The sign reads “Welcome to New York.” There’s nothing welcoming about anything though. You’re surrounded by a swarm of cranky people who were just cramped up on a long flight. They’re late for meetings or connecting flights. They’re hungry, thirsty and tired. They probably need to use the restroom, too.
You come to passport control where the line usually moves well. Then, you encounter a border control agent behind a booth who mumbles something through the thick glass wall. The agent acts slightly annoyed when you ask to repeat what was just said. I don’t blame the agent. I’d be slightly annoyed, too, if I had to deal with the amount of people that come through those gates.
The airport I’m talking about is JFK, but it could very well be any major airport. And the last time I experienced any of that was over 3 years ago now. That was the last international trip I took. Thank god. Over the years, I’ve been to over 25 countries and had some great times as well as some low times.
I had a bucket list of places I wanted to visit. But I don’t care about it anymore.
I’ve decided traveling sucks.
Here are some reasons why…
1. People try to rip you off
After I left the baggage claim area in the Lima airport I was hounded by taxi drivers. Twenty bucks to get to where I needed to go they all told me. I didn’t want to pay twenty bucks. I was a cheap backpacker looking for public transport, so I asked someone where the bus stop was.
I got lost looking for the bus stop. I asked someone if I was close. He happened to be a taxi driver. “My friend…five dollars and I’ll take you to where you need,” he told me.
Well shit, it was just four times that just a couple hundred feet away. For the same taxi ride through the same crazy Lima streets.
But then, I couldn’t help but think if the guy who gave me directions to the “bus stop” was actually in on the whole ordeal.
I’ve been ripped off. A lot. I would say 80 percent of the time it was while I was traveling abroad.
I don’t like to think about it. But it brings me to my next point…
I keep my secondary wallet in my left sock. My real wallet is in my right pocket along with my passport. Another wad of cash in my left pocket in case I end up in a situation where I don’t want to broadcast my cash—like when I have to pay a bribe or a when I’m in a crowded marketplace. I can just reach into the “wad” pocket and pay discretely.
Then, I have my camera in my bag, but a flash drive with all my important pictures is in another bag inside my bag next to the bottle of hand sanitizer. Or, is that where my real wallet is? Or is it actually my secondary wallet?!
I can’t even keep track of it!
But I’m paranoid. The only thing I’ve had stolen from me was my favorite orange North Face jacket with a Swiss Army knife in it. But I’ve had some close calls.
I’ve also heard horror stories. People who lost everything and had to scrounge their way back home. So I put systems in place to avoid that, but I can’t even keep track of my own systems!
So I end up even more paranoid.
3. You have to keep up with the Joneses
A fellow traveler I met was telling me his travel story, but I wasn’t listening. I wanted to interrupt as soon as possible to tell him my even better, more amazing travel adventure I had. And then, I wanted to one up it with another one from a country that he’d never been to.
Those are pretty much the types of conversations that ensue when you meet other travelers on the road. But no matter what you do, someone has always done something cooler, been to more countries than you have, and did it cheaper because they gamed the frequent flier mile system for 585,657 points.
It gets worse, if you open up any of your social media feeds, someone is probably on vacation sharing photos with casual captions like, “Just another day in…”
They’re pretty much rubbing in how awesome their life is and how much your life sucks.
But the joke is on them because traveling sucks.
4. Lost loves and chances
I’ve lived abroad 3 times and each of those times I’ve had little flings with some of the locals there. But they all ended on the departure date printed on my boarding pass.
One fling comes to mind. She was pretty cool. We kept in touch briefly after I left the country, but then lost touch. We connected again when social media hit the scene. All I saw was photos with her new fiancé. I couldn’t help but wonder, “what if…”
Another time in South America, I stayed up until the wee hours of dawn talking to an Australian girl I met. She was perfect. Hot, adventurous and down to earth. Actually, I found it hard to believe that I was talking to her. But that doesn’t matter. I never saw her again.
