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The Reality of Long Term Travel

According to Instagram, travel is all tanned, bikini clad women looking happily into the sunset while their perfect partner snaps that single, amazing photo in one shot. This is not reality, at least this is not my reality, nor do I really think it is anyone’s reality (though it is probably more like this hilarious video). Travel blogging has morphed into lifestyle branding and the posts about that week you spent watching Netflix on the toilet in Guatemala just don’t seem to make the Instagram cut anymore. Maybe it’s that I got into the game too late or that I’m too stubborn to gloss up my life and my travels, but I hate the blogs that make travel out to be this pinnacle of happiness and perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel and I love to explore, but I am not about to lie to you and say I love every second of my life on the road. If you travel for any extended period of time you will encounter your own Guatemalan bathroom and you will understand the reality of long term travel, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Not All Your Moments Will Be Instagram Worthy

I’ll be honest with you, no one really wants to see my view from the past few weeks. Due to Kane’s work, we’ve been in Darwin at the tail end of the wet season and I haven’t been able to find work so I have spent most of the time in our apartment style hotel room working on my blog. Any Instagram photo would have been from our balcony view of the parking lot or me sitting on the couch wearing my ancient T-shirt turned pajamas, hair in its usual state of disarray. Not all travel is glamorous. You will have your slow days inside, when putting on pants sounds like too tall an order to deal with and that’s okay. Sometimes pants are overrated.

However, do not despair, just because the day to day reality of your trip does not look like a sponsored Instagram feed, it does not mean you are doing something wrong. Just remember social media these days is a heavily curated account of what someone wants their life to be perceived as, not what it actually is, and if you accept your current circumstances you will find the beauty in them, like the flock of birds that calls the parking lot tree just outside my window home. Watching them tucked away for the night, all cuddled up in their adorable pairs, has become a favorite part of my day.

You Will Lose or Break Something

I have lost or broken a favorite pair of earrings on every long trip I have ever taken. There was the sea glass pair that is still riding the train from Munich to Copenhagen, the lovey New Mexican turquoise that shattered on the floor of a bathroom in Cambodia, and the cheap, but beloved pair that didn’t make it out of Guatemala. No matter how hard you try you will not make it back home with everything you started out with. Some items will be dumped along the way; that skirt that shrunk in the wash, the jeans shorts that finally gave up in Italy, that convertible travel top that seemed like a good idea in the store; while others will find their way out of your backpack on their own; the sandal in the Belizean river, the perfect grey tank top somewhere in Europe, the socks continually eaten by insatiable washing machines; but one way or another your backpack will get lighter. My recommendation for this problem is do not bring anything you cannot afford to lose or break, so leave your grandmother’s ruby earrings at home.

You Will Get Sick

Repeat after me: I will get sick, I will get sick, I will get sick, and it will be okay. There is simply no way to guarantee an illness free trip and the suggestions that promise you this tend to be inane and insensitive (I just read a blog post about a girl who was told to bring her own dishes to any restaurant she ate at in Guatemala, I mean seriously, WTF? This is ridiculous and horribly offensive to top it off). While there are ways to decrease your chances of being sick abroad (that I wrote about here), you are most likely going to get sick while traveling. Your body is under more stress than usual with the new foods, new places, and new bacteria so if it hits you, settle down for a while, ride it out, and know you are now indoctrinated into the backpacking club of people who talk about their bowel movements at breakfast.

You Will Get Bored

Boredom, travel fatigue, the blues, whatever you call it, it will hit eventually. Sometimes it comes for you when you are on a beach in Nicaragua paying less attention to the view than what’s for dinner, sometimes it involves bingeing on Downtown Abbey and chocolate in your friend’s Danish apartment, but whatever its form, it will come. When it comes for you settle down, take it slow, and do what makes you happy. Write if that’s what you want to do, run if that’s what lifts your mood, refuse to put on pants if that’s more your style (I think I’ve been a little too anti-pants lately, it seems to be showing). After you step back from the idea that your trip must be life changing every day you will relax, you will find your balance again, and the wanderlust will return. I promise.

Your Plans Will Change

An itinerary is great if you only have a few weeks and simply must see every attraction in your country of choice, but the longer you are on the road the more you will forget the word itinerary even exists. Yes, there will be some things you must plan ahead, like long international flights or gorilla trekking in Uganda, but even then, you will often find your plans changing. When I left for Guatemala I had a return flight that would take me back to the States a few days after my program ended, then I met Kane. I decided to miss that flight back home and instead booked a cheap flight out of San José, Costa Rica so that we could travel for a couple more months in the rest of Central America. I lost some money, but it was worth it.

As much as you can, try to build flexibility into long-term travel plans, because you never know which places are going to call to your soul and which places you’d rather pass through. If you feel the draw of a city, listen, and ditch your itinerary, you won’t regret it.

You Will Have the Time of Your Life   

My adventures these past few weeks have been calmer than the rest of my traveling so far. I have spent more time applying for jobs, working (luckily), and writing than falling out of canoes in Belize or running up mountains in Argentina, but I have still found myself lying in bed, my head on Kane’s chest, asking, “What if this is the best time of our lives?”

These past two years of travel have taken me to so many amazing places to meet so many amazing people that sometimes I do wonder if these will be the years I look back on as the best in my life. I have climbed mountains, peered into the heart of volcanoes, and galloped horses around tropical islands. I have learned a new language, made friends from around the world, and fell in love. Even with the illnesses, the loneliness, and the occasional boredom, I love where I am, who I am, and who I am with. Turns out happiness is finding the beauty in your balcony view of the parking lot.

2 thoughts on “The Reality of Long Term Travel

  1. A wise song writer once wrote ” Is that all there is”? “If that’s all there is then lets keep dancing”.

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