Long-term travel has always been a dream of mine. At times I can't believe it is now my reality. I began a round-the-world trip with my boyfriend last summer. Since then, we have traveled to Croatia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico, India, France and Spain.
While I knew it would be an "amazing experience" and "the best time of my life" and every other platitude you can think of -- and it has been -- there are several things I never considered before leaving. I want to be honest; it is not all positive. I recognize how fortunate I am to have the ability to travel, but I wanted to present some realities I have faced on this trip. When we talk about travel, we often gloss over the downsides, but it's important to have an accurate portrayal of long-term travel.
Every destination teaches us something new. Here are a few lessons that I have learned after 10 months of being on the road:
1. It is challenging spending 24/7 with one person.
Social media has a tendency to distort reality. Although we post gushy pictures from around the world, Tyler and I are humans, with flaws and morning breath, just trying to figure it out like everyone else. One thing I never considered before leaving on this trip was exactly how much time we would be spending together. It sounds obvious, but you are with the same person every single day. I love Tyler. He's an incredible person who brings me joy, but THIS IS NOT NORMAL. We spend more time together than married couples. Most people spend at least 8-10 hours separated from their partner during the day. Long-term travel is different. We don't have offices to go to, and some days we spend every waking moment with each other. It is a lot of...togetherness. My hope is that this trip will teach us the patience we need to endure the joys and struggles of a committed relationship.
2. It gets really old wearing the same clothes every week.
I travel light and don't have a lot of options when it comes to clothing. If variety is the spice of life, my wardrobe is decidedly bland. After a few months, my shirts were stretched out and pilly, I had a hole in the crotch of my only pants, and frankly, I felt ugly. At one point, I caved and went to a mall in Asia and spent more money than I should have. I needed to feel like a woman again -- a woman with some degree of style who doesn't wear the same hole-in-the-crotch pants every day. My advice would be to still travel light, but have a budget for fashion emergencies.
3. Travel insurance is a good idea.
I went to the hospital more than once on this trip -- for malaria medication in Johannesburg; for a minor wrist procedure both in Cape Town and in Kuala Lumpur; for pneumonia in Tokyo -- and that was in the first six months! Travel insurance is a small price to pay, but the security is worth it.
4. Your problems will catch up with you eventually.
It's easy to forget your problems when you're face-to-face with a whale shark. The sense of awe that comes from sleeping under unfamiliar stars does wonders for your happiness. But just because you left home doesn't mean your problems will vanish entirely. Mine seem to have found a way to catch up with me across the world. Insecurity and self-doubt are still a part of my life. I've learned that running away doesn't solve problems -- facing them head on does. That's something I am still working on, though.
5. Don't ignore your bank account.
I checked my bank account earlier this spring and had a minor panic attack as the numbers crept below what I'd consider an acceptable level of security. My inner monologue went something like this: OH NO, I'M POOR! I did a decent job of budgeting for the first half of trip, but as we went along, it was easier to ignore the fact that my account was diminishing. I've learned that even though I'm traveling and sometimes living in a fantasy world, I need to stay grounded in reality.
6. Community is important.
Sometimes I feel guilty for not being home. I missed the birth of my nephew, weddings, and baby showers of dear friends. I knew that traveling meant I would have to sacrifice certain events. While I am grateful for this opportunity, I miss the strong, female companionships I have back home. I miss the way my sister makes me laugh until my stomach hurts, or having conversations with my mom while she juices fresh vegetables, or just catching up with my solid group of girlfriends. It can be difficult to build a community while on the go, but reaching out to others is important, as is keeping in touch with people you care about.
7. It is okay to sit in your room and watch Netflix all day.
It is understandable to want to see and do everything when in a new country, but long-term travel is not a vacation. In fact, sometimes it's exhausting. This trip has become my daily life, and as such, some degree of routine is necessary. On vacation I might eat cake for breakfast, but I wouldn't fit into my pants if I ate dessert all of the time now.
It takes a lot of energy, time, money, and patience to plan a trip, and obviously a trip of this scale requires more planning than a normal one-week vacation would. Give yourself permission to do nothing. Cook at home. Read a book from a cafe all day. Binge-watch House of Cards from your bedroom. Experience the joy of missing out. Life is about balance. That 2000-year-old statue will be there tomorrow.
8. Fear is an opportunity for growth.
There have been moments on the trip that have pushed me beyond my comfort levels. Bungee jumping in South Africa was a harrowing experience. Fear is how we grow. I am not talking about the kind of fear that keeps us safe. We are biologically programmed to have fear for our own survival, so definitely do not walk up to a grizzly bear to see what happens, just don't. The kind of fear that I'm talking about is more discomfort, something that shakes you up, something that makes you uncomfortable -- that's the thing you need to pay attention to.
For example, this week I was practicing yoga on the beach when someone approached me and and asked if I would teach him. My gut started churning and I immediately blurted out "Oh, I'm not a teacher." Wait a minute. Didn't I fly all the way to Bali just to complete yoga teacher training? I am a yoga teacher! I deflected because of a silly fear that I won't be a good at it. I know I need to get over myself and teach. It's the only way to learn.
9. You might not have it all figured out by the end of your trip.
I wasn't happy before embarking on this adventure. I thought I'd take time to enjoy the world, have a glorious epiphany, and walk down an uncharted path with my brilliant new career/project/million-dollar idea. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. Often I feel like I am treading water, directionless through an ocean trying to find land. I couldn't tell you where I'll be two months from now. It's a surprise even to me.
Maybe some degree of uncertainty is the key to a meaningful existence. Maybe it prevents you from living the unexamined life. Maybe this is just part of adulthood. Maybe this uncertainty will force me to evaluate priorities, which will lead to a fulfilling life down the road. Maybe. That's what I'm telling myself now anyway.
What life lessons has travel taught you?