5 Horrible Truths About Your Gap Year That Backpackers Won’t Tell You.

When your gap year goes bad

Read any travel blog or talk to any backpacker and you will come across the general consensus that long term travel or taking a gap year is beyond awesome, that it is almost quintessential to having a happy, full life. But the truth is it isn’t always perfect. Here are the top five horrible truths about long term travel that most backpackers won’t tell you.

Backpacking around the world is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself, and it is genuinely awesome, but it isn’t always perfect. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, there are the troughs as well as the peaks and there will be times you won’t be enjoying yourself all that much.

But forewarned is forearmed, and if you know about the bad times beforehand, you can prepare for them.

You will probably get homesick.

You’ve spent so long planning your trip, so long looking forward to it and imagining how amazing and life changing all those new experiences will be, it is hard to imagine that from time to time you will get homesick.

But you probably will.

This is natural. It really is. Especially if you aren’t used to travelling or it’s your first time away. The important thing to remember is that it is transitory and it will pass, and you can always help sate it a little with a skype call or a text to your loved ones at home in the meantime. The fact is that you are exactly where you want to be, you are following your dreams of travel and home will always be there when you are ready to go back. Just take a minute, acknowledge the fact that you miss home, let it pass and then look forward to enjoying the rest of your trip.

You will almost certainly get actually sick.

From time to time people get sick. It happens. On any long term adventure you will be exposed to unfamiliar bacteria, strange parasites, new diets and whole new environments that will have an effect on your immune system, and odds are any or all of these will make you ill. But it doesn’t have to ruin your trip!

It’s best not to worry about it too much. You get sick when you are at home from time to time, you simply rest, get better and then carry on with your life. It is no different when you are on the road. Just relax! You don’t need a team of paramedics following you around or an air ambulance on stand by.  The trick is having the right information, knowing how to deal with common traveller illnesses, how to look after yourself when you are ill on the road and leaving enough time in your itinerary to rest up for a few days when you need to. Then you can carry on with your trip as normal.

You won’t like everywhere.

You won’t like everywhere, that is just the truth. There is a lot of unnecessary pressure put on travellers to love every place they visit and a lot of that pressure is self induced. It is understandable of course, many travellers have spent months, if not years saving for their trip of a lifetime, they have worked hard for it, struggled, sacrificed, and it is hard to admit that your chosen destination isn’t living up to your expectations. It is disheartening to realise that the destination every other backpacker raves about isn’t actually all that good and you aren’t enjoying somewhere as much as you expected to.

Don’t worry about it. It’s normal. Every backpacker faces this at some point. For me personally I didn’t enjoy Bali or Dubai all that much, and you know what? It’s absolutely fine. No one can like every single place they visit, it wouldn’t be natural. We are all individual with completely different tastes, outlooks, needs and desires, so it is perfectly normal that one person will love a place and the next person hates it.

But you can always move onto somewhere new.

That is the beauty of backpacking, that is one of the best things about independent world travel. You always have the freedom to change your plans. You can arrive somewhere, decide you don’t like it and move on somewhere entirely new or simply carry onto the next part of your rough itinerary. Because I guarantee you that for every place you don’t like so much, you will discover countless more that you absolutely fall in love with.

Touts and Taxi drivers will drive you insane.

Touts and taxi drivers are the scourge of backpackers everywhere! It doesn’t matter whether you are newly off the plane at Suvarnabhumi airport on your first gap year or you’re an experienced traveller, these people will chase you, hound you and annoy the hell out of you, and just to add insult to injury they will triple or quadruple the price of any transaction!

Most of the time you can let it slide, most of the time you can brush it all off – especially if you are forewarned about common scams and can avoid them – but from time to time it will just get to you. When you just want to get a taxi to the airport and the 33rd driver in a row is refusing to use their meter, or you just want to enjoy some peace and quiet and you are getting endlessly bothered, it can grate on you.

It’s important not to let this put you off though. Don’t let the occasional murderous rage toward taxi drivers ruin your long planned for gap year. After all, as annoying and frustrating as these encounters can get sometimes, they are still in the absolute minority compared to the absolutely amazing people you will meet.

You will feel antisocial from time to time.

One of the biggest concerns many people have before they set off on their gap years – apart from health and safety of course – is that they will be lonely on the road, especially if they are travelling solo, but the truth is the opposite is often true. It is actually very easy to meet people on the road, there are plenty of other backpackers – solo and otherwise – all congregating in the same transit points and hostel common rooms and it is so easy to have a great social life if you want it.

The problem is after a while you will feel tired or exhausted. You will just want a bit of peace and quiet, the noise and atmosphere of the dorm rooms will drive you insane, the excessive party circuit will get tiresome and your tolerance levels of ‘the conversation’ will sink faster than the Titanic. Basically you will feel a bit antisocial.

Again, this is absolutely normal. There is a strange expectation that people have when they travel that they have to be social all of the time, that they have to be ready to engage with fellow travellers wholeheartedly and jump at every single opportunity to party or go on every excursion. They really don’t have to be. It’s not realistic to be like that all of the time, it’s bloody exhausting!

