I’m not quite sure what did it for me really. Maybe I’ve always had it in me, the urge to see more than what was in front of me. Or maybe it was my life, the way I was living, and the boredom and dullness I felt looking ahead at the equally boring life of 9-5 job and white picket fence. Maybe I was just running away. Or maybe it was the dozens of elderly people I had spoken to that had either travelled and told amazing tales of such, or the others who wished they had.
Either way, being stubborn and determined as always, nothing was going to keep me from seeing the world. The idea of not traveling soon became more daunting than the fear of taking such a large leap into an unknown world.
I planned for a three month expedition around Europe. After returning to the States, I left again after six months to Turkey for a month and went straight to Australia. Where I have now been for a solid three weeks. (Plans for further travel are pending…)
Nothing could have prepared me for what I went through, and what I gained in the end of my first three months of long term travel.
1.) You will absolutely have some illnesses, injuries, and overall exhaustion.
Just being completely forthright. Travel is difficult. In my first three months I got some kind of virus that lasted three weeks and I had to go on amoxicillin… twice.
I endured bed bugs… twice. Accompanied by the ensuing itching and pain and physical damage from the bites. Not to mention my paranoia and lack of sleep as I continually checked every bed I slept in following.
I became extremely itchy and broke out with hives as a reaction to either food or water in Milan.
I sprained my ankle while hiking in Germany, only to be stubborn and not want help, thinking it would go away. The pain subsided after two weeks only to slip and fall in Prague, twisting my ankle even more and having to walk back 3 miles to the hostel. I finally decided to wrap it in Budapest as the pain wouldn’t subside and I was worried I’d damage it further. Only to still be chasing after trains with my backpack on and my ankle wrapped.
Not only that, but the exhaustion I felt some days was unreal. Every day I was walking at least eight or nine hours. The amount of hills and stairs were enough to constitute as an Olympic workout when you mix it with the amount of mountains I hiked. The amount of nights I slept on a train in the most uncomfortable of positions, getting up several times to switch trains. Having to figure out signs and directions you don’t understand in completely new surroundings while trying to act like you know where you are going, and act completely alert at all times. It’s mentally and physically draining. Your body will pay.
2.) Traveling is emotional and you will cry.
There is sort of an unspoken turmoil of travellers, and in traveling long- term. We don’t like to talk about it because we want to inspire people to travel, and to love it just as much as we do.
But there has never been a traveller that I’ve met that I’ve discussed this with that won’t admit to crying a few times during one of their journeys. Some from point #1 ( being sick in a hostel isn’t comfortable, especially when you have no kitchen and you have to walk through the streets in search something you can manage to get down without being exhausted). Get lost for a few hours in a foreign city where no one understands you and it’s getting dark.
The reasons for the instability you’ll feel emotionally largely surround Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
You’ll see that the two rows at the base are comprised of food, shelter, comfort, security, intimacy, friendship, and family.
Balancing out your needs and dealing with long periods without many of these things if not all, will make you feel unstable. But you gain so much from learning how to live on the basics.
3.) You have to make sacrifices.
The sacrifices are one of the hardest.
I quit my job. I have no home. I let go of my relationship. I gave up security, shelter, money, comfort, stability, intimacy, and all expectations of having any of those things relatively soon.
It’ll make you feel lost for a little while. You will feel a transition phase of sorts. Almost as if you’re losing grip of all of those things above and instead clinging onto the adventure, the rush, the spontaneity, the unknown. Your curiosity reaches new heights, and you live each moment without any forethought of what comes next. It’s addicting, just as much as comfort and security are.
4.) You will be more alone than you’ve ever been in your entire life, the most true alone.
This was probably the most unexpected aspects of my trip. Of course, I knew I was traveling alone. I also knew I’d meet plenty of people. But I didn’t know how loneliness would affect me, or what it would teach me.
Being on a train for ten hours with no wifi, no music, no one to talk to, a book you finished two hours ago, and you’ve already written for 3 hours, freehand- you’ll see exactly how much time you have… to think. See that’s the part about being truly alone that most people don’t take into account. The amount of time you have to think.
Because of daily life: television, computers, books, friends, family, work, stress, sports- I had so many things to distract me. Now I had nothing at all but time. Nothing to distract me or occupy me but my own thoughts.
If I hadn’t had this time to think, I would have never been able to fix a lot of what I didn’t realize was a problem before, but what was still affecting me silently.
5.) It will change you.
By the end of three months I felt like a completely different person. I felt stronger. More alive. I felt utterly unstoppable. As if, I could do anything I set out to do. It’s a very empowering way to live. You’ll take this with you for the rest of your life.
6.) You will be disappointed in certain things that you expected to be highlights.
There were places I was disappointed in. There were also places I was completely stunned by. Travel is something that destroys presuppositions. It makes you realize that what you know and experience is different from what others see. Perception and portrayal may be hand-in-hand but they are distant cousins. Try to go in with as little expectations as possible. You’ll have much less to be disappointed in that way.
It’s a chance to experience the world your own way. Not the way someone said it is.
7.) You will run out of money.
This was my biggest fear before I left. Well… as frugal as I was while still allowing myself to experience as much as I could, there are always going to be costs you don’t put into your budget that you’re just going to have to cough up the dough for. When it came towards the end of my trip and I was out of money, the kindness of strangers and friends got me through the last couple days.
8.) Going “home” won’t mean the same as it used to.
It is both fortunate and unfortunate that with travel you leave little pieces of you in each place. Just as you take little pieces with you. I no longer know where home is. In fact I never claim to have one anymore. There’s no one place I consider “home”. In a certain way it’s unsettling, and extremely difficult to cope with when you first go back to… wherever you came from. You’ll have to go through a transition of settling back into normal life. You’ll realize you miss the adrenaline. You miss the unknown. You miss living each day as it comes.
Some people are fine with going home, and then lead normal happy lives being content that they did such an amazing thing in their life. Some people find a way to incorporate travel into their work or their relationship. Others feel compelled to go on extremely long solo trips regularly. Others, never stop travelling. Either way, most people feel a little hole in them after a trip has ended.
Travel… it’s the most common answer to what people wish they could do more in their life.
You have a lot to live for.