Thailand and helping run a women’s cooperative. The experience was one I am grateful to have had, and my memories of that summer are mostly fond. If you were friends with me on Facebook at the time — though this is before I had a blog — the photos I shared were of rice paddies, smiling local children, cooking lessons, karaoke nights and local villages. All seemed happy, and for the most part I was, though there were parts of the experience that were tough. Aside for the living conditions that I was not accustomed to, I worked with women who were struggling to support themselves and their families, many of whom had difficult pasts. I also worked alongside a group dedicating to ending human trafficking in Thailand, as the country is sadly a major hub for this. Being so close to this kind of despair was hard to say the least. The reality is travel isn’t always a paradise. The even larger reality is travel magazines and blogs hate telling you the truth if it isn’t pretty. Those photos of tourists happily riding an elephant? They must be ignoring the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach they undoubtedly had seeing the enormous animal chained to a fence and being beaten with a bullhook by its mahout. Those “smiling locals” in Thailand everyone talks about? That is a “pretty” generalization and gives no insight into the actual individuals in the country. Those sexy Instagram photos of jumping girls in bikinis with snowy backgrounds? I’m sorry, but there’s just no way. I’ve been guilty of this myself. Not lying per say, but staging something to look more exciting than maybe it really felt. In fact, check this out:I lay awake, despite the fact my phone reads 3:13am. I can hear them crawling. Feel their presence on my walls, their furry legs threatening to paw at my bed sheets. Tarantulas. So far my bed has been safe from their presence; however, the room I’m staying in in my Chiang Rai volunteer village stay is full of them. I barely use soap in the shower out of fear it will get in my eye and I’ll have to blink instead of watching the numerous eight-legged nightmares that line the shower walls. Ugh, and now I have to pee! Getting up in the middle of the night for any reason is something I try to avoid. I actually regret not bringing diapers or having less shame so I could pee the bed. Why? Because after dark is when they weave their intricate webs between the bunk beds of the volunteers, and if you’re not careful — and often even when you are — you’ll end up with a face full of spider. So I take to bellying to the bathrooms. They’re attached to the bedroom, so close but so far, as my right hand clutches a flashlight and my left outstretches in front of me to untangle any webs that could potentially end up in my mouth. It takes me awhile to get to the toilets, and when I do the spiders are accompanied by a dead frog in the squat toilet. There are also myriad lizards, which I actually love because they eat the spiders, though not fast enough for me. Oh, and I’m not being dramatic. This was my reality for the summer I spent teaching English in
Yes, because I always go to the beach and jump up and down in a bikini with a wine bottle 🙂 Sure, I was having a great time — and I love wine — but the pose was mainly for a fun photo rather than me literally jumping for joy. Most people don’t want to be dishonest. Between Jessie on a Journey and my online magazine, Epicure & Culture, I try to deliver the realities of my experiences, from the truth about how I felt riding an elephant in Thailand (yes, I’m guilty of having done this) to my scariest encounters on the road to my boyfriend breaking up with me because of travel to why I didn’t like hiking Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala. That being said, sometimes it feels weird to highlight the negative. If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say it at all, right? Sometimes, but not always.
Jessie Through Travel: Growth & AppearancesI think people have this idea that travel is always this amazing thing. And it is, for the most part. Without travel, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s helped me grow as a person, learn my strengths, gain confidence (especially traveling solo), and have novel experiences for a broader world view and a fuller life. Hell, it’s even allowed me to successfully run my own businesses through my blogs. That being said, it is not always a picnic. It can be hard for me to admit this sometimes as I worry about coming across as ungrateful or even, sometimes, culturally insensitive. Take my story opening about the tarantulas, for example. Someone could easily write to me, “Well not everyone gets to grow up privileged like you!” I use that retort as an example because it’s one I get in my inbox quite frequently. That I’m privileged, “daddy” pays for me and I have a trust fund — none of which are true. Yes, I grew up comfortable; though I’ve never been rich. How I afford to travel is working really hard and making it a reality for myself.
Why The Negative Stories Are ImportantI still think it’s important to tell these negative stories sometimes to give the real reality: travel can be tough. Backpacking solo for four months without a homebase is an adventure, sure, but it’s also really, really, really mentally and physically draining. Sometimes you feel like you’ve met the most amazing people in the world at your hostels; other times you crave your family and friends back home. When you’re sick, figuring out how and where to get medicine can be a job in itself, and your go-to comfort foods when you’re not feeling well may not be an option. You’ll spend tons of money trying to see the best of every place. Sometimes, however, there will be disappointments — tour guides that aren’t great, attractions that aren’t as described, accommodations that don’t live up to their photos. The best remedy for this is the same as the entire moral of this post: lower those expectations and realize travel isn’t always going to easy or perfect. But then again, neither are any of the best things in life. Relationships, careers, health, money. These things all come with challenges that reap great rewards if you’re willing to be realistic about them. I’m not saying not to travel. Quite the contrary. Living with tarantulas in Thailand and all of my many mishaps and misadventures from the road have truly allowed me to realize what I’m capable of. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world and, funny enough, they actually make for the best travel tales. These tales need to be told more often.
Do you agree with this travel advice? Please add your insights in the comments below.
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