Saturday, September 24, 2011

Things I hate about travelling

Having described myself as a travel tragic, I need to be honest and say that, well, some things about travelling just suck. Here's my list of pet hates about travel:

1. Transit days

Sure the journey is supposed to be more important than the destination, but in my mind the journey has a start and an end point, and that point isn't when I walk outside my house with a packed bag and head to the airport. No matter how hard I try, I just can't build up enthusiasm for the drudgery of multiple airport transfers, overnight stopovers, bad airplane food and sleeping overnight in airport lounges to get to my destination. I do my research, I know which airports have what facilities, where the best spots to sleep are, and where to get the bus into town from, but those days are just grim. It's only when I get to my budget room with fan and shared bathroom in some flea-pit in the city of my destination that I can breathe a huge sigh of relief, relax, and head out on the street to start my adventure.

Maybe I just hate airports.

2. The crying poor

When I travel I like to see and experience what life might be like in the countries in which I travel. So I travel cheap, take local transport, sleep in basic accommodation, eat at street stalls and walk everywhere (you find so many more treasures round hidden corners when you walk). I totally acknowledge that I am perceived as rich by those people in developing countries who live on a few dollars a day and never in their lifetime will have the chance to have leisure time, like a few weeks holiday or the opportunity to travel overseas. Sure some of them treat me like a walking ATM, but far more of them show me what real hospitality is. I've been invited to share meals, stay the night, driven around sightseeing, bought presents, all by people materially so much poorer than me, yet so much richer in their hearts.

A typical refrain I hear from many budget travellers is how all the locals are ripping them off, how they are appalled at having to pay a tourist price rather than a local price. At how the locals look at them in disbelief when they try and explain that they too are poor. Sure, you're trying to travel without working for a whole year. But you're travelling on the amount of money it would take that shopkeeper a lifetime to make, or longer. Perspective guys, a dollar more to you might be a lot more food on the table for the week for a malnourished family.

Alot of budget travellers aren't cheap travellers anyway. They'll shell out for expensive alcohol, aircon, hot showers, burgers and pizza in a backpacker cafe, yet complain about being ripped off 2 dollars on a bus trip. I'm not saying that people should travel outside their comfort zone, but just quit the "poor me" refrain OK? You're not!!

3. Transportation complaints

When travelling in poor countries the local transportation is usually downright dangerous. The vehicles frequently break down, fall apart, malfunction and are driven by maniacs. Not to mention all the other unpleasant stuff like blaring techno music in the middle of the night, the noise and smell of accompanying livestock, and your neighbouring passenger regularly throwing up for the entire journey. But you kind of knew all that before you got on said transport, and somebody also probably told you it would take quite a few hours as well. But it's so cheap, like you couldn't even buy one Big Mac for the price of that 5 hour bus trip!

What some people fail to realise is that local transport has to be cheap, or else the locals couldn't afford to use it. Simple things that we expect in our countries, like safety standards, road rules, and not spitting in public, are really just expensive luxuries. But the whingeing westerners complain from their eyrie on the back seat of the bus at how uncomfortable the suspension is, at how this bus shouldn't be on the road it's so unsafe, at how they are going to miss their next connection, ad nauseum. I try to ignore them, as I'm sitting with the ladies down the front, on the shaded side, where the suspension is much more comfy, and sharing snacks. I realise that time is very fluid and once you add in contingencies like breakdowns you've got to expect any long distance travel in local transport to take at least twice as long and be twice as uncomfortable as you envisaged. And for god's sake, never sit up the back where the suspension will throw you around even more.

And if you can't hack the local transport discomfort, hire a car, take a plane, just quit whingeing about it OK? What the hell did you expect at that price? A stretch limo???

4. Diarrhoea days

I have some really funny stories about some of these days, and I read a really hilarious account on someone's blog (here), but at the time they aren't too pleasant. Actually it's not fair to call this a hate, but when you've experienced the dreadful sensation of a wet fart when you aren't wearing knickers, I can tell you it wreaks havoc with the psyche. Being holed up in your chosen accommodation, rushing to the toilet every time some flatulence needs to be expelled, just in case it's accompanied by more solid contents, feels like a nasty trap. Will you ever be able to fart without fear again? The answer to that is yes, but in the meantime you'll probably spend one more day staying near public conveniences while you trial farting with freedom again. Diarrhoea days can really stuff up your travel plans, particularly if you've limited time.

5. Exploitation

It's really hard sometimes to see the exploitation of children and the poor when you travel. To see young kids begging, appalling work conditions in sweat shop factories, and hear how some western companies pay a pittance for a product that they sell in the west at a 1000% markup. I try hard when I travel to locate the people who make the handcrafts I purchase, to not buy things at "tourist markets", and to be happy that the price I pay is good value for both me and the vendor. Doesn't mean I'm not a hard bargainer, but I won't quibble over what is only a few cents for me. Sure I've sometimes paid far more than I should have, but I've also paid considerably less on a number of occasions when I've ventured far off the tourist trail and purchased direct from the producer. And the journey has always been worth it. But I get so angry about the kids being exploited by adults for money, like the little girl singing in the bus near Surabaya for a few coins, or the kids requesting money for an orphanage outside a temple at Angkor. It's simply not right!

6. Going home

I always enjoy being home once I get there, but the realisation that a trip is over and that I'm going to have to endure one or more of those dreadful transit days to get home is definitely a pet hate. There's only one solution to this one, and that's to become a perpetual traveller.


1 comment:

  1. I'd agree with that Naomi... looking forward to the next phase of your journeys!