Long-term travel differs greatly from a short-term trip. Each takes a distinct set of planning and preparation. We have found there is a very different approach to costs, activities, lodging, and leisure to each of these. While long-term travel isn’t for everyone, it has advantages and disadvantages to shorter trips. We will go over what you can expect from each and why they are different. And we will tell you why we believe long-term travel is more valuable. Let’s dive in.
Our Travel Journey
We started traveling with mostly quick trips around the USA. Most of these were road trips at first, because airfare can be so expensive. The first notable one was a trip from Colorado to California and Oregon and then back to Colorado. We did this in two weeks and breezed through many cities and spent many long hours on the road. There were a lot of amazing stops, but we couldn’t see everything. There was no way we could have truly gotten to know these places at this pace, but the trip was still a lot of fun.
Over time, we had more money and longer vacation times. This allowed us to take our first international trip to Japan. With only a limited amount of time after the long flights, each day was carefully planned down to the hour with a few resting times built in. We spent ten days in Tokyo and five in Kyoto. With such a packed schedule, we needed a vacation from our vacation when we got back. It was exhausting, but we got to see quite a few things in the short time. We loved Japan so much that it helped inspire us to travel long-term.
In 2019 we started a trip around the world and it was a full-stop mindset change. We tried planning a general route and very detailed plans of certain segments of our trip. However, there was no way we could plan every detail of every day for a year or more.
While traveling, we liked to meet people and get some suggestions of non-touristy things to do. That let us take a deeper dive in the culture and explore places we would not have seen otherwise. We tried foods that we would have never found on our own and visited neighborhoods well off the tourist track. People made that possible, and that would not have happened as easily on a short, well planned itinerary.
The Major Differences Between Long-term Travel and Short-Term Trips
The costs of traveling long-term and taking a short-term trip are wildly different. We spent a lot more money with the short-term trip because we wanted to get the most of the time we had. With a longer trip, there are many ways to save money with more time on your side.
Short-Term Trip: We budgeted $10,000 for our trip to Japan and spent about $8,500. That covered our flights, hotels, activities, food, and local transportation for the two of us for 15 days. We spent a lot of time at primary tourist attractions, took part in paid tours, relaxed on boat cruises, and used high-speed rail to go from city to city. We ate at restaurants for nearly all of our meals. This made the trip very expensive.
Long-Term Travel: For that same $10,000 budget, we could spend 5 months in Europe. With more time, we can take slower transportation like buses and longer flights to reduce costs. By avoiding tourist attractions and traveling in shoulder seasons, we can save a lot of money. Sometimes we may find tourist attractions discounted during these times and also find free activities like museums in the U.K. By staying with locals, our lodging costs will decrease dramatically. With the right techniques, we can also find mostly free lodging. By cooking our own meals, we can save a lot on food expenses. Living on the road is much more inexpensive than living it up on a short trip.
Airfare is one of the largest expenses of most trips. You end up spending a lot of money for a short amount of time when the trip only lasts a few weeks. On a longer trip, that expense is more spread out.
Short-Term Trip: On shorter trips, we booked airfare many months in advance for a round-trip ticket. The price was the best we could find, and we would also go in a prime season. In Costa Rica, we wanted to go in the dry season of summer. Flight prices were at their highest during peak times. We couldn’t afford cost-saving layovers because of time.
Long-term Travel: We live by the belief of having the cheapest flight dictate where we are going next. There is no return trip when we are traveling long term, so we book several one-way flights. Long-haul flights take a little more planning, but we also travel in the off-season much of the time, which can help with the pricing. We also afford the luxury of time if we want to take 48 hours to get to a destination or break it up with a layover to get cheap flights.
With a short-term trip, we wanted to stay in primary locations as close as possible to our activities. Long-term travel has taught us about more meaningful ways to stay in a location with locals. Doing that saved us thousands of dollars.
