Food Poisoning, Jet Lag, and Disappointment
It’s important to counteract the comparison-envy-unrealistic-expectation game that social media and the glorious interweb can breed. I know the feeling of seeing someone’s Instagram profile and thinking, “Geeesh. I’m nowhere near as cool/experienced/wise/adventurous as so-and-so, and this makes me feel less worthy.” Of course my higher intellect knows my worth isn’t connected to anyone else’s life experience, but feeding and giving space to this intellect becomes a challenge when we turn to the internet dozens of times per day. What do we see? Laundry, desk work, dirty kitchens, illness, and messy food? No. We see million-dollar apartments, vocational outliers, professionally styled food, and people hanging out on sunny boats with other people whose bodies and clothing align with culturally assigned definitions of beauty.
It’s not until people lightheartedly say to me, “You are living a dream life,” or “I am so jealous of your travels,” that I realize I, too, actively contribute to the comparison culture. We all do. By highlighting the highs and omitting the lows, we collectively set ourselves up for unrealistic and unsustainable expectations, and we’re consequently met with disappointment. This post is an attempt—hopefully a somewhat comical one—at achieving an equilibrium between the highs and equally frequent lows of traveling.
Enjoy, you supremely fabulous and hardworking people.
The one where Jack got food poisoning and Janie peed in a trash can
[Preface: sorry, Jack.] In 2016, after I finished studying in London, my brother and I planned to spend ten days traveling all over Ireland by car. Sounds awesome, and it was…with the exception of the first 24 hours. Jack’s original flight was cancelled, and I ended up getting way (like waaaaay) overcharged for the rental car because Jack still had our booking credit card with him—on the other side of the ocean. When Jack finally arrived, we were ready for a nice dinner and a long night of sleep. We did the dinner part, which was promptly followed by 10 hours of poor Jack vomiting his guts out in our hotel room in rural Donegal. He still calls it the worst night of his life, and I don’t doubt it. In retrospect, for several reasons, we think it may have been a severe shellfish allergy rather than food poisoning. Oh, and since Jack was in the bathroom all night long, I resorted to squatting over the tiny trash can to pee, which seemed like a practical solution until my urine leaked all over the floor. So there we were, two young and ambitious travelers, one with his head in the toilet and the other on her knees in the dark trying to mop up her own urine. Glam.or.ous.
The one where Janie and Hannah overslept (a lot)
Way back on one of my first trips abroad, my friend/forever travel buddy and I were total jet lag rookies. By now, I’ve definitely learned how to anticipate and minimize the effects of overseas flights, but back in 2011 (ancient times) I fumbled. Hannah and I only had one full day to see Madrid, but when we woke up thinking it was 8 or 9 am and realized it was 2:30 pm, we launched into confusion, disappointment, and an extremely groggy superspeed tour of the city. Even now when people ask what I thought of Madrid, I say, “Honestly, I don’t even remember much. It was 104°F and I was half asleep.” Hey, it happens.
The one where Janie had the worst traveler’s diarrhea at the Thai hot springs
Southeast Asia is beautiful, but man oh man is it hard on the American digestive system. After three weeks of traveling through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, my intestines and bowels were just like, “Yea, we’ve had enough,” and decided to omit every liquid, solid, and gas from within my body in the span of 20 minutes. I had just arrived at amazing hot springs in the Thai countryside with my generous host mother, and all of a sudden there was a deep and unstoppable rumbling from deep within me. It couldn’t be stopped, and I praise the deities I was near a bathroom (albeit without toilet paper—pack your kleenexes!). Anytime you think the traveling life is all fun and YOLO all the time, think again.
The one where Janie couldn’t get to the cliffs and spent the night with a mouse
When I visited Denmark in October, I had planned to visit the cliffs of Møns Klint, but plans don’t always sail smoothly, especially when you’re traveling as a solo female. Alas, due to the off-season nature of rural Danish public transport, I arrived in the town of Stege and checked into my hotel only to learn that the bus could take me toward the cliff visitor center, but it wouldn’t go all the way. Taxis and Uber are not an option, because this is the countryside (I really tried). I had two choices: take the bus to its last stop and then walk about two and a half hours on the wooded road to the cliffs or not get to see the cliffs at all. Given that the cliffs were the only reason I had left Copenhagen, I was deeply disappointed and resistant to the idea of not pushing my way out there. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I was that my gut instinct was not comfortable walking alone in the middle of nowhere with no way of getting back in an emergency. It sounded vulnerable and potentially dangerous. I surrendered and called it a night, which was spent in the company of the countryside mice who occupied my equally countryside-y hotel. Overall, not the experience for which I had hoped, but expectations rarely mirror reality, and that’s the lesson here—release expectations.
The ones where Janie missed her friends and family
There’s a simultaneous wonder and grief in traveling alone, because you know everything you experience can never be fully understood by your loved ones. It is liberating and empowering and feels like, “yeaaaaa, I’m forging my own independent path in this world and becoming more compassionate!” It is also lonely and demanding and hard to know that no matter how much you want to explain something hilarious/awful/sad/delicious/life-changing to your best friends, they just weren’t there. There’s an undeniable sadness in that, but it’s something we must concede when traveling solo.
We find relief in hearing trials and tribulations, because it unburdens us from our cages of expectations and “perfection.” We feel less alone. We may laugh and think, “I’ve so been there.” But, once again, these problems are situated in the broader context of travel experiences I would never give up for a less turbulent life in a comfortable city at home. And most of these episodes are also situated in a broader context of privilege. I get to travel for self-development and exploration. I get to learn. I get to have diarrhea at the hot springs in Thailand. For crying out loud, my problems are largely inconsequential in the scope of our world. I try to remember this when I see some ultra-“perfect” Instagram post and hear the envy loop replaying in my thoughts.