TRAVEL

I’m Traveling. Why am I Having a Bad Time?

Travel: it’s magical, life-changing, soul shifting, beautiful, fun, and freeing. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be, right? That’s how it looks from the outside. All highlight reel and no struggle. All mountaintops and no sweaty climb. All peaceful sailing trips and no violent puking off the side of the boat.

There are countless lists on why we should “just go”, and it totally makes sense for these things to be inspirational and aspirational. Travel is all of those things. But nobody tells you about the doubt, anxiety, or depression– and loudest of all, guilt– that comes with the amazing stuff.

It’s easier to talk about what’s easy, and it’s more fun to share what’s beautiful. But you have permission to struggle.

On my first big solo trip, I felt like I was failing. I was drowning in doubt, and I felt so guilty about it. It was hard and I was surprised. I didn’t expect it to be hard. I was going down and I was bringing my dreams with me.

I wondered what I was doing wrong. I had it all planned out: a place to live, an internship, cheap flights to neighboring cities on the weekends. But I didn’t factor in my own loneliness and inexperience. It didn’t occur to me that it was at all possible that a wide range of emotions and challenges would still exist in this new, more photogenic setting.

Nothing was wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with you either.

We are human. It’s unfair to assume that all of our challenges will evaporate just because of a change in location. In fact, the stuff we’re working on at home will often get a lot louder for us when we travel. When we’re in a new place, when we’re living in circumstances that are different than what we are used to, all of our self-critique, bad habits, and anxieties are magnified. And travel is the zoom lens. It’s the microscope.

You are not doing anything wrong.

A few places I have had a bad time: Portugal, Spain, Australia, China, New Zealand, Costa Rica. Mountains, beaches, waterfalls. Postcard-worthy locations where my anxiety drowned everything else out. Add in the acute awareness that travel is a massive and wonderful privilege in the first place, and guilt will follow you around like a cartoon raincloud. After all, you chose to be here, so why are you whining? I’ve often asked myself that.

Look. You are allowed to have a bad time. It is normal, and it is most likely temporary. And if it isn’t, you can go home. Going is just as much of a choice as staying is.

For most people, including me, travel is hard. Especially solo travel. There are a lot of logistics. Unknowns. Language barriers. Lost luggage. Questions within yourself that you thought you’d addressed. Feelings you thought you dealt with but surprise, here they are again.

Things will go wrong. You’ll look around like, “daaaang, who is gonna deal with this shit right now?” and realize… oh, it’s me. Yep. I am going to deal with it.

You will stress out about making friends, and you’ll wonder how everyone else in the hostel already knows each other. You will rehearse openers and practice them in your head. And maybe you’ll try convince yourself that you don’t need to make any friends– at least then you wouldn’t have to put yourself out there. You wouldn’t have to take the risk.

Travel is full of risk. And at times, you’ll feel inadequate, you’ll get lost, you’ll wonder why you put yourself in this situation to begin with. So let the guilt go– it’s not serving you. Feel what you’re feeling. There is no shame in admitting that you’re having a bad time. Let the shame go too.

Maybe you’re reading this because your trip isn’t seamless. Know that it’s normal, and perfectly so. It’s part of the process. It’s not supposed to be easy, and there isn’t one quick fix, because these matters are complicated. They are matters of the heart. They are matters of the self. They are woven within our identities and our connection to the world. It’s no surprise– we are just trying to find our place here.

It’s OK to have a bad time. It’s OK to wonder why. Be kind to yourself. See it, own it, and get on with the show.

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41 Comments

  • Reply
    Katy
    February 6, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Beautiful words and an even more beautiful truth! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Angel
    February 6, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Hi Ms. Erin! I love this post. Back when I went on my first solo travel, I felt all those “issues” I was trying to forget in that travel. Instead of forgetting, it’s like I came face to face with them… It was uncomfortable… Full of tears and feeling the pain once again. Remembering good stuff too but painfully because you suddenly miss them. But after facing the issues, I learned to see them in a different perspective. I felt more sure of certain things, I felt braver to face the unknown and best thing of all, there’s healing that took place as I learned to surrender what I can’t control and embrace what I needed to accept all along. I learned to accept my own story. It was in that solo travel – or unfamiliar place – that I was able to confront the things that I had difficulty dealing with in the familiar place… I also take my personal travel as a quiet time with my God (my personal faith, I understand you have diverse readers ms. Erin). When daily noises of familiarity have been drowned out, I get to focus and hear clearly. I love how you wrote this. I am sorry for long comment again… But I am ďeeply thankful that you have always been bold to share your heart with us that helps / encourages us to live truthfully in our lives.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      Hi Angel! Thanks so much for sharing. I used to think that travel would be a way to escape my problems, but instead, I came face to face with them. Sounds like God has used your travels to teach you very well. All my love. xo

