6 Ways Long-Term Travel Surprised Me

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By Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel

In 2009 I made the decision to quit my job and spend a year backpacking around the world.

I wasn’t happy at home and I thought that maybe if I took some time out of my life it would help sate my wanderlust and help clarify what I wanted to do with my life.

I spent over a year living with my mom, working like a crazy person and saving every dollar I could spare. I spent every night dreaming about the exotic places I would go and the adventures I would have.

Stephanie Yoder
Stephanie Yoder at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

As it turns out traveling long-term was nothing like I anticipated. Here are some of the things that shocked me during my first year of travel:

Fear was Irrelevant

I spent dozens of sleepless nights trying to psych myself up when in truth, I was terrified. Terrified of quitting my job, terrified of traveling alone, just scared stiff. When I boarded my first flight to Japan it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.

Strangely, it didn’t matter one bit.

Once I got off the plane in Tokyo I was still nervous, but I went into auto-pilot and did what needed to be done.

You don’t need to be particularly brave to travel. As someone who freezes up when she has to call for pizza delivery, I was pretty worried about how I would fare out on the road. As it turns out I was fine, if anything, travel forced me out of my comfort zone and made me more outgoing.

My Plans Meant Basically Nothing

I’d carefully worked out an itinerary that would take me around the world in 12-14 months with stops in Asia, Oceania, the Middle East and Europe. I had my plane ticket to Japan booked but thankfully nothing else, because the entire thing went out the window before I even left.

You see I met a boy, at a travel blogging event, just weeks before I was supposed to leave.

He was headed out to teach English in China for a year and invited me to visit him. To my surprise, I almost immediately agreed and started applying for a visa and re-arranging my plans. This was just the start: in the end my trip looked nothing like the one I had originally set out for, and I’m glad.

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The famous torii in Miyajima, Japan

Sometimes Things Sucked

This seems obvious but it was quite the shock when I found myself in a guesthouse in Vang Vieng, Laos, completely miserable.

I was homesick, and I hated this party-town, then I hated myself even more for being miserable on what was supposed to be the greatest trip of my life.

When you’re traveling, especially for a long time, you’re not exempt from the nasty feelings, the self doubt and the bad days that plagued you back home.

When travel is your life, it’s going to behave just like normal life – sometimes things are awesome, sometimes things are terrible.

Normalcy is Incredibly Relative

Similarly, you can get used to nearly anything.

In Australia, I lived out of a camper van with no internet for months. In China, I breathed air thick with pollution and ate street food with no regards to cleanliness. I’ve spent 8 hours on a sweltering bus weaving through the mountains and slept in some seriously questionable guest houses.

These things don’t faze me anymore.

On the flip side I’ve lived next to amazing beaches, and barely looked at them because I was so busy working. Traveling for a long time is an exercise not just in endurance but in consciousness. It’s easy to become jaded, and important to remember your incredible luck.

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Cocktail on the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand

My Wanderlust has Grown, Not Shrunk

Anyone who plans a long trip to get the travel bug “out of their system,” is in for a nasty shock.

The travel bug isn’t a disease, it’s an addiction. The more you travel the more you feel the strong pull to keep going. Every new destination opens a door to three more places you absolutely must see. As far as I can tell there is really no cure.

It’s Not Always Easy to Live On Your Own Terms, but It’s Worth It

I’m writing this post from a little sunlit apartment on the coast of Mexico, while my new husband types across the table from me (yes, the guy I went to China for).

Things aren’t perfect. Life is still life with its random swings of ups and downs, but it’s pretty damn good.

As it turns out things worked out nothing like I expected. Life and travel threw all kinds of curve balls my way. Four years later my life looks totally different than I could have dreamed. It’s better.

Author Bio:

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can’t sit still. She wrote the full story of her first year of travel in an ebook: A Year Without Make-Up. You can also read more about her adventures on her website, Twenty-Something Travel.

31 thoughts on “6 Ways Long-Term Travel Surprised Me”

  1. What a great post… I love your tip about not getting rid of the travel bug. I have found the bug gets fed on every journey we take. For us we are doing the long term travel thing a bit later in life and are being asked when we will be back. We tell people two years because it is easiest bit our plans are open….who knows when we will be back permanently. Safe travels Ron and Michele

  2. Great post. While I agree you don’t need to be brave to travel, I do think a certain amount of courage is required to leave your comfort zone and take yourself travelling for a period of time; it’s what holds a lot of people back. The benefits you reap from being out of your comfort zone (normally temporarily) are with you for the rest of your life though, so it is SO worth it!

