Friday, March 16, 2012

Downsides of Traveling

Last week on Thursday night some kind of parasite took possession of my digestive tract. I went to bed feeling tired and a little rumble in my stomach, but nothing serious. About 30 minutes after laying down I made the first of what would be many many trips to the toilet that night (about 2 or 3 each hour).  Immediately after that first trip, I got very very cold so I put on almost all of my clothes - spandex, shorts, socks, long sleeve shirt, t-shirt, jacket, and then wrapped my other jacket around my feet. I was still shaking, even though the air temperature was around 70.

As the night went on, I became progressively weaker. The 20 yard walk from my hostel bunk to the toilet was accomplished by grabbing onto various vertical things along the way, yet still doing what I could to not wake the others in the room. Early in the night I moved from the top bunk to the bottom - a wise decision - but my later attempts to simply sleep on the toilet were unsuccessful.

I'll spare you the rest of the details (and forgive me if this post is lacking photos), but things were better the next day. I still didn't venture far from my bed, but the worst had passed. I waited another night to see if it would go away on its own, but it didn't so I started taking some antibiotics I had brought with me from the US for exactly this scenario. Those things worked like magic, and now I'm feeling much better.

In light of the recent events, I thought this would be a convenient time for a balancing post. The majority of my posts and photos put a really positive spin on traveling, and for the most part that's pretty accurate. I generally enjoy myself while I'm traveling, but there are some real downsides that I probably downplay far too often. So here is a list of some of the less pleasant parts of this type of adventure Be warned, this is a bit of a rant, but it provides some realistic balance to other happy-go-lucky posts I've made.
  • Cultural differences - These things wear on you at a subconscious level. Every place has it's own quirks, but particular to Guatemala the lack of respect for public places (eg trash in the streets), the general lack of trust and security, and the chauvinism get under my skin. It's like wearing shoes of two different thicknesses - not enough to prevent you from wearing them, and they make life interesting, but they're always there. 
  • Mail, bills, communication - I'm lucky to have a great friend scanning and sending me copies of my mail (don't know what I would do without you Andie!), but even so, dealing with important letters and things requiring signatures takes a lot of time and effort. Finding fast internet in a quite location for calling to deal with something and then being stuck on hold for hours with customer service is twice as frustrating. I don't know how people did this before internet.
  • Health concerns - always watching what you eat and drink to make sure it's clean and then uncertainty about how healthcare and insurance would work if you were to get sick. 
  • General logistics - constantly trying to figure out where to sleep, what to eat, what bus to catch, where to find a secure ATM, etc.
  • General discomfort - uncomfortable beds, poor sleep, trying to sleep on planes and buses, loud noises at strange hours, odd insects, weird looks from strangers, unfamiliar weather 
  • Turnover - frequently changing places, beds, and time zones. Having to relearn where things go and where you left things. I try to minimize this, but sometimes these things change around you - like new groups of people constantly coming and going (new names to learn).
  • Money - Constantly watching my budget; general stress about where to keep my cash, cards, passport, and valuables - carry them with me and risk being mugged, or leave them in the hostel and risk being robbed. 
  • Uncertainty - My Spanish is improving, but there are still many times when I don't really understand what's going on, or what someone said, or why I'm supposed to do this or that, or what the person on the street was yelling, or what kind of food I'm eating. There are always surprises, and I often find myself simply hoping things will work out the way they should. This kind of blind hope is not something that sits well with my nature. 
Before anyone says "well, if it's so bad, why don't you just go home" I want to repeat my initial disclaimer. I often highlight the really great sides of traveling, so the point of this post is to provide some balance. On average I find the good times to be worth the hardships, but I think it's important to provide an accurate representation. It goes hand in hand with knowing your limits.

And on that note, here's someone who is learning about the limits of their sailing dinghy:
My Aunt titled this one "Exponentially Sinking"


  1. Looks like your having a good time and staying busy. Just wanted to say hi and tell you that I enjoy being able to follow your blogs. Enjoy your time and keep sharing!

  2. i appreciate this post thomas. very mature, informative, etc. loud noises at strange hours lol.........ugh.........

    john o in anc

  3. Thomas, we are now following! Glad you started a blog. :)

  4. I understand what you mean about the cultural differences, albeit on probably a different (smaller) scale than what you're experiencing. Having things constantly a little bit different (even if not necessarily for the worse) can be exhausting. And always noticing when you've "messed up"--said or did something, or didn't 'get' something--by the little reactions when you surprise someone.

    It also makes connecting with people that much more difficult when you realize how much your communication relied on nuances of language or of common background. It's not a big deal if it happens from time to time, but as a general occurrence it can also be...exhausting. And a little alienating. I didn't really realize the extent of how much this impacted my day-to-day interactions with people until I spoke with a bunch of native speakers recently. Very eye-opening.

    Hope you're feeling better by now. Just getting the chance now to go back through your posts. Fun so far being a voyeur on your adventures. :)