After two years of constant around-the-world travel we’ve learned a thing or two in terms of how do it right and how to do it oh-so-wrong. Now that we’ve been back in the United States for several months we’re prepared to share some of our insights. So here is our list of the top sixteen things everyone should know about long-term travel. Enjoy!
1. Anyone can do it.
Though we have met countless 20-something, “gap year” backpackers, we’ve also crossed paths with plenty of travelers who fit within less obvious nomadic profiles: families with young children, senior citizens on six-month solo adventures, and married 30-something couples such as ourselves. Long-term travelers do not fit into a neatly packaged stereotype. Each person or group has their very own budget; lavish expenditures are possible anywhere, but in many countries it is possible to live and travel on less than US$10 per day. Methods of travel vary widely as well and definitely aren’t limited to airplanes; consider traveling by bus, train, motorcycle, tuk-tuk or even bicycle.
There are many potential catalysts for having made the very personal decision to embark on a long-term adventure. But all long-term adventurers have at least a few things in common: the openness to explore beyond their comfort zones, a positive personal outlook, a fearless attitude toward facing the unknown, and the desire to make the absolute most of their time, money, and youth (regardless of their actual age).
2. There are many reasons to travel.
There is no singular reason why an intelligent, thoughtful person would give up the safety and comfort of their home for a stint (or life) of adventurous long-term travel – there are instead many!
To get out of your bubble: Experience what it’s like outside the comfort of your own community. Experiencing the beauty of other cultures will help you to see your home country in a brand new light.
To explore personal interests and skills on the cheap: Interested in teaching yoga? Take a course in India. Obsessed with Argentine tango? Train in Buenos Aires under professional dancers. Thinking about organic farming and permaculture? Volunteer on an organic farm in Costa Rica. Many learning opportunities can cost you far less in a foreign land than in your own country.
To challenge yourself physically, mentally and emotionally: Being on the road for months on end forces you to learn, grow and face realities you might have preferred not to explore. In the end, it is all for the better.
- To ditch the office job and fulfill your dreams: Visit deserted islands. Swim with sharks. Volunteer with an animal rescue organization. Sail across an ocean. Life can truly be what you want and make it to be, not what your parents/media/culture tell you it is. Live yours as you wish.
3. You can’t depend on guidebooks.
Though we will admit to having owned a few in our lifetimes, our relationship with guidebooks began to deteriorate when we glanced at our hometown’s chapter in an up-to-date edition of a very popular series. The pages were full of languidly-researched advice on how to spend your time and money. While they may be well-meaning sources of information that can be helpful at times, the unfortunate reality is that travelers can become overly dependent on them. Guidebook junkies often become funneled along a common route (such as the “Banana Pancake Trail” in Southeast Asia or the “Gringo Trail” in Central and South America), standing in line at the same must-see attractions. As a side effect, recommended businesses may use their newfound notoriety to cash in by jacking up their prices.
So, instead of walking down the street with your head in a guidebook filled with inconsistent and often outdated information, simply consult maps and do a fair amount of research online before your arrival in a new country. Once on the ground, seek out the advice of locals and other travelers. Undoubtedly, conversing with strangers (especially in a foreign language) can be challenging at times, but the best sources of information are most often right in front of you.
4. You don’t always need to plan ahead.
In many parts of the world, a room for the night in a basic guesthouse may cost less than US$5. Such establishments often don’t have web sites and aren’t represented by travel agents; most don’t even accept reservations by phone. Instead of always having a plan as to where you’ll travel next and where you’ll stay each night, consider arriving someplace early in the day with no plan at all.
Some of our best and most memorable experiences took place in areas where locals aren’t accustomed to meeting foreigners – places found neither in guidebooks nor on maps. Where there is no guest house, locals may invite you into their homes. Where there is no English on the menu – or no menu at all – there’s still something delicious to eat. Just look to where the locals are going and you’ll be at the right spot.
