THE UPS AND DOWNS OF TRAVEL
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF TRAVEL
As the world starts to open up to travel again after a year of COVID-19 enforced lockdowns and movement limitations, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of travel on the mind.
We often think about the physical aspects of travel – the places we go to, the environments we find ourselves in and the impact on the body of arduous treks or relaxing beachside locations.
But travel is as much about the mind as it is about the physical journey. I’ve travelled with a lot of people, and when I say a lot, I mean hundreds, literally. As a tour host for solo group tours, I’ve taken hundreds of guests on tours to destinations all over the world.
And the thing that has struck me on the road is the inner journey people take while they’re meandering through unknown lands.
The people I travel with are often taking their first overseas adventure, or it might be the first time they’ve travelled solo. They’ve worked up to this moment, often holding a dream of travelling for many years before finally taking the plunge. They’ve watched friends travel, seen the holiday snaps plastered across Facebook and Instagram and assumed that every moment is like those pictures – full of fun and smiles.
But all those images will tell you, all they reveal, is the external journey people take, they don’t reveal the emotional impact travel can have. We see those images of smiling faces, of sunshine and bucket list moments. And we assume travel is all butterflies and rainbows – Instagram worthy views with amazing experiences that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jennifer Anniston romcom. We all know that we can’t control the weather, that it might rain, that tourist destinations don’t always live up to expectations, that you might have jetlag, but even beyond that, travel is hard work.
Over the years I’ve watched the emotional journey my clients take as they settle in to a new tour. I’ve watched them struggle to come to terms with their negative feelings, and the confusion that comes from wondering why this trip is not all sunshine and lollipops when it’s exactly what they wanted to do. See too, that they believe they are alone in these feelings. That everyone else is having an amazing time, so why aren’t they?
I’ve come to realise these feelings, and this rollercoaster of emotions is completely normal. Travel starts long before you arrive in a country. It starts with researching destinations, lusting over hotels/towns/experiences. There is an excitement in the planning stages, that increases as the trip gets closer. For my clients this excitement is often followed by a nervousness at actually being on the road and then a sense of loneliness at being so far from home, away from family and friends and surrounded by one’s own stuff (ie, comforts).
In the first moments travellers are trying to get accustomed to their new surroundings. They’re daunted by the unknown – the language, the currency, the customs, everything is different, everything is new.
Things that are second nature at home take extra thought. Everything has to be thought through, you work through monetary conversions whenever you buy something, have to figure out how to navigate the breakfast menu, how to say ‘thankyou’ or ‘where is the bathroom’ in a new language. Even getting up in the middle of the night for a bathroom stop takes extra thought – where is that bathroom again?
But people don’t want to acknowledge that the trip they’ve planned, waited so long for, and been so excited about could be anything less than perfect. They don’t want to acknowledge that they’re struggling.
After all, family and friends have all talked about the wonder of travel – how amazing every step is. By the third day travellers’ emotions will reach their peak, sometimes there are tears as they admit that the trip is harder than they thought it would be. Getting outside your comfort zone is always unnerving, it challenges you and makes you think about what you actually like, what you actually want next and how you’re feeling.
Pushing those feelings down doesn’t help them go away, and without addressing them early on it can add a real damper to what would otherwise be an amazing experience.But get through that and what follows brings an amazing freedom and emotional space to truly enjoy the best that travel has to offer. I love that moment on a tour, when a client has found their travel rhythm, when the passion for the unknown has taken hold and, pardon the pun, their travel wings have taken flight.
That’s the moment that makes all that anxiety and discomfort worth the effort – that and the amazing brag-worthy sites along the way.
Diane Squires is a communications professional, writer and tour host for Two’s a Crowd, an Australian travel company specialising in solo travel. She is also the writer half of the travel blogging duo AllAbroad. You can find her at www.allabroad.com.au, or @AllAbroadAU on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
All story rights belong to Diane Squires.