Everyone wants a bit of ‘me’ time every now and then. Everyone wants a bit of time to themselves to decompress, to read a book in complete silence, watch a film on the TV or get a good night’s sleep that isn’t interrupted by some muppet rustling plastic bags or switching the light on at 0300 in the morning! (Please don’t be that person!) I have on occasion took ‘days off’ from sightseeing and travelling and gone to see a movie or simply gone back to my room early to read a book. Do I feel bad or weird for doing that? No! Because it was at the time what I wanted to do.

You have this time to yourself at home, so why would you deny it to yourself when you are travelling? It just doesn’t make sense. So when you do start to feel like you want a bit of time on your own, don’t feel guilty about it, just do it! Leave yourself a little bit of flexibility in your budget to pay for the occasional room upgrade and simply have a night or two to yourself and watch a DVD or something. It’s fine. You can get back to living the life, meeting new people and exploring the world once your batteries are recharged!

After all, the freedom to do whatever the hell you want, when you want, is one of the absolute joys of independent travel!

And on a final note, remember that sometimes things will just go wrong!

That’s just life. From time to time things don’t always go to plan. You will miss a connection, your train will be late, the hostel you really wanted to stay at may be full or the ATM will eat your card. These things happen, and they happen all the time. The difference is when you are travelling you are outside of your comfort zone and all these little things can seem amplified ten fold, but don’t worry. With a bit of experience, a lot of patience and a touch of fortitude these things are often easily dealt with. More often than not it is when things go really bad that the adventure really begins, that is why it is called adventure! Some of my favourite travel stories have been from when things went wrong or I had a close call or two, such as the time I got caught in a sandstorm in the Sahara, the time I nearly drowned in Thailand or the time a cat saved my life in Cairo! And don’t get me started on those damn macaques nicking my sunglasses!

Sometimes things go wrong. That's where real adventure begins.

These are just some of the downsides to long term travel. Some of the low points that almost every backpacker will experience at some point or other during their time on the road. Despite all of these things happening from time to time however, I have never once lost my enthusiasm for travel or my love for backpacking. You see, as negative as many of these things are, they are easily solved or easy to deal with, and more importantly they are by a large margin absolutely outweighed by the good times.

So be aware that the low points will happen, be ready for them and know how to deal with them when they do occur, and then get on and enjoy the rest of your trip because believe me, backpacking is still amazing, and taking a gap year or travelling around the world will be the best time of your life. Low points or not.

Did you enjoy this article? Have you had any low points during your own adventures? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Related Articldes

7 Easy Steps To Dealing With Medical Emergencies On Your Gap Year.

First Aid Kit Checklist.

No Great Story Ever Starts With I stayed At Home.

The Most Common Travel Ruining Illnesses And How To Beat Them.

Why Dubai will never be more than a transit stop for me.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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12 comments on “5 Horrible Truths About Your Gap Year That Backpackers Won’t Tell You.
  1. alicesgapyearadventures says:

    I love this. 🙂 I thought at first it was going to be all doom and gloom and I thought what had happened to the usual upbeat travel posts! But you put a huge positive spin on it and still managed to make all the downsides appear inspiring! Great post.

  2. Jonny Jenkins says:

    Great article Mike. Definitely something that soon-to-be backpackers and certainly the gap-yearers should take a look at. I can’t count the amount of first-time backpackers that I’ve run into that didn’t realize what long term travel would entail.
    I would also add to the list that TRAVEL ISN’T ALWAYS EXCITING…. I mean there’s thrilling things and all, but I think people get the wrong idea by looking at pictures and reading travel blogs… they tend to forget that travelers photograph and blog about the memorable, the exciting, the invigorating… But not every moment is like that, as I’m sure you’ve well experienced yourself

    • Thanks Jonny.:) Great point! Can’t believe I forgot to mention it! For every exciting experience and life affirming view point there are the long waits at airports and the boredom on long distance buses to contend with too. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing though. Can you imagine if it was 24/7 excitement? It would be exhausting! Not to mention the fact that you need the down time to make the exciting, well, exciting! Those invigorating and memorable experiences are worth every last second, but it’s important to keep everything in perspective and prepare for the reality of travel too. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  3. IndianaJo says:

    Love this! For me it’s the anti-social time. Every few months I just need to check into a private room, sit in my pant, eat crisps and watch Netflix. Two days of that and I’m back to my normal, social self 🙂

  4. Carl says:

    Great post, really enjoyed reading it! It’s good to see the down sides of travel alongside the good.

  5. Helen Warner says:

    Gosh the homesickness… always seems to kick in when you are also sick. That’s usually when I make a few miserable phone calls home to Mum – who then says “you can always come home” – which perks me up straight away and suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad! 🙂 great post!

  6. Karen says:

    Yes to the touts and taxi drivers! They can really ruin a good day!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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