I have a confession to make: most of what you’ve been seeing on my Facebook and Instagram feeds is complete and utter bullshit. Not that I haven’t been to the locations I tag or haven’t done the activities I’m seen doing, that’s definitely all true. But what you see is a highly edited and idealized version of my experiences. I’m not proud to admit it, and I’m hoping to curb the habit, but it’s the dirty truth. What I don’t post is all the mundane daily minutiae that travel involves: mapping out destinations and itineraries on Google Maps, comparing hostels on the Hostelworld app, looking for cheap flights on Skyscanner, trying to figure out the Indian Rail website and timetables. It’s all incredibly dull. I also don’t post pictures of the misery I see on a daily basis, or the trash that litters every street, every sidewalk, every bush; it seems too depressing and honestly, not pretty enough to post. What you also don’t see or read, because it’s really hard to express without sounding completely ungrateful, is all the difficult micro-moments—there are so many of them. But every time I think of sharing them, I hold back. “You’re halfway across the world basically living the dream, and you have the balls to want to complain,” I think to myself. As a young white male from Canada who is travelling around the world, I’m basically the poster child for privilege: I have no business complaining about anything. But the truth remains that it hasn’t been all perfect and I’ll allow myself to complain just a little bit.
Take this recent “camel selfie” for example. Aren’t I living the life with a capital L? I am, there’s no discounting that. But we’d also just spent the better part of the previous hour trying to understand why our driver kept stopping on the side of the road, until we realized that part of this camel safari adventure was being brought to various “villages” where you’d be asked to shell out some money for pictures. And that you’d be repeatedly stared at by groups of poor children who just want “10 rupees,” but you know that if you do give something, there will be hundreds more waiting in line, which doesn’t make you feel any better about ignoring them. Or that the camels are emaciated, in a clearly pitiful state, and you feel guilty with every painful step it takes. Or that we were immediately dropped off in the dunes and told we’d be picked up in 90 minutes so we can “take in the sunset” which wouldn’t come for another hour and realizing we’d been thoroughly duped, and that we’d have to politely refuse his request for an extra few hundred rupees. Or that every few minutes you’re accosted by yet another person trying to sell you something, anything. These moments are obviously on the lower echelon of difficult experiences, but they’re nothing to rave about to your friends back home either. So when I see this picture, I’m not immediately filled with wonderment but bittersweet and half-hearted pleasure before remembering all the good parts. Because it clearly wasn’t all bad: the view was beautiful albeit extremely touristy, and I had a lovely time chatting with Luisa laying in the sand dunes watching the sun slowly come down in the distance. But all that doesn’t make for a good “Instagram story” does it? No it doesn’t. And so you come up with a short and witty caption, filter the shit out of your picture, and let it speak for itself.
Why speak out about it now? Because I’m sad and miserable, there’s no two ways about it. It’s Christmas Eve, I’m alone and lonely, and while most of this trip has been amazing, there’s been a lot of hard times, and this is one of them. I see all the Facebook/Instagram updates of gift wrapping, Christmas trees, ugly sweaters, eggnog, friends and family together, and it fills me with envy while simultaneously making me extremely depressed. You remember saying that you’d gladly skip this bullshit commercialized holiday, that you wouldn’t care. But really all you want to do is say “fuck it” and haul your ass back on the next flight home. Even though you know the holidays will be over after a week and all that’ll be left are the following months of soul-crushing Canadian winter, which you’ve full-heartedly planned on avoiding. You’re *this close* to throwing it all in, but you know it’ll pass. At least, you really hope it does, because not even listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION—hands down the best pop release of the year—is making it all better. But you’re on an overnight train to Jaipur with a random Indian man and you’ll be damned if you let him see you cry.
Another reason you stay quiet is that you don’t want to break the illusion. Your friends comment on your pictures saying “Travelling suits you!” and “You look so happy!” The last thing you want to do is contradict them. Because mostly you are, and travelling does suit you…until you aren’t and it doesn’t.
The way women are treated and spoken about becomes just a little too hard to handle. The abject poverty in which most of the population lives makes you hate your privilege. The thousands of emaciated animals everywhere start getting to you. The lack of privacy and personal space is not cute anymore, it’s annoying and frustrating. Not knowing the language when you travel outside the major cities is a total crutch, and you just can’t seem to get the hang of it. The smog, the dust, the pollution and garbage everywhere: you hate it. You want to live day by day, throw caution to the wind and give zero fucks, but that’s just not how you are. You’re constantly stressed, you don’t sleep well (mostly because you’re sleeping on overnight buses and trains or on thin hard mattresses,) and your stomach feels weird for a few hours every day. You just want some sort of feeling of familiarity, anything really. But you know you probably won’t find it, and so you’re the one who has to change.
You FaceTime your sister, and she laughs, relieved. “Finally, you’ve gotten there,” she says, and she’s right. You’d been avoiding actually living your experiences by numbing yourself with alcohol and partying. You’d actually been avoiding yourself to be honest. Being with yourself and just yourself for months is exhausting. You’ll do anything not to listen to yourself, and so you go out of your way not to. But eventually you have to, because isn’t that why you took on this trip in the first place? So maybe it’s time to throw yourself into…yourself. It might not be as scary as you thought it was going to be, or maybe it will, but there’s only one way to find out.
Update: December 27th, 2015
And find out I will. I have survived Christmas, and actually managed to have a nice day with Indian travellers I met at the hostel. I drank port, listened to Christmas music, went to see Star Wars, and smoked hookah with my new friends. I’m feeling a lot better than I did writing this piece. I’m thankful for all the people who reached out after my Facebook video update, your words have had a profound effect on me. In a few days I will be heading to Nagpur to complete a 10-day Vipassana course, where I will be stripped of all electronic devices, cut off from the outside world, and must adhere to a strict code of discipline, including observing “Noble Silence” throughout the entirety of the course (I know, me, completely quiet for 10 days, LOL). If I was scared to spend too much time with myself, well now is the time to face that fear. I’ll let you know how it goes.