The Dark Side of Traveling / by Nicole Paulus

amsterdam shenanigans

I love to travel. One of the reasons I moved to Berlin was so that I would have easy access to many of the cities I've always dreamed of visiting. It’s much easier to justify a “weekend in Barcelona” when the flight only costs 60 euros. That being said, if you follow my Instagram, chances are you are only seeing one side of the story (one that is likely filtered and happy.) The truth is, traveling can be tough; physically, emotionally, and financially. Granted I wouldn’t change one single thing about my globetrotting life, I do want to shine some light on some of the perils that travel brings.

  1. Not everyone makes a good traveler. I always get nervous when traveling with friends for the first time. You can’t always tell who will make a good traveler until you’re up shit creek without a paddle. For me, a perfect traveling buddy is easy going, fiscally responsible (aka cheap like me), and ok with doing things solo sometimes. Luckily, I have found a few great friends in Berlin that also make great traveling companions. 
  2. Like the roller coaster of life, there are ups and downs when traveling. Sometimes you are the chipper one. Sometimes you are the bitter one. It’s important that you have a travel buddy that is comfortable picking you up when you’re low (and vice versa.) It’s also important that you can relish in the happy times together.

Recently I traveled to Amsterdam with my flatmate and one of my best gal pals. We decided it would be a good idea to stay on a ship (appropriately named The Ship of Fools.) It was quite an experience, though one I never want to experience again.

There was no wifi, no running water for a shower, and we had to climb down a metal ladder to reach the loo (not an easy task in the middle of the wet, rainy night.) Sure we could have dwelled on the fact that our bed had ants, the door had no lock, and that the room was freezing, but we didn’t.

You know what we did, instead?

We made each other laugh. We laughed harder than ever before. We laughed until our stomachs hurt from laughing too much, and then we laughed some more. We took pictures of each other swinging on the ship’s bowlines like drunken pirates. We danced like fools. We brushed our teeth with bottled water and spit it over the side of the ship. 

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, however…

There was one night I broke down. I was tired. We had to take a bus for 45 minutes and then walk another 20 minutes in the cold, windy night. We were crashing at a friend’s place our last night and they lived far from the city center. Though I was happy to not be on The Ship of Fools, I was exhausted, so exhausted. When we finally arrived to their place, I broke down.

I cried. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I was dirty. I cried because I wanted to be be back in Berlin, in my bed. I cried because I am a human and no matter how happy of a human you are, sometimes you just break down.

Though that day had been one of the best days of my life, I had reached my breaking point. My friend was a perfect angel in that moment. She hugged me, gave me some water, told me to get some sleep and assured me that it would be better in the morning. She showed me the kind of tenderness I can only ever remember my mom giving me. I felt very cared for in that moment and it put me at ease so that I could fall asleep. 

When I woke up, I was better, much better. It was my turn to be positive. It was my turn to care for her. I could tell she wanted to be home as well. I could tell she was tired. I made a point to show her extra kindness. 

Every time I go on a trip, I come back enlightened. Traveling requires you to leave your comfort zone, forces you to confront the ugly sides of your personality, requires that you acknowledge the darkness, the downside, the lows, and then use it for fuel to keep smiling, laughing, and enjoying the moment. Sometimes it’s challenging to find the lightness in a shitty situation. Sometimes it’s damn near impossible. But that’s ok too. It’s not normal to go around smiling all the time. I feel so lucky to have friends that I can be myself around, even during moments of negativity. Find yourself travel companions (and life companions) that you can say the following to: 

  • Thank you for letting me be myself. 
  • Thank you for not making me feel bad when I have moments of darkness, weakness or negativity. 
  • I promise that these "dark" moments will be few and far between, but I need to have them sometimes. 
  • I appreciate that you listen to me when I feel the darkness closing in and I appreciate that you don’t let me dwell in the darkness alone for too long.

Tomorrow I am traveling to Malta, a small country south of of Italy. One of the islands in Malta is said to have been the home of the nymph Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. I am looking forward to the challenges that the weekend trip will bring, but mostly I am excited to warm my bones in the sun, to let the salty air fill my lungs, and to laugh uncontrollably with friends that feel more like my family.

Ich liebe mein Leben.