The Dark Side of Travel- Travel Isn't Perfect But the Difficulties Are Worth It

The bottom line is, it's the plumbing. Always the plumbing. I'm not saying if there's a problem it is likely to be the plumbing. I'm saying there will be a problem and it will be the plumbing. I'll spare you and your therapist some of the more horrific details, but suffice it to say, it's always the plumbing. There is actually a “dark” side to full time travel, although “dark” is largely an overstretched term, but full time travel is not a constant vacation. In fact, there are days when it doesn't feel like a vacation at all.

I've mentioned the plumbing, and it's absolutely true. Everywhere we have stayed has either started with or ended with plumbing problems, and we began to wonder if it was us! Nevertheless, it goes without saying that living somewhere different every month has, in addition to plumbing, its adjustments. First there's the geography, always different, always at least a few days of walking around to get oriented on what's where. Then there's the people. Not everyone is the same and our goal is to assimilate rather than act as tourists. That requires some sussing out the area's who's whom, who knows what, who goes where, and who knows whom. But there's always someone in the know and that person usually sits in the pub, and in the same general seat in each pub. It doesn't take long to figure out to whom you need to turn for local advice and knowledge.

Chelsea has to be looked after too. Dogs crave routine and in our crazy travel world, Chelsea thrives perfectly as long as structure is maintained. Feeding times are strictly followed, and that means that no matter where we are or what we're doing, when it's time to eat, it's time to eat. She eats on trains, on buses, in the middle of a forest, at the lake... last week we fed her at the bus stop waiting for our bus from Bishop Auckland. Every dog is different but we know structure is the key. So no matter what day of the week it is, we're up at 6:30 for the walk and feeding. When we've planned a day out, foods and bowls and waters must be packed, plus contingency supplies for her well being. I generally carry more for her than myself on day outings! And every new destination has a new set of dog friends for her to meet; they need to be sussed out as well. Most are very sweet but occasionally a territory dispute erupts. As Chelsea doesn't actually HAVE territory, we're careful to keep her away from those space defenders.

Every house we inhabit is different. It's not like a hotel, there is no maintenance staff. Some lights work, some don't. Water pressure (plumbing! argh!) is different, the amount of available hot water is different. We've gotten quite expert at figuring out the various washing machine brands and how they work, a feat that gives us pride in a minor achievement. Some washers also dry, many don't, so the drying rack needs to be found or, in some cases, improvised (Note to Americans: the US is the rare country that believes clothing must always be dried in the electric dryer. The rest of the world generally doesn't believe that and clothes are pinned on a line or along indoor radiators or drying racks. It's actually charming, more economical, friendlier to the planet, and easy to get used to.).

While traveling on a train is so civilized in Europe, and I wouldn't recommend any other mode of transport to really see a country, it's also challenging on a busy day, when trains are canceled or late, threatening connections. If you're boarding somewhere along the line and not at the beginning of the train's trip, good luck finding luggage space. Train WiFi is available and a real benefit but don't count on streaming Netflix to pass the time. Planning ahead and downloading crucial information or entertainment is necessary or that 8-hour ride to Inverness is going to get boring, even with the Scottish Highlands as a backdrop.

And back to Chelsea. She's gotta pee at some point. We've gotten skilled at finding that small patch of grass wherever we are for a quick quirk. She knows her job, and we use the 20 minutes well. But 8 hours to Inverness is just a non-stop, non-pee trip so planning initial pees and water rations are required. Once we've been to a station, we know where we have to go. Recently in Edinburgh, we hopped off and had 20 minutes to spare. I looked at her and said, “Do you remember where to go?” I swear she rolled her eyes as if to say, “Human, please,” led me off to the stairs, turned left, dragged me across the street and promptly squatted next to the Scots Memorial. I was impressed! She was relieved.

Haircut. Oh the haircuts! They have to be coordinated for human and beast, every six weeks, in fact. That means they have to be planned at about 4 weeks- where will we be, how do we communicate what we want done, etc. As a result, hairdressers and groomers have to be trusted, pickiness about HOW you look just has to be secondary, and misunderstandings have to be forgiven; it WILL grow.

The things you are used to in your everyday- knowing where the grocer is and what the grocer sells, easily memorized bus and train schedules for your commute, or which roads to take if you drive, who the village idiot is, and if it might be you, who's nice and who's not, when the trash collection day comes round...these must all be relearned with each move. But you know what? One thing we know is that we are able to handle whatever it is, as we've seen much in our short time traveling. The trials and tribulations of being on the move are now just commonplace for us, we've mellowed and learned to take it as it comes, to do without when doing without is the only option, to plan for contingencies, to be resourceful with food- seriously, we could now teach a course on how to plan 3 amazing meals per day for a week when the grocery store is 12 miles away and you only have a small backpack.

What we've lost in a stable home life we've absolutely gained by orders of magnitude in self-confidence, in our ability to literally deal with whatever comes, in serenity in the midst of chaos. And we've seen a few cool places and met a lot of cool new friends too. But we're still braced for the plumbing's always the plumbing!