TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE
The Pitfalls of Long Term Travel
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
25 January 2019
Long term travel isn’t a complete bowl of roses.
Many people I meet think I’m living the dream. In many ways, I am! However, long-term travel is not entirely fun – in fact, there are many annoyances and problems I deal with on the road. So far, they’re not stopping me from continuing! But if you’re conisdering long-term travel, here are some annoying things you should be aware of.
This is often how I look at some point on any given day…
One of the most unbelievable difficulties I have faced, even in Western Europe, was reliable WiFi access! I’ve traveled with my own WiFi hotspot (even it did not work well in remote areas), sat in internet cafes, and gone to someone’s home with WiFi. The most difficult is when you’re trying to have a Skype or hold a Zoom meeting. Actually the worst of the worst has been trying to talk to my parents via WhatsApp, even just by audio – the connection would drop out every few minutes making a “real conversation” impossible. Now try uploading blog posts with images. It’s a recipe for a lot of frustration, curse words and lost time.
“Logistics drive me nuts.”
Booking Travel and Accomodation
Seems like it’s a DREAM to have ions of time in one place and go wherever you want, right? It turns out that having to figure out the logistics of travel and accommodation in-between places is a pain-in-the-ass. Each time I want to leave the place I am, I get stressed out knowing I’ll be spending hours on something that should be simple. First I have to research the transportation available to me, how much it costs and how long it takes. If I have limited time then a 16-hour overnight train might not work out well and in some countries, I’ve had to pick up the ticket in an office rather than get an e-ticket on my phone, adding more time and complication. Then, the accommodations, oy! I spend hours reading through reviews, and it’s really difficult to understand where hotels and hostels are located related to the center of a town or city, and whether or not they’re safe. More than once I’ve ended up on the outskirts of town feeling either unsafe or regretting the distance because the savings the hotel offered were eaten up by the long transportation I had to take to and from the hotel.
This actually looks better than many toilets I saw.
There is no polite way to say this – some toilets really suck when you travel. The worst I encountered were when I traveled by overnight bus in Vietnam. OK, so there’s the holes in the ground, which in some countries, once you get used to squatting, are actually clean and pleasant. Some toilets, however, are dirty and have no windows, and when you gotta go you better hold your breath so vomit is not part of what you leave behind. And then there are the toilets with no doors, where someone is copping a squat with their butt out for all to see, and well, wow. Not pleasant. And don’t get me started on the lack of toilet paper and soap to wash your hands….One evening in Hoi An, Vietnam I saw a woman pull down her pants and pee right in the street in front of everyone. I was caught between, “Ewww, gross!” and “You go girl! If men can’t do it, why not us?!”
Romance or Not
I haven’t talked much about this, but suffice to say long distance relationships don’t work. So, if you’re going to travel long term, get used to nice interludes or meeting quality people with no relationship potential because you’ll be off and unable to nurture the connection into a relationship. Some days it feels completely liberating and others it feels like you’re missing out.
Safety and Culture
When I travel, I inform myself and stay safe to the best of my ability. As a female solo traveler that means cutting down enormously on drinking (which is not completely bad!) and often being home by dark. In some places, like Asia, I didn’t worry about returning home late because I knew it was safe. But some places in Latin America advised me to be home by dark, so I listened. Just going to the beach during the day and being asked why I was alone and what hotel I was staying in was enough to convince me an early curfew was a good idea.
Weird or Repetitive Food
You dream of living someplace cool for a month, you go, you try to live on a budget. Eating out on a budget means, in some countries, rice and beans, in others fish and pork, and in Asia, Asian food. Sounds cool, but once you eat, basically, the same thing every day it gets frustrating and boring. I often found it hard to adjust to breakfast in each country. In the photo above – that was my typical daily breakfast in Costa Rica – I was never able to finish the plate. In Asia, I just couldn’t eat the Pho and dumplings for breakfast. That meant that every day, for 6 weeks, I had eggs for breakfast, with a couple of exceptions when fruit and yogurt were available. While on the road I’ve often craved sushi or steak but been afraid of fish safety or prices so didn’t bother.
The Ties That Bond, or Don’t
Sometimes I miss my friends and my family. I want to have a quality conversation with them, but the damn WiFi means the conversation craps out just as I start the sentence telling them what’s happening and asking them how they are. This life is a test of friendships. It’s hard to stay close to those closest to you when you’re far away. Text messages and emails aren’t always enough. The friends that love you most will still love you, and some will naturally fade out, for you to rekindle in the future. Still others will surprise you in how they want to stay connected. It can be hard returning home for short periods and realizing you feel like you have to work harder to stay connected when you’re back than you did while you were away.
Packing and Clothes and Hair
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I hate packing. Every time I do it, it sucks. No matter how well I pack to start a journey, after the very first unpacking I can never fit things back in as well, even when I buy nothing, or actually throw things away and think I’ve made more space! Packing light also means I wear the same clothes day-after-day. It gets boring fast. I’ve had to get used to wearing the same clothes two or three times before I can get to a laundromat or find a place to hang something for several days to dry out. And then there’s your hair. Even if you use your favorite shampoo and conditioner it just doesn’t look the same. Maybe it’s the water, maybe it’s because you have to be really low maintenance about styling it. And there’s not really any point to loads of makeup, so let’s just say you won’t look your sexiest.
The way I see it, all these hardships exist to test me. Despite all of them, I still want to keep traveling and discovering. If any one of them was too much for me to endure, then I’d know it was time to toss it in, or try something else. But, for now, I’ll take this life, warts and all.