I Gave Up My Job To Travel The World & Here’s What No One Talks About
“I’m so jealous looking at your Instagram!” I’ve heard this countless times from friends and former colleagues over the last few months, after I quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to Asia, with a loose plan to backpack throughout the continent for one year to live my best Eat Pray Love life.
But I feel their envy may be slightly eased if my Instagram stories showed the less glamorous side of backpacking – suffocating pollution, insect infestations, excruciating night buses with no bathrooms – the list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong – long-term travel is absolutely incredible. Getting the opportunity to immerse yourself in foreign cultures is an absolute privilege, and something I would encourage everyone to do at some point in their lives.
But travel influencers and us mere mortals only post the aesthetically pleasing highlights online – meaning that a big fat reality check is often waiting at the other end of that one-way journey.
Your health will take a knock
If anyone has figured out how to keep a healthy diet while travelling, I would love to hear their secrets – because it feels completely impossible.
From momos in Nepal to Kottu in Sri Lanka, tasting local cuisine is one of the best things about visiting a new country.
But this food is usually fried and low in nutrition, and affordable, healthy alternatives are very difficult to come by – not ideal when you’re eating out for every meal.
Then there’s the long travel days when you won’t get your hands on a proper meal at all, and dinner will be a tube of Pringles on a 12-hour train journey.
This mix of unhealthy food and bouts of skipping meals takes a toll on the body, especially when you’re always on the move.
My trips to the pharmacy and doctor have become far more frequent on the road, dealing with food poisoning, flu, and generally feeling run-down.
While none of them are serious, they can stall your plans and kickstart feelings of homesickness, as you crave simple home comforts like your own bed and a proper cup of tea.
Expect a drop in living standards
Think you’re going to be exclusively staying in airy villas with a floating breakfast tray in your private pool? Chances are you’re on a pretty tight budget, and your most common sleeping situation will be a bunk bed in a windowless dorm room – with well-behaved roommates and air con, if you’re lucky.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve slept on stained bedsheets, shared a room with small lizards (those little guys are cute, to be fair) and had the toilet bowl infested by hordes of ants.
Believe it or not, you do get used to these conditions after a while, and you’ll definitely notice yourself getting less fussy.
I’ve found it useful to budget for a brief escape when the grimy dorms do get overwhelming, and treat yourself to a slightly more upscale room to recharge – this small luxury every now and then will go a long way in keeping yourself in good spirits, and won’t do too much damage to your budget.
Visiting the toilet is… an experience
It’s not a sexy topic, but it’s a necessary one – using the toilet when travelling can be really, really grim. I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks.
Sanitary levels in some parts of the world are leaps behind Ireland, and sometimes the bathrooms are stomach-churning, with toilet paper, soap or running water a luxury.
The toilet often comes in the form of just a hole in the ground – which isn’t easy for us ladies. I never thought I’d get so much joy out of proper toilet bowls!
But if you have to go, you have to go – you get used to squatting, and learn not to look too closely.
Prepare to come face to face with the unpleasant side of some countries
Every country is different, and travelling shows you that none of them are perfect.
Some nations which have become backpacking hotspots struggle with issues such as severe poverty, pollution and animal cruelty, so you will have to be prepared to come face to face with this when visiting.
Being approached by children begging and witnessing the unsafe living conditions of local people will quickly make you realise that many of these destinations are only paradise for privileged tourists. Animal welfare standards are also low in some nations – I’ve witnessed animals being beaten, as well as being visibly hungry and diseased.
It’s not as cheap as you think
I think people living in Ireland believe that many Asian countries are super cheap, and that it’s easy to live a life of luxury when visiting.
And there’s no doubt that travelling in Asia is far cheaper than Ireland – but when you’re there long term on a shoestring budget, you will find that you sometimes have to dig a little deeper to find low-cost options.
For example, while India had so many amazing options for cheap food, I found alcohol was incredibly expensive, with a basic beer costing around €7 in the most popular part of Mumbai.
And those boujee acai bowls people post online will take up most of your daily food budget, so your regular breakfast will likely be the option of an omelette or local dish in a less glamorous spot.
Travelling is not a holiday
It may involve visiting exotic destinations, but travelling definitely is not a permanent holiday.
Vacations are well-planned to include the perfect balance of relaxation, sightseeing and fun, allowing for an idyllic break from life.
On the other hand, being on the road full-time means that travel becomes your life – and life doesn’t magically become perfect when you’re away.
Most problems and worries you had at home will still be there, along with extra stresses about money, visas, and other issues that come with trying to find your way around a foreign country.
Not every day will involve ticking a cool activity or place off your bucket list – sometimes you will just want to do normal things like watch Netflix in bed or go to the cinema.
And you will have low days just like you would at home – it’s not possible to feel excited and grateful for the opportunity every second of the day.
Instead of beating yourself up about it, let yourself feel down when you need to, as throughout the trip, something incredible will soon remind you of why you’re on this wild journey.
Words by Lisa O’Donnell
This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of STELLAR.
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