I went to see mountaineer Hilaree Nelson speak about her love of climbing the highest peaks in the world. What did she love most? The misery. I laughed as she explained her excruciating stories of being covered in bug bites in the jungle, her near-death experiences, and the mental strain of working as a team in foreign countries. My soul warmed thinking about the beautiful, hilarious misery of traveling the world.
I felt inspired to share some of my lowest moments abroad (just for fun). After, I’ll explain why exactly I love the misery just like Hilaree.
A Few Miserable Travel Stories
“I felt defeated, gross, and MISERABLE.”
One of my most recent experiences, I was teaching English in Santa Marta, Colombia. The weather was unbearably hot and humid. If hell was a place, it would probably be the same temperature as Santa Marta. Electricity is unaffordable, so most households do not have air conditioning. It was so hot in my room that I could barely sleep at night. There was one air conditioning unit in the house located downstairs in the living room. Some nights I would drag my mattress all the way down the winding stairs and sleep in the living room shivering under the air conditioning unit. My boss came every day at around 6am, so I would set my alarm to 5:30am and drag my mattress upstairs, turn off the A/C just before he would arrive. *Please don’t tell*
The heat evidently led to aggression and horniness within the community. Men licked their lips and said crude comments every time I left the house. On two separate occasions, I was grabbed by men on motorbikes. I felt defeated, gross, and MISERABLE.
Sleeping on a Bug-Infested Couch in Peru
Another of my favorites is when I volunteered at a party hostel in Huanchaco, Peru. Although I rarely drink and am not a “partier,” (lol) I pictured living on the beach for month drinking fruit smoothies. I was sure this job would be a piece of cake.
Upon arrival, I was told I would be working overnight shifts from 10pm to 8am. I worked all night making sure drunk people behaved and checked-in guests in the early morning. If it wasn’t TOO busy during my shift, I was allowed to sleep on a bug-infested sofa in the lobby. At the end of my shift right as I desperately needed sleep, everyone in the hostel woke up. I would sneak into a crammed four-person staff dorm room filled with young, dirty backpackers and tried to sleep. TRIED. I cried my second night and quit after 5 days. (lol) I remember taking pictures of the bags under my eyes and the dirty staff bathroom promising myself I would never work or stay at a beach party hostel ever again.
In Antigua, Guatemala, I rented a room in a local woman’s home. I started feeling ill after lunch one afternoon. By nighttime, I knew I was in trouble. The notorious “traveler’s diarrhea” had come for a visit. If you have traveled to a place without clean water, you know what I’m talking about. I slept on the bathroom floor all night, liquids coming out of both ends. I remember trying to eat a piece of bread, but I was too dehydrated to swallow. Moments after drinking a sip of water, it would come back up. I laid on the bathroom floor feeling desperately alone and deathly dehydrated.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you think, “is this the end? Am I going to die?” It was one of those moments. My life flashed in front of me and I thought about my parents and close friends. I prayed to be on the next flight home to Chicago.
Spoiler alert: I survived. I didn’t fly home. I traveled for 6 more months.
Why I Love The Misery
I know it might sound crazy, but those moments are the reasons I love to travel. The moments where I question my life and what the hell I’m doing. I learn about what I hate, what I love, and what is most important to me. The heat of Santa Marta made me think of winter in a whole new light. Quitting my bug-infested hostel job made me grateful for simple things like sleep and silence. I realized I was not 21 anymore. And experiencing traveler’s diarrhea in Guatemala (and in almost every country I’ve been to) made me cherish my health and simply being alive.
The pain and suffering is part of the journey. As cliché as it sounds, you cannot see the top of the mountain without the painful incline. And if you choose to drive up the mountain, honestly, the peak isn’t as memorable.
Okay, it’s not all miserable…
While long-term traveling in South and Central America, I have seen beauty that I never could have imagined. Some of my favorites: the jungle of Costa Rica, the tops of volcanos in Guatemala, the ancient ruins of Peru, and the starry night sky in the salt flats of Bolivia. I smile thinking about bathing in the Costa Rican river and the green lushness of the jungle. I remember the majestic energy I felt as I closed my eyes while laying on the grass of Machu Picchu. Oh my god, and seeing the sunrise on the top of a volcano peak in Guatemala. I cannot explain the contentment I felt in that very moment. Traveling and seeing the world is pure magic. It’s something that I cannot pitch in 30 seconds or explain to a coworker at work. It’s something you need to see for yourself.
BUT if you think traveling is glamorous and perfect, you’re in for a rude awakening. It’s miserably beautiful and horribly breathtaking. With every wonderful minute comes a pitfall. Traveling pulls you into the present moment and makes you reevaluate all of your truths.
Misery inspires and shakes my being. I feel alive at last. I hope everyone reading this gets to experience the kind of beautiful pain I speak of. <3
As always, thank you so much for reading and supporting. xoxo