12 reasons why you should never travel long term

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.

Long term travel isn't always fun

Long term travel isn't always fun

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.

Washing clothes isn't glamorous no matter where you are

Washing clothes isn't glamorous no matter where you are

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.

Hostels aren't the most comfortable accommodations

Hostels aren't the most comfortable accommodations in the world

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.

It's hard to leave good friends

It's hard to leave good friends

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?

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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16 Responses to 12 reasons why you should never travel long term

  1. Ray October 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    I travelled for 11 years. 1989 to 2000. It is not a “vacation”; it’s a lifestyle.

    • Nancy October 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

      Very true. So many people think it’ll be one long vacation, but it really isn’t. You still have to wash your underwear even if you are in Paris!

  2. Amy October 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    I miss hot showers so much. To be able to get in the shower each day, and run the shower without having to worry about the hot water running out after a few minutes would be my idea of heaven.

    And to be able to just shove the clothes into the washing machine without having to turn on a generator and fill up the water tanks first.

  3. Renee October 6, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    Great post, Nancy. We’ve been on the road since April, and I can’t imagine returning to a stationary life. Not long-term anyway.

    Glad to hear we’re not the only ones getting ripped off from time to time. 😉

  4. wandering educators October 6, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    too funny – and remarkable, really, how life can change so meaningfully!

  5. Jen October 6, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    Thanks for the honest post. I enjoy reading about the travel lifestyle. We are doing one month in Costa Rica this winter. Taking my son out of school and doing my corporate job from there. If it all goes smooth hopefully we can do more!

    • Nancy October 6, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

      How exciting! You’ll have a blast. Yes, you’ll get tired of long bis rides and washing clothes in the sink will be the pits, but you’ll love it anyway!

  6. Lessa October 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I think the big one here is being sick, I have been away and got ill – I needed a blood transfusion in cancun. I have never been so scared, all the people were great but it put my off leaving the country again for a while!

    • Nancy October 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Being sick is never fun, and being sick when you’re all alone in a foreign country is even worse.

  7. Jan October 19, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Hi Nancy,

    Years ago hubby and i had the grand idea of traveling around Mexico with the goal of living there.

    We spent 6 weeks before we headed back to the States. Boy does your article sure ring true.


    • Nancy October 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

      HA! It’s hard for sure. We spent 12 years living the expat life in a variety of countries – there are challenges involved that you wouldn’t even think of.

  8. Sherry Ott October 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Nancy – great post! It’s true – it is all of those things…but I think so is regular life. Long term travel is a lifestyle, not something you add to your life like a vacation – and so it has all of the ups and downs of everyday if you ask me! Or maybe I’ve just been traveling too long! Thanks for the shout out for career breaks!!

    • Nancy October 20, 2011 at 7:30 am #

      @Sherry Ott,
      You are so right – it has its ups and downs just like regular life. I think many people go into long term travel thinking it will one long vacation – it really isn’t. It’s wonderful, but not one long vacation.

  9. Mike October 24, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    I agree with Ray’s comment above. Travelling long term is not a vacation, it’s absolutely a lifestyle choice. One that I lived by my entire life before having kids (makes it not so practical with school and all) but I will return to once they’re grown up.

  10. Staci December 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Like many others have said, long term travel is a lifestyle, and it’s a lifestyle I happen to enjoy immensely. I think you can mitigate many of these problems by traveling for a few months to the same place and then moving to your next destination instead of trying to pack visiting numerous countries into one month. We stay in each location for a few months so that we can really get a feel for the local culture…plus it’s much cheaper that way and we can avoid hostels and crappy hotels.

    I really like this post because before someone starts traveling long term, they need to have realistic expectations of what it’s going to be like, and your post really helps bring to light some of the not-so-glamorous parts of long term travel.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel December 31, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      @Staci, I do think it’s important to have realistic expectations. While planning, we tend to think only about the good times we’ll have and – yes – we will have plenty of them. But there are hard times as well andit’s important we realize those hard times will come.

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