I kept hoping I would somehow run into her during my time there. That never happened. That still didn’t keep me from daydreaming, and thinking of what I’d say to her if I ran into her again. In the middle of all that daydreaming, I was being ripped off, paranoid and trying to one up everyone I met.
How could you have a good time with all that on your mind?
5. You’re always tired
My ticket wouldn’t work in the Tokyo metro, so I showed it to the guard hoping that he’d let me through the gates. He laughed at me. The kind of laugh where someone is patting you on the head and saying, “nice try there little one. Now carry on.”
I didn’t get it. Only later I discovered that I actually ordered food. It just looked like a machine that had buttons with Japanese characters on it. I thought it was a ticket machine, but it was for ordering food from the little stand a few yards to the right of it.
It was early. Or was it late? I don’t even know. I just arrived and I was dead tired. I wanted to get to the hotel and have some food. But I just ordered food and I didn’t even realize it.
So I paid for food that I never got to eat. I got ripped off. Again.
6. Cultural experiences are overrated
When I returned from Peace Corps I would share my cultural experiences with people. “That’s nice they’d say…but so and so got shitfaced and kicked out of a bar the other night. And Dancing With the Stars is on tonight.”
That’s real entertainment. Cultural stuff? Not so much.
But let’s be real, all I was doing was trying to one up everyone by showing off how worldly I was.
I’ve also been on countless tours and I don’t remember a single thing about any of them. Here’s one thing I do remember about tours I’ve been on: They all end in the gift shop.
7. You end up with a bunch of useless shit
I thought I was clever. I bargained with the guy for a good deal on a bunch of Russian nesting dolls. I did the same for some pirated Russian DVDs that I ended up throwing out recently. I loved going to the market and haggling the vendors on price.
I always won. Or so I thought…
The joke is on me. I ended up with so much useless shit that I don’t know what to do with it all. I sent a bunch of Russian nesting dolls and a Peruvian wool hat to soldier in Afghanistan. It was part care package, and part gag gift. Maybe he could use the nesting dolls for target practice. Maybe he gave them to some Afghan kid as a piece of forbidden history. Who knows. But I do know that I have absolutely zero use for them.
I thought I developed street-wise bargaining skills in the souvenir markets of Moscow, but in reality, I just got ripped off.
8. Different toilet rules
Foreign bathrooms can be confusing. A good resource is http://www.wheredoiputthepaper.com. It gives you a good overview of toilets around the world.
I’ve traveled to many places where signs in bathrooms read “Do Not Flush Toilet Paper.” They put a little garbage can for you to throw out your used shit tickets. The signs are clearly geared towards foreigners who mess up a lot.
I always throw toilet paper in the toilet. It’s just a habit. I can’t NOT do it. So I stuff the toilet with toilet paper and then flush it to leave a flooded mess for the next person.
Maybe I’m a bad person. But I’ve walked in upon many flooded messes myself. So apparently I’m not the only one. Some poor person has to clean that all up at the end of the day. But maybe we’re all just getting even with the places and people that rip us off.
I’ve never met a single person that likes airports. Yet, I’ve had to stay overnight in them a number of times.
10. You don’t find happiness
Some people will have you believe that you can simply leave everything behind and lead the life of a vagabond and you’ll be happy. No responsibilities, no worries…only freedom! Maybe it works for these people and more power to them if it does. I’ve never found real happiness and riches on the road.
In the early 1900s, Reverend Russell Conwell gave an inspirational lecture called “Acres of Diamonds.” In it, he tells the story of a farmer who sells his farm so he could travel the world looking for diamonds. He spends his entire life looking for diamonds and never finds them. Finally, after a long search, he returns home broke and exhausted.
Meanwhile, the man who purchased the farm finds a diamond in a creek on the property. It turns out, the farm was located on one of the world’s largest diamond mines.
Sometimes you struggle, you travel long and far, and you hope to find happiness and riches. Then, you return home only to find them in your backyard.
Right where you left them before you took off.