What lessons did you learn from your trip?
This is a question I have been getting asked regularly since coming back to the US two months ago. Even while I was traveling, I got asked a lot of practical questions from short-term travelers about packing and being away for so long. How do you live out of that backpack? How do you plan your time? How are you budgeting for this? Don’t you ever get lonely?
Ten months of travel is not a typical vacation. I quickly learned back in month one that this was different than my usual travel. I needed to think differently about budgeting, how I spent my time, and what I was eating. I felt prepared for the travel logistics; it’s in my nature to plan and have things ironed out in advance. But the way I spent my money and energy, as well as being on my own most of the time, was something completely different and I don’t think I could have really prepared myself accordingly for this.
While I have many lessons for planning long-term travel, packing tips, and more, I want to first focus on the most important thing I learned during my self-care sabbatical.
On a two-week vacation, you can push yourself to do a lot of sightseeing, interspersed with some relaxation. You don’t think about taking a break because you only have so much time and you want to make the most of your trip. (Although, to be honest, downtime is often needed even on these shorter trips!)
The joy of long-term travel is that you have TIME. You can go slow, you can go fast. You can linger in the places where you feel compelled to stay. You don’t have to see everything. After visiting dozens of churches or palaces or museums, they all start to look the same. You can start to make choices about what is really important to see and what can be skipped.
For example, I planned a full week in Madrid which would offer enough time for sightseeing and hanging out in the city, as well as two days for day trips to Segovia and Toledo. But after the first day trip to Toledo, I was spent. I knew that I didn’t want to repeat the same sort of day in Segovia and, while I felt like I was “missing something” by not going there, I knew that my preference was to spend a lazy day in Madrid. So I skipped Segovia, had a slow day in Madrid, and was quite happy with my decision.
Long-term travel is a marathon, not a sprint. Once you realize you can let yourself have downtime, you learn that it is quite important. Just as in real life when you have weekends or time away from work, you need time away from “traveling” too. As fun as it is traveling for months, it is also quite exhausting. Long travel days and endless sightseeing will wear you out.
I started to give myself extra time (choosing 3 nights instead of 2 nights in a particular place) just so I would have enough time to both sightsee and have free time. Sometimes I had specific things I needed to do, other times I found myself devouring a book at a cafe for a few hours (since in Europe this is encouraged and accepted behavior!) or hiding from a rainy Hanoi afternoon by binge-watching Narcos. I had been GOING hard for a month straight and really needed a day off to do nothing. It felt amazing.
You cannot be expected to “do stuff” every day. And you owe it to yourself to get some rest and relaxation. No one is forcing you to explore and sightsee and do activities every day. Sometimes the weather sucks and you just don’t want to go anywhere. Sometimes you feel the tug of things you need to pay attention to (like the personal stuff of paying bills or running errands or doing laundry). Maybe you have some future travel planning to do. Or perhaps you just want to have a mini Netflix binge.
Give yourself downtime. Build it into your plans. Don’t look back. Do your laundry. Watch a movie. Find a park and chill out for a few hours. Read a book at a cafe. Sleep. Catch up with friends and family. Get a massage. Enjoy yourself.
More tips to come on planning your travel, packing, and traveling smarter…