How Glamorous is World Travel?

Paul Theroux once stated, “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” This I tend to find true. In recounting my most recent experience in Southeast Asia to my friends and family, it sounds extremely glamorous. Beautiful beaches in Vietnam overlooking the South China Sea, hiking in the jungle to a hidden waterfall, golden temples in the hills of Thailand, and elephant trekking through a jungle and river. Along with, learning about and visiting local tribes, experiencing new cultures, eating the most delicious local food, and meeting some of the world’s most amazing people along the way. My friends and family then all stare at me in awe, and tell me how lucky I am, and they are right.

Squat toliet in Vietnam.

But, when you are home, you recount all the good. You forget any negative experience or feeling that you had when you were abroad. Like, how you’ve never felt as dirty as you did while experiencing all those amazing activities. Or, how your malaria tablets made it impossible to sleep. Or, those scary bus rides in downpours that washed away the street below you and soaked your luggage in the process.
Or, how sick you felt during that four-hour bus journey, and how you didn’t think you were going to make it to the

Spraying our beds with bed bug spray.

bathroom in time, all the while not being able to easily communicate with the driver of the bus.

Then there were the cockroaches that would stroll down the streets, and the rats who imposed on your beautiful beach view. And, some of the dirtiest bathrooms at road side stops, where you’d silently promise never to complain about where you were doing your business again. Or, your first time using a squat toilet, realizing, too late, that there was no toilet paper. Or, your fear of the place you had just landed and the thought of wanting to get back on a plane, then immediately regretting that you could ever even feel that way, when this is what you wanted.

There’s also the horrible thought of how dirty the sheets you’re sleeping on are, along with the hope that there’s no unwanted company joining you in bed. Or, how your stomach felt unsettled the majority of your trip. Or, how upset you were when a bus driver threw your bags into a puddle that smelled like fish, causing the bags’ contents to smell, which in turn filled up the entire room of your hotel and even made the bell boy gag.

Jeep stuck in the mud after the downpour.

And, having your jeep get caught in a downpour while off-roading, and thinking you were going to be trapped in the jungle for hours. Or, how every time you crossed the street, you were convinced you were going to get flattened onto the pavement. Or, spending five hours on a bus with no air conditioning in Southeast Asian heat. Or, the bug bites that mysteriously turned into blisters when you put on the medicine you bought at the local market. And, then finally, realizing just how hard it is to break out of your comfort zone, while reminding yourself that that is exactly why you wanted to be there.

Traveling around a new country is one of the most difficult things you can do. It puts your mind and body to the test. You have to give up all comforts and expectations, and realize that things are completely out of your control.

But, when you arrive home, take that first real good shower, and snuggle into your own bed, you begin to realize what an amazing adventure you’ve just been on and how grateful you are for that experience. And when you look at your pictures, you long to be back in that country, instead of home in your own. And, every other memory just slips away.

Then the telling of your story tends to focus on the positive events of your trip. You tell people all the good that happened because that’s all you remember. You were changed by who you met, what you learned, and all that you saw. And that, is when travel becomes glamorous.

Filthy, but happy, girls after three days exploring Northern Thailand.


28 thoughts on “How Glamorous is World Travel?

  1. I was smiling at the thought of dirt, bus rides, smelly things, bitey things and all the wonderfully horrible parts of travelling. I agree that the stories are mostly about the good/beautiful/amzing/awesome places and things, but for me the rest is something I live for.

    Give me third world, no paper, no comfort over glamorous everyday as it is the journey for me. Let me live like the locals do (with them if I can) and fully experience/appreciate what they do not haveand which we take for granted. These experiences are my stories as much as anything else I tell.

    Me using the outdoor/long drop toilets at Kibo hut (4800m) on Kili at 11pm and the temperature is -15 to -20 degress was a equal favourite story along with the walk to the summit…. maybe I am just twisted 😉

    Loved this blog and happy travel days to you

    • You may be a little twisted…lol, no but I agree, it is part of the experience. I think it’s so important to see what we do take for granted, it’s so hard for me to explain these things to my 7th grade students, but I try my best. I wish I could take them all around the world for a first-hand experience. It’s something everyone should do and see. Glad you enjoyed…happy travel to you too!

  2. This is a truly great post. We’ve seen many-a squat pot in our days, but you’re absolutely right, the glam comes from revealing how those crazy and dirty experiences changed you for the better.

  3. Erin, I can totally relate! When I exited the ferry from Zanzibar at Dar and saw my ride was not there as people left & it got dark with almost zero local money wondering what I would do, I asked myself WTF was I thinking… Yet looking back, it makes for a great story (obviously because I lived long enough to read your blog & comment!). Or seeing a roach parade as I walked to my room in my hotel by Lake Victoria wondering if the parade ended in my room…

    • Yes, that’s exactly how it is! We do survive and sometimes it’s the moments we are most uncomfortable that bring the greatest lessons! Day one in HCMC was such an overwhelming experience, but as days went on, I feel so deeply in love with the country and felt a connection there like no other. Maybe it’s those experiences that help us grow the most. 🙂 (Roach parades are by far my least favorite!)

  4. i think i’ll be getting a dose of this at the end of August in Cambodia. i’m very excited about the challenge. (scared about the mosquitos, however) can’t wait to share the details with you, Erin.

    • Oh, Cambodia! I’m so excited for you! I was supposed to go when I was in SE Asia, but it didn’t work out. Did you get a Japanese Encephalitis vaccine? I got that before I left and it made me feel a little better about the mosquito situation. 🙂 Just don’t by anything green that smells like Vapor rub to put on them – that was our mistake!

      Very excited to hear all about your adventure there!

  5. Hi Erin, thank you for sharing this. I have never travelled like this and the closest I did was when I went to “real China” as part of my MBA. I remember those toilets, and also feeling v sorry for my colleague who was wearing flip flops. But, despite how you travel, there are always hickups – and you are right, when you are back, you hardly remember them!

  6. I love this. Many people think our RTW trip is one big vacation. Many times it’s been far from. But the positive experiences outweigh the negatives by a landslide and you totally forget about them. Q has sprayed bug spray on her sheets before too. haha

    • Thanks! Yes, definitely not a big vacation, haha. Love that Q has also sprayed her sheets! I tend to be a little crazier at the beginning of a trip, and toward the end I just give in and let whatever happen happen. 🙂 Hope you are fully enjoying your adventure!

  7. So true at times. Of course there is luxury travel but even that will have some of the examples you shared… and there is no doubt the comforts of a warm shower are so very welcome when you arrive back home. But travel does provide such a base for learning and appreciation and to me that make’s it oh so worth it… even glamorous.
    stay glamorous, Craig

  8. Great post! Sounds like you’ve had your fair share of trying times on the road. It really goes to show that the highs must be that much higher if you’re willing to put up with the lows.

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