Long-term travel around the world is both rewarding and a challenge for all. A long-term trip can be a week or two up to many years on the road. In my life, I have been fortunate to travel to 45 countries, most of them solo, and my longest stretch of travel was about a year long. During that time, I have learned many things from my time on the road. Below are the top 10 lessons from my long-term travel experience.
1. Get Travel Insurance
Getting travel insurance is essential for any long-term traveler. I have met many travelers along the way who have had terrible complications with scuba diving, got in road accidents riding motorcycles or scooters, or needed to be helicoptered down from high elevation due to altitude sickness. All of these events resulted in hefty medical bills, but having travel insurance alleviated the weight of the cost dramatically.
Not every traveler will need to utilize their travel insurance. However, it is better to be covered for a fraction of the cost rather than gamble on paying an expensive bill if something unpredictable were to happen. This article is not sponsored in any way, but if you are looking for a place to start researching travel insurance options, I used World Nomads Insurance. They were friendly and easy to use.
2. Check Visa Requirements Before Booking Anything
Every country has different laws and agreements that state how long a traveler can stay depending on their purpose of travel. It is SO important to check the requirements before booking any part of your trip. There are so many unique regulations when it comes to visas.
For example, some countries allow visas upon arrival. Some countries allow electronic visas while others only accept official paper visas. Some countries require that you apply for their visas while in your home country.
This means if you’re on a long-term travel excursion and away from your home, you may not be allowed to apply for a visa at all. Knowing this information beforehand is crucial because this can lead to fines or, in some cases, being sent home directly from the port of arrival. You can research visa requirements by looking at your destination’s embassy or consulate website.
3. Don’t Listen to Everything in the News Reports
The news is a great source of information. However, I recommend taking certain stories with a grain of salt. Some of the best countries I visited were painted in a negative light by friends, family, and the news. One example of this was Egypt.
In 2019, Egypt was claimed to be dangerous for travelers. The primary reason for this was the people. I decided to visit the country anyways and was welcomed by some of the friendliest people in the world. This kind of thing happened time after time while on the road. I found that most people are willing to assist travelers as long as you are kind and respectful in return.
As a precaution, if a country is reported to be dangerous on the news, I do suggest checking several sources before making your final decision. Good resources to check are other news outlets, other travelers who have been there recently, and your country’s travel advisory website. Seek out lots of information from different points of view.
4. Be Flexible
When on a long-term travel trip, try and keep your plans flexible. You may find that you want to move on from a city sooner or extend your stay in a different place. In some cases, you may find yourself wanting to add a new destination to your itinerary altogether. Having a flexible plan opens up the opportunity to explore the world at your own pace while leaving room for those gems you learn about along the way. They can also lead to lifelong connections and friendships. Flexible plans can help you find cheaper transportation between countries or cities too.
5. Have Your First Night Booked
Booking your accommodation for at least the first night of your trip can be a huge stress reliever. It allows for an easier transition into the new location. Keeping true to the idea of being flexible, I recommend only doing this for the first night or two before arrival. If you decide to extend your stay or go somewhere unplanned, you can usually find an available hostel, hotel, campground, or even couch surfing host the day of or the day before.
6. Pack Light
Packing light is a game-changer, especially if you’ve decided on a long-term travel plan. Firstly, it saves you money on checking bags on every flight. I traveled with a 40L backpack at first. This is roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase. The backpack style allowed me to walk from bus stations to accommodations, travel in all transportations with ease, and lock away belongings safely. Eventually, I switched to a 16L small backpack. The best way to get started on packing light is to avoid the “just in case” mentality. When deciding what to pack, ask yourself if you really need that item or is it something you can buy along the way if it’s needed.
7. Dress for the Location
One of the biggest mistakes I find travelers making is dressing like a camper everywhere they go. Big cities, rural villages, and everything in between. There is a time and place for zip-off pants and hiking boots. Dressing for the location can help you stick out less like a traveler and make you feel more like yourself. For example, dressing how you would to visit your local city is more than perfect for a day in a European city. If you’re hiking the mountains or camping, then bring those zip-off pants and hiking boots. If you’re in southeast Asia, you’ll need to cover your knees and shoulders when visiting many religious sites. You don’t need to pack anything special, this can be accomplished with a light scarf or sarong.
Laundry is one of the most important topics not discussed by many long-term travelers. You may see other travelers bringing a wash line and soap. In the spirit of packing light, I would suggest otherwise unless you are camping long-term off the grid. While traveling, I found that many hostels and some hotels offered laundry services for cheap. If they didn’t, they were able to recommend a place nearby. Additionally, if you are couch surfing, most hosts are ok helping you out with laundry as long as you ask politely.
9. You Are Not Alone
Traveling long-term or solo can be a scary thought. Just know you are not alone. There are many travelers who have done this before you and many travelers around the world who are currently doing so. Not every day will be an Instagram moment and that’s ok. Additionally, it’s ok to try it out for a few weeks or months and realize that lifestyle isn’t for you. No one will think less of you if you want to come home early. Going home early is always an option available. I think many people feel the pressure to continue on a journey because they told their family, friends, or even social media about the trip. At the end of the day, your happiness is determined by you alone. Whatever you decide is ok.
10. Speak Up and Trust Your Gut
At the end of the day learning to trust my gut was the most important thing I learned from my long-term travel. No one knows you better than yourself. Learn to trust that gut feeling. Along with trusting your gut, be vocal. Don’t be afraid to have your opinions be heard. This will be helpful when negotiating for products, dealing with aggressive street vendors, and help to keep you safe along your journey.
Long-term travel is rewarding on so many levels. You will find yourself learning so much about the world around you and yourself. I hope my top ten lessons answer some of the questions you may have before starting your own journey. If you already have done some traveling, I hope you can relate to a few of the points. Happy travels!
By Leikyn Bravo