved me over $5000. They refunded me all my unused hotel and Airbnb nights, a trip I had booked with G Adventures, as well as paying my hefty flight change fee.
Thankfully, at the end of a journey, the not so bright parts are usually erased by good memories, or at least laughable after the fact. I can officially look back on a long bus journey in Vietnam where the bus broke down no less than seven times. At one point during that adventure, a woman, armed with only a hammer and a few chickens came to fix the bus. At the time it was no fun as our six-hour bus trip turned into a sixteen-hour debacle. But now, over 15 years after the fact, I can look back on this situation and laugh. Plus it makes a damn good story to tell my people back home. And looking back on my recent minibus trip from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, which was nothing short of hell, I know now I have another interesting story to tell.