In the last month or so, many of my Facebook friends went on various excursions around the world. It didn’t take me long to grow tired of their picturesque photos of lakes and mountains and cityscapes. I got in the habit of scrolling quickly past images of them posing on beaches or in front of famous buildings. The vistas, though beautiful, became exhausting. I developed the urge to comment in large capital letters, “LIES, LIES, LIES!” beneath each photo (an urge which, I reflect happily, I never fulfilled). Having just returned from my own two and a half week trip around Europe, I couldn’t help but wonder where the real experience of travelling had gone.
When had photos of travelling become so “beautiful” and yet so lifeless?
The main reason my friends’ photos upset me was because they felt like a betrayal. Travelling is not all brilliant sunsets and sangria on a European patio. Travelling sucks.
Travelling is not being able to sleep on an eight hour flight and a baby bleating like a dying sheep in the seat behind you. Travelling is calculating the time it is back home, and realizing all the people you love are asleep. Travelling is your credit card being rejected at the ATM and having one pound, fifty pence to your name. Travelling is dirty metro tunnels. Travelling is a legless man playing his guitar on the street. Travelling is spilling the beer of someone you just met all over your dress and shoes and cleaning it off your thighs for twenty minutes with toilet paper and a blow-drier in the washroom. Travelling is sweaty traffic jams. Travelling is languages that scare you, and that you don’t understand. Travelling is never knowing when you will feel rested again. Travelling is paying to go to the washroom, and it still smelling like piss. Travelling is falling asleep in someone’s attic, someone’s office, or on the overnight train with four other people snoring around you. Travelling is sore feet in a stuffy art museum. Travelling is puking through your nose on the plane ride home and no one saying a word or even looking at you. Travelling is saying goodbye to friends you may never see again. Travelling is crying in train stations and airports.
And yet, I adore travelling, but not because of the historical monuments or the breathtaking views. I love it because it makes me uncomfortable, and because it forces me to recognize the goodness in all the bad parts of life. The struggle is what I thrive on: the exhaustion and the homesickness and the fear of being lost in a foreign country. When I am alone (and I mean truly alone, without cell phone or internet or a friend for miles), I become strangely alive and free. I realize what little control I have over my situation and my life as a whole. What I do have is this moment, this breath, this pain, and this happiness. Nothing is guaranteed, and nothing is more beautiful because of it.
I realize it is common knowledge that Facebook is a pack of lies and no one is as happy as they appear. I just wish the world of travelling on Facebook could be different. I don’t wish this only because the perfection of the picturesque photos sicken me, but also because the real, gritty, get-on-your-knees-and-pray experience of travelling is so much better.
The Eiffel tower pointing up into a blue sky will never be as beautiful as that twelve-year-old girl wearing way too much makeup on the subway and sitting with a man who could have been her father but probably wasn’t.
A beach with white sands will never be more touching than that dog missing a leg and barking through a fence at my friend and I while we hiked up to ruined lime kilns in the forest.
And the view of a city from a mountain will never be as majestic as that tall woman with big hair on the airplane plugging her ears and pinching her lips while we descended.
I do not travel to get away from life, I travel to get into it, to throw myself at it like a bullet flying from a gun. If you are ever given the opportunity, I dare you to do the same.