I was pretty hapless when I booked my first ever six month solo backpacking trip. Carried away with visions of me casually strolling through the streets of Bangkok, lazing on the white shores of India and maybe managing a trek through the Himalayas all on my own, meant I had little time to think about what the reality may be like.
Like the fact that unless you take ear plugs and an eye mask there's no way you're getting any shut eye in a dorm full of snorers or late night revellers. Like the fact that being a solo female traveller will mean a lot of male attention, some of it very unwanted and irritating. Like the fact that a stupid amount of time will be spent planning your next steps, booking transport and reading reviews of hostels where you can sleep the following night that don't resemble Bates Motel.
When we think about travelling we tend to see the world through rose tinted glasses, musing over the fun and exciting adventures ahead, the incredible photos that we will take and the cultures we will soak up. This will all happen but I've learnt that pre trip and post trip thoughts differ wildly.
I now know that being classed as an *ahem* slightly older traveller (anything over 29 years old and you sometimes feel like an OAP at a teens disco) meant that I couldn't hack it like the young 'uns. Just saying young 'uns already shows my age. My liver, already knackered after my carefree uni days, stubbornly refused to let me get down with the kids, or if it did then I would pay for it the following day. Being hungover in scorching clammy heat with no Netflix or greasy all day breakfasts to cure this self-infliction is not big or clever.
I now know that you will develop an alter ego who bursts out of you Hulk-style during frustrating situations. Being meek and mild mannered most of the time will only get you so far, but a feisty new you will emerge when you're haggling fares with tuk tuk drivers, putting your foot down as politely but persistently as you can telling your tour guide that no you don't want to visit his second cousin's jewellery shop, and sticking to your guns that you're certain you don't want to buy a naff souvenir from an insistent beach seller.
I now know that style goes out of the window when on the road. You can forget your matching outfits, pretty hair accessories and *gasp* even makeup; when you travel comfort is king. That and finding confidence in leaving your room with unwashed hair, unshaved legs, a wet wipe shower and a spritz of eau de mozzie spray knowing that no one will judge you.
I now know that you need to enjoy the actual travel time. The process of getting from A to B can be full of delays, cancellations and uncomfortable crossings but you've just got to sit back and try to enjoy the ride.
I now know that when you return no one will really care about the emotional journey you've been on, the things you've seen and the stories you're desperate to share. For your friends and family the novelty of having you back will quickly fade. Life goes on. And that's when the travel bug bites and you jet off again feeling confident that you're now a pro backpacker (until you realise you will never stop learning about travel and certainly won't want to).