Navigating the Challenge and Embracing the Opportunity of Travel Today

Image Credit: Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

Laura Kenny outlines the downsides of travel and how to overcome them

I am in a metro station in the heart of Paris and find myself trapped behind a complex labyrinth of turnstiles that refuse passage to the metropolitan world beyond. The glare of sterile lighting onto the station’s eroded ceramic tiles corresponds harmoniously with my declining energy levels after a long journey. I look around, searching desperately for an escape and hoping that someone will be able to comprehend my frustration through broken French. I take a deep breath, focus my vision and gather the courage to tear through the barriers as another passenger with a magic ticket that I do not possess glides seamlessly through the exit point. My efforts are futile. The sliding doors collapse back into place, and my time in purgatory continues. You wonder at moments like this why does anyone travel at all? Recalling this mundane, confusing, and frustrating series of events perfectly encapsulates the testing reality we can experience beyond the polished storyline of grand voyages today.

During the last few years, I have had the good fortune to understand why people continue to explore new terrains and embark on life-changing travels despite challenging moments like this. Travel has an alluring appeal. The experience can be exhilarating, breathtaking, thrilling, and empowering. Importantly, it has become a more democratised and seamless experience, making it accessible to more people than ever before. 

My bank account may have had a dearth of funds, but I made up for this with vast amounts of naivety and enthusiasm.

However, in spite of the benefits of travelling today, the cost remains prohibitive to many, especially university students. I experienced this personally a few years ago when I embarked on a seven-week trip, interrailing across Europe on a questionably tight budget. My bank account may have had a dearth of funds, but I made up for this with vast amounts of naivety and enthusiasm. I overlooked essential expenses I would inevitably encounter along the way, such as train journeys and accommodation. I lived out most of this trip, fuelled by a diet of discount Austrian haferflocken and a pile of ripe, or, now that I think of it, rotting bananas. Choosing travel experiences that are not cost-prohibitive is critical to avoid scenarios like this. Embracing opportunities such as teaching English abroad, WWOOFing, au-pairing and work aways are fantastic ways to travel for those with limited funds. Budgeting in advance and keeping a record of expenses with platforms such as Revolut or Monzo will make your trip infinitely more organised and financially secure. Packing carefully using airtight bags with a close evaluation of what you need will further streamline your journey. 

Language barriers and cultural differences can be another downside to travel if you fail to complete essential groundwork before you depart. I have learned this lesson the hard way. On the same “rotting banana” voyage, my lack of Croatian nearly had me arrested at the border for not complying with security protocol. Basic knowledge of Swedish would have been helpful on another occasion. Joined by a new group of travel companions, I was chased by a furious Swedish family who discovered myself and my travel companions pillaging their dumpster. While dumpster diving, we had sadly mistaken their bin for the Swedish bakery next door and were at a loss to explain what we were doing on their property with no Swedish language to defend ourselves. Encountering cultural differences and embracing alternative thinking is another hurdle I have had to overcome when travelling in different countries. Arguably, the best way to embrace these challenges is to educate yourself on local culture and customs by reading books and immersing yourself in any media you can access about the country before you arrive. Online language sprints with Lingoda and language courses available at UCD will also help you prepare for your voyage. 

Safety and well-being can be other downsides to travelling. I don’t have enough fingers to count the times I have had to find my way out of dangerous situations. On one occasion, it was the journey I made across Stockholm in the bitter cold winter at 3 am. I eventually called upon a taxi driver who spoke on his phone throughout the journey, cursing foul-mouthed abuse at other cars while he nearly crashed his vehicle. I was faced another time with the herculean task of returning to our campsite while stranded in the Greek hills with only a bottle of Cretan Raki and intermittent Wi-Fi. The travels in Greece were also accompanied by the threat of natural disasters such as cyclones and wildfires. The self-inflicted danger presented itself on another trip to Paris, where we emulated scenes from Indiana Jones as Parisian bus drivers narrowed in on our e-scooters gliding about the city. Loneliness and isolation are often overlooked factors significantly affecting your well-being when travelling. All of these potential downsides can be overcome by navigating the place you are visiting on Google Maps and familiarising yourself with local transport systems before you arrive at your destination. Similarly, staying in communal hostels and seeking out travel experiences such as group volunteering can prevent feelings of loneliness from emerging. Equally, adhering to routine and habits such as exercise and a balanced diet is essential to stay well. 

From my experience, one of the most significant downsides to travel is the feeling you experience as you return home and reintegrate into the version of yourself that you inhabited before your journey. Some of the best coping strategies for dealing with this unusual form of grief are to read travel books that will remind you of the joy you experienced. Travel writers Manchan Magan, Dervla Murphy and Rosita Boland and their animated tales of adventure will provide you with comfort that there will be moments again to embark on other journeys. The fear and sadness you encounter when coming home can be just as challenging as the apprehension experienced before travelling. Meditation, positive visualisation and reminding yourself of the adventure ahead are crucial to freeing yourself from these limiting beliefs. As I battled through the turnstiles in that Paris underground and made my way out into the moonlit sky, I told myself it was worth it. Travelling is always worth it.