(Photo credits: Photos, unless otherwise noted, were provided by our friends/travel buddies Nicole P., Jay Carl G., and Jude L.)
In today’s world, we often hear the word instagrammable, which usually refers to a person, place, or thing that we think will attract social media users, specifically, on the Instagram platform. More often than not, when it comes to travel photos, these are usually the beautiful places, perfectly captured moments, and best-framed poses. Andrew and I strive to capture amazing photos and try to curate our online gallery not to deceive our audience, but for the art. We simply love looking at and sharing photos of beautiful places. However, we are aware that this well-curated social media presence often may lead to unrealistic standards for travel—that if a travel experience isn’t as perfect as the photos suggest, there must be something wrong. This assumption may then lead to wanderlusts getting discouraged to travel when they think they can’t meet this impossible standard.
We definitely want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to travel to do so, because there’s so much to experience outside our personal spaces. So we thought we should also share our experiences on the other aspects of our travels that are not often shared or talked about. A perfect example is our most recent trip to Europe.
The primary reason we planned a 2-week trip to Europe was our friend’s wedding in France. Since we were already going to be in France with a few friends, we thought we should seize the opportunity to travel to different European cities and see some of our other friends who live in Europe. We ended up going to Paris, Tuffe, and Le Mans in France; Barcelona and Girona in Spain; Zurich, Zermatt Matterhorn, and Blausee in Switzerland; Milan in Italy; and Munich in Germany. We definitely captured many beautiful photos and it was great to be with friends and walk the streets of all these amazing European cities, but it wasn’t all tapas and free-flowing wine.
There were five of us in our travel party and we figured that if we ate all our meals at restaurants, we would go bankrupt in a few days, especially in Switzerland where food is very expensive. We saved our money for the special meals, such as tapas on the sidewalks of Barcelona, macarons in Paris, pizza in Milan, and mugs of German beer for Oktoberfest in Munich. However, we didn’t have these amazing culinary experiences all the time. To remain within budget, we often went grocery shopping and sometimes ate our hosts’ food (with their permission, of course). We cooked wherever we spent the night so we could eat before we left in the morning and bring some food with us for the rest of the day. Most of the time, our meals consisted of plain scrambled eggs and cold processed meat, but those homemade meals got us through our days and gave us the energy to explore.
We definitely needed the fuel because most of the time, we were either walking for miles or running to catch buses/trains with our backpacks in tow and Google Maps on our phones. We had to rent a car from Paris to Tuffe and back because it seemed like the most efficient way to travel to and within Tuffe. Other than that, we were power walkers doing our own free walking tours, and we were frequent patrons of European public transportation due to their affordability, abundance, and efficiency. (Tip: Trains in Switzerland [even city trains] have restrooms [WC] inside.) We even walked to the bus station in Zurich at 3am once, after arriving at our friend’s apartment just a couple of hours earlier, so we could make it to the bus to Milan on time only to find out that the bus was going to be an hour and a half late. Our legs and feet often hurt and throbbed by the end of the day, but we saved some money and saw many different parts of the cities that we would’ve missed if we traveled via a private car.
With the exception of Barcelona, where we stayed in a hotel, and Tuffe, where we rented a room through Airbnb, we also saved money by sleeping on our friends’ couches and air mattresses for most of our trip. (We are lucky enough to have kind and generous friends in different cities around the world who let us stay with them for free, so this definitely saves us a chunk of money when we travel.) In addition to our hosts, there were five of us in our travel party, so that meant carefully planned shower times and a symphony of snores throughout the night. We started our trip taking turns getting dressed behind closed doors, and after spending so much time in close quarters, we ended it with throwing all of our dirty clothes in the wash together, including our dirty underwear, to save on time and water.
Since we all knew that we would have to travel light due to our itinerary, we only brought a few clothes. So throughout our trip, we also had to do laundry, though it was difficult to squeeze it into our busy schedules. During our friend’s wedding, we washed our clothes before the ceremony, then Andrew headed back to our Airbnb to hang them outside to dry right before the reception. At first, finding the time to do laundry was a top priority—we weren’t comfortable reusing worn and probably stinky clothes. However, as days went by, we said whatever to our lack of laundry time and whenever we didn’t have any more clean clothes to wear, we would all just laugh and make each other promise not to judge as we all put on the same outfits we’ve worn two or three days in a row already. (Tip: Hang clothes that aren’t too soiled to aerate them and keep them fresh.)
We had to travel light because of all the buses, trains, trams, and planes we rode. And slept in. Our daily schedules were often dictated by transportation schedules, which meant that sleep wasn’t always a priority. We snuck in quick naps whenever or wherever we could, including at the bus/train stations and on a bench overlooking the Swiss Alps. We often wondered how we were still functioning. We power-napped through many sleepless nights and days, though our lack of sleep never stopped us from enjoying each other’s company and making the most of our trips.
Our lack of sleep, however, may have been one of the main reasons why all of us got sick during our trip. One after the other, we all succumbed to the cough-and-colds combo package. Our bodies ached and mucus filled our lungs; it wasn’t a pretty sight. Luckily, each of us had our own version of a travel medical kit, so we had enough remedies to help us feel better, although it took a few days. It probably also didn’t help that we were soaked in the rain on the night we celebrated Oktoberfest in Munich.
We truly view our ability to travel as a privilege that we are lucky and blessed to have in our lives. We are grateful. However, we want to assure potential travelers (or new travelers who feel the pressure to always be on point) that it’s not always as picture-perfect as it seems online. Popular places will be crowded. The heat of the summer sun or strong winter winds can be brutal. Chasing buses and trains can be exhausting. Good-looking food may not be as delicious as expected. Humidity may hinder us from getting a great-hair-day photo. NatGeo-level photography skills may not be in our arsenal of hidden talents, so capturing the best photos may take a few tries. Not everything will be “instagrammable” and not all of us may have the blogger poses down. However, every part of travel—the food, sights, experiences, and company—will always bring great memories that will last a lifetime.
- Travel can push us out of our comfort zone (and into an overstuffed train).
- Cardio is not just for the zombie apocalypse.
- Getting sick is inevitable.
- Not all delicious meals are photogenic, and not all photogenic meals are delicious.
- Sleep is a gift. Cherish it.
- When presented with the opportunity, do travel and travel the way you want to travel, not the way you think travel should be based on other people’s well-curated public photos.