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.
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 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.
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.