First rule of modern society: people are not nearly as perfect as their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles suggest. Whenever we look at someone’s life through the #nofilter lens (we all use it), we see a whitewashed version of life free from any challenge, difficulty, or roadblock. When I post pictures of traveling the world online, I leave out the unpleasant parts, but I decided for this post I wouldn’t spare my readers from some of the more graphic details of the tough times I’ve been through so far in my travels around the world. Hopefully these stories below give you realistic expectations if you’re thinking of going off on global trip that it won’t all be sunshine as well as make you laugh a bit so you can get through the week.
How My Stomach Fell Apart
Since starting the trip in Iceland over two months ago, I’ve battled severe digestive issues at least three separate times, the longest of which lasted about a week. Back when I was in the states, I ate the same boring stuff in the corporate cafeteria and had the same predictable 2-3pm trip to the nice clean corporate bathroom. Then I come over to the Balkans and I’m going to the toilet as much as ten times a day, and I started thinking if I was being punished by fate for mocking the 9-5 so much. Truly though, you haven’t lived unless you’ve been forced to use a squatty port-a-potty on the Romanian-Bulgarian border out of digestive desperation and then promptly sprinted after your bus before it crossed the narrow one lane bridge soaring hundreds of feet over the Danube river, and that’s a very hypothetical story.
I would tell anyone traveling where water is suspect to avoid foods you need to wash like the plague. That especially means things like cucumbers and grapes where they will be handled and thrown around in the back of trucks and then washed off in a sink before you eat them. I switched mid trip to fruits with hard outer shells like watermelon, honeydew, and bananas and haven’t been disappointed. Sometimes I mix in some peaches or nectarines because the upside you get from Vitamin C is worth the risk of getting indigestion but oranges are still your best bet since you can peel them.
I valiantly did battle with my broken small intestine with copious amounts of bottled water and Imodium. Luckily bottled water in Eastern Europe is super cheap so I pigged out on multiple liters a day, way higher than I ever drank in the US. When you cant digest anything and are losing a lot of fluids its important to replace them or you could get headaches and fatigue so replace what you’re losing with sports drinks to get back electrolytes in addition to the bottled water. When your stomach is upset, pretend you are an old person in a hospital and eat the most basic, calm, and straightforward foods you can find. Focus on avoiding dairy and try out things like potatoes, non fatty foods, and pastas. Garlic and yogurt with good bacteria (like Probiotic stuff, Activa is an example) will help as well. You basically want to treat you tummy like a child to help it get back to health.
The good news is all you got to do is go into any pharmacy out there and act out what your problem is to the desk clerk and he or she will understand what you mean right away. Thank goodness I took acting classes in high school. Instead of Polish I just pantomime stomach problems and boom there’s my pills. It’s a little awkward but that’s one of the best parts of being overseas. No one knows you and therefore you can afford to have no dignity in trying to get the medicines you need. I also probably made that pharmacist’s day with my bizarre performance.
Aches and Pains of Outrageous Fortune
There’s been a couple times when I push too hard that my head screams STTTTTOOOOOOOOPPPPP!!! Some of these headaches were from accidental causes and some were from plain stupidity on my part. The legit ones were from related stomach issues and perhaps from lower amounts of sleep as there’s always another pub crawl to attend. The dumb moves involved me trying to run through a fountain in Kosovo and slipping as I hit my head on the concrete hard enough to get a semi-concussion. While I provided a ton of entertainment for all the local kids who couldn’t stop laughing, I strained my neck muscles and had headaches the whole next day. I grabbed some extra strength ibuprofen and after popping a few I felt better in no time.
Another weird problem I’ve run into is the changing weather which has given me joint pain when there are temp changes of more than 30 degrees. I had an accident a while back and as a result I have very little padding in my knee so I gained the unique superpower of sensing changes in atmospheric pressure. While I could double as the best meteorologist in the country if I ever ran out of money because of this new found ability, I try to wear my brace when things get a little nippy to stabilize my left leg when I’m running up a castle fortress.
When you are backpacking through dozens of countries and getting dropped off from strange bus stops in the middle of the night, you will be doing a lot of walking. This hostel in Albania had a slippery floor and I took a spill and twisted my ankle, which hurt for the next three days. While a responsible doctor might’ve said stay off of it, I just walked more on it and it eventually got better out of necessity. What doesn’t kill you totally makes you stronger.
Other Weird Issues I’ve Encountered While Traveling the World
When you’re staying in budget accommodation, you attract the kind of characters that can afford to get kicked out. I’ve been sick in bed recovering from various maladies when some hostel guests have begun an all night romp fest in the bed next to me, a quite uncomfortable occurrence. Little did I know that it was going to happen multiple times in my travels, all while I happened to be sick, all by Australians (the sample size is too small to conclude anything by this to be fair). You learn to get good earplugs and look towards the wall as drunk 20 something libidos don’t respond very well to verbal pleas to find another place to show their affection.
While you’re traveling, you might run into some strange bus arrangements as well. One minibus I rode on was emitting strong exhaust fumes into the back seat row and I was trapped in the corner when finally a very large Serbian man smelling of cigarette smoke got up and asked the driver to ventilate the bus, that’s when you know you might be dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, when the chain smoking Serbian guy is worried about his lung health.
Another trip in Albania I almost got tricked into taking a private car to a town for $200 when I quickly realized he didn’t understand English and was saying yes to all of my questions just to get me in the car. That would’ve been an awkward conversation once I got to the destination. I had to follow a local that spoke English around to find where I was supposed to go to get the bus because Albanians don’t believe in central transit centers so they tend to pick up from wherever. He also helped me negotiate tickets as there’s often a special “tourist price” when you travel in the Balkans.
The last funny story I’ll leave you with is also bus related. I had just started nodding off on the night bus to Bosnia when I felt a cold drip on my neck. I look up and there’s condensation from the air conditioner that has pooled and begins to drip vigorously all up and down my body. The bus is already cold, and the icy water all over my body ensured I wasn’t getting any sleep that night. Looking around the bus was packed and so I was going to have to deal with it. And you know what? Deal with it I did. Because after going through so much stuff compared to my cushy life in the business world, a little water never hurt nobody.
The Lows Make the Highs So Much Sweeter
Given I’ve had all these tough times, you might be so intimidated that you’re like “no way do I want to travel.” Honestly I hope your reaction is the complete opposite. When I was chugging away behind my beautiful gray glowing computer screen running Windows XP a few months back, I was thinking how exciting it would be in life just to have crazy unpredictable things happen to me again.
I’m just giving you a heads up that you will 100% get your wish if you pursue radical early retirement or even just an extended global trip, both in the incredible positive things you’ll see like this:
I think that the toughest stuff I’ve been through on the road long term has been really good for me. Transportation snafus, illnesses, weird injuries, and quasi concussions where little Kosovan kids laugh at you for running through a slippery fountain and falling on your butt all make you stronger because everything else seems so common by comparison. I’ll continue to write more posts about the overwhelmingly positive experiences I’ve had while traveling, but hey I always want my readers to hear the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
Have you ever experienced some wild traveling challenges? Leave em in the comments below!