Why long-term travel isn’t for everyone
Long-term travel is amazing. You can travel slowly, appreciating things you just don’t notice on a two-week holiday, immersing yourself in a chosen country or visiting an endless number of places. It’s a lot cheaper per-day to travel slowly and really get the most out of that long-haul flight, and you have more flexibility over your plans than you usually have on a short trip.
However, long-term travel isn’t for everyone. Although it fits the lifestyle and personality of many quite vociferous people (me included), it’s not the right choice for some. Why?
1. It’s expensive
Yes, I know I just said it was cheaper than short-term travel, and that’s true if you’re looking at a daily spend. But saving up enough for a year of travel if you’re not planning on working along the way can be extremely difficult. Craig and I worked for four years to pay off debts and put away enough for us to feel comfortable about leaving NZ indefinitely, and we were planning to find work in Europe.
Although some people just put their flights on the credit card and hope for the best, this is irresponsible and will only cause problems later — you do still have to pay it back! There are ways to make money fast and tricks to saving more, but even using these require an investment of time and, yes, more money.
2. You still have to work
If you plan to travel for more than a year, and you don’t have a trust fund, you’ll have to work one way or another. We initially worked as English teachers as well as finding other jobs in shops, offices and a hotel. Turning Indie Travel Media into a functional business has been a long, slow process — don’t expect to be able to live off your travel blog, and certainly not without putting a lot of time into it.
You might have the kind of job that can be done independent of location, in which case you’ve got it easier than some. I met a girl on the plane to Malaysia who had been working from home doing copywriting and realised she could do that anywhere, so she was heading to India indefinitely.
You could retrain to gain portable skills, but you might be quite happy in your fixed-location job — do you really want to leave it?
If you have skills that can travel, even if the job can’t, you can find work in your chosen location, but look carefully into visa regulations, pay and contracts. I’m working as a teacher here in A Coruna in addition to my Indie Travel Podcast work, and per hour I’m earning a quarter of what I got in Australia. I’m certainly not doing it for the money!
3. There is a lot of bureaucracy
Bureaucracy can be extremely draining. If you want to work in your chosen location, you’ll almost always need some sort of visa, and the process of obtaining one is often long and frustrating.
If you don’t want to work, you’ll still need documentation to enter some countries. You can certainly plan your trip around countries where you don’t need a visa, but you do still need to consider how long you can stay in each place before the authorities get annoyed. If you want to stay longer than the allowed time, expect paperwork.
4. It’s lonely
At home, you have a network of friends and family to turn to if you’re sad or bored. On the road, they’re probably still available via Skype and Facebook, but it isn’t the same thing to have a videocall as to have a hug and a coffee. You’ll be meeting new people and having fantastic experiences, but sometimes you’ll feel like you need an old friend and you’re all alone.
Travelling in a couple isn’t even a defence against loneliness — although I’m always with Craig I sometimes feel that I need more people around me, especially if I’m somewhere where the culture is very different to my own. As an extrovert, I’ve learned that this is quite normal, as extroverts get energy from being around people and introverts are the opposite. Here in A Coruna, my teaching job is keeping me in contact with people, and I’m spending the weekends with my language-exchange friend Oliva.
5. It’s tiring
Long-term travel can be tiring, quite apart from the work and the bureaucracy. Little things become more difficult because you’re not used to the systems and you’re constantly having to learn new ways of doing things — I thought I knew how a supermarket worked until I did everything wrong in one in Austria.
In your normal life, you don’t have to think about finding accommodation and food, while travelling these two things (plus transport) will take up a lot of your time and mental processing. Plus, being on the move all the time can be hard on your body.
Of course, all of these issues can be overcome, and for most of those who chose long-term travel, it’s all worth it. However, if you’re not completely convinced that travelling full-time is what you’re after, small issues might become big ones and you’ll end up bitter. Make sure to think carefully about yourself, and whether long-term travel is the right choice for you, before jumping into a long trip.