Hardly a day goes by when an article doesn’t pop up on social media telling us that travelling is the answer to everything – from escaping a dead-end job to surviving an existential crisis.
But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Don’t worry, I’m here to blow this shit out of the water as we bust the travel myths we’ve all been fed – and believed.
Travel Myth #1: It’s glamorous
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Instagram really has a lot to answer for when it comes to perpetuating the travel = glamorous myth.
I’m never going to be one of those travellers with their wide-brimmed sun hat posing in a field of golden sunflowers – and neither will you. Travel just isn’t like that: it’s grotty, smelly and a real minefield of under-washed and under-shaved people. Men use the opportunity to push the boundaries of facial hair and personal hygiene, while I spent last winter in Patagonia seeing how many days I could avoid changing my clothes because it was just too flipping freezing to contemplate stripping down.
Take it from me: if you’re looking for glamour, choose anything else but travel.
Travel Myth #2: It’s relaxing
That’s the dream, right? A trip abroad should be a soothing blur of plush hostel beds, cosy hammocks overlooking jungle paradises, and all the time in the world to reconnect with the land, with life, with you.
Wrong again. There’s something universal about underestimating the demands of your travel itinerary, ignoring the basic laws of distance, time and the inevitable fact that something will go wrong en route. In your drive to extract every single drop of travel juice from your holiday, you’ll spend too many hours pinging between cities on overnight buses as you drift off to sleep to the gentle gagging noises of another passenger vomiting into their own lap.
And don’t be surprised if at least a few days are spent glued to a grubby toilet seat, regret over eating that kebab of unidentifiable animal origin pouring from every orifice. Trust me, relaxation is a travel myth.
Travel Myth #3: It’s easy
Taking that first journey – solo or otherwise – to a faraway foreign country is easy-peasy, right? You board that plane and suddenly, as if by magic, you’ve bloomed into a fully-fledged traveller, adept in every situation and fluent in all possible languages. Plonk you down in the absolute arse-end of nowhere on foreign lands and like some enlightened boy scout, you’ll find your way right out of there.
Yeah, like, no. Courage, gutsiness and unfailing optimism are what all backpackers come to rely on. Having the balls to take a gap year abroad is one thing, while managing to navigate your way around a new country is quite another. But that’s part of the fun; no one’s born a traveller, but you sure as hell learn.
Travel Myth #4: It’s dangerous
Mention to your travel plans to your mum and you’re greeted with a string of shrill expletives, covering all topics from “it’s just too dangerous” to “but you’ll get killed”. Unfortunately, one of the most pervasive myths about travel is that it’s dangerous.
When you travel, you always hear stories of muggings and unlucky events, some of which were completely unavoidable and others which were caused by a combination of too much booze and not enough paying attention to warnings from the locals.
In my experience, as a woman who travels alone in parts of the world known for their less than progressive attitudes towards the fairer sex, I’ve never found myself in a situation I’ve considered dangerous. This is thanks to being acutely aware of my surroundings and relying on my gut instinct or “should-I-even-be-here” detector, but also always listening to the local people. If they wouldn’t go somewhere or do something in their own city, then neither do I.
Travel Myth #5: It’s bad for your job prospects
One of the most rampant misconceptions about gap years isn’t really a misconception at all. If you see travel as a time of binge drinking and risk-taking in different exotic locales around the globe, you’re unlikely to return home with any golden nuggets of travel-inspired wisdom to present at your next job interview. Try and explain away a year spent intoxicated to a prospective boss and suddenly travel doesn’t look quite so rewarding.
However, go out of your way to engage with a new culture through volunteering, picking up a language or just putting down some roots and learning to cope with the way another country works, and suddenly a gap year is one of the most valuable career moves you can make.
Travel Myth #6: It’ll change your life
Perhaps the most visible – and captivating – travel myth of all is how it’s a life-changing phenomenon: a trip abroad can transform anyone from a naïve, pathless vagrant to a worldly, wise traveller, adept in every situation.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always true.
When I lived in Bolivia – a truly fascinating place to visit – I couldn’t believe how many travellers spent most of their days holed up in the cosy, warm cocoon of their hostels, rarely seeing the cities they were in or leaving their comfortable den of foreigner tourists.
Travelling can be an intimidating experience and being surrounded by others in a similar boat goes a long way towards making you feel safer. But for the real benefits of travel, you need to take the leap and welcome every opportunity to delve into the traditions and cultures of the countries you visit.
Hop on a local bus, nip to a nearby market or strike up a conversation with a street food vendor and get ready to jump feet first into the experience of travel – warts, poor personal hygiene and all.
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