I’ve done a few long term travel trips now and they are quite simply, the reason I get up in the morning. At this point in my life, there is nothing I want more than the freedom of getting on a plane with only my backpack, not knowing when I’m going to return. For me, that is the true definition of living.
I appreciate that the idea of eating on grubby market stalls and sleeping in dorms with fifteen other people doesn’t inspire that kind of enthusiasm in everyone though. A heck of a lot of people have instead chosen to go down the family or cosmopolitan professional route. That’s fine for them but it’s not for me. I truly believe that life is better spent exploring the unknown than in a regimented routine. That’s just me though so I’m not making any judgment on anyone else or their life choices.
When people learn what it is I do, I always get a lot of mixed reactions. I suppose, in case it isn’t obvious, I better explain here that I try to partake in long term travel as often as I can. That isn’t 24/7 mind you, it’s not like I picked up my bag seven years ago and never came back. Still, long term travel is the goal as often as I can make it so. This gets various reactions. Some people are really supportive which is great. Other people…not so much. You can read eight of the things people constantly say to me that I hate hearing in this post. (Warning, it’s a rant.)
I am not going to spend this post telling you why my life as a traveller is awful and you should all feel sorry for me. I am living the life I have chosen and I love it! However, the travel lifestyle does give way to a lot of misconceptions about what my life actually looks like. In this post, I am going to reveal a little bit of the realities of long term travel and why it isn’t as easy as it looks on paper. (You can hate me at the end.)
Maintaining relationships is hard
I’ll be honest, I’m a bit crap when it comes to staying in touch with people. This isn’t because I don’t care but just because life gets in the way. I think that is the case for everyone as they grow older but keeping in contact is definitely harder for travellers. There are time zones to consider plus the fact that you don’t see your friends very regularly.
You often learn about things going on at home much later than everyone else because people simply forget to tell you. Even worse, every time you leave someone you love in poor health, you wonder whether this will be the last time you will see them. This can be really hard but it is important to remember things would not be much different if you remained in your hometown. Situations involving, birth, death and marriages will always be out of your control, they just feel more so because you are far away.
Creating relationships is harder
Although it is hard to keep in contact with people back home while you travel, it is even harder to form meaningful relationships on the road. The transient nature of backpacking means that people move on all the time. You may have a great time getting to know your roommate in a hostel but before you know it those few days are over and you’re back to saying goodbye again.
If you’re on a well-trodden travel route, you sometimes run into people again as time goes on but most travellers go home at some point and that doesn’t necessarily make keeping it touch easier, it just moves them from category number two into category number one. Whilst I wouldn’t change my lifestyle for anything right now, there is no doubt that as a long term traveller, goodbye will come to be the word you understand better than any other.
What is a Kardashian?
Another thing that long term travel affects is my pop culture knowledge. Galavanting around the globe means I have no idea who is in the charts, what films are in the cinema or which celebrities are sleeping with who. As someone who was previously a very good asset to my local pub quiz team in the general knowledge round, I feel that my extensive travels have lessened my utility in this realm somewhat. Luckily, my geography has improved three-fold as a result of all my globetrotting so it isn’t all bad!
Drowning in the Déjà vu
Okay, so part of me just wanted to get a Bring Me The Horizon line into one of my blog posts. Seriously though, long term travel does make you get to a point where you’ve seen it all before. What is another temple when you’ve already visited hundreds of them? Or another church? You get to a point where even the most impressive things become day to day and just like an addict, you need something bigger and better to deliver the same hit. For more on the ‘just another one of’ syndrome, check out this great post on the downsides of long term travel by Nomadic Matt.
You need a vacation from your vacation
This depends more on your travel style than anything else but if I am travelling to a timeline, I genuinely get to the point where I feel like I need a holiday. The craziness of running around trying to see everything before jetting off to the next place can be downright exhausting! For me, as a travel blogger, this is even truer.
Most people seem to think that while I travel, I am out and about every day, lazing by beaches or doing some sort of adrenaline sport that Tim has talked me into. Whilst that is part of my time abroad, it is a very small part. On an average day, I spend at least five hours writing, either to honour my freelance commitments or create content for my own site. There are no days off in my schedule and there will be weeks when I put in far more hours than I did working a full-time job in England.