  • Reply
    Polly
    February 6, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Beautifully written, and so true. The very real side of traveling that you don’t see on Instagram. But those times when you want to go home, cry, quit, “I hate [India] this whole country sucks”…. They teach you things that change you for the better. And that unique contrast between beautiful and difficult gives you an appreciation for life, realizing that the good wouldn’t be good without the bad. Currently on a flight home from backpacking around Asia for 3 months and I’ve been saying for the last 3 weeks, “I just want to go home.”

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      Well said, Polly! The hard times indeed show us what we are made of. Get home safe. xo

  • Reply
    Renee Hahnel
    February 6, 2017 at 9:39 am

    This really resonates for me. I often feel guilty for having a bad time. I tell myself “you are so lucky to be here, get over it”. I agree with you though, it’s usually temporary and it’s okay not to be thrilled with your situation or surroundings every second of every day.

  • Reply
    Ute
    February 6, 2017 at 11:14 am

    When I travel by myself I plan every fourth day (or at least one day a week) as a stay-in-bed day. Which does not mean that I will have to stay in bed all day, but there is no feeling of guilt if I do. It really helps me to enjoy my travels if I plan for downtime to digest.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      That’s a great ratio! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Cindy
    February 6, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Well said. Travelling can bring up many feelings and emotions good and bad. But in the end we always learn more about ourselves. Thanks for your honesty.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      Totally agree, Cindy. The lessons are such a gift, even when they come from hard times!

  • Reply
    Karleen
    February 6, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    This brought me back to my first backpacking trip too. I went with three friends who were experienced and I remember when we would make meals they all fell into their positions to help, but I wasn’t sure what to do or how things were suppose to be done. I felt left out, but not because of what they were doing. It was me who was allowing myself to feel that way because all I needed to do was jump in. I thought a lot about this during the rest of the trip and it actually opened up a lot of issues for me (in a good way). I realized my time in the outdoors was demanding me to grow & learn.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      Sounds like such a good learning experience. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Jessie
    February 6, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    It’s funny reading this because most of my anxiety with traveling happens in the planning process. I want to book the cheapest flight, go to the most romantic restaurant, hike to the most scenic spot. Once I’m at a place, all those worries and others that crop up melt away. My husband is the opposite and experiences concerns during travel. On the bright side and in conclusion, we make a good travel team. Thank you for your insight as always!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      That happens to me too, but usually in the moment! Finding the best camp spot, the best hotel room, etc. Great lessons in letting go!

  • Reply
    Ashley Hadzo
    February 6, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    I really appreciated this perspective. I travel a lot with my husband and we have been in mid-bucket list activity where it turns anticlimactic because we are absorbed in a “mood”… meanwhile I’m thinking this is THE moment so why is my head somewhere else? It feels terrible and I try to pull myself out like, “oh, get over yourself and live in the moment!” An acquired skill. Travel brings out so much and sometimes those emotions intrude at really inconvenient times. You’re right though, just need to give ourselves permission to not live a highlight reel 24/7 so we can accept and move on from the down times that much faster. Great post :)

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Ashley! I think it’s so funny that we even judge ourselves for judging ourselves. When does it stop?! And sometimes we know logically that we need to let things go, but really getting ourselves to believe it is another story altogether. Travel indeed brings out so much. xo

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 6, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Erin,

    Your words are powerful, and you have the experiences to back them up. I love your ability to balance both self-exploration (in your blog) and just goofing around (in your videos). You live a truly radical life and I’ve enjoyed following your journey. Thank you for saying the hard stuff and for being so relatable in it – we need more people like you in this world!

