As a traveler, particularly a travel photographer, it’s very easy to only show the highlights and let people believe traveling is always living your best self: traveling to cool places, exploring awesome sites, and making great friends. Sometimes, however, traveling sucks. Traveling can be bad food, getting ripped off, and being so exhausted all you want to do is sleep, but you’ve booked a hostel a whole day’s worth of travel away. I could easily get away with showing the happy faced picture of me on the mountain, and leave out the grueling hike it took to get there. I could talk about how much fun I have traveling alone while not talking about how lonely being a solo traveler can sometimes get. I think, in our digital world, it is enticing to only show the highlights to the people who scroll on facebook, instagram, and look at your blog. Today’s post is not that post. Today’s post about the complex mix of the guts and the glory that is traveling.
I spent this past Saturday night in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While my original plan did not involve spending 3 days in Belfast I needed to wait for my bike to be ready. And so I got a hostel room where all I needed was a place to rest my head, but apparently there were other plans in store.
*Before I continue my story I want to say that in general I love hostels. I have stayed in hostels all around the world, and I truly believe they are the best way to travel. You get an extremely cheap bed and the opportunity to meet and spend time with people from many different countries. In general the hostels are clean, relatively comfortable, and a great deal. In my opinion the good greatly outweighs the bad.*
On Saturday night around 2:45am a guy came into the full 4-bed dorm room, turned on the light, and woke me up with a “that’s my bed”. I was extremely confused. I was in that weird place where you can’t quite tell if you’re dreaming or in reality. One thing was very clear though, I was definitely not in his bed. I claimed this bed that afternoon when it was very clearly not taken by anybody else. In my confused dream-like state I just kind of stared at him and said “whaaat??” “That’s my bed. That’s where I sleep,” the man adamantly repeated. Still extremely confused I said, “Well, do you want me to move?”. I had absolutely no intention of moving, but I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. He said no harshly and after a minute or so turned off the light, and left the room.
Some time later (less than an hour more than 10 minutes) he came back into the room. Again he turned the light on and again he woke me up, but this time he woke me up because he sat on my leg on my bed and was very loudly watching a music video without headphones on his phone. I was in utter disbelief. Never, never in any of my 10’s of 100’s of experiences in hostels has anyone ever entered my personal space like that. I think I was in a state of semi shock when I asked, “Can you go to the lounge?”. I should have started to clue in that something was maybe off when he responded by asking me to clear off the chair that was right next to my head. “Go to the lounge” I repeated, and thankfully he left again, turning off the light as he went.
Any hopes that I had, now that I was fully awake, that he was not going to come back were dashed when he came back a couple minutes later. For the third time he turned the light on, only this time I was not having it. ” Can you turn the light off? There are 3 people sleeping in here and you are waking everyone up” I practically shouted at him. “Okay” he stated, sounding more like a petulant teenager than a man of 30+. I put my earplugs back in and turned over. The man turned off the light and then repeatedly said “I’m going to sleep. I’m going to bed now” to me before climbing into the bunk above mine, and falling asleep. At this point it was close to 4am and I was so angry I couldn’t fall asleep for some time.
So, as I believe is obvious, that experience was a low. I woke up the next morning utterly exhausted and in a really bad place. I was supposed to drive across Ireland today and I could barely put two thoughts together ( I hadn’t gotten great sleep the 2 nights previous because of a snorer in my other hostel room). I had intended to start my motorcycle road trip and it was raining for the first time in weeks, and I couldn’t eat the hostel provided breakfast because it was all dairy. It was one of those “when it rains it pours” types of days. Only this time I couldn’t call it quits and start again tomorrow, I had to continue on with the set plans.
I talked with the front desk about what had happened and she actually gave me my money back when I went to check out later that morning, which was incredibly thoughtful as the hostel can’t really be that responsible for the action of other guests. High.
Around 9:45 I walked out of the hostel ready, albeit exhausted, to start my day only to find I had missed the hourly bus by 5 minutes. Low.
Well, I thought to myself while coughing in what felt like a pre-cold cough, I might as well start walking. My Seattle raised self was used to walking in the rain. About 10 minutes into my walk I spotted a cafe that looked decent and decided to get a bit to eat before catching the bus. High.
Jeffers Home Bakery didn’t look like anything special, but I’m a sucker for shops that have “home baked” in the front window, so in I went. I sat and read a book while waiting for my food and enjoying a strong cup of coffee. While I ate my meal (it was great) I began to talk to the two ladies working. Somehow my experience from the night before came up, and they wanted to know what had happened. I told my story much like the way I told it above, and they gasped and exclaimed at all the right places. They were horrified at the end and immediately began to give me suggestions and opinions about where I should sleep next time. We talked a bit more before I needed to leave and catch the bus. However, when I tried to pay they adamantly refused to accept any money and even tried to give me more coffee as I went on my way. High.
The rest of my day yesterday can easily be described in highs and lows. Driving 4 hours through a storm, low. Finding a BnB with a really hot shower, high. Admittedly I think most days, be that working or traveling, can be classified using a high and low system. When living in the “regular” world (depending on your perception) I often forget to have patience; to wait for the highs to balance out the lows. Most things will find balance, as long as I have the patience to wait for it and the insight to notice it. For me, traveling almost causes a magnification for said experiences. The highs feel better and the lows feel worse.
*Note: After some reflection I would not be surprised if the man in the hostel story was a homeless man who sat somewhere on the spectrum. My experience was not great, but it does make me think about the way we treat mental health throughout the world. We, as human citizens, need to do better. Be better. Mental health is becoming a worldwide crisis effecting most people. It’s not right that only people with enough cultural capital, social capital, or money are adequately able to deal with mental health issues.