5. Long-term travel IS financially possible.
Many people question how we could afford to travel for two years. We are often asked, “Did you win the lottery?” The honest truth is that a combination of hard work, savings and a small flow of passive income enabled us to afford long-term travel. When we decided that we wanted to quit our day jobs and make our dream of seeing the world a reality we made certain cutbacks in our lifestyle, put away more savings, and waited until the time was right.
While on the road we spent much of our time in developing countries with very low costs of living. Typically avoiding overly-touristed attractions, we certainly didn’t try to do it all in every place we visited. We moved around by local transportation. We volunteered for local businesses and organizations in exchange for food and lodging. By choosing couchsurfing, homestays, guesthouses and apartment rentals over pricey hotels we gained not only financial savings, but also authentic opportunities to interact with local people.
The mere act of NOT returning home makes long-term travel possible. When on a long-term trip there needn’t be expensive round-trip flights to purchase – just the simple decision of which direction you’ll make your next small step towards and on what flexible date you’ll do it. Bus rides, train trips, as well as one-way flights are far less expensive than you’d imagine throughout much of the world.
Here’s the bottom line: Our two-year, around-the-world adventure cost us on average US$35 per person, per day. This figure includes everything from food and lodging to activities and tours to local transportation and international flights. We could have spent a lot less, as many budget travelers do, or we could have spent much more. One thing is for sure: we had an amazing time traveling literally around the world at a price less than the cost of living in the United States.
6. Having support is a big plus.
If you don’t already have it, work hard to earn the assistance of family and friends. Explain why you’ve made the decision to travel long-term and how it will positively benefit you in the long run. Their moral support is extremely valuable, as is their assistance with more administrative-like tasks, such as receiving mail for you and forwarding important documents to you via email.
Grant an extremely trustworthy friend or family member legal power of attorney over specific affairs. This can be customized to different levels, but can offer this person the ability to communicate with banks and insurance companies on your behalf, make important decisions in the case you are offline for a duration of time, and even enforce medical wishes should an accident occur.
7. You need much less than you realize.
8. You can adapt to almost anything.
When you’re high in the Himalayas, surrounded by stunning nature and unforgettable views your sleeping arrangements (a few blankets stacked atop a “mattress” of boulders) don’t matter; instead, the opportunity to wake up in a marvelous mountain paradise takes precedence. When you’re in Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala you’ll think not about what an inconvenience it is to haul a 5-gallon container of drinking water up a mountain in your backpack, but rather that the local people must do the exact same thing every single day to have potable water. And when you’re traveling through Japan you may not sleep on a thick, fluffy mattress but on the floor right alongside the locals, waking well-rested the following day.
Being forced to exit your comfort zone is a phenomenal side effect of travel, one that causes a person to reflect on what you really need in life. The comforts and basic amenities of a typical American home – electricity (and what it makes possible such as lights, a refrigerator, or a water heater), running water, mattresses, or indoor toilets – aren’t even available in many parts of the world. You’ll instead adapt, forgetting about creature comforts, returning your focus to the basic necessities of living, as well as the experience of travel. Plus, you’ll feel ever so grateful for having those basic comforts when they actually are available.
9. Human nature is the same everywhere you go.
Though cultures, languages and customs differ, people really are the same across each continent. No matter the far-flung corner you visit people everywhere work hard, love their families, and enjoy life. They are proud of their countries and are excited to share their home, food and life with you. Complete strangers will celebrate your presence and even parade you around town to meet the community. You will be forever transformed by their immediate love and acceptance. How you treat others may never again be the same.
10. Acceptance is a result of travel.
Experiencing life in countries with exceedingly different cultures and ways of life than your own is more than eye-opening. The one thing readily apparent is that your way, or your country’s way, isn’t the only way. Viewing how people live all around the world, seeing who and how they love, what they are passionate about, and their religious and personal beliefs will open your eyes for the better. Traveling will cause you to question and deeply think about both your self and societal-imposed standards of living and life expectations more and more each day with every step of your adventure.
