7 Worst Things About Long-term Travel

The benefits of long-term travel are well covered by bloggers all over the Internet.  

Freedom of time, adventure, the chance to see incredible things all over the world, never having to read e-mails from your boss.  

It's pretty obvious what makes a trip around the world good.

But what about the downsides?  What do you have to give up?

Here are the worst things about long-term travel:

1. You lack purpose.

When your only job day in and day out is to marvel at the world, you can start to feel lost.  

Your 9 to 5 may stress you out, but you'd be surprised at how much structure it also gives you.  You're asked to complete tasks, you complete those tasks, and (sometimes) your boss or another coworker recognizes you for your work.  You feel a sense of accomplishment.  You get a gold star.  

When you're traveling, sometimes you feel brave or proud of yourself for figuring out some tricky bus system or how to get from point A to B within your budget or how to not die biking down Death Road, but on a day-to-day basis, you don't feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

Nate in a hammock in Tuscany.  Relaxed or bored?

Nate in a hammock in Tuscany.  Relaxed or bored?

We've tried to combat this problem by signing up for work experiences.  In Tuscany we worked at a cooking school and loved waking up each morning knowing we were helping.  I found myself saying dumb things like, "I love doing dishes!" and, "Man, sweeping the floor is so rewarding!"  In Thailand we'll work again at a cooking school/beachside hotel, and I'm already looking forward to it. 

Working to prepare a catered lunch for a tour group at our workaway in Tuscany.

Working to prepare a catