Long term travel is gaining in popularity in the United States thanks to the many websites encouraging career breaks or gap years. It seems that rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear about yet another family, couple, or individual shunning the traditional 9 – 5 path through life to head out for a life on the road.
My personal favorite reason for long-term travel is the whole woulda, coulda, shouldathing. Sherry Ott, owner of Briefcase to Backpack, says, “Think back to all of those dreams you had when you were younger. Maybe you were going to be an artist, a writer, a chef, a designer, or an actor. Most of these dreams fade for us when we hit the responsibilities of adulthood. But it’s not too late to make them a reality.”
In addition, she adds, “A traveling career break will force you to slow down and learn to be patient again.” In today’s work-a-day world with everyone moving at break-neck speed, that’s a good thing.
Sherry claims that retirement not be the best time to travel. “Have you ever really thought about the person you will be when you are 65?” she asks. “What will your health be like, what will your sense of adventure be like, and most importantly, will your health be able to support your sense of adventure?”
Even as wonderful as long term travel is, there are reasons to hate it. Before you go, be aware that life won’t be like you see in the commercials on TV. Long term travel isn’t all fun and games. Here are a few things to consider before you hit the road:
It’ll be hard work The media has made it appear as though travel is all sunny days on beaches and relaxed strolls through fabulous historical sites. Trust me – it won’t be.
Travel is filled with long days on planes, trains, busses or bicycles. You’ll be uncomfortable, hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, and exhausted more times than you can imagine. It’s a long way between those pristine white sand beaches and, unless you’ve fine-tuned your teleporting skills, it’ll take you a long time to get from here to there.
It won’t be glamorous Remember all those commercials you’ve seen on TV of glamorous people in sparkling white outfits perched upon elephants or camels? It won’t be like that.
You’ll be carrying only a few sets of clothes and will most likely wear only one of them. You’ll wear the same clothes for a few days before finally throwing them on the floor of the shower stall and stomping on them to get them clean – clean enough anyway. When you do pull a new set of clothes out of your luggage it’ll be horribly wrinkled and not sparkling at all.
It’s not comfortable If you’re like most of us, you don’t have the vast sums of money it would take to stay in luxury hotels. Which means you’ll be staying in hostels or cheap hotels. Hostels and cheap hotels aren’t known for their comfort.
Not only will you be physically uncomfortable, you’ll be mentally uncomfortable as well. Thrust into new situations where you don’t know what the social norms are isn’t exactly the stuff comfort is made of. You’ll wander around feeling like an alien thrown onto a new planet a few times.
You’ll get lost It’s disconcerting to have no idea how to get back to your hotel where you left all your earthly belongings. (Tip: pick up a card from the hostel as soon as you arrive and tuck it into your pocket. When you get lost, it’ll help immensely.)
It’s boring There will be many long stretches of time where you’ll have nothing more to do that sit and wait. Waiting for buses or airplanes, waiting for a museum to open, waiting for clothes to dry. Make sure you have a good book or three or a thousand. You’ll need them.
The paperwork and regulations will drive you crazy Each country has their own set of regulations and it’s hard to figure it all out in advance. Many times, you won’t know what fee you’ll be charged or how many days you’ll be allowed to stay in a country until you actually arrive at the border.
You will also face situations where you had absolutely no idea a certain regulation was in place – until you violate it. Then you’ll need to navigate through tricky waters with no understanding of the local culture.
You will get burned out There are only so many piles of Mayan stones or museums full of historical artifacts you can tolerate. Depending on the amount of time you have you will either need to race by fascinating places and not bother with them at all, or you’ll need to find a place to settle down for a while to let your brain catch up. (Tip: take your planned itinerary and cross off 50% of the places you wanted to visit. That should then be just right.)
You will get ripped off No matter how travel-savvy you are, it’ll happen. You’ll get sucked into some scam somewhere or you’ll be pickpocketed even though you think you have a fail-proof system to prevent it.
Being sick isn’t fun when you’re all alone It’s not fun when you’re at home surrounded by friends and family either, but even worse when you don’t have that support system. And if you’re sick enough to have to seek out medical help, it can be downright scary.
The good news is that you will be able to find good medical care at a fraction of the cost of the USA, but that doesn’t take away the loneliness or intimidation of dealing with a foreign system.
You’ll miss home Maybe you’ll miss your little treasures at home or maybe you’ll miss your friends or family, but there will be times when you’re terribly homesick. There is no way to prevent it.
Saying goodbye is hard to do While traveling, you’ll meet lots of new people. You’ll quickly become fast friends and will have many wonderful times together. And then you’ll part ways, knowing you most likely will never see each other again. The best part of travel is meeting people. The worst part is saying goodbye.
Re-entry is a bitch After gallivanting around the world for however-long you plan to, there comes a time when you’ll want to settle down in one place. There are certainly great aspects of coming back, but tough times too. You’ll find that you’ve changed and “home” may not be a good fit for you anymore.
You may also be interested in this article about the advantages and disadvantages of long term travel: Regrets about long term family travel?