Judging by picture-perfect, colorful squares on Instagram, the freedom of a travel lifestyle is presented as paradise – an endless parade of tropical breezes and fruity drinks, interspersed with exciting adventures that would make anyone envious. While travel is, indeed, amazing and life-changing and exhilarating and rewarding, social media paints an incomplete picture.
We have learned firsthand what living the life of travel entails. If you’re wondering if full-time travel is right for you – and if you’re ready for what actually awaits – here is what you can expect.
You will be out of your comfort zone
Whether you travel across the country or around the globe, the environment will be very different from what you’re used to. You won’t have the comfort of your own bed, the convenience of your familiar beauty products, or the nostalgia of your favorite foods. Kitchens won’t have the same appliances to which you’re accustomed, you might need to suffer cold showers, and depending on where you go, you’ll have to break the habit of flushing toilet paper.
Your phone won’t work the same way – if it works at all – and you’ll learn how much you’ve taken simple phone number dialing for granted. And good luck if you need to print anything (boarding passes, visas, tickets, etc.).
People will likely speak differently, even if they are fluent in your native language. Words with which you’re familiar could get buried in thick accents and local idioms. You might offend someone without even realizing it. I know we have on more than one occasion.
You will grow in ways you never expected
People so beautifully different from you will teach you things you never knew you never knew. You will learn new ways to use your own language, and your communication skills will expand exponentially. You will learn bits and pieces of other languages. Stay long enough and apply yourself, and you could become fluent.
You will grow to love brand new ideas and gadgets from around the world, and you will adopt some of them into your own life and later wonder how you ever lived without them.
You will be come a problem solving master, and you will become stronger than you ever were before, having survived any number of unanticipated mishaps. This will make you a natural leader, as you’ll have the confidence of experience and the compassion of wanting to protect others from the worst of it.
You will learn how little you actually need, and you’ll grow to appreciate the freedom of minimalism.
The actual traveling can kind of suck
Buses and ferries and planes, oh my! Oh, and tuk tuks and cars and trains and rickshaws and scooters and bikes and taxis and good ‘ole fashioned walking! If you travel long enough, you’ll experience all of these (and more).
Travel days can be long and miserable, and they don’t always go smoothly. We saw cancelled flights (sometimes the morning of), and our barely touching Scotland consisted of a bus on windy roads with a pair of puking kids (trust me: not fun). We experienced long layovers, missed buses, wrong train stations, and even standing in the pouring rain at a bus door with insufficient fare in the correct currency – all with 50 lbs of carry-on luggage strapped to our front and back.
Even when the travel is uneventful, it’s exhausting, which is why we try to limit it or break it up as much as we can.
Nothing can compare to the thrill of stepping foot in a new place
But when we finally get there? I have the word, “strikhedonia” engraved into my travel ring for a reason. It means, “the love of striking out for a new destination,” and I certainly have that – bad.
When you stay in one place for long enough, you’ll find it begins to feel a bit like home. The longer you stay, the harder it’ll be to leave. But if you love travel as much as we do, then you know there’s no joy quite like the excitement of planning for and arriving in a new destination. So, much as we might sometimes dread the actual traveling, there are far too many new and enticing places to remain stationary for long.
You will long for your favorite foods
Do you love fresh veggies? Good luck getting those in the desert of Namibia. Addicted to bacon? You won’t find that in Muslim countries. And don’t expect to find much dairy in Southeast Asia (sorry, cheese lovers!).
We naturally couldn’t eat as healthily as we were used to (especially when tempted by local dishes), and we got very tired of rice with every meal (but it was easy and cheap wherever we went!). I had an absolute devil of a time trying to find dark chocolate anywhere in South America (though milk chocolate was readily available), and sorry, Europeans… you could use a lesson in what hot sauce actually is (hint: not slightly spicy ketchup). But I think I was most surprised by my cravings for kombucha on the road (which probably explains why I drank about a gallon of it upon our arrival back home).
Each country has its limitations, and it was a (not-so-)fun exercise to figure out what our meals would look like upon each relocation.
You will discover new tantalizing cuisines
But once you figure out what that exotic fruit actually is (and how to eat it), you won’t be able to stop! You will find spice combinations you can’t even identify, and the flavors will dance on your tastebuds and haunt your dreams as soon as you leave.
We absolutely love to eat, so we were excited to try all the local delicacies (though I don’t think I’d be brave enough to try bugs or scorpions or 100-year-old eggs). I couldn’t get enough of Turkish meatballs, and we had more Croatian fritule (fritters) than I’d care to admit. Italian lasagna, British fish ‘n chips, Argentinian empanadas, Namibian oryx steak….. my stomach is grumbling just thinking of it all!
And you can bring some of these recipes home with you to expand your own meal plans, letting the exotic tastes bring you back to your favorite countries without even leaving your kitchen.
Not everything will be as you expect
Tourism boards put every location in its best light to attract more visitors. The truth is you’re very unlikely to see that temple without a horde of screaming kids or that famous palace with the jaw-dropping sunset colors.
Everyone always raved about Amsterdam (they still do). But we just weren’t that impressed. It was crowded and just not as charming as Rotterdam or Delft.
We were excited to spend the holidays in Switzerland (c’mon.. Christmas and snow with that gorgeous scenery??), only to find out we miscalculated how far from the mountains the town of Basel really is.
