I dreamt for years about traveling long term. Waking up every day in a completely new environment, without the slightest clue to where I was going next or how I was going to get there.
In many ways, long term travel is a dream. But there are a lot of people (including myself) who begin this life only thinking of the magical sunrises, picturesque hikes, and nomadic lifestyle.
Long term travel is not a vacation. I don’t spend every morning sipping a cup of coffee in a quaint café overlooking a set of cliffs pictured on last months cover of Nat Geo. If you’re thinking of this lifestyle (don’t get me wrong, you totally should) there are a few things you need to know about how hard this life can be and the fact that it might not be for everyone.
1. You will never be comfortable
Unless you’re traveling with endless amounts of dough and hopping from one luxurious B&B to another, life on the road is not comfortable. Things as simple as taking a shower or cooking a pizza become a luxury. If you’re sick, there’s nowhere to curl up and hide from the world.
There are no relaxing nights at home ordering take-out and watching endless amounts of Netflix. There’s no such thing as a routine, or a schedule. I’m not sure I even remember what it’s like to get home from a day of work, cook dinner in a nice kitchen, and relax on a comfortable couch knowing exactly what I was going to do tomorrow.
You are constantly in unknown territory surrounded by unknown people. When all you want is a night with you best friend chugging an entire bottle of wine and crying about life, she’ll most likely be thousands of miles away.
2. Coming home is one of the most difficult things
After traveling long term, you come home a changed person (whether you like it or not). The day you stroll back into your hometown will be bittersweet. At first you’ll be completely ecstatic to see everyone you missed so much while away, however it won’t take long before reality sets in.
Pretty soon you’ll see nothing in your small town has changed. And while you want to scream to the world about the things you’ve experienced, you’ll soon realize that no one here will understand, and in many ways they won’t care. You can share as many stories as you want, but truth is there will be no one who will be able to understand what you went through, the things you witnessed, and the lessons you learned along the way. It’s not their fault, and it’s not yours either. On your second day home, you’ll drive past the old diner you used to eat at in high school, then your old high school itself, and then to the only stop light in town. Everyone you left behind is still here, and their world remains the same.
3. You will miss your friends and family
Being away from the people you love hurts the most. Sure you can call & skype, but you’ll miss your grandma’s cooking at family gatherings and eating freshly baked cookies that your mom made. The friends you once saw every week or month, now only communicate every month or two. Not on purpose, but because keeping in communication isn’t the easiest thing. They’re busy with planning a wedding or going to school, while you’re not even sure what time zone you’re in.
Although you’ll meet dozens of new friends along your adventure, you will feel lonely. If you want to travel for extended periods of time you will need to be okay with solitude. There are days it will make you feel free, and there are days it will make you feel sad.
4. If you’re traveling with a significant other, it’s hard
Most couples barely survive a week together in tropical paradise, so it’s understandable that spending 24/7 together with a boyfriend/girlfriend for months on end can be brutal. During the first three months in Europe, Josh and I spent very little time apart because of our tight budget and lack of transportation. I don’t recommend doing this for any relationship, and I would be lying if I said we didn’t fight constantly.
Traveling long term is stressful enough alone, and adding a significant other who has their own opinions, thoughts, and wants makes it even harder. What we’ve both learned through this experience is that space is a necessity in long term travel, and we would do some things different if we did the same trip again.
5. You will look crazy
There are times you’ll cry in public, because there is nowhere to hide. An ant infestation in your backpack will cause you to dump out everything you own into the streets of Austria, and while you fling dead ants out of your belongings people will think you’re a crazy homeless person.
You’ll get lost in the streets of a city, just in time for a complete downpour to appear and drench everything you own. You’ll sleep in a Walmart parking lot and get confused stares as you brush your teeth outside your #vanlife van that looks exactly it should have the words “free candy” spray painted in all caps on the side.
6. You will feel guilt
Why am I lucky enough to travel? Is traveling for this long selfish? Why do I feel so guilty?
And people will help make you feel guilty. Because a lot of people will assume you had this life handed to you and that your parents paid for all your travels. I wish I got a dollar for every person I met that assumes I am a “white American rich girl”, because then I could afford to travel another year. Truthfully, a lot of times they fail to make it happen themselves, so they take that out on you.
There are times I still let others words and thoughts get the best of me. But here’s the important thing: only you know your story, and that’s all that matters. Let people assume they know who you are, because those are the people that will never be able to reach their dreams, because they prefer to make excuses instead.
Me? I know that my parents have never paid for a trip. My college memories mostly contain stories of working long hours and saving money. I understand I put my heart and soul into a blog to make it happen. I know what I did to get here, so I don’t care about the rest.
7. The sense of “awe” fades
Before I traveled a lot, I would usually go to Florida once a year to visit my aunt. I would count down the months until that trip, and be so excited I couldn’t sleep three days leading up to my flight.
I miss that feeling, because when you travel you become accustomed to seeing new things and visiting new places. Honestly, I can’t tell you the last time I had butterflies in my stomach leading up to a trip. Sometimes you are sitting on the edge of a cliff seen on calendars across the globe, and instead of looking at the cliff you’re thinking of that taco you ate yesterday for dinner.
Traveling is still amazing, but the glory does fade. You will still fall in love with beaches, hikes, and mountains, but the feeling you get from them is slightly different. It’s not a vacation, it’s just another day in the life of a nomad.
So what’s the moral of this story?
You should try long term travel, as it’s amazing and unique and incredible. But you should also be aware that it’s not all pancakes (those sound so good right now), butterflies, and fairytales. I read a lot of great things about long term travel before embarking, but I wish more people wrote about the real logistics of it. A lot of times travelers like to pretend their life is always perfect. They post perfect photos, in perfect settings, pretending that it’s easy. But that’s not real. What makes for better stories are the complete fails, the times you cried in the moment but laughed later on. Just remember, travel would be boring if we were always sipping coconuts on the beach.