World Tour Highlights: 20 Things I'm Looking Forward to About Going Home

This world tour of mine has gone on for a very long time now. And it’s a strange lifestyle, being both constantly on the move and on a restrictive budget. My daily existence doesn’t bear much resemblance to what it was before I left home, or to any normal person’s life. It goes without saying that there are a million incredible things I’ll miss about travelling, but as any real traveller knows, it’s not all fun. Budget travel, especially, enforces a huge set of constraints, compromises and behavioural adaptations, and I won’t lie to you - sometimes it gets old.

I’ve left out all the obvious things that I’m looking forward to: seeing family and friends, being able to speak the language, having money, and that sort of thing. What I’ve got here are all the things - abstract or concrete - that you might not have thought of as being among the drawbacks of long-term budget travel.

This was originally going to be called something like “things I won’t miss about travelling”, but that seemed a bit negative and I’m trying to be more upbeat about the upcoming end of the trip. So, inverting the concept gives us the seventeenth in the series of World Tour Highlights lists. Here, in no particular order, are the things I’m looking forward to about going home at last.

1. My Own Bathroom

It’s not a pleasant subject, but after four years of travel it’s one thing that’s definitely getting to me. Budget hotel after guesthouse after hostel, each with its own unique take on bathroom arrangements. For the amount of money I’m usually willing to spend, you’re almost always looking at a shared bathroom. In some of the more disgusting hostels I’ve encountered, the bathrooms never get cleaned. Even when they do, you’re sharing toilets with fifty other crusty backpackers and all their diseases and fungal infections. I don’t think I’ve sat down on a toilet seat the whole time I’ve been away.

Not to mention the various hygiene rules in all the different countries. Throwing used toilet paper into the basket in South America rather than flushing it, for example - or not having toilet paper at all, and splashing with water instead, like in India or Indonesia. Squat toilets in Asia. Chemical toilets on buses and trains. Paying for toilets everywhere.

Cold water showers. Salt water showers. Showers with a dribble of rusty water or sparking electrical wires or dog-sized roaches. Showers like a high-school locker room with a row of nozzles and no privacy. Showers with a wad of other peoples’ hair blocking the drain and ankle-deep scummy water.

A bathtub. I am very much looking forward to a bathtub, it seems like an unbelievable luxury to me. I don’t even remember the last time I saw a bathtub (no, I tell a lie, I do remember, but there was no way in hell I was letting anything but the soles of my feet touch it). Hot baths are a thing you just have to give up when travelling. And a nice fluffy bath towel, I’m looking forward to that, too, I’ve been using the same wretched “quick-dry” camping towel for four years now.

What else? Not having to keep a cover on my toothbrush. Not having to squeeze shampoo into little bottles. Having a blow-dryer so I don’t have to have wet hair all the time (freezing in cold climates, mildewy in hot climates). Mouthwash. Looking forward to mouthwash, it’s too heavy to carry in a backpack. Rusty, septic disposable razors, I won’t miss those. Ditto athlete’s-foot powder.

This sort of thing can get on your nerves. It’s not a life for the squeamish. I could rant for another thousand words about this, so I’ll stop now. I’m really just looking forward to having a safe little clean room that I don’t have to be afraid of.

2. My Own Kitchen

Similar to the above. Budget travel means that sometimes you have a kitchen, and most of the time you’re eating street food or sandwiches. Years of terrible, unhealthy food have taken their toll on my health, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’d almost rather starve than eat yet another pile of greasy, salty, unidentifiable fried slop. Sheryl and I try to stay at places where there’s a kitchen available, but that brings its own set of problems. Where does the food come from? You spend half your life running around trying to find a shop, market or grocer. And we always seem to be carrying a huge bag of food with us wherever we go, because we never really know where our next meal is coming from, and we’ve gone hungry enough times that we like to have something on hand to eat. That’s heavy, and that’s annoying. And again, on our budget, it’s pretty much pasta and sauce all the time. It’s almost impossible to have a balanced, healthy, cheap diet while travelling. I’m very much looking forward to having a kitchen and the chance to control my own diet. And to make all those dishes I’ve been missing and haven’t been able to make - if I can even remember how to cook, any more. And I really can’t wait to have some spices and condiments. You just can’t carry a hundred little jars with you in your backpack, and so your diet gets blander and blander as you go on. A kitchen, even a small one, with an oven and a fridge, sounds like a pretty amazing thing right about now.

