My dream was always to go on a long-term trip, but now that I’m on one, there have been several occasions lately in which I just want to throw up my hands and say, “I’m sick of this sh*t!” Travel looks glamorous and idyllic in photos, but the day-to-day is not always as peachy keen as seen on Instagram.
So do you want the truth?
Travel days are the worst days
It would be great to get from Point A to Point B in a taxi or direct bus, but taxis are too expensive for a backpacker and buses are rarely direct in Central America. Especially the local chicken buses – or old American school buses – that are cheaper than tourist shuttle buses, and therefore usually the mode of transportation I’ll use.
I ended up taking 4 buses to travel about 60 miles from Antigua to Panajachel in Guatemala. Each time, the conductors told me the bus was heading the Panajachel, only to tell me while we were already en route and I was paying for my ticket that I’d have to get off the bus and make a switch. The buses were insanely crowded, each seat fitting 3 people (which I don’t think was even allowed when I was a taking the bus to school as a child). It was a stressful few hours in which I was literally jumping on and off of buses through the emergency exit in the back, but finally I did end up in Panajachel in one piece.
Budget accommodation living isn’t always clean-cut
I have a love-hate relationship with hostels. I love meeting new people and being in social environments, but lately I’m tired of staying in dorms and lack of cleanliness in so many budget accommodations.
As soon as I arrived at a hostel in San Marcos on Lake Atitlán, I saw ants on my pillow and bed and started checking around every surface for more. Talk about sweating the small stuff, but they were everywhere. I couldn’t lay down without flicking a few ants off of the bed first. I wanted to teleport to my bedroom back home or back to my windowless room in Madrid – I wanted to be anywhere but where I was at that moment. I actually started writing this post to blow off some steam because I was so frustrated.
Living out of a backpack is a heavy burden…literally
I’m dealing with a few backpack problems. My bag feels heavy although it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of stuff in there! I didn’t pack an exorbitant number of shirts or jeans, but somehow it’s a pain to carry and packing and repacking is even worse. It seems to be getting bigger although I lost a shirt and haven’t bought anything.
Although I keep my clothes packed in vacuum-sealed bags and separate the clean from the dirty, my clean clothes don’t feel so clean anymore. And the dirty clothes are even dirtier than I thought. Should I wear the jean shorts with the watermelon stains, or the yoga pants with the mud stains? Decisions, decisions.
Then with the ant party in my room in San Marcos, ants took the liberty to get in and around EVERYTHING I brought. Even inside my laptop and camera. I nearly cried. Unfortunately, it seems they’re attracted to sweat in addition to sweets, because they were all over my dirty backpack and sweaty clothes. It took a solid hour to get most of the ants out. I’m sure some are lingering even now.
Lack of normal diet
I know it’s very “gringo” of me, but sometimes I just want to eat pizza or a salad instead of chiles rellenos that I’ve bought off the street. I love street food, especially the chiles rellenos I’ve had in Guatemala, but I don’t have a normal diet anymore and crave consistency every now and then. I’ve even realized I have a weakness for the Guatemalan street fried chicken.
Sometimes the only vegetables I’m eating are in the form of pico de gallo. This is when I wish I had a kitchen, and not all hostels and Airbnbs have these facilities. It’s my responsibility to make sure I’m eating a balanced diet, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible to do so.
Most of my gripes these days are just par for the course. And I am sweating the small stuff – literally. Those ants are still in my nightmares! It’s not as comfortable to be living on the road, but the trade-off is tenfold. I’ve watched the most striking and colorful sunrises I’ve ever seen and hiked volcanoes on this trip. There’s no mad dash for me to get from place to place. I have time. I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to explore the ends of this earth and most of the time, I’m doing it with a smile on my face. But we’re all allowed to vent every now and then, right?
I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, especially because I am having the experience of a lifetime, so let me put a positive spin on this. These frustrations are why it’s so important to take time to relax and recharge during long-term travel. This is what I do to stay sane during long-term travel:
Stay in one place for a week or longer, with a kitchen
It is so nice to know I’m “settling down” (staying for more than two or three nights) in a place. I get to spread out the contents of my backpack and not spend every second of the day planning the next excursion or destination.
Staying in a hostel or guesthouse with a kitchen is an ideal situation. In Xela, Guatemala, I’ve been cooking most of my meals, which saves money and is relatively healthier to the street food I’ve been eating. It’s really awesome to be able to make french toast or granola in the morning, or cut up a papaya that I bought at the market.
Clean house (or backpack for that matter)
While travel days are the worst days, laundry days are the best! It’s quite affordable to get laundry done in Central America and I relish in the days that I get to put away clean clothes.
Reorganizing and cleaning up my backpack always makes me feel lighter, even if I don’t find something to discard. It’s a good idea to take stock of what you’re carrying with you on a long-term trip. If you haven’t worn or used something in a month, maybe it’s better to get rid of it before useless items are weighing you down.
Spend time doing normal things
Binge watch Scandal on Netflix (like me), read for pleasure, sleep – take a break from nonstop travel and just relax. If I don’t do these things, I think I’d go crazy. Long-term travel is exhausting, lonely at times, and daunting. Everyone needs an escape every once in a while.
A run or yoga class is the best thing to clear my head. For that time period, I’m not focused on anything else. This isn’t just a travel tip, it’s a life tip. Exercise is a part of normal life and sometimes we all just want to feel a little more normal while traveling.
Great post. It reminds me of my last long term travel in India, when I got close to snapping a couple of times! But then you see something amazing or meet someone fascinating and it all seems worth it!
I know that feeling in India, but you’re so right, it is worth it! It’s what keeps me going, that’s for sure. 🙂
Great post! The longest I’ve traveled alone was for 9 days, and what an adventure that was. I agree that travel days are really challenging, and the actual traveling from one place to another is usually the part I hate most. Wishing you better hostel experiences ahead!
I was actually traveling with a friend during this time but I’m solo once again and dreading those bus rides! Thanks for the well wishes, Estrella!
Next year I’ll go on a two-month trip through part of Australia, and actually it crossed my mind a few of those things you pointed out. I decided that once in a while I’ll stay in a hotel, a few more dollars but a night to get my levels back to normal and also a bit of privacy. I am not much of a beach kind of person, but I decided that I should spend a few days just to unwind as well, mental sanity is the first one to go 😛
Splurging a few extra dollars for a better place to stay or a private room every once in awhile is a great idea. It’s the little comforts that go a long way when you’re on a long trip. Maintaining that mental sanity is key 🙂 Can’t wait to follow your travels in Australia!