It’s Not Always Rainbows and Butterflies…

Whenever people talk about travelling, they usually talk about the grandeur – how amazing their trip was, all the great things they saw and the people they met. I’ve always had the travel bug and found travelling to be peaceful, exciting, and many times life changing.  Embarking on this year long adventure was a mixture of excitement, uncertainty, and a bit of fear. I knew it would be life changing, I knew it would be filled with great stories. But what I wasn’t sure about were all the downs I would experience on this long of a trip. I knew there was surely no way that a whole year would be full of sunshine and rainbows, but I wasn’t ready for the unexpected downs that we would find.

I’m definitely not writing this article to dissuade anyone from traveling – PLEASE TRAVEL, as often and as much as you can. But from a realistic standpoint, I wish I knew more about some of these struggles before I set off of this trip. Maybe I would have been better prepared, maybe not. But overall, I wanted to share with my friends, family and fellow travelers some of the not so warm and fuzzy parts of our trip so far.

  1. God Bless America!

The most obvious one I think has been home sickness. I remember when I flew back from Australia in college, sitting on the plane crying because I didn’t want to go home! Travelling has always been such a positive experience in my life that home was the last thing on my mind. But this trip has already been a little different. At two months in, we certainly are feeling the pains of lacking many luxuries that we had in the USA. Washers and dryers, properly functioning showers, a comfy bed, familiar food just to name a few. And while we really enjoy living as the locals do at times, there are other times when we get so frustrated because I’m tired of waiting for 6 hours for my clothes to dry on the line, while I sit here with no underwear on…see the dilemma? Maybe this happens on shorter trips, but we ignore it in the face of such much splendor and so little time. But on a longer trip, it seems to be rearing it’s ugly head a bit more often. The silver lining is that we are more appreciative of the quality of life that we’ve had in the US and are starting to understand more of the cultural and lifestyle differences of people in other countries.

2. The old Switcheroo…

Along with home sickness, the constant changing of living atmospheres has been interesting. “Humans are creatures of habit” so I’ve been told and, while we are made to adapt to changes, frequently changing homes has been quite stressful for us. Matt has a theory that all hostels are in a contest for the stinkiest and dirtiest award… He may not be wrong. Now I understand that most hostels go for the “artsy” feel, but artsy doesn’t have to mean a pig sty. We’ve had a few hostel and Airbnb experiences that landed us in very uncomfortable and disgusting places. Many of them had great reviews and wonderful pictures, only to find out that it was a total façade for the mess that was actually there. Bug infestations, broken toilets and showers, floors that would turn your feet black after crossing a room, raw fish sitting on the counters. A few of them with promised amenities that were no longer “in service” which ended up costing us more for the stay. For example, we stayed at a hostel in Belgrade that claimed to have free parking, which we needed as we were on our Balkan road trip. When we asked where it was, they told us that the street parking out front would be fine. When we woke up the next morning to a parking ticket, we were very unhappy and got no help from the hostel. And then list goes on from there. Part of it is due to past customers giving faulty reviews. If you say that “this is the worst hostel I’ve ever been to”, why do you still rank it a 5/6 out of 10? There’s a real skill in reading between the lines in reviews while trying to find accommodations, something that really shouldn’t even be necessary. If the place sucks, say it sucks! Write honest reviews about the things you liked, things you didn’t like, and things that are just downright wrong! You will save future traveler’s time and money so they don’t make the same mistake.

3. Be aware of the laws!!!

Prior to this trip, I would say that I’ve traveled over a dozen times to foreign countries. Many times with my family or organized groups. But NEVER have I been told about local laws that might be strange to me; things that will land me in jail that I didn’t even know are wrong. My concern with this started in Budapest. Matt and I were trying to find ticket machines for the subway. When we entered, we didn’t see any machines, so we continued to follow signs to the correct line in hopes they were a little farther down. But as we go down a flight of stairs, we are stopped and asked for our tickets. We try to explain that we are looking for where to buy tickets, and asked if the man could direct us. Well unlucky for us, we had entered a “controlled” zone where you needed a ticket to enter. We were then asked to pay a crazy fine for crossing the threshold! There were no signs, no markings, no way we could have known that what we were doing was wrong. When we tried to argue with the man, and with a few choice words in Hungarian, he said we should know the local laws of the places we are visiting! After he took my passport, and tried to take Matt’s wallet, we paid the fine and walked away infuriated. We later came to understand it was a potential scam, but at the time we didn’t feel comfortable even asking police if it was, in fear we would get ourselves into more trouble.

Our next encounter was in Belgrade, Serbia. We were looking for an attraction on the city map, which you know is larger on the map so the accurate location is hard to find. We were wondering around trying to find the spot when we saw an open archway leading to a courtyard. A group of men walked out of the door, so we thought maybe this was it! We started to walk in the archway only to be stopped in a few feet by military personnel. With a flick of his wrist, we got the hint we weren’t supposed to be there and immediately walked out. Then another came and asked us where we were from and what we were doing. We told him it was a mistake and that we were looking for a different building. They let us go, but then watched us as we continued on our way. Through some research after the fact, we found out that we had walked into the Ministry of Defense. But without a sign (in any language) naming the building, no gate, no symbols that indicated that it was off limits – how are we supposed to know it’s forbidden!? Not only that, but it is also illegal to take pictures of certain buildings including this one in Serbia. A law that I only discovered after a bit of digging, and one that is punishable by jail time and a fine!

I understand that travelers are not exempt from laws when they travel. I understand that it is important to know the culture and laws of the places you visit. But I can also understand that it is very difficult to obtain that information, and to know when you are/are not breaking a law. Honest mistakes could turn into prison sentences without you ever intending to do wrong. This is even more true in countries that have corrupt police who may or may not help you, or even wait until you commit the crime to say anything. If you take nothing from this post, do yourself a favor and check local laws prior to visiting a foreign country. US citizens – check out when looking up laws for your next destination. They are not the most accurate, but it’s at least a place to start. With a little extra research, you will find yourself feeling more safe and confident about traveling legally.

End of rant…

What I’m trying to convey is that travel at times can be stressful, uncomfortable and scary. But one must always take the bad with the good, and there are many lessons we learned through these struggles we’ve faced. Like I said above, we’ve gained a greater appreciation for the lifestyle and culture that we have back in the USA. It may not be perfect, but no place is, and we are so grateful to have grown up there. We also have gotten a glimpse into lifestyles that are different from ours due to culture, country and other factors. I feel that it has increased my empathy towards people who live under different circumstances then myself, both internationally and in the US. And while we are certainly not finished with our trip or the struggles that accompany it, we are interested to see how we can continue to broaden our  knowledge and perspectives.

After all, this is a research sabbatical ; )

Matthew & Stephanie

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