The spires of Torres Del Paine is arguably THE reason we were determined to visit Patagonia. However, after a grueling hike, we arrived at a crowded glacial lake with dreary clouds obscuring the peaks. The lack of clear weather put a literal damper on the otherwise beautiful location.
If you set your expectations too high, some places are simply bound to disappoint.
Other moments will completely blow you away
Sure, Dublin was a rainy mess the entire time we were there, but the Irish pubs were exactly what we wanted, and we had far more fun than we expected! I simply couldn’t get enough of the Zadar sea organ – something I didn’t even know existed until we arrived. Omis was insanely beautiful, and it wasn’t even on our itinerary.
We had a sick kitty during a housesit in Montenegro, but we were thrilled to find the Kotor fortress was completely free of charge during our visit (yay, off-season!). We got the most incredible leopard encounter in Namibia. And we were left speechless with the sheer beauty of Fitz Roy after the somewhat lackluster Torres.
We live for these moments, and with time, they will be the ones you ultimately remember.
Something will go wrong
Word to the wise: do not attempt to plan out every detail of your travels. That is a recipe for disaster, as something will stray from your plans, derailing everything else you had lined up.
A park you want to visit might be closed the one day you’re in town. A strap of your pack could break. Lodging could fall through. Your bus might never show up.
We began our travels by being robbed, and we ended them amidst a pandemic. We certainly never planned for those things to happen. The robbery almost stopped our travels before they truly began, and the virus almost kept us abroad unwillingly.
In the end, flexibility is paramount; it’s the only thing that kept us sane.
You will accrue the most fascinating stories
We’ve obviously been through a lot, but it sure makes for some amazing conversation! While we were stressed and afraid and miserable in those situations as they were happening, we love to regale our battles to our friends (and you!) in the hopes that they find a lesson in them and avoid them, themselves.
These hardships will inevitably make you stronger, but they’ll also make you more interesting. We were always drawn to those who possessed epic tales; now we’re finding others are drawn to us.
You will miss your friends and family
I hate to be the one to break it to you: life goes on without you. Babies are born, people get married, barbecues and birthdays and holidays all keep happening. You will miss some milestones, and you will miss those closest to you.
We had to skip our favorite anime convention (yeah, we’re geeks). We missed countless hikes with our photo friends. And for the first time ever, I missed Christmas with my family.
But we also dearly missed our kitties. I’m so attached to them that I have crocheted tiny replicas to travel with us. And with an 18-year-old cat, we ran the very real risk of never seeing her again. Unfortunately, Skype just doesn’t replace purrs and nighttime cuddles.
You will meet incredible new friends
Fortunately, the world is a very large place, full of seven billion people – seven billion opportunities to make new friends. And leaving those with whom you are familiar will force you to fill that void with exciting new personalities, and you’ll never be lonely.
Some will barely touch your life – someone who’s there for only an instant and is quickly forgotten. Others will become the new best friend you never knew you were missing. You will influence and inspire those you meet, and those ripples will have a profound effect not only on those they know but also back on you.
A bartender in Chile. A tour guide in Germany. A pair of travel bloggers in Montenegro. A reader in the UK. A couple in the Netherlands. A family in Namibia. A couchsurfer in Ireland. A dog owner in Italy. We are forever changed because of them and so many others.
You will internalize in a way you never thought possible the fact that we are all human at heart. You will embrace the unique, and you will realize that those who have the least tend to be the most giving. You will never forget their kindness, and you will become a better person because of it.
You will get sick
Chances are, you’ve already experienced getting sick while on vacation. We don’t let ourselves fall ill when we have so much to do, so we sometimes crash as soon as we hop a plane and let our defenses down. Traveling longer only stacks the odds against you.
And let’s face it… You will be exposed to so many new environments so quickly, it’s only a matter of time before some new bug takes you down. Unless you were a military brat and/or ate Cheerios off the dining room floor as a kid (guilty), you probably don’t have an ironclad immune system. And if an airborne bug doesn’t do it, just wait until you meet Dehli Belly!
It will force you to slow down
If you travel anything like us, you want to pack as much as you possibly can into every moment. It’s so difficult to justify taking a break, because: when’s the next time you’ll be there?
But rest is just as important as adventure.
Slowing down lets you take in elements of a place you might otherwise miss entirely. Besides, longterm travel is a marathon – not a sprint!
You will get tired of traveling
The old adage says, “everything in moderation; too much of a good thing is bad.” No matter how much you love it, you will find days when you’re simply tired of traveling. You’ll long for the stability and comfort of your own bed and home, and you’ll want to just be done for a bit.
Slowing down and resting certainly helps in this department (see above), but every so often, even that won’t be enough. Try to maintain routines when you can, and work in “vacations” back home.
It will all be worth it
Travel is exciting, and it will forever change you. Sure, it might be uncomfortable sometimes, but you will look back on the memories and know you’ve truly lived. Perhaps you’ll go crazy being deprived of your favorite caramel lattes and bacon burgers, but the photos will remind you how incredible your life is. You will build unforgettable relationships, and you’ll be able to tackle so many more hurdles life throws at you in the future with ease.
You’ll know you’ve lived your best life, and you’d never want it any other way.
What harsh realities have you learned while traveling?
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