The Ups and Downs of Travel

For every blog post we publish I have at least five more in my head. I’ve been writing this particular one in my head all year and I just can’t let the year end without sharing it with you. 

When Maya Angelo passed away in May, a friend posted a quote of hers on Facebook whereby she poetically described the extraordinary ups and downs in her life:

"I had a lot of clouds, but I had so many rainbows."

And it’s funny because only a couple weeks earlier I‘d thought about this as a way to describe the ups and downs of round-the-world, long-term travel. The tough moments are inextricably linked to the amazing ones, in the same way that rainbows are not possible without rain, and rain not possible without clouds. In other words, you have to weather some storms to see the rainbows. And when you do, it’s brilliant.

A rainbow in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

When we set out to do this thing, I knew it’d be tough. I figured it’d be the hardest thing I’d ever done. I expected there would times when things would just completely suck. But my attitude was, “bring it on, I’m ready.”

Well, it was even tougher than I imagined.

Before we even left the country:

One day we rented some mountain bikes to explore the caves and otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia. We were having the most amazing day and had paused to take a photo when I heard a horrible sound: “Ssssssssss…..”  My front tire went flat, and we were a very, very long way from town. We had no other choice but to walk the bike all the way back. Minutes later a freakish fierce wind and rainstorm blew in, making the experience that much more enjoyable. When we told the guy we rented the bikes from about the tire he rudely barked, “Oh, and you think that’s my fault?”

Riding bikes in Cappadocia, Turkey

One morning in the Serengeti, we were supposed to be packed and ready to go on a game drive by 6:00 and forgot to set our alarm. Someone came to our tent and woke us up. We panicked and got ready quick but I was horrified at the thought of holding up our entire group for this special day. You could feel the resentment in the air and I just wanted to crawl up into a ball somewhere and die. Then we drove out into the savanna and saw the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen. The sun was an orange red ball rising in the classic African landscape – it was breathtaking. Every day in Africa was like this… highs and lows, with moments that both amazed and tested us.

Sunrise in the Serengeti

In Istanbul it was pouring rain on the day we were headed to the airport to fly to Prague. We were walking the old streets of the city with our backpacks, trying to get a taxi. The taxi drivers guys are notorious for trying to rip you off, so we had to talk with three before getting one to agree on a reasonable price. As I went to open the car door and get in, I stepped in a hole in the street masked by a puddle of rainwater and fell. I sprained my ankle and immediately felt the pain, both physically and emotionally. How was I going to walk around Prague – a city I had so desperately wanted to visit for the past 20 years – like this?

A rainbow in Prague

Singapore’s most famous icon is the half-lion, half-fish Merlion, seen here under renovation

Here’s a classic one… you make your way over to see a major site and it’s closed or under renovation. Like the time we went to see the famous Merlion in Singapore.

Or you don’t even make it there. Yesterday in Hawaii, a guy in our dorm room told us he was looking so forward to visiting this spectacular waterfall. He trekked for nearly five hours through steep, muddy terrain and dense forest and never found it.

The disappointment you feel when things like this happen is amplified when you’ve traveled so far from home to see or experience this thing. So the question is…how do you deal with it?

Some say you can protect yourself from disappointment by lowering your expectations. Or you can look for what’s positive about the situation or what you learned from it and feel grateful for the experience. You can simply shrug and laugh it off. Or move immediately to solving the problem.

My feeling is – it’s ok to have great expectations and it’s ok to feel upset when these things happen; maybe even whine and complain a little bit – you’re human. 

But you do have to move on and get over it. You do have to accept that these things are part of the travel experience. Travel and vacation are two different things. A round-the-world trip will yield extraordinary experiences but it won’t resemble anything like a vacation.

Still, there is one thing that solves practically everything: TIME.

When things go wrong, or the weather turns bad, when you get sick or lost… it’s no problem when you have more time (or the flexibility to modify your plans). I was laid up for two days in Prague but all was not lost since we had planned 10 days there. The weather was windy when we originally planned our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia but we had time to re-schedule it on a better day. In Laos we weren’t so lucky when we waited until our last day to take a boat ride on the Mekong and couldn’t because we had fallen sick the night before. 

Time not only solves things… it heals and transforms.

With enough time, your most frustrating moments morph into your funniest travel stories. Your scariest moments reveal strength you didn’t know you had. Your awe-inspiring moments outweigh the awful ones in your memory. And you feel gratitude. You really do.