3. My Own Home

Home is only the place where you hang your hat, they say - whatever four walls and a roof you’re currently inhabiting. It’s true, to a certain extent, and nobody knows that better than me. But I’ve had 363 temporary homes over the last four years - do the math, that’s an average of only four nights each. After all that, and after sleeping in a car for five months and a tent for three, I’m longing for a place to call my own.

Privacy is a big part of that. A budget traveller leads a very public life, sleeping in dormitories, eating on the street, and sharing bathrooms. It’s rare that I have the opportunity to shut the world away behind a door. And as someone who has always needed a lot of time alone, that’s been difficult.

But the small things get to you, too. I’m really looking forward to having my own bedroom, with nobody’s feet in my face and nobody snoring. I’m looking forward to not having to dress in wet shower stalls every day, to having lampshades instead of bare ceiling bulbs, to clean walls, being able to control the temperature of a room, to windows that both open and close, and to not having to keep everything I own locked up or watched like a hawk every moment.

4. My Own Computer

I’ve been working with computers all my adult life, and I’m used to having a fairly powerful machine for my own personal use. But Sheryl and I have been sharing a crappy little netbook for almost the whole time we’ve been travelling. It’s our main tool, we couldn’t travel without it. It’s our only way of editing photos, updating our websites, and keeping in touch with everyone we know. But there are two of us, and there’s one computer, and that’s been a big source of stress and negotiation. And it’s tiny, cramped and underpowered. I’m looking forward to having my own computer back, all to myself. I’m looking forward to not having to squint at a tiny screen, to having a full-sized keyboard, and enough processing power to run Lightroom properly. I’m looking forward to having an automated backup and not having to make laborious manual backups every few days.

And I am so very much looking forward to never having to use goddamn Microsoft Windows ever again.

5. Laundromats

I used to complain bitterly about doing laundry. I used to think it was a huge pain dragging all my dirty clothes to the corner laundromat and then hauling the clean clothes back home. And then I started travelling. Coin laundries are a pretty rare thing, out in the world - mostly you have to pay by the kilogram for a laundry service when you’re on the road, and that’s a lot of money. Doing your own is a no brainer. Sometimes Sheryl and I break down and pay to have it done, when it’s just too filthy, or it’s a cold, rainy place and it will never dry on its own. But not often. I’ve spent most of the last four years hand-washing every piece of clothing I own, over and over (and, it goes without saying, wearing the same set of clothes until the smell is intolerable, but that’s just part of the backpacker aesthetic). The idea of clean clothes, all the time, whenever I want them, with no more effort than popping over to the laundromat, well, that’s a beautiful thing to me.

6. Debit Cards

I’m really going to love being able to pay for things with plastic again. Not having to carry a huge pocket full of coins, not having to worry about my pocket being picked, not having to constantly visit the ATM and decide how much to withdraw. And especially not having to constantly scavenge for small bills, or plot and scheme about how to break large bills. Most of the world still operates on a cash basis and, while it has definite advantages on occasion, taken on the whole it’s a big pain in the ass. I’m looking forward with great anticipation to not having to deal with cash anymore.