    I asked you on your live Instagram video last night what your most inspirational traveling moment was and why. I thoroughly appreciated your completely honest, authentic and yet so simple answer… And then this blog today further resonated with me! Like you, I have a passion for genuine conversation, looking deeper into things that matter and exposing the not so glamorous sides of life. I would absolutely LOVE to collaborate sometime – on anything! :) I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks again for doing what you do and for being the person you are.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 9:16 pm

      Hi Lauren! Thanks for the love and for following along. Your question was awesome! I wrote about that story a few years ago (search “real job” on the blog) as well if you are interested. It was one of my favorite travel lessons for sure. It is so important that we demand meaningful content and conversation in a place where it’s easy to find anything but that! xo

  • Reply
    Mara
    February 6, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you. I am solo travelling in Indonesia for the next 6 months and I feel pain everyday when I wake up. Especially when I wake up and read the news and see what is happening back home (USA) and feel helpless and guilty about not being there. I feel hollow when I’m experiencing amazing things: when I’m living with a rural farming family and playing with their children; when I’m hiking and I look out and there is a volcano on one side of me and an ocean on the other; when I’m meeting new people and hearing their stories and learning about their lives. I hate those bits and pieces of me that play on insecurities and fear and loneliness. And then I read this.

    And I cried. And I shared it with my boyfriend so he will understand my anxieties. And I read it again.

    Thank you for honesty. Honesty first; honest always.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Mara, this is beautiful. Your feelings are so very valid and I know it is painful when you are told otherwise, but don’t let anybody tell you that what you are feeling is wrong or misguided. Fear, loneliness, insecurity, hurt– these are all real, and might all be a part of your story right now, and that is just part of the package of life. Feel it and move from a place of kindness; you already have what you need inside you to make changes in this world that matter. xo

  • Reply
    lyannet Alvarez
    February 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    I’ve been following you for a really looooong time and I’m the type of person who doesn’t really comment on things but I just want to say, thank you for being one of the realest persons I know (not that I know you in real life lol) on social media. You’re really an inspiration to a lot of people out there :)
    I hope I get to go in one of your trips (like the Costa Rica trip) and meet you!!! STAY TRUE AND AWESOME!!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      So great to hear from you, Lyannet! Thanks so much for following along all this time– it truly means a lot to me. I hope to meet you one day as well! Look out for more trips in 2017 being announced soon :)

  • Reply
    Tom
    February 6, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks for this Erin. I’ve had some lonely nights in paradise myself, and sometimes the best part of the trip is looking back after you get back home, but those hard times make the good ones that much more special. (Also reminded me of a good read: F*ck Feelings, with a similar message). Cheers!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 6, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      Totally agree with that, Tom! I haven’t read that one but love the title. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Aurelie
    February 7, 2017 at 1:07 am

    This is amazing Erin! I totally agree with this. Sometimes you have to express what is going wrong as well. Everybody thinks that travelling is going without a rough day, well it isn’t. Well written! Keep up the good work :) If you ever are in Crete Let me know, so we’ll go for a coffee. Greetings from a Belgian girl living in Greece and knowing that sometimes it is hard to be far away from our home country!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 8, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      Thanks Aurelie! Totally agree with you there. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Reply
    Francesca
    February 7, 2017 at 1:07 am

    This is such a great post! I always think I’m gong to be a different person when I travel, and yet I’m still the same shy but fun-loving-gets-hangry-by-11am person as I am at home. I’m planning on doing a solo trip for the first time (after five years of couple/friends/family travel) this year and it’s kind of terrifying. At least I know the importance of snacks to my happiness and can plan accordingly.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 8, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks Francesca! That is definitely terrifying, but also super exciting. Sounds like you have the self awareness to go easy on yourself on the hard days! And yes definitely bring snacks.

  • Reply
    Simon
    February 7, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Hi Erin,

    I’ve been following you since this summer and you create great content! I think the most important thing while travelling is just to try to not feel guilty about what happens your trip. What I mean is this: if you want to stay in bed most of the day, it’s ok, if you skip some sights or destinations because it gets to much, don’t feel guilty for not visiting them.
    If you feel guilty about missed places or stuff like that, it only shortens your experience in the end.
    Nobody is happy all the time and nobody can explore 24/7, just accept that and your trips get better and better.

