If there’s a single goal of Uproxx’s Travel writing, it is to get you on the road. Travel is amazing, edifying, and humanizing. We expand our minds and can become better people when we travel. Fear is put in check. Life is lived to its fullest. After traveling to 70 countries and territories (according to The Century Club) over the last 30 years, I’ve seen a lot, failed a lot, hurt a lot, grown a lot, laughed a lot, cried a lot, and learned … well … a lot.
All glamour aside, travel can be one of the hardest things we ever do. It forces us to face who we are, what we think we know, and where we fit into this mad, mad world of ours. There’s a lot of light out there on the road to bask in. There’s also a lot of darkness. It’s easy to avoid the darkness, the difficult places, the moments that challenge you. But that’s not what travel — or life — is really about. It’s about challenging yourself and becoming more than yourself through interactions, failures, and recoveries. There’s no place more forgiving than the open road … until it’s not.
It’s easy to look at a post on Instagram and dream about wanderlusting around the globe. What those pictures don’t show are the lines at airports, the taxi drivers keen to rip you off, the street meat that got you sick. Or, if the person is an “influencer” what you’re not seeing is the business class lounge, the private cars from the airport to the plush hotel, the private vans to picture-perfect locations, and the pampering that all press tours entail.
It’s not so much that that perfect travel snapshot is a lie. It’s just never the whole truth.
In that vein, it’s a good time for a little reality check. Yes, travel is one of the greatest things in life. No, it’s not always easy. Nor is it a panacea for every problem. With that said, here are the hard knocks I’ve learned from my travels. Hopefully, they’ll help you when you’re out there on the road.
YOU WILL GET SICK
We all get sick from time to time. Colds, flu, coughs, sinus infections, and so forth are a normal part of life. Being sick on the road sucks. You end up devoting precious exploration time to recovery or trying to power through and likely making yourself sicker.
There’s also a lot of different food out there and it’s not always going to be up to snuff. Streetfood is one of the great joys of travel. It’s also a risk from time to time. One hard and fast rule of the road is to only eat animal proteins straight from a fire or grill, as fresh as possible. If something comes straight from the fire, there’s a really good chance that it’s reached 140F and all the bacteria is burned off. If there’s a curry that’s been sitting in a tray all day under the Lahori sun, maybe give it a pass.
If you do get sick (and you will), have a game plan. Know where good doctors work. Know what to expect when you walk into a pharmacy. Some pharmacies will give you morphine for headaches or insomnia. You don’t want to come home with an opioid addiction. There will always be people to help you out — in hostels, hotels, etc. — but don’t expect to be able to rely on your phone or anyone but yourself. Internet accessibility and what’s actually available online information-wise plummets fast around the world, especially if you’ve gotten used to first world access to information.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to go home if you get sick. Malaria, typhoid, and yellow fever are real risks nearly everywhere around the equator. You don’t need to sweat it out in-country. In some cases, you’ll have to travel to get good medical attention. Case in point, when I got typhoid in Java, I had to go all the way to Singapore to get treatment. That costs money, so be prepared. Or, at the very least, have a strategy and know what to expect.