An honest assessment of the pros and cons of long-term travel
From living in Poland and India for a couple months to more than 10 months of world-looping, I’ve learned a lot about the repercussions and benefits of being away. In my experience, it’s gotten easier to travel each time I’ve done it. I’ve gotten a few questions from people who’ve asked me about the “dark” side or the “worst” part of our trip. I can’t point to one thing and say it was the worst, more that there are things you’ll need to look out for and be aware of. Travel isn’t all one long holiday.
I’ll start with the positives.
The Positives of Long-Term Travel
If you’ve read our blog, you’ve probably seen some of what I’m talking about. I loved my trips and learned so much from them. The positives are enormous.
- Hate winter? Leave it all behind. Then enjoy winter your way by maybe relaxing on a beach in Australia? Fiji? Let travel take you away from the gloomy, nasty weather.
- Food and the cost of living can be much cheaper than where you are now. Odds are you aren’t in a developing country at the moment and you might be reading this from your fancy new iPhone-whatever. Most likely, the place you’ll wind up going will actually be cheaper than where you are sitting right now. Why not enjoy a delicious $2 dinner? It’ll taste even better when you think of the same dish being served back home for $15USD.
- Going somewhere new is exciting. If you like to travel and know that feeling of adventure, you’ll really enjoy bopping around to see new places. It’ll make your life seem so much more unique when you realize how different everyone is and how utterly fantastic this world can be.
- Long-term travel can be hella’ relaxing. I’m not saying this feeling exists at all times, but rather than the short-term trips that take up to 2 weeks and can be whirlwind, the longer haul can really give you a chance to chill. Wanna stay somewhere for a month? Do it.
- You’ll meet some awesome people. Seriously. Travelers are usually outgoing, curious people who are looking to make a friend. Why not dive in and meet some of them?
- No way to learn a language better than by going to the source. Although this wasn’t the focus of our recent world trip, being in countries that speak another language forces you to pick up some phrases. While in Poland in 2016, I learned a few phrases and terms. My goal is to go to Spain and/or South America to really hone my Spanish!
- Travel can change your life. It’s mind-expanding, challenging, and incredible. You’ll learn more about your limits and possibilities than you ever thought possible.
The Negatives of Long-Term Travel
I think these are the biggest reasons people don’t travel. Long-hauling it is not a cakewalk and at times it can be downright awful. There are risks, like with everything.
- I hope you like wearing the same outfit everyday. Due to the limits of space in your bag you’ll quickly learn what you want versus what you need. And, let’s face it: packing sucks. It can be a really stressful experience. Every packing list is different and as much as you research (or don’t) you’ll never really know what you’ll need until you don’t have it.
- You’ll miss the comforts of home. This didn’t happen everyday, but there are times it can get really frustrating when you don’t speak the local language or know your way around a foreign city. Maybe you’ll miss that special burger you can only get in your neighborhood or your Mom’s cornbread. Whatever it is, it’ll come eventually… maybe after that 5th bowl of udon noodles when the thrill of eating good, cheap soup has worn off…
- Tying up loose ends before you leave can be a big ball of stress. This was the most difficult part of the trip for me. You’ve got to get organized! You need to pack up your home, make sure your sub-letter or house-sitter is lined up, notify the banks that you’re leaving, blah blah blah. It involves a lot of running around and it blowwwwws.
- Planning, planning, planning. Buying plane tickets, booking the next hostel, messaging your friends you’re staying with, planning on how to get from A to B… Never. Stops. When on the Big Trip you need to be aware that you will constantly need to plan on where you’re going next, even if you book a flight package. It’s just the reality of this kind of travel and it can get really tiring.
- It’s hard to keep up with friends and news back home. Either from bad WiFi, being out in the woods or just being plain busy- keeping up with life back home gets harder the longer you’re away. Expect stuff to happen while you’re gone: birthdays you can’t attend, events, get-togethers, etc. Thankfully Facebook is around to keep us kinda’ up-to-date!
- Stupid stuff happens. I hate to be the pessimist, but the odds of getting sick, getting lost, being robbed or catching a nasty bug are all very possible when you’re travelling. Don’t let this strike fear in your heart, but if you know that nothing is perfect you’ll be able to face some of travel’s not-so-nice sides with less shock.
- Travel is not good for work. Some people quit their jobs; some take it on the road. (I got lucky and have a very flexible job that was happy to take me back when I returned to New York). The honest truth is that life gets in the way on the road (did you read the above point!?) and your work will suffer. You’re making a big decision to leave and sometimes that means ending your job altogether, which can be scary.
- It’s expensive. I know I said that there are places cheaper than where you are now, but you still gotta have some money to make this all work and getting that dough can be a real drag.
With all this in mind, is long-term travel still worth it?
There are factors that make travelling for a while heaven or hell. You’ll have to consider where you’re going, who you’re going with, your food allergies and preferences, and any types of visas/planning you’ll need to do. But, if you know you’ve got the right person with you (or you’ll go it alone) and you have an open mind, you’ll find yourself in places and situations you’d never dreamed of. After the long trips, I feel more centered, relaxed and happier. I get real perspective on my life and as a result feel more like a world citizen than ever.
michelle saysFebruary 24, 2018 at 3:32 pm
hi, was also wondering how you can get 6 months of prescriptions/refills like birth control for such a long trip? thanks!
Natalie saysFebruary 25, 2018 at 1:10 pm
Hey! The first big trip I had to bite the bullet and buy six months worth. I got generic pills and that came to about $30USD/mo so: $180. I just told the pharmacy how much I wanted and they sold it to me.
This second trip I decided to get an IUD so I wouldn’t have to haul any pills around. It’s got pros and cons, but it is nice not to have to worry about my pills getting lost or taking them at the same time everyday.
As for other perscriptions: I’ve found that if I need anything I can usually get it in another country for cheaper than in The States. Jackson needed new contacts and was able to buy them over the counter in Bangkok (can’t do that in the US). I guess it depends on your needs.