I recently wrote about the most important thing I learned while traveling for 10 months in Europe and Asia. But there is some other advice I would love to share with those of you who are thinking about taking a long trip…and some of these tips may apply even if you are going away on a quick vacation! And check out more tips on traveling smarter and packing!
There is no denying that traveling for months on end will make you a better traveler. Every travel problem that can happen probably will happen. So after months of travel hiccups and schedule changes and not-quite-expected accommodations, I learned that…
Things will work themselves out. Long-term travel means dealing with the unexpected and realizing a lot of things are out of your control. Yes, you should be as prepared as you can be, but you will not be able to predict everything that will happen. This is the beauty of travel! Let it happen. Roll with it.
You will adjust your standards and expectations. You will learn how to plan and to be flexible. Hopefully, this will teach you to relax and just let things happen!
If you, like me, are a bit Type A/control freak, this will be a tough lesson to learn, but it will feel so amazing when you see finally yourself relax and just go with the flow. I have a tendency to get anxious, especially on travel days when things generally have a greater possibility of going wrong. And yet, things work out. Nothing is ever as problematic as it seems. I think traveling through Asia was the best way to learn this lesson as often times things didn’t go quite as expected…you have to learn to be flexible and have a little faith. I kept reminding myself “What’s the worst that could happen?”
That 8am bus I was supposed to catch in Luang Prabang? I didn’t get picked up for the bus until 8:45 and I sat at the bus station until 11am waiting for the bus to arrive (Was it the 8am bus? A different bus? I’ll never know). It wasn’t ideal, but what else could I do? I still made it to Vang Vieng that afternoon in one piece. And I even got some of my money back from the bus company!
Don’t plan ahead too much. This was a HARD one for me. I am naturally a planner. I LOVE plotting out my trips and figuring out where I’m going to stay, what I’m going to see and eat. For me, it’s a bit of a domino effect – once I start doing a bit of planning for my next destination, I find myself suddenly planning 3 weeks out. But a lesson I learned time and time again is to keep things flexible when traveling long-term.
Rather than booking transportation and hotels in advance (even just a week in advance), let things happen. Don’t stress out – you’ll find a way to get to the next spot and a place to stay. By not planning ahead, you leave things open so if you meet new friends along the way who you want to travel with, you can easily change your intended route. Or, if you get somewhere and you really love it (or hate it), you can adjust the length of your stay. Every time I left things open, I was happy I did (ahem, staying in Koh Tao for four months). Every time I planned too far in advance, I was frustrated with myself.
In Europe, I left my October plans open and was glad I had the flexibility once that month rolled around. My initial plan was to spend the month in Germany, but after speaking with people throughout my trip and having my first WWOOFing experience, as well as just falling in love again with France, I knew I wanted to spend my final month exploring and volunteering more in that country.
You will get sick of going out to eat all the time. (Also, it’s expensive. And sometimes lonely.). Find lodging where you can prepare your own food (many hostels, especially in Europe or Australia, offer kitchens that guests can use). Check out local markets and prepare a little picnic for yourself or with fellow travelers. In Europe, I ended up choosing to stay in hostels or apartments where I could cook for myself. This is much harder to do in Asia, but the food is much cheaper and going out to eat is a lot more fun there! Buy some snacks at the night markets or find a restaurant and dig into the local specialties.
Find ways to meet people. Traveling for a long time is tough and can be lonely, especially if you are traveling solo. Stay at a hostel. Volunteer with an organization like WWOOF or Workaway. Join some free walking tours. Sign up for tours and activities within your budget. You might not meet someone every time, but you will increase your chances if you put yourself into these situations. For me, volunteering and doing tours/activities were a great way to connect with people whether just for the day or for a few weeks. I found it more challenging meeting people in hostels, but those were great places for finding a dinner companion or a friendly face at breakfast.
Before you go, talk to someone who’s traveled long-term. A big part of being prepared for long-term travel is getting yourself prepared way before you leave. There are tons of blogs out there offering packing tips, travel tips, and more for backpackers and long-term travelers. These bloggers, like me, are sharing their own experiences and it’s immensely helpful to read their advice. If you know someone who has done a trip like this, ask for their guidance! They will be more than willing to share the good and the bad, and what they wish they had known before leaving. A friend of mine took off on a trip a few months after me and I was more than happy to answer her questions even if I was still learning along the way.