    1. I always tell people the hardest part of traveling is just making the decision to DO IT. Once you clear that mental hurdle it gets way way easier.

  3. Good points. The down times were the biggest surprise to me while traveling long-term. You dream about it for so long, you don’t think it possible to be miserable when it becomes reality. Unfortunately, life is life but you learn a helluva lot along the way!

    1. It’s a really hard realization that bad days happen during travel too, and it feels even worse because you are “supposed” to be having a great time.

  4. True, travel does make your life better. Some people may feel a little exasperated by traveling non-stop, but if you really look at it deeply… it is very, very rewarding! All the best, Stephanie for your future travels. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I have definitely slowed down over the years and now I’m more likely to live somewhere for months at a time over constantly traveling. I still love it though!

  5. Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for such a refreshingly honest travel post. I have been the road for over two years so far. I left England planning only a year away. But much like you my plans didn’t work out and I couldn’t be happier about it! I to have been fortunate enough to meet a boy and that, along with all the incredible places I have seen and new friends I have met has made getting on that plane at Heathrow the best decision I have ever made. It is so nice to read a travel post that doesn’t sugar coat travelling with cheesy cliches but gives a relistic insight whilst still making it sound amazing. Good luck with your future travels.

    Ellen

  6. Stephanie..what a pleasant read. So simply put. Must have been fate meeting that lucky guy…Just three things are holding me back. My age..58..being able to defend myself…how much money will I need and medical insurance…if I get really unwell…keep sharing your posts..goodluck for future adventures..Liz

  7. I love this post! I totally agree that normalcy becomes completely relative when you’re traveling. There was a time when a 2-hr bus journey felt like a big trip, but now hopping on a 12 or 14 hr. bus seems completely normal – sometimes even to just spend a day or 2 in a place. And very true about the travel bug – our trip was originally supposed to be 15 months long, but we’re already up to 26 and counting. The more you see, the more you want to see.

  8. Traveling alone for me is one of those bold moves that are just the hardest to do especially if you don’t have any experience in that sort of thing, and even more so when you’ve been way too comfortable in your comfort zone for waaaaaaaaay too long. It takes some getting used to but it’s a fun challenge every single day.

    I think the more you do it, the more fun you get out of it.

  9. Posts like this save lives! Figuratively of course, I’ve been reading articles like this for 2 years now and never had the courage of really doing what needs to be done – quit my job and see the world. Finally, I am able to say that I have quit my job and even though I may not have saved enough as I wanted to for my trip, I believe it’s still going to be awesome, thank you to you and the countless others who have braved all of this and in turn, inspired others like me to go and “leave their daily hells” (as aptly phrased by Robert Schrader).

  10. In a lot of ways, the life of a long term traveler reminds of the poem “The Men that Don’t Fit In” by Robert William Service. Although nowadays I don’t see having the ‘gypsy blood’ and being mobile as much of a curse as it was back in his time.

  11. Responsible sightseeing just makes you realize how many things you’re missing. If you go to Italy to see everything you knew about already, you’ll probably find 50 places you’ve never heard of before, and you realize you could have visited them instead, and had just as good of a time. The world is big enough that it can only fuel wanderlust as you wander more and more.

  12. Love this post! Especially the part where she mentions going on auto-pilot. It’s true. You don’t have to figure everything out. Do it one baby step at a time and let Future You take care of the details.

  13. Loving this post! It’s so true about the travel bug only getting more intense when you travel. I’m already thinking of places to go in 2015, as well as planning places I can head to when I move to Taiwan in January! I’ve become more outgoing through travel, too – it forces you out of your comfort zone. Things can become more ‘normal’ when you travel for a long time, too. Sometimes I’d have to pinch myself and remind myself where I was when I was living in Korea, or travelling around.

  14. I love this article! Amazing insight and truth be told, many of these reasons are why my husband and I are setting off to explore the World for the next couple years. thanks for sharing and you’re right, travel is a serious addiction!

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