Bart Och - Travel Journalist

Kneeling on a cold, tiled bathroom floor, with my head in a toilet of doubtful cleanliness, I seemed to have lost all remains of my decency. My only consolation was that, unlike India where a concrete hole in the ground is a rather unavoidable staple, Laos appears to favour western kind of sanitary ware. While I was vomiting my half-digested lunch, it occurred to me that, no, travelling isn’t always fun. And I feel like almost nobody talks about it. I would really like to see more self-proclaimed influencers and travel bloggers share with the public everything they chose not to: the bad, the sad, and the ugly.

Underneath those catchy captions and fancy filters, travelling is, actually, quite exhausting! It isn’t just happy faces, beautiful places, blue sky and turquoise water. Sometimes, more often than people realise, it is you trying not to shit yourself while you are choking on your own bile.

I have been travelling for a while – almost three full years. It has been such an amazing, life-changing experience, and I would easily wish this opportunity upon anyone. “You are living the dream, man!” – I am constantly reminded. And, sure, I love every second of my life on the road – for the most part.

Immersing oneself in a different culture and trying new things, especially food, can sometimes have its drawbacks. Never have I ever been so ill so often. I got food poisoning, yet again. It seems to be a pattern because it happens every time I arrive in a new country. It had happened when I came to Vietnam and it had happened soon after I landed in Malaysia, too. By now, I have learnt to identify the symptoms quickly enough to take appropriate action before I become severely sick.

There is a certain genre of content across all social media platforms. I am talking about coconuts and beaches; girls leading people places; attractive people smiling, feeding their bottomless egos with likes. And they always talk about the value of experiences, whatever that is. This is the wish-fulfilment stuff that people look at and they think, “God, I wish my life was like that!” This is the content that is supposed to inspire others to live life to the fullest and to try new things. In reality, I think all this does is just make people feel like they are missing out.

Almost every travel Instagram influencer is basically like: “Yo, check out this dope-ass place I am in, in this part of the world you have never even heard of. Look at this blue-ass water, check out this white-ass beach. What?! Are you stuck in an office? A cubical maybe? That sucks. That blows. Guess where I am. Fucking Maldives! It is awesome. I am not going to tell you how long it took me to get here, how exhausted I am, how ill I got. I am not going to tell you about my explosive diarrhoea or how I spent over eleven hours on a ramshackle bus holding on for dear life. I am not going to tell you any of that. I am just going to show you that I am here and how stunning this place is, and you are going feel like a piece of shit.” This, to me, isn’t inspiring at all. It is showing off and over-glamorising, and it seems most people who put out this type of content get off on envy.

My Facebook was, I hate to admit it, sort of like this. But, I have also talked in great lengths about the hardships of life on the road. I have talked about when my leg almost fucking fell off after I got stung by an Asian hornet in Indonesia, or when I got bitten by a cat in Thailand. There is a ton of negative things about travelling! Like, for example, this strange arrangement of sleeping in bunk beds with eight other people in a tiny room, and the uncomfortable necessity of showering in your flip-flops as the foot fungus is never completely deterred.

To many people, my life seems like one, big holiday. But you got to meet people, you got to find somewhere to live, you got to communicate in a foreign language – you got to accept this life’s many vagaries. It isn’t for everyone, that is for sure. It is a simple way of living. You have got everything on your back and you learn to live with much less. You, eventually, lower your expectations to the point where you don’t care anymore where you sleep as long as there is a mattress. Because you have no choice other than to go home – if you still have one.

I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because, yes, travelling is cool, and it is a privilege. But you know what else is cool? Having a mortgage, starting a family, getting a degree, having people in your life that actually care about you and that you, too, care about. That is very cool. Don’t look at these images and think, “Damn, I should be there!” You are doing fine. And if you really want something like that – given the opportunity – save up and go somewhere for a few weeks, do some yoga, chill, get your fix, and then see if you liked it and whether or not you want to continue or come home and work on things that actually have meaning to you.

Puking your guts out two days in a row isn’t a fun activity, being hospitalised in a different country isn’t an adventure. But we all make our own choices, sacrifices and priorities, and I would pick this life every time no matter the crap-sandwich it comes with because, to me, it is worth it even if sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it.

I am very lucky that I can travel and that I am not in this on my own. I am so thankful that I have someone to rely on in moments when I am stuck in bed, staring at a white ceiling. I guess that is why I am still travelling because I don’t think I would be able to handle the sometimes-depressing reality, which is – no matter the angle or the filter – not at all as perfect as it looks on a screen of any size, shape or quality. And I hope that we can eventually stop perpetuating this crazy idea that only “to travel is to live” because, oftentimes, it feels like death.

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