Are places and views like this the only side of traveling? Is traveling always fun? Let’s take a look.
In the age of social media, it can be tantalizingly easy to show the “perfect” side of things; of life, of relationships, of school, and of traveling.
It is probably something I’m guilty of in an effort to show how great our trips have been. They truly have been great; yet, there is a side of trips – and life – that does not usually show up for others to see, (at least not made public with our consent). In this post, I want to show the “other side” of traveling.
Back in 2018, Emmalie and I undertook the Camino de Santiago stretching from the France-Spain border to the western coast of Spain. It was unforgettable, extraordinary, captivating, and…painful. Especially for me. I don’t mean this as a pity party, but as a way to underscore that while traveling is every wonderful adjective you can think of, that’s not the whole story.
Having just been discharged from the U.S. Marines, I had done long hikes with ill-fitting equipment and knew a hike with durable hiking shoes, an unbelievably light pack, and a walking stick to boot would be much more enjoyable. And it was! But, that still didn’t make it easy.
Hiking in the mountains, I developed Achilles tendonitis in both feet. I had never had anything like this. How in the world was it happening now? Each night I thought it would be gone in the morning, yet it persisted.
Tightening my shoes only increased the pain, so I walked with my shoes loosened all the way. Then I started walking in my sandals. Good thing I bought those expensive hiking shoes, right? I would stretch along the road and at night which brought only temporary relief. For parts, I walked awkwardly, straight-legged, as not to further aggravate the back of my feet.
During this, we met a wonderful physical therapist from Denmark who recommended an ankle brace and some Ibuprofen. We bought a brace and I switched it back and forth between each ankle. We also found some Ibuprofen cream that worked wonders. The tendonitis remained, but there was progress.
Then came the bed bugs.
I must have sweet-tasting blood because they never bit Emmalie and they sure liked me. Certainly, most hostels on the Camino were very clean and hygienic, but I know without a doubt which hostel the first bed bugs came from and have a pretty good idea about the other two.
In all, I had three “attacks” with the first one being the worst, by far. The site of the bites on the back of my thigh swelled up to the size of my palm. Scraping against my pants as we walked only made matters worse, so we bought gauze to tape over it. That worked for a while until the sweat made the tape come off and we were back to square one.
The ingrown toenails came along somewhere at this point, too. I must have sweet-tasting blood and bad feet.
I was – for lack of a better term – wrecked. We met a gentleman from Germany who carried his father’s walking stick with him. His father had walked the Camino before with the same walking stick, but injuries forced him to stop and he never reached the destination of Santiago de Compostella; so, his son hoped to take the walking stick there. We heard other stories of people who started the trek, but never finished. Was it possible we had journeyed all the way just to be turned back now? The thought crossed my mind more than once.
* * *
Traveling can be life-changing (in a good way), but it’s not all sunshine and daisies. You’ll get lost (even when there are GIANT yellow arrows pointing the way), you’ll spend money on a bus only to end up further away from where you were trying to get to, you’ll get ripped off my people pretending to be raising money for a good cause (tip: they’re all around the Eiffel Tower), you’ll even, at times, wonder why you’re here, right now, in some faraway place, blowing your budget, not working towards a degree, not earning money, sleeping in bed bug-covered sheets, ordering who knows what from the menu because it has the only word you think you recognize.
Then, the question must be asked: Why?
Why not stay home and be safe? Why not be content? Why not watch videos of these places or read books about them? Why not learn about them secondhand? Why not get a degree? Or a job? Do things the “right” way?
Because you can’t.
Because you must go.
Just like Pocahontas, you must know what’s around the river bend (yeah, I know my Disney princesses). It’s one thing to read about the Meseta in Spain, but something entirely different to walk through it. The Sydney Opera House looks stunning in pictures, but to touch the tiles that form it does not compare. Does beer taste better in Germany? What do people in India think is funny? Is Ireland really as green as it looks in pictures? These questions roll around your head as your normal day drones on.
On top of this urge to go, other thoughts find their way into your mind. You know the earth has gone through century after century, but in a hundred years more you’ll be gone. Shoot, it might even come tomorrow. Only God knows. You pass by cemeteries, you watch the news, you understand memento mori. This life is fleeting and eventually, it will be gone (albeit, giving way to a much better life). That’s just the way it is and you know you do not want it to spend its fleeting moments wondering what Edinburgh Castle looks like at night or how a river sounds in Japan while you flip through the ever-constant paperwork at a desk. That works for many people and you’re glad they’re content. More power to them! But, you dread the confines of a cubicle.
Does all this make sense? Maybe not. Is it a defect? Possibly. “Wandering Heart” is a defect in timber – it could be in people, too. Perhaps it’s not normal to be enamored by faraway places and long-ago events. Yet, despite all the sensical reasons not to travel, still, you must go. You must experience those places for yourself.
Sometimes you wish you could be content with the here and now, but you’re not – for whatever reason. You’re constantly planning the next adventure. That little voice, or urge, or maybe defect, tells you that you must.
* * *
Despite, the bedbugs’ and my own body’s efforts, we made to Santiago de Compostella. It was a painful trek at times, but with all the memories, the people we met, and the places we saw, I wouldn’t trade any of it. It was my adventure. Plus, the obstacles en route made me appreciate the destination all the more.
So, after all that, I mean to say: sometimes traveling is burdensome, draining, even annoying. Sometimes traveling doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, traveling isn’t glamorous and sometimes it even hurts. I guess that’s why this blog is called The Footsore Traveler.
No, traveling is not always fun. Sometimes it’s downright terrible.
But, still you go.
And it’s worth it.