8 Lessons I’ve Learnt From Long-Term Travel
From slowing down to investing in experiences.
More than three months and eight countries ago, my partner and I packed our bags, left our jobs and set off for a year of travelling around the world.
Since then, we’ve eaten sushi in Japan, watched the Northern Lights over Iceland, overindulged on tapas in Spain, and lived like locals in Lisbon. We’ve shopped up a storm in the souks of Morocco, sailed our way around Southern Italy, been to a real Czech wedding in Prague (Na zdraví!), and discovered hidden ruin bars in Budapest.
Along the way, we picked up some valuable lessons that helped us on the rest of our travels and may come in handy for anyone planning a longer trip.
#1 Pack Light
I know. Every travel article, blog, and parent is going to tell you to pack light, but it’s for very good reason. It doesn’t matter whether you have a suitcase or backpack, that bag is going to get pretty annoying to haul from place to place and each kilo will feel as though it’s multiplied when you’re faced with cobblestone streets and crowded buses.
So, when it comes time to pack, throw in everything you might need while you’re away. Then put half of it back. And then half again. Because if you don’t wear it regularly at home and you’re not going on a specific kind of trip (camping, hiking, lifestyles of the rich and famous — you get the picture), you’re not going to need that water sanitiser, head lamp, or four pairs of heels. Trust me.
#2 Be Prepared (To Let Go)
Travel has been made infinitely easier thanks to iPhones and data plans. Use it to your advantage by spending just the right amount of time planning for your travels – from flights and accommodation to tours and last-minute tickets – but be careful you don’t fall down the rabbit hole; it’s easy to lose hours of holiday time comparing this hotel or that flight. Figure out what you want and commit – you won’t remember the $10 you might have saved in a few weeks time when you’re enjoying your book on a secluded island beach.
#3 Not Everything Is Postcard Perfect
I love Pinterest and Instagram for tips on what to do and see in each location we’re visiting, but it’s really easy to forget that the photos people share have been tinkered with (sometimes extensively) and don’t always reflect the reality of a destination. Instead, do your research and get excited, but don’t be disappointed if your expectations don’t match up to what you have in your head (or on your iPhone screen).
Most of the time, your favourite parts of a trip won’t be the picture-perfect view of a place but something completely unexpected.
#4 Embrace Every Moment
It’s your trip, so make it whatever you want. You’ve worked hard to save up, organise stuff and squirrel away annual leave, so if your idea of happiness is chilling in bed until 11am, then go for it. Equally, if you want to party/shop/visit every church in town, you do you.
Don’t feel like like you have to be doing certain things or ticking off specific sights to have a good trip.
#5 Slow Down
We all know those travellers who visit 30 cities in 10 days (and yes, I’ve been one of them). While it’s temping to pack your itinerary full of stops, I recommend going a little slower and spending more time in fewer locations.
Travelling slower means you’ll have more time to explore and understand a country and its culture, which is so much better than just dipping your toe in. We spent almost a month in Morocco, and while we eventually got sick of tagine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we visited so many different places and got to know the country far better than if we’d just stopped off in Marrakech for a few days.
#6 Learn To Adapt
No, it’s not going to be the same as home and yes, sometimes it’ll drive you crazy. But isn’t that why you wanted to travel in the first place?
Travelling to new places means having different experiences and learning new things, from the right way to eat a Portuguese tart (fresh out of the oven with loads of cinnamon) to the best way to haggle in local markets (aim for a third to half of whatever you’re quoted and hope for the best).
There are going to be things that are easier at home and you’ll be able to enjoy them when you get back from your trip – along with work, routines and everything else you wanted to leave behind. So, for now, learn to love the differences in the places you visit.
#7 Invest In Experiences
Don’t come home with a fat wallet and no memories. It’s so easy to focus on how much stuff costs or how bad the exchange rate is, but it’s almost always worth splurging on an amazing experience or two while travelling.
Travelling for a year means we’re always watching our bank accounts, but we’ve splurged on $200 dinners in Iceland, hiking in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, and sailing around the Amalfi Coast in Italy. And I don’t regret a single cent.
#8 Just Go!
We tend to get similar reactions when we tell people about our year of travel: “I’m so jealous”, “I wish I could do that”, or “How did you manage it?” And while we’re very aware that travel is a privilege that not everyone can afford, we believe that, if you have the desire and capacity to travel, you should.
We saved up a lot before we left and we’re always budget-conscious, but I think the most difficult part about travelling for a long period of time is just making the decision to go. Choosing a date and booking the flight is the biggest hurdle. It’s hard leaving family, friends, steady jobs, routines, and decent showers and mattresses, but once you’ve made the decision to go, it’s not nearly as hard as it seems.
(Lead image: Rod Gotfried)