This isn’t a complaint as there is nothing I’d rather be doing but I don’t like the fact that people overlook how hard I work while I travel. After a few weeks of this kind of intense schedule, it is inevitable that people need a break, a vacation from a vacation if you will.
Okay, so this one isn’t quite true. Clearly, I have some money or I wouldn’t be able to travel extensively as I have. However, this by no means makes me rich or means I have a trust fund. Every time I have travelled long term, it has been funded by money that I have saved. This is a combination of my wages, monetary birthday and Christmas presents, selling my stuff and doing online surveys.
This constant state of saving, both pre and post travel, does mean that I need to be really strict with money if I am going to meet my goals. I am always that rubbish person that can’t afford to go out at the weekend or has to opt for the budget hotel for a weekend visiting friends rather than splash out. I sometimes feel a little embarrassed that I have to say no to things because I cannot justify the cost but at the end of the day, these are all sacrifices I need to make if I am going to live the life of travel that I want to.
Less caviar, more kebabs
When people find out how much I travel (which still isn’t nearly as often as I would like) I see their faces flash green. What people don’t seem to understand though, is that travel is so rarely like the glamorous photos we see on Instagram. I’m not sure who these skinny white ladies who trek to Machu Picchu in a flowing red gown are but they are certainly not me. More often than not, I am wearing underwear for far longer than is socially acceptable, getting panic attacks on the side of volcanoes, fleeing feral animals and getting stuck in bushes. My life is not elegant or glitzy at all!
Running away from life or running towards it?
Responsibility is probably the hardest thing to manage on the road. Just because you leave your hometown, it doesn’t mean your past life disappears. You still have people to check in with, things to take care of and support to provide. Knowing that you are so far away isn’t actually the godsend that most people think it is. It rarely provides relief and more often, wracks you with guilt.
I never embarked on long term travel to escape my life. I travelled to make my life better. For me, the dreams that I wanted to chase didn’t just revolve around the UK but instead, took me all over the globe. I followed them and I have no regrets at doing so. I guess this post is just a mixture of things that have been on my mind as well as a reminder to everyone that things are not always as they seem on social media. Remember that looking through somebody’s window doesn’t give an indication of what is going on in every room of their house.
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4 thoughts on “The Realities of Long-Term Travel: It’s Not All Skydiving and Instagram Posts”
I relate to this so much. And I love how real you are. Or perhaps I just love ridiculous photos of people.
Yes to the vacation from your vacation. Having been a full time traveller many times in my life, I feel this a lot. And I feel bad complaining about it. Mostly because people don’t get it and just look at you like you’re whining about winning the lottery. But you can only go full burn so much before you burn out. And as you say, when it comes from people with your same (or more privileged background), it is a choice not to travel more. When people say, “I wish I could do what you do.” I kind of want to smack/shake them. But, uh, in a totally friendly and supportive way. Yup.
It’s sad that geographical/worldy knowledge isn’t more useful at pub quizzes. But I find this, as well. I’ll think, “I mean, I’m super worldly, I’m sure I’ll be helpful somewhere” and then 9/10 every question is about pop culture or sports and I haven’t a clue!
Haha who doesn’t love a good old embarrassing photo, eh?!
That’s so true and such a good analogy. I always feel bad for complaining but at the end of the day, everyone has bad days. It doesn’t matter that you’re travelling – no one can be super happy 24/7, 365 days a year!
I totally know what you mean about the ‘I wish I could do that too’ people, I respond with ‘but you can!’ It always seems like people don’t believe me though…
Wow – I was just thinking about this topic recently. My wife and I are travelling full-time in Australia. It’s the most incredible thing ever, but yes – it’s not all pretty pictures on Instagram! Vehicles breakdowns and bad weather can be major struggles.
Regular reality checks help us keep things in perspective. Great article 😀
Thanks Joel! Wow, it certainly seems like you are having a great adventure! Happy travels!