Lessons from Long-term Travel

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Lessons from Long-term Travel

Long-term travel has always been a dream of mine. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s a reality now. We began our round-the-world trip in July 2015. Since then, we’ve traveled to Croatia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji, the US, Mexico, India, France, and now Spain. Where did the time go?!

While I knew it would be an “amazing experience” and “the best time of my life” and every other platitude you can think of — and it has been — there are several things I never considered before leaving. It is not all positive. I hope this post doesn’t come across as complaining, because I recognize how fortunate I am to even have the ability to travel, but I wanted to be honest. I think it’s important to see both sides of long-term travel.

Every place teaches us something new; we are not always prepared for the curveballs that travel throws at us. Here are a few lessons that I have learned after 10 months of being on the road:

 

1. It is challenging spending 24/7 with one person.

Social media has a tendency to distort reality. Although we post gushy pictures from around the world, Tyler and I are humans, with flaws and morning breath, just trying to figure it out like everyone else. One thing I never considered before leaving on this trip was exactly how much time we would be spending together. What I’ve realized is this: you are with the same person every. single. day.  All day. Every day. I love Tyler. He’s an amazing person who brings me a lot of joy, but THIS IS NOT NORMAL. We spend more time together than most married couples. Think about it. Most people spend at least 8-10 hours separated from their partner during the day. Long-term travel is different. We don’t have jobs we can go to. It is a lot of…togetherness. My hope is that this trip will teach us the patience we need to endure the joys and struggles of a healthy, committed relationship.

 

2. It gets really old wearing the same clothes every week.

If you read my blog post on packing, you’ll know that I don’t have a lot of options when it comes to clothing. If variety is the spice of life, my wardrobe is as bland as f*&k. After a few months, my shirts were stretched out and pilly, I had a hole in the crotch of my only pants, and frankly, I felt ugly. At one point, I hit up a shopping mall in Asia and spent way more money than I should have (and maybe $200 at Sephora). I needed to feel like a woman again — a woman with some degree of style who doesn’t wear the same damn hole-in-the-crotch pants every day. My advice would be to still travel light, but have a budget for fashion emergencies.

 

3. Your problems will catch up with you eventually.

It’s easy to forget your problems when you’re face-to-face with a whale shark. The sense of awe that comes from sleeping under unfamiliar stars does wonders for your happiness. But just because you left home doesn’t mean your problems will vanish entirely. Mine seem to have found a way to catch up with me across the world. Insecurity, self-doubt, and family issues are still a part of my life. I’ve learned that running away doesn’t solve problems — facing them head on does. That’s something I am still working on, though.

 

4. Travel insurance is a good idea.

I went to the hospital more than once on this trip — for malaria medication in Johannesburg; for a minor wrist procedure both in Cape Town and in Kuala Lumpur; for pneumonia in Tokyo — and that was in the first 6 months! Travel insurance is a small price to pay, but it’s worth it. I use World Nomads

 

5. Don’t ignore your bank account.

I checked my bank account earlier this spring and had a minor panic attack as the numbers crept below an acceptable level of security. My inner monologue went something like this: OH NO, I’M POOR! I did a decent job of budgeting for the first half of trip, but as we went along, it was easier to ignore the fact that my account was diminishing. Pretending my bills didn’t exist helped no one, certainly not my credit score. In fact, I discovered I was late on a payment — by a month! I immediately paid it in full upon realizing my delinquency, but up until that moment, I had always been financially prudent. I paid off my credit card balances every month and my student loans. I’ve learned that even though I’m traveling and sometimes living in a fantasy world, I need to stay grounded in reality.

 

6. Community is important.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not being home. I missed the birth of my nephew, weddings, and baby showers of dear friends. I knew that traveling meant I would have to sacrifice certain events. While I love traveling with Tyler, I miss the strong, female companionship I have back home. I miss the way my sister makes me laugh until my stomach hurts, or having conversations with my mom while she juices fresh vegetables, or just catching up with my solid group of girlfriends. Recently, I went out for drinks with some travelers I met for girls’ night. I cannot tell you how good it was for my spirit. It can be difficult to build a community while on the go, but reaching out to others is important, as is keeping in touch with people you care about.

 

7. Long-term travel is not a vacation. It is okay to sit in your room and watch Netflix all day.

It is easy to be in the go-do-see everything mode when in a new country, but long-term travel ≠ vacation. I feel ridiculous saying this, but travel can be exhausting. This trip has become my daily life, and as such, some degree of routine is necessary. On vacation I might eat cake for breakfast (every day is Treat Yo Self day!), but I wouldn’t fit into my pants if I ate dessert all of the time now.

It takes a lot of energy, time, money, and patience to plan a trip, and obviously a trip of this scale requires more planning than a normal one-week vacation would. Give yourself permission to do nothing. Cook at home. Read a book from a cafe all day. Binge-watch House of Cards from your bedroom. Experience the joy of missing out. Life is about balance. That 2000-year-old statue will be there tomorrow.

 

8. Fear can be an opportunity for growth.

There have been moments on the trip that have pushed me beyond my comfort levels. (e.g. Bungee jumping was scary as sh*t.) Fear is how we grow. I’m not talking about the kind of fear that keeps us safe. We are biologically programmed to have fear for our own survival, so definitely do not walk up to a grizzly bear to see what happens, just don’t. The kind of fear that I’m talking about is more discomfort, something that shakes you up, something that makes you uncomfortable — that’s the thing you need to pay attention to.

A minor example: This week I was practicing yoga on the beach when someone approached me and and asked if I would teach him. My gut started churning and I immediately blurted out “Oh, I’m not a teacher.” Wait a minute. Didn’t I fly all the way to Bali just to complete yoga teacher training? I am a yoga teacher! I deflected because of a silly fear that I won’t be a good at it. I know I need to get over myself and teach. It’s the only way to learn. I ended up taking down his information, and my intention is set up a time this week to teach a class. Someone please ask me next week if I followed through.

 

9. You might not have it all figured out by the end of your trip.

It’s no secret that I wasn’t in a great spot before I left. I thought I’d take this trip, enjoy new places, have a glorious epiphany, and walk down a new and exciting path with my brilliant new career/project/million-dollar idea. Too bad that hasn’t happened yet. Often I feel like I am treading water, directionless through an ocean trying to find land. I couldn’t tell you where I’ll be two months from now. It’s a surprise even to me.

Maybe some degree of uncertainty is the key to a meaningful existence. Maybe it prevents people from living the unexamined life. What I do know is that I don’t want to be stuck in a job the entirety of my working years only to realize I’ve hated it all of this time. Maybe this is just part of adulthood. Maybe this uncertainty forces me evaluate my priorities, which will lead to a fulfilling life down the road. Maybe. That’s what I’m telling myself now anyway.

 

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Long-term Travel Lessons. Photo: Caitlin Collins, www.augustaleigh.com

What life lessons has travel taught you?

 

 

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  • Adeline Heymann

    Anne,
    I loved reading this post and can certainly relate! I’m also in 7 months with a carry-on sized bag, and I feel like i’m wearing the same thing (mostly black) over and over again (and things are never quite clean! no matter how hard I try)! I also know how much work it is to plan logistics, things to do, and where to stay and get around in new places, I don’t fee like i’m on vacation at all! Traveling is a lifestyle and it takes effort and mindfulness to do it well. Thanks for sharing on this topic! Adeline

    • Hi Adeline, thanks for reading. I completely agree — long-term travel IS a lifestyle. I’m glad we have this shared experience. Looking forward to the day where we can catch up in person. Until then, I will look forward to more of your posts!