Short-term Trip: With little time, we paid for the convenience of being close to the activities and locations we wanted to be in. Since those were popular, we would pay more for hotels, resorts, and AirBnbs. We’d also go after special lodging like a resort in Hawaii to have a little luxury. On our trips to Miami, we always stayed in a hotel on the beach. These add up, but while we were working full time and only had two weeks vacation, these were worth it.
Long-term Travel: With more time available, it is easier to find free or low-cost lodging options. One of the ones we use is TrustedHousesitters, where we watch pets in exchange for lodging in their homes. These house-sits may even dictate our next destination. They typically last anywhere from a few days to a month or more, so we can save a lot by house-sitting.
During long-term travel, we tend to do a lot more walking around and fewer tours. We go for the experience and culture over the more touristy activities whenever possible.
Short-term Trip: Sightseeing was our top priority on shorter trips. We would refer to our online version of Excel, which had every single day planned out. This included notes on how to get from point A to point B and our confirmation numbers for all reservations and activities. We jam-packed our schedule with lots of restaurants, museums, shrines, temples, and other activities. There wasn’t much time to relax because we tended to travel hard.
Long-term Travel: After many months of long-term travel we will see enough cathedrals, monuments, castles, and beaches that sightseeing will not be as much of a priority. We will have more downtime and may not even go outside every day. Using online resources, we can find free or discounted activities. During the off-season, many of the paid activities might become free. Our priorities will change to meeting new people and getting a better feel for the culture. Getting lost in a new city becomes more fun than doing the same touristic activities we have done in every other location.
When arriving in a new city we open a google map, type in “tourist attraction”, and plan out the day to see them. Then we find some locals to recommend food or take a free walking tour to learn about a new city. This is how we orient ourselves to a new place.
We tend to eat out more on the shorter trips, and at the premium price of being in a touristy area. With long-term travel, we avoid restaurants in these areas and head to where the locals eat.
Short-term Trip: We eat out a lot on these trips since a hotel usually only serves breakfast and we have no means of cooking. We tend to splurge a lot, not knowing when we can have those cultural and local foods again. Whether it is a deep-dish pizza in Chicago or the pastel de nata in Portugal, we seem to have our musts everywhere we go.
Long-term Travel: While we travel long-term, we like to try local cuisine, but we balance that with our health. Grocery shopping is one of the first things we do upon arrival in a new city. Each country we visit has very interesting things on the store shelves, and we find we can make many local cuisines in our lodging. This also saves a lot of money.
The major difference between traveling long-term or short-term is the size of the bags. Believe it or not, you will take a lot more with you on the short trip.
Short-term Trip: During vacations we brought a large suitcase and a backpack with us or two suitcases each. We had many trip-specific things like underwater goggles, sandals, and several types of clothing to last the entire trip. If there was a sporting activity like skiing involved, we checked another bag with that equipment. We usually had a little room for a souvenir or two to bring back to family.
Long-term Travel: For long-term travel, we bring as little as possible. We have two backpacks each and try to do carry-on only. We bring clothes that are made of ultralight materials and don’t retain odor, so we can wear them multiple times or wash them in the sink. If there are too many things in our bags, we will give away things we no longer need. If we forget something or need a specific item, we just buy it on the road. Overall, you will want to keep it light as most of it will be on your back.
Shorter trips offer us a chance to splurge and relax (if we are lucky).. We enjoy national parks, beaches, and epic landscapes on these trips. They cost more per day than long-term travel, but provide a focus on fun and possibly relaxation.
However, traveling long-term also comes with the price of possibly selling off your stuff or storing it, and leaving your friends for an extended period. It is also very freeing to not have as much, and have the ability to travel when and where you want. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but we feel that long-term travel is more valuable. That is what travel is all about.
Where would you want to spend more time on your next trip?
Psst… do you love reading about longer trips? You might also enjoy these:
- Are You Prepared to be a Full Time Traveler
- Long-Term Traveling: Booking the First Flight
- The Traveler Profile: What Type of Traveler Are You?
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