7. Drinkable Tap Water

People in developed countries have no idea what a stunning, incredible luxury it is, that the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink. They take it for granted, this invisible thing that’s saving their lives. I’ve spent too much time in too many poor countries (which is most countries) where you just can’t trust the water. Sure, there are often ways around it. You can boil it, if you have a stove, or otherwise purify it, if you have the means. Or you can buy bottled water, if it’s cheap enough, and as long as you’re careful to check that the seal on the cap is still safe and it hasn’t been refilled and resold, and if you can handle the burden of ecological guilt when you see the huge drifts of discarded plastic bottles. The idea of filling a glass from the tap seemed more like a miracle every month I travelled.

8. Bicycles

Cycling has always been an overwhelming obsession for me. It’s my way of keeping fit, getting myself around, working out my frustrations, saving the planet and risking my life all at the same time. Ask anybody who knows me - I’ve always been the guy on the bike. I ride year-round, whenever I can. I do my own maintenance, I build bikes from spare parts, and when I left on this trip I had the legs of a bodybuilder. Giving all that up has been one of the biggest sacrifices I had to make in order to travel. To leave behind my fixed-gear alleycat bike and my beautiful Cervélo racer, in exchange for the occasional rented piece of junk, well… that hurt. Getting them back is one of the best things about going home, for me.

9. Gyms

It’s virtually impossible to keep fit when you’re on the road for a long time. Sure, you’re more active on a daily basis while you’re travelling. There’s less sitting at a desk and more walking, climbing mountains and snorkelling and all of that, but there’s also a lot of unavoidably unhealthy food and a lot of enforced idle time sitting on your butt on buses or trains. There’s a net loss of fitness while travelling even when you don’t factor in the negative health impact of constant sickness from bad food and water. Twice during the trip we’ve stopped long enough that I’ve been able to pick up a few weeks at a local gym and try to reverse a bit of that loss, but there’s only so much you can do in a few weeks. I’m really looking forward to a regular gym routine again.

10. Clothes That Fit

The longer you travel, the worse your wardrobe gets. When your shirts wear out or you rip the butt out of your pants, you might not be in a place where you can buy clothes in a style you like, that look good on you, or that even actually fit you at all. As I write this, I’m wearing a hat I bought in Bolivia, a shirt from Australia, shorts from Fiji, underwear from Malaysia, socks from Indonesia and shoes I actually found left behind in a hostel in New Zealand. None of them fit right, none of them look good on me, and I wouldn’t be wearing any of them if I had any choice. This is why so many backpackers look like skid-row rag heaps. Looking good, feeling good about your appearance, these are things you have to let go of as a long-term traveller. I don’t get to dress the way I like, and the way I always have. I wear raggedy shorts, t-shirts with holes in them, and crappy sneakers or brown hiking shoes instead of the big black boots and long black coats I’ve worn all my life. I left that wardrobe behind when I left home, and although it’s still there in boxes in Sheryl’s sister’s basement, I’m not sure how much of it will fit me any more. I’m especially concerned about the boots, since four years of carrying a heavy pack have flattened my arches. But I’m still very much looking forward to at least being able to control my own appearance.

11. Libraries

I’ve always been an insatiable reader and a constant user of the public library. When I’m at home I’ve always got a dozen books checked out. Travelling has had a massive impact on that - I can’t carry a load of heavy books around, for one thing. And books are expensive even at the best of times - I could never afford to buy them while travelling. And we’ve spent most of the last four years in places where English books (or even French, if I’m desperate enough) are impossible to buy even if there is a bookstore to be found. As a long-term budget traveller, you’re limited to the books you can find on the book-exchange shelves of hostels. Three-quarters of any shelf always seems to be in German (the best argument for learning German, I’d say), and the rest is a mixed bag indeed. I’ve been forced to read some of the worst trash that has ever been written, just because it’s better than having nothing to read (to be fair, I’ve come across a few gems that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought to pick up, but those have been rare). So the thought of a whole city-wide library system of books - in English, that I can read for free - makes me very, very happy.