    Greetings from Germany!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 8, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Simon! You nailed it. Thanks for the comment and for following along!

  • Reply
    Meg
    February 7, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    The best post. I’m a bit over a month into a year long trip with my partner and I am crippled with the guilt and shame of feeling home sick and worried. Thank you for your honest and kind words. It’s nice to know people experience the same emotions!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 8, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      SO MANY people experience this, we just don’t talk about it. You aren’t alone, Meg! Don’t let the guilt cripple you– it’s OK to feel what you are feeling. The only way out is through. xo

  • Reply
    Nate Ingraham
    February 7, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    Good read, although I am sad to hear you had a bad time in New Zealand. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth — hope you get to go visit again someday and have a better time :)

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      February 8, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks Nate! I loved New Zealand and had a great time, too. This post was meant to express that it’s not a great time ALL the time, and that that’s OK :) NZ is one of my favorite places as well. Love it there!

  • Reply
    Caro
    February 13, 2017 at 6:40 am

    It’s great that you wrote about this topic. Travelling alone is always a great way to find yourself but sometimes you just have a bad day – that’s what I experienced as well during my travels.

    Have a great time,
    Caro

  • Reply
    Meg
    February 27, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I love the honesty of this blog, Erin. I feel that so many people need to read this because what you say is so relevant to how many people feel. I’ve solo travelled on and off for years and still have rocky days where everything feels awful and I am crushed by loneliness and doubt. And you’re right when you say that you begin to beat yourself up about ‘it was your choice to be here, so why aren’t you having a great time?’ Travel can be confronting on so many levels and you have to remember to cut yourself some slack. You aren’t going to feel the same way as you do in your day-to-day routines at home, so why are you forcing yourself to carry on as you should? LOVED the sentiment behind this and your words will be a huge comfort to many travellers out there.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      March 4, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks Meg! It’s so interesting that we choose to be SO hard on ourselves! Problems don’t go away just because we change our physical location, and that’s perfectly OK. Hopefully this is an easy share for someone who isn’t having the “perfect” time on their trip. So important to know that we’re not alone. xo

  • Reply
    mjscooke
    March 11, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    There are many things I could comment on from this post – I think it is so important to talk about the realities of travel like this not just the postcard perfect moments… but so many people have made these points already.

    What I will comment on instead is the paragraph “You will stress out about making friends, and you’ll wonder how everyone else in the hostel already knows each other. You will rehearse openers and practice them in your head. And maybe you’ll try convince yourself that you don’t need to make any friends– at least then you wouldn’t have to put yourself out there. You wouldn’t have to take the risk.”

    This is something I have struggled with on past trips which shocked me given how easily I seem to find conversations once I am already in them. One tip for making connections with people I heard on the podcast ‘Happier’ that Gretchen Ruben (Author of ‘The Happiness Project’) does with her sister is – “Ask for a favour” Apparently it is easier to make friends this way, or at least to start conversations and make connections, than to offer things.

    I have been trying that tactic since I started travelling again on New Years and it works like a charm! It feels a little unnatural at first to ask strangers for favors but ‘A stranger is just someone you haven’t met yet’ and you can do them or another stranger a favor in return afterwards to pay-it-forward!

  • Reply
    Marie
    March 19, 2017 at 7:33 am

    Thank you for this Erin.
    I follow you on insta, and have always enjoyed your posts. This really hit home for me. After graduating from college I spent half a year with my partner in New Zealand (the most beautiful place on earth). And it was one of the best/worst times of my life. It was the first time I think I have ever truly been depressed. I had spent my life always planning for the next adventure or phase, and after college, in this foreign country I was shaken with fear when I realized that I had nothing planned and really didn’t know what I wanted or who I wanted to be. It was terrifying and equally challenging for my partner, who was now in a foreign country with his girlfriend who was more or less losing her shit, and becoming a crazy person. Now that I’ve come home I still deal with the guilt of having let myself feel so low at a time where my life could have been so wonderful and great. I have to remember that my experience wasn’t bad by any means. There were wonderful, happy days, and sad days. Just like life. I regret letting the anxiety get to me, but I do not regret the experience that the trip taught me, or any of the remarkable views I was lucky enough to experience. Thank you so much Erin!

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