When travel breaks your heart

I spend a majority of my time writing about the benefits of travel and the beauty I have been fortunate enough to experience while on my adventures, but it is also important to note that travel is not always comfortable or fun and easy. As Anthony Bourdain said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts. It even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you—it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you and hopefully you leave something good behind.” The first time I remember my heart breaking while traveling was in Chumphon, Thailand as I was walking to catch a boat to the island of Koh Tao.

I had my trusty backpack with all of my possessions and I was approaching the dock and loading area. As I was crossing the bridge, I heard a horrible noise that raised goosebumps on my arms despite the heat. I followed the noise and looked over the side of the bridge and below, rather than a clear stream, was a garbage filled ditch. In the ditch, I could see that the sound was coming from a dog whose fure was once tan but was now smeared black and brown. He was half way out of the ditch, trying to climb out but his back leg was clearly broken and he couldn’t get any farther. My heart broke, I felt numb and confused, and I had no idea what to do, or who to call.

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Wild dogs run rampant in Thailand. The one pictured was having a wonderful time playing in the water, but many dogs end up dying of disease and starvation as they live on the streets.

This was far from the first loose dog I had seen in the country, as there are many wild dogs in Thailand. Just a few days before I had had to walk over a dead dog outside of the front door of a Starbucks, which had been depressing enough. Now here was a dog in pain, dying, and I could do nothing.

While the dog in Thailand was my first experience with the emotional hardships of travel, the most heartbreaking experiences I have had while traveling occurred during a train ride from Rome to Pordenone, Italy.

The trip would take approximately six hours with one transfer. We had been traveling for an hour and fifteen minutes, making ourselves comfortable for the next few hours before we had to change trains. Simultaneously, I heard and felt a clanging and crunching sound beneath our train. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that my first thought was, “We’ve lost a part of the train, that’s just like the Italians to let their trains run down like that.”

Our train came to a stop and everyone was silent as the conductor came over the intercom. Since he was speaking Italian, Steve and I had no idea what he was saying. After several minutes of silence and our 7 cabin mates speaking amongst themselves, a middle-aged man turned to us and asked, “Did you understand?”

We told him we had not and he proceeded to inform us that a man had jumped in front of our train to end his life. It put the sounds I had heard and felt into horrifying perspective and I thought I might be sick. It was the single worst event I had experienced while traveling.

I have seen countless homeless people, such as the man in Seoul, Korea who had his legs blown off in a Cambodian mine and wheeled himself around on a cart. I have spoken to people who have expressed their blatant hate for Jews, Muslims, Roma (Gypsies), Syrians, Africans, and black Americans.

These things can not be unseen or unheard. And I wouldn’t have it any other way because this reminds me why it is important to see more of the world and hear more from its people to understand my place in it. I only hope that, even though I have had my heart broken by these experiences, I have been changed and I have, hopefully, left “something good behind.”

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