We’re all guilty of drooling over those barely believable Instagram shots of sunsets over the Taj Majal, the most delectable platters of sushi you could ever imagine, palm-fringed beaches with skimpily clad strangers and cuddly qyokka selfies.
I hate to be the one that pisses on the bonfire, I really do, but for the vast majority of travellers, what we see on Instagram is a far cry from reality. Sure, it’s still utterly incredible, but real travel – warts and all – is a lot uglier than we’re led to believe. Here are the ten major facts about travel that we need to straighten out.
1. Let’s talk about hostels
Hostel marketing fails to mention the unavoidable centrepiece of dorm room life: the shameless and prolonged bonkfest of that newly-enamoured couple. Sod’s law they’re in the bunk bed below you, so you get to experience every thrust, while the soundtrack of the dormitory snorer ensures that no one gets a wink of sleep – except him, of course. Over breakfast the following morning you’re unable to look either party in the eye without wanting to spear them with a fork.
2. Your body falls apart
So far on my trip I’ve lost three big toenails, having learned the gruesome way that too much time in walking boots is not a recipe for Instagram-ready feet. But the inevitable collapse of your body doesn’t end here. Maybe you escape with your teeth stained from the black coffee and tea that you drink by the gallon in Asia. Or maybe you realise that the myth of losing weight when you travel is just that – a myth. Say hello to the economy of carbs: the cheap, filling and bottom-swelling traveller’s best friend.
3. Food isn’t always as good as it looks (or tastes)
The street food might look and smell delicious, but it only takes a chance comment from a friend to make you realise that what you’ve been eating, and more importantly, actively enjoying, for the past four months are street kebabs made of street dog. Go ahead: post that delicious looking chunk of meat on Facebook. Just don’t mention what happened to poor little Fido.
4. You will puke everywhere. And do some ‘bottom puking’ too
Sure, no one’s going to be uploading the photos of the time they spent getting acquainted with that squat toilet in Thailand, but the adventures of your insides are sometimes the most memorable. We’ve all been there: an ill-advised drink in the local market, followed by four hours of puking into a plastic bag on a public bus in 40°C heat. Or the yet more serious experience of pooing your pants on a Chinese high street after eating prawns an imprudent 3,000 miles from the coast. If your luck hits rock bottom, you’ll learn the meaning of the Double Dragon. Believe me: no one wants to learn the meaning of the Double Dragon.
5. Shit gets lost
Packing and repacking your rucksack becomes a stressful, daily game of Tetris where the pieces have an annoying tendency to escape before you can wrestle them into place. The worst item to lose as part of this habitual struggle? Knickers. In fact, I’ve left – à la Hansel and Gretel – a classy trail of undies marking my way in hostels across an entire continent. The struggle is made harder by buses, particularly when they lose your precious, and only, backpack, leaving you with nothing but the clothes on your back. Little else says “homeless backpacker” than three weeks’ of photographs in the same, increasingly foul outfit.
6. You’d never have room for all those clothes
Even if you do have your rucksack, Instagram peddles a certain lie about how glamorous you can be when you travel – and where on earth you’d be fitting all of those pretty little outfits if you tried. If it doesn’t have the tell-tale, ominous stains from the puking incident, you’ll wear it. Strong body odour repels mosquitos, stray animals and potential robbers, right?
7. Travelling injuries are the worst
Travelling injuries do get some airplay, but injuring yourself far from medical attention is a whole new lesson in oh fuck moments. Case in point: a friend recently shared the story of surgery to remove the maggots growing from under her skin. With a pair of nail scissors and her own hands.
8. Bed bugs
Apparently showing an arm’s worth of bites and suggesting to new hostel pals that you think they could be bed bugs isn’t the opener to a lasting friendship. Perhaps it’s for this reason that bedbugs don’t get their share of Instagram glory. Still, even without photo aides, my memories live on: eight hours in a laundrette in Krakow to kill the fuckers. Oh, and to accidentally wash that forgotten guidebook and clog up the nice lady’s washing machines. Oops.
9. You’ll hand out some bribes
Nothing says once-in-a-lifetime holiday like a photo with Russian police as you slip them a cheeky $50 to let you and your vehicle cross the border, right? Er, wrong: there are some things that should never make it onto Instagram. Bribing corrupt officials is a fact of travel in some countries, and while it might leave you feeling as high as Jordan Belfort after a noseful of cocaine, you know that what you’re doing is utterly illegal. It feels cool and the Insta photo in the Russian prison might just be worth it, but nobody with any sense is Instagramming this.
10. Travelling can be a trial…
…but you’ll find yourself remembering even the most horrendous of experiences with a fond nostalgia. Your class A cock-ups and all-time lows can be filed away under “character-building”, to be dusted off and rolled out as hilarious and cringe-worthy stories to share on your next travel adventure.
And you wouldn’t change anything; not for the world. Not even the dog kebabs: they were delicious.
Steph Dyson writes about adventure travel and meaningful volunteering on her website, Worldly Adventurer. She left her job as an English teacher in the UK to travel the world in 2014. So far, she’s made it to Bolivia and Peru. Follow her on Twitter @worldlyadventur