12. Convenience Stores

Nothing mysterious here. I’m a little tired of the eternal traveller’s problem of finding out where to buy a thing you need, then finding that tiny shop or market stall, then finding out they’re closed for siesta or whatever. The convenience of convenience stores cannot be overstated, and I don’t take them for granted anymore. I’m going to love being able to go down to the corner shop any time I want, for anything I need.

13. Freedom from the Tyranny of Publishing

Travelling these days comes with the heavy expectation that you’re going to keep some sort of travelogue website going. Being a web developer by trade, I support the idea, and building this site and Sheryl’s has been interesting and fun. But providing the content was never as much fun as building the sites. It was fine at the beginning. I’ve always liked to write, and when the trip was new and novel, and interest and feedback were strong, there was a lot of incentive to carry on writing. But the longer you travel the more the interest of your audience wanes, until after awhile it seemed like I was really just writing for myself, and then it became a chore. Travelling itself is a full-time job, and while keeping and publishing a journal seems like a great idea and a manageable thing during the early days, it soon becomes difficult to keep up to date. Besides the writing, I take a lot of photos, and editing, preparing and publishing those takes a lot of time too. Strange as it sounds, as much as I’ve complained in the past about how nobody’s interested, I’m looking forward to the end of the trip as being the time when I get to lay down the self-imposed burden of my role as content provider.

14. Not Being a Guest

When you travel, you’re a guest everywhere you go. Every minute of every day, you’re a guest in a restaurant or a hostel or someone’s home. Even at the highest level, your legal status in a country is contingent on your good and lawful behaviour. But more, being a constant guest carries an obligation to be sociable and friendly. Always a good idea, but being sociable and friendly 24/7 is not as easy as it sounds. And when you slip, there’s always someone there to snap at you to go home if you don’t like it here. And mostly there’s going to be a big language barrier that prevents you from explaining or making amends.

It’s way too easy to cause offence, to bruise feelings or egos or to violate any of a thousand unspoken local social rules. This is a big component of culture-shock, of course, and culture-shock is the hardest thing for a traveller, and the thing responsible for keeping most trips short.

But even more - for me, at least - being a guest means stepping lightly around your host’s opinions. So learning the art of diplomatically avoiding an argument is an essential skill in a traveller’s tool-kit, and that means reacting to unexpected nasty conversational turns. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to bite my tongue and smoothly change the subject when a host says something racist or vile or morally objectionable. At home I’d speak up, tell them they’re wrong and stupid and closed-minded. But disagreeing with people (virtual strangers, most of them) and getting into arguments with them is a luxury you have when you’re not dependent on their goodwill.

I’m really looking forward to being at home, that way. Not because I’ll be surrounded by people with the same ideas as me of what’s good and decent, though that’s a minor factor. It’s because at home (at least after the initial round of visits) I won’t be anybody’s guest. I won’t have to care what anybody thinks of me, or worry about the immediate and possibly dangerous consequences of disagreeing with somebody.

15. Not Being an Ambassador

This is closely related to being a guest. When you’re travelling, you don’t just represent yourself, like it or not. When people meet you, be it a fellow traveller or a local, they’re going to judge your whole country and everybody in it based on what they see in you. It’s not fair, but it’s true. People judge based on what they’re shown. What else do they have to go by? But it’s a burden, knowing that you’re an unwilling ambassador for your whole country. And it’s one more reason, among many in a very public life, that you’re always required to be on your best behaviour. And believe me, it gets tiring knowing that if I’m having a bad day and I snap at a taxi driver in Cambodia he’ll dislike Canadians from then on. Or if I let my guard down and get suckered by a money-changer in Slovenia he’ll think Canucks are an easy target. It’s a tough part of travelling, for me. Naturally it’d be easier if I just didn’t care, but I think about these things, I can’t help it.

I have found one way of temporarily escaping the pressure, though. Every time I’ve done something dumb, or if I just can’t stand being polite for one more minute, I pretend I’m American. Nobody can tell the difference in accents anyway, and there has to be some benefit to always being mistaken for a Yank. A fair exchange, I’d say, for all the times I’ve caught Americans with Canadian flags sewn onto their backpacks.

