I’ve been living out of my backpack essentially for 4.5 years now, never really settling for longer than 6 months to a year in 1 place. In the last 6 months I’ve been hopping about much more than usual, living out of my backpack on a sailboat, back and forth to Mexico to visit my partner, traveling around the US in my van, sleeping on people’s couches and in their spare rooms, camping and visiting friends and family. I’ve had a great time but I’m happy to be settled in Playa del Carmen, Mexico again for another 5 months at least. I can unpack for awhile and nest a little, which always feels good.
When you travel for an extended period of time you start to streamline your life a little bit. You get good at packing and can throw your stuff together in less than a half an hour, scheduling and itineraries become less mundane and stressful, and traveling simply becomes a part of your life. But the more you travel, the more you learn, and I learned a few valuable things in the last 6 months.
- Finding a routine is important. Most people travel because we love the spontaneity and freedom it allows us. Although that’s a huge part of letting go, when you’re a long term traveler it’s very important you find balance. I’ve started doing simple things every day or a few times a week that give me a sense of normalcy in between work. I found that I actually enjoyed running again this year, and that it’s something I can do no matter what beach I’m on or where my van is parked.
- “Goodbye” will become a constant in your life. This is something you will have to accept eventually. When I first started traveling, I would meet these wonderful people and then when it was time to say goodbye I would convince myself that I’d plan a trip and see them again. Odds are this won’t happen, but consider yourself lucky if it does. Because the longer you travel, the smaller the world gets, and you’ll start bumping into people in the most unlikely of places. Enjoy the time you have with these people but understand that eventually, you’ll have to say goodbye.
- You will start consuming experiences instead of things. Trust me, I love shopping abroad! And definitely take advantage of the cheap markets and throw away clothes that you can travel in! But in the end, your money is all going towards your next plane ticket, so start using rewards program credit cards and racking up airline miles because the only thing on your mind as a long term traveler is enjoying where you are now and planning your next location. Although I wish I could collect tons of art, I’d rather collect memories.
- You start thinking seriously about where you want to live. When I set off to travel I had a feeling I’d want to stay abroad, but now I plan every country I visit with the full intention of seeing if it’s a place I could stay and plant roots. Eventually I’ll find that perfect place, but until then, I’ll keep moving. Depending on how mobile your career is there are things to think about whenever visiting a new place- affordable living, access to wifi, permanent residency and work visas, travel insurance offered and other every day things. Who knows, maybe the “road” will become your home.
- You’ll still “want your mommy” sometimes. No matter where you go, and how independent you are, eventually you’ll get sick and miss your mother and your family. You’ll have small periods of homesickness and long for familiarity and a language you understand. Although the unfamiliar is what makes it so exciting, it’s exhausting and you’ll have “mommy moments” no matter the distance. It’s normal. At least in the last few years smartphones have become the norm and apps like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber keep us much more connected then we were before to our loved ones.
- You’ll become extremely adaptable. It’s a good thing, embrace it! I’ve realized now how willing to accept change and unfamiliarity I’ve become. I’ve learned to thrive with it and always been extremely proud of myself when I can make my way in a new country. This will be a good thing no matter what you plan in the future. So embrace it and jump in head first! Change can be a positive thing, and if you’re aware when opportunity knocks then life becomes an adventure.
- You’ll learn patience. I wasn’t known for patience before I started traveling. But living in foreign countries has taught me that sometimes you’ll wait 10 days for your electricity to get turned on, you’ll get frustrated with the timing of everyday conveniences you took for granted in your home country, you’ll miss a bus or it’ll be late and cause you to miss your onward travel. These things WILL happen. Try to take it as an opportunity for exploration instead of a screwup. Acceptance and patience will make the experience more fun and you’ll find yourself in situations that you didn’t plan, but may be exactly what you needed.
- Adrenaline becomes a huge part of your life. You’ll get used to the rush of travel- new places, people, languages, exotic cultures, food and inspiration. You’ll start to crave it. Try that scuba diving course, splurge on skydiving, climb that mountain, or seek out the highest bungee jump in the area! These are the moments you’ll remember. Save money for these things, because there’s nothing worse than having the opportunity but not having the funds.