Long term travel is rewarding, but as everything in life, it has its challenges. Here I present you the 15 challenges and rewards of traveling long term.
A few months ago I wrote about the challenges and rewards of solo travel, but I still hadn’t talked about the reality of long term travel.
There are a lot of stereotypes around traveling long term: it’s sometimes perceived as permanent holidays, sunsets at the beach, never ending happy days, perfect life.
And yes, long term travel is very rewarding, allows you to visit many breathtaking places, discover historical sites, try new food and relax in paradisiacal beaches. But there are also rainy days, cockroaches in the bathroom and freezing nights without heating.
There are a lot of rewards, but as everything in life, it has its challenges as well.
And overall, is it worth? In my opinion, yes!
(+) Slow travel
The biggest difference between long term travel and short trips is that you can travel slower. Since you don’t have a return ticket, you can take your time to explore at your own speed. There is no need to wake up at 7am and rush to fit 2 museums and 3 sights in one day.
Traveling long term allows you to stay more time in each place, to explore deeper, to take rest when you need, or to spend an afternoon reading a book or talking to locals.
(-) Lack of commodities
Travel is not necessarily expensive, but having all kind of commodities is. By renouncing to them is possible to decrease the cost of the trip (a lot!).
I was traveling on a low budget and this was my reality: in Asia I usually had a private room with private or shared bathroom, without air conditioning nor hot water. In New Zealand, I always stayed in dorms and cooked. In South America it was very cold but never had heating.
But it was a good lesson: I learnt to appreciate the commodities I have at home.
(+) Freedom and flexibility
I truly believe the best plan while traveling long term is not to plan. If you don’t book in advance, you have complete freedom to stay as long as you want. Do you like it? stay one more week. Don’t you like it? move on. You can also change your itinerary, or discover a new place thanks to a local recommendation.
In New Zealand I met a couple from Uruguay who invited me to visit them in Montevideo. It wasn’t in my original plans, but my visit to Montevideo was one of the best moments of the whole trip.
(-) Tired from moving constantly
I started my long term travel very motivated and full of energy. I enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d like to travel forever. As time went on, I started getting tired. I started traveling slower.
It’s a different routine but it is a routine: thinking where to go next, finding the best transport option, a cheap place to sleep, something to eat. Waking up in different beds every week. Adapting to a new place. Emptying the backpack and preparing it again. And again.
(+) Meeting people with similar interests
If you like football, the best way to meet people who also like football is to play. If you love to travel, want to travel long term or become a digital nomad, traveling is the best way to meet people like you.
In my trip I met all kind of travelers: solo travelers, couples, families; in short trips, working holiday visa, self funded long term travel, and digital nomads. Many of them had inspiring stories. Some gave me ideas on how to work online. I’m still in contact with some of them, and hope we meet again.
(-) Good bye new friends
You visit many places, meet many people, and say good bye many times. Friendship on the road is brief, momentary. You meet someone, maybe even create a group of friends. You connect very well, have the same way of traveling, or something else in common. You spend a few days together, maybe weeks. And then you all move to different directions.
The good news is, nowadays we can keep in contact thanks to internet. And we can hope to meet again.
(+) Travel further
Another reward of long term travel is that it gives you the opportunity to go further, literally. Our dream destinations are often far from home, because they sound exotic. But due to the distance, it’s not possible to go just for one week.
My dream countries were Australia and New Zealand. Being on a round the world trip, they were “on the way” from South East Asia to South America, so I took the chance to visit Sydney and spend 5 weeks in New Zealand.
(-) You’re not at home
It seems obvious, but it’s an important one that you have to assume. If you’re traveling, you’re not at home. You miss important events.
My grandfather told me the hardest thing I heard before my trip: “when you come back, we might still meet”. He was 88 when I left, he’ll be 90 this year. It pained to leave, and it still pains every time I take a plane, to think that one day I will be back and someone might not be there anymore.
(+) Every day is different
Something else I love about travel is that by being in new places, each day is different. Every day you discover a new corner, taste new food, talk to a new person. Every day you have new experiences, learn something new.
When I had been traveling for one month, I looked back and I had the feeling I had left several months before. And I’m sure it was because of this: all days were different, and that made the whole experience more intense and meaningful.
(-) Lose capacity of amazement
After a few months traveling and visiting stunning locations, your capacity of amazement gets down. The “must sees” of the city become “another church / temple / waterfall” for you.
In my trip, over time, I stopped visiting museums and monuments. Instead, I looked for street art, talked to locals, or paid attention to other details. In Valdivia, Chile, what I liked the most where the sea lyons on the coast. In Buenos Aires, the first place I visited was an ancient theater converted into a bookstore.
(+) Live with less
I have a light problem in my back so I cannot carry a lot of weight. Partly for this reason I traveled with hand luggage only. But in any case, even if you have a 70L backpack, it’s obvious that you have to leave behind most of your belonging.
And then you learn that you didn’t need so much to live.
(-) Miss normal life
That said, after six months of travel I was tired, and I missed having my own space. My room, my bathroom, my kitchen, my dinning room.
I also missed having a normal life. Like taking a coffee with a friend or go window shopping together. Having old friends with whom I could talk something different than “where are you from – for how long are you traveling – where have you been”. It was good that I had friends in several places that I could go to visit.
It’s true that you can learn about other cultures and lifestyles on a short trip, but the more time you spend in a place, the more you learn.
In addition, you can take the opportunity to do courses in other countries. To tell you the truth, I didn’t do any. It wasn’t my objective and I didn’t have the budget. But I have a friend who took several courses during his year in Asia, and I think it’s a good option to slow down, meet people and learn.
(-) Manage home administrative things
That you’re not at home doesn’t mean you don’t exist anymore. You still have to take care of administrative or legal issues at home, or have someone do it for you.
During the trip I had to declare the income from the previous year and pay the taxes. In addition, when I was in Laos I had to go to the French embassy for administrative reasons. A friend and my family managed my correspondence.
The best reward is the self development that you obtain from the experience. Being constantly on the move, in different countries, in different cultures, you face many challenges and you overcome them, one after the other.
You adapt to new situations. You learn to communicate without speaking the local language. You enlarge your comfort zone. You grow.
You get empowered.
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