16. Not Buying Things Based on Weight

I’ve been carrying all my worldly possessions around on my back for the last four years, and there’s nothing better for teaching you what you really need and what you really don’t need. At this point I’m not carrying a single gram that I can’t justify. Sounds great, except that things get used up or wear out and need replacement. Of course I’m limited by price first, but quality isn’t important to me anymore. Nor is durability. Clothing style, size and colour doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters to me anymore is how much something weighs. Although it’s more cost-effective, I can’t buy that big bottle of shampoo, because it’s too heavy. Can’t take advantage of any volume discounts. Buying clothes, I buy thin things and layer them even if that’s not as warm as heavy clothes. There are a thousand examples. It might take me years to get over this reflexive evaluation of the weight of a thing as a primary purchase consideration.

17. Free Medical Care

Being Canadian, Sheryl and I are used to decent, free (or nearly free) medical coverage, and it was a scary thought to be without it. Before we left we signed up for a year of travel medical insurance from RBC (who I can’t praise highly enough). In my case it was a waste of quite a lot of money, but Sheryl used it in India to pay for her hospital stay, and she came out even or a little ahead. We never thought at the beginning that we’d be travelling so long, and a year seemed like enough. We were able to renew the policies for three more months after that first year was up, but after that renewal there wasn’t an insurance company who would touch us and since then we’ve been working without a safety net. This is nerve-wracking, to say the least. We had to pay for Sheryl’s second hospital stay in Indonesia out of pocket. We were lucky that it wasn’t that expensive, comparitively speaking, but it certainly could have been. I’ve never been able to shake the constant low-level dread of the knowledge that accidents can happen any time. At home, it’s comforting to know that if something happens you can show up to the hospital, present your health-insurance card and be admitted, no questions asked, and I’m definitely looking forward to that. Unfortunately I have to be resident in my home province for six months before I’m eligible again, so I’ll just keep my fingers crossed until then.

18. Good Conversations

No offense meant to Sheryl, naturally, but we’ve spent twenty-four hours a day together for the last four years, and we’ve pretty much exhausted all the conversational topics at this point. But what gets to me, and what I know gets to a lot of other people while travelling, is the Generic Backpacker Conversation that you end up following with almost everybody. Where are you from? How long have you been travelling? Where are you headed next? Et cetera, et cetera. It’s virtually impossible to break free from this conversational black hole when meeting a fellow traveller for the first time. When you’re on the road, very nearly all your relationships with other people are only a couple of hours long, and you meet a lot of people, so you have the same conversation a lot. With complete seriousness, I’d estimate I’ve probably had that generic conversation or a close variation of it something like 1500 times, and I’m heartily sick of it. I’m really looking forward to having conversations that are longer, deeper, and about other things than travelling. That’s if I even remember how, and if I actually have anything else to talk about, which is an open question.

19. Seasons

I hate winter, and avoiding that horrible season was one of my main reasons for long-term travel. But you can’t spend all your time in the tropics, and after so many different latitudes, altitudes, climates and temperatures, I don’t mind telling you that my body clock is seriously messed up. Even travelling slowly, like we prefer to do whenever we can, every place confronts you with a different temperature, weather pattern, and length of day. It’s deeply unsettling in an almost indescribable way. Humans just aren’t physiologically meant for constant travel - even nomadic peoples are predictable in their migrations. The subtle cost of our continual changing of place has taken a long time to show, and it surprises me how much I miss the orderly change and progression of seasons in my northern home. If I never see snow again I’ll be a happy man, but after four years of as much summer as possible, I miss the autumn and the spring.

