Those folk, those who sit in front of the ‘big plasma screen’ (even though these days it might be an lcd), ‘back home’, in ‘the world’, most likely have a romanticised view of a life on the road—a life led by those who travel.
Most of these less informed people believe it to be an existence of ease and comfort, wandering care-freely throughout the world, however, while there is a sizeable element of truth to this, there is also a reciprocal degree of difficulty, and then some. A life on the road is a life of challenge, of the need to be constantly alert, to suffer alienation, to be surrounded, constantly, by those who regard you as an outsider, as different. In essence, to stay fleet of foot for an extended period of time, visiting new places, seeing new things, is demanding and difficult, tiring and challenging. It is not a life for everyone.
To stay truly mobile one must cope with a constantly changing, and always different environment, where one is always one step behind, where one struggles to keep up, where one must stay abreast of a mass of changing variables. This means unceasingly maintaining a schedule, a schedule which requires continuous updating as time and circumstance morph. Standing on a bus station loading dock, holding one’s bags, at 3am, is what the traveller must expect and regard as the norm. To then arrive at one’s destination, disembark, find a tuk tuk—at a fair price—and then reach one’s intended hotel, while tired and worn from the journey, is again, the norm. Small tasks, which ‘at home’ take no time or difficulty are hugely magnified by the different culture and lack of local knowledge.
On a more personal level, one must handle constant low level harassment as vendors, sales staff and others vie for one’s attention, time and money. To be constantly on guard against being ripped off, where the ‘friendly person’ talking to you will soon ask you for a ‘loan’ of money. And, it is quiet common for westerners to ask for money, those down of their luck or simply down. There is also always the need to search out and find the optimum accommodation. This requires chatting to fellow travellers, searching websites, and looking around. Even the ultimately mundane task of laundry, becomes a chore, finding somewhere to have it done, at a reasonable price, close to where you are staying, and arranging to pick up the next day at a convenient time. Visas are always something which one must keep track off. A visa is a difficult thing, a ‘stamp’ which allows one to stay somewhere for a time. There are constantly changing, and rather silly sets of regs and rules about what one is required to do to obtain these, and to keep. One must always work to stay aware of what goes on around. In comparison, those ‘back home’, seem to walk around padded, with sociological cotton wool, insulated by familiarity and habit from the bare reality lying just beyond.
One other factor, perhaps in some ways the most difficult, and not often considered, is the transient nature of personal relationships formed by those who travel. If you stay in one place for more than a week you begin to make connections with others, both locals and foreigners. After a time, even make a few ‘friends’ or at least acquaintances. And when you leave, these relationships drop and fade. It is not always easy.
All of this is of course a consequence of one’s chosen life style—if you cannot stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Yet, those back home, ensconced comfortably in ‘the world’, should be aware that it is not always as easy as it seems for those living and travelling—on ‘the road’.