11. We are all “the Other” somewhere.
No matter how hard we wish otherwise, as two extremely tall blondes we don’t blend in outside of a minuscule portion of the world. To be honest, many people at first find it hard to believe that we are American at all – to them we are Swedish or Norwegian in appearance. So, most everywhere we go we are “the Other.” That means, we stick out. We are targeted by both the kindest of people wanting nothing more than to welcome us to their country and also by the most ruthless of people trying to scam us.
No matter the origin of your ancestors, there will be parts of the world where you too just don’t fit in. Our advice is to not just get used to it, but to come to thoroughly enjoy it. Learn to accept both consequences and deal with them in the most positive of ways. It will make you a better, more tolerant person and a much better traveler in the long run.
On the other hand, regardless of what others may say (this guy, for example) everywhere we go in the world people DO express interest and excitement for us to be with them in part because of our American-ness. They love that we’ve taken the time to travel to their country and are genuinely excited that we’ve come. We know this because regardless of how much American culture people may be familiar with (or how many WWF fights or Friends reruns they’ve seen on television) they are still so inquisitive and interested in us and our country.
12. Communication: It gets easier.
Attempting to communicate in a foreign language can at times be wildly frustrating. In the face of constant confusion, however, even the most excitable person will find that with practice it becomes much, much easier to understand many things. Also, over time you begin to essentially accept a lack of understanding of some topics and in some scenarios; you simply will not be able to comprehend it all no matter how hard you try.
In addition, merely being exposed to daily chaos and misunderstandings will aid your ability to communicate with and understand people even more. The speed at which you’ll become flustered by a lack of understanding will become greatly reduced along the course of your travels, allowing you to have more patience and laugh at miscommunications rather than to become stressed by them.
13. Reflection is key.
Looking back on our two-year adventure, we wished we’d more often taken the time to, well, take the time to look back more. Though you may be kept very busy darting from one location to the next, making new friends, and trying all the local cuisines, also be sure to take time to think – or better yet write – about your experiences. Think beyond the journal entry, diary-like log of what you’ve done and delve a bit deeper, considering how you felt and ways in which your thought processes have changed along the way. Thoughtful and purposeful reflection on what you’ve learned, on how far you’ve come, and even on mistakes you’ve made is one of the best ways we’ve found to further growth and self-education.
14. Your most memorable things might surprise you.
The most memorable moments of our around the world trip were not visits to must-see attractions or sites from some “Top Fifty Destinations” list. Instead the amazing people we met, challenges we accepted – and eventually accomplished – and unforgettable experiences are what will stick with us for the rest of our lives. Undeniably, the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat are mighty and impressive but it was the people who were with us, the conversations and laughs that were had, and the memories that were made, that turned those days from ordinary to unforgettable.
15. International travel IS safe.
Though the six o’clock American news would have you believe otherwise, a day of international travel is no more dangerous than a day in your own hometown. Issues on the road most often include common problems you’d also experience right at home: sickness, theft and motor-vehicle accidents rather than murder or terrorist threats as sensationalized stories portray. Staying observant, engaging with locals, and presenting yourself as a humble traveler will go much further than constantly watching over your shoulder or worse, never leaving your home in the first place. Though people will attempt to attempt to scam you (as has happened to us at some level in most every country we’ve visited), the far majority of locals are welcoming, caring and loving individuals who will offer help at the first sight of a problem. While traveling you’re far safer than you realize.
16. You must slow down.
Adding “long-term” to the front of the word “travel” doesn’t make it permanent. Constantly being on the move becomes tiring and peoples’ goals and desires change. Relish the unpredictability of each day. Soak it all in and take time to listen to the music. Take a break from the constant movement and really get to know a single location for a few weeks (or more). Even deliberately get lost sometimes. You’ll want to look back on your months or years of travel, remembering all you’ve experienced and learned, fondly and with a full heart.Planning, Travel Articles | Tags: Backpack, budget, communication, Family, finances, foreign language, guidebook, international travel, long-term, longterm, luggage, Map, minimize, reasons to travel, rolf potts, Safety, slow, slowly, support, Travel, vagabonding, vegabonder, you should know | 4 Comments »