20. Never Having to Pretend to Care About Football Again

Football, or soccer if you like, is the thing that holds the world together. Everybody loves fútbol. It’s a worldwide obsession and a common language. Kids play barefoot soccer in dusty fields in every country, dreaming their dreams of escaping into a better life. As a man, it’s the one thing that I know, without question, that I can have a conversation about with any other man I meet, regardless of language or culture, anywhere in the world, from the slums of Buenos Aires to the deserts of Namibia. I can sit in a bar or a train station or a restaurant and if there’s a match on the television, I can be less of an outsider, all of us brought closer through its universal bond.

It’s such a shame, then, isn’t it, that I just don’t give a shit about football. I really don’t. There, I’ve said it. I’m sorry. I just don’t care. I’ve been faking, this whole time, just to be polite, to fit in and to have something to talk about.

Also, I don’t care about cricket. Or rugby.


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7 Comments on this Dispatch:

May 6th, 2012

Believe it or not I can totally understand what your going through….and can agree holehearted!!!

¬ Hope Kaustinen
May 8th, 2012

Glad at least one person besides Sheryl understands!

¬ Chris
May 7th, 2012

hahaha this was great! I probably shouldn’t have read it yet though since I am now longing more than usual for some of the creature comforts of home and we haven’t even left Australia yet… well, enjoy the dirty clothes, greasy food and shared bathrooms while it lasts Chris, you will soon remember them fondly I’m sure.

¬ Kendall
May 8th, 2012

Hey, I’m already missing the greasy bathrooms, shared clothes and dirty food, and I haven’t even gotten home yet. :)  I’m reassured that you’re getting twitchy, I was afraid you and Luke were shooting for our record… :)

¬ Chris
May 7th, 2012

I was wondering when you were going to get around to writing about returning home (hope I didn’t miss an earlier one). And congrats on a well-written item. Reading it left me wondering about how the 4 years travel is going to affect you both in the medium-long term.

¬ Phil Young
May 8th, 2012

Thanks! Glad you liked it. And nope, you didn’t miss anything, I’ve been in the middle of writing my traditional anniversary post for the last couple of days. Should have hit your inbox by now. You’re more right than you know, with your comment about reintegration. Sheryl and I are wondering about that ourselves. 

¬ Chris
May 7th, 2012

Your comments on clothing in #10 make it sound like you’re shopping for clothes at any Wallmart store…

¬ Bill McKee
May 8th, 2012

Ha, true enough. Maybe I’ll make that the subject of my next list: similarities between budget travel and shopping at Walmart.

¬ Chris
May 7th, 2012

Even when I travel for only a month at a time I get some of those! I think it is going to be a bit of a shock to your systems when you get back - you will be mentally ready to go, and then you will think- hey, we don’t have to! Going to be a little bizarre for you, but you will adapt I am sure.

¬ Heather Liberty
May 7th, 2012

Well written piece Chris! I gotta say I didn’t fully understand what you two were going through in every part of your journey but you’ve certainly opened my eyes. It will be so lovely having you two home again. I can’t wait to see both of you when you come back! :)

¬ Suzanne
May 8th, 2012

The sentiment is definitely mutual, we’ve both missed you. And it’s nice to hear I’m educational too. :)

¬ Chris
May 19th, 2012

It’s both highly informative and entertaining as well, thanks for the insight into traveling life on a shoe-string budget. I’ve ‘lived’ through most of your narratives vicariously as I know I would never be able to emulate your feat of a 4-year World Tour.
One thing I learned fast during my early traveling days was to say I was from the country south of the border when I committed a faux pas, which was plentiful as I navigated my way through strange & different cultures & customs. I chuckle when I read your fair exchange as a Yank.
I am sure you have assimilated back into the good old ways of Canadian lifestyle and reclaimed those perks that you’ve been yearning for.

¬ WongCC
May 21st, 2012

Thank you, sir! I seem to remember meeting up with you in four separate countries, so you’ve experienced more of our trip first-hand than anybody else has!

And it’s nice to hear I’m not the only one taking advantage of the southerners… poor chipsket S’poreans, dono north is always best lah. :)

¬ Chris
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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