We always speak about the wonders of travel, frequent travel, digital nomad and backpacking abroad. However, what are the dark sides of frequent travelling that we don’t talk about? After living in many countries, interviewing friends who have lived in many countries and speaking to people who are always on the road, here is the shortlist of the dark side of frequent travelling.
Unfortunately, the reality of life is that nothing is all rainbows and sunshine. Some things suck. Thankfully, they suck less than the good things they bring. That being said, it is important to have the full picture before you embark on this journey!
Real Issues: Dark Sides of Frequent Travelling
- Cultural norms with language barriers. The thing about living in a new place is to restart learning all the norms and things you took for granted. E.g. weighing your vegetables by yourself in Italy VS weighing vegetables by the cashier in Singapore
- Switching countries of your app store to get updates, access and not get locked out. E.g. bank accounts, amazon stores
- Opening bank accounts. E.g. you need an address to get an account. You need a bank to get an address. And a local phone number.
- Need help from bank or police? Good luck. Language barrier, clarification of your “identity” as a foreigner in a foreign place, personal rights, etc.
- Emergency medical situation and you don’t speak the language.
- Basic things requiring lots of emotional energy. E.g. paying bills, calling companies, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, etc. can be stressful with language barriers or lack of knowledge about how to go about these things. Also, reading between the lines and body language!
- Currency control. E.g. Chinese payment platforms (Wechat, Alipay) don’t allow non-Chinese citizens to spend money on items sold in a foreign currency (When traveling or using non Chinese online shops). There are some payment platforms (PayPal) that allow you to spend money for goods sold in a foreign currency, but not every shop accepts them and some shops change without the rules without notice (Nintendo).
- Figuring out public transportation when you’re tired as fuck and don’t speak the language. E.g. Have you seen the metro map of Japan?
- Cultural norms that are “common sense”. E.g. Apparently in the Netherlands, pedestrians have to give way to cyclists. You can imagine the stares I received in my first 3 weeks in NL.
Personal Pet Peeves
Friendship Across Time Zones
Biggest annoyance. If leaving and moving away is tough, try coordinating phone calls with people living across various time zones, inability to accurately call at the same time and last minute cancellations!
Making friends as an adult is difficult but as a foreigner it’s even more difficult. Making friends with other foreigners often seems fruitless as foreigners are always moving around. And many locals are reluctant to form relationships as they don’t want to waste time on a friendship that is bound to end.
Sometimes, I feel like I have different identities when I am living in different places. New sets of friends, different intensity of connection, different stages in life. I’m glad some friendship have continuity. For the rest, I feel like I get to go into a time machine and return to a specific identity I had when I meet various groups of friends.
Reverse Culture Shock
Leaving home to a foreign land is hard? Try adapting to the new foreign land and then coming back home. Reverse culture shock is real. There are so many times I forgot what the “norm” of Singapore is. And people always asked where I am from, since I don’t “behave” in the normal Singaporean way. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like a foreigner in a land that is so familiar, yet utterly strange and foreign. It just feels weird.
The Same Conversation
I could write a whole post on this. Socialising and meeting new people is quite superficial because it is the same topic all over again.
- What’s your country like?
- How is it different from here?
- Why did you come here?
- How do you like here?
But at the end of the day, despite all these dark sides, I really love the curiosity of a new place, the strangers that are yet to be friends and all the little things that make me smile.
Every country has its issues and once the glow of something new has worn off, you quickly become hypersensitive to everything around you. Bureaucracies, attitudes, minute stupid things you wouldn’t pay attention to back home, like how the bike paths are built, taxes, opportunities, etc.
Don’t move to another country to run away from the problems. Your problems follow you, one way or another, there is no way of escaping this. Not saying one place won’t let you deal with them better, but if you think running away is going to solve your problems, it’s not.
Trevellers is my way to change the world. Through my stories, tips and lessons learnt, I truly hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone, see the world and see who you truly are. Travel is more than just taking a selfie. Travel is an adventure, where you can truly become who you are, give you the time to reflect and grow to become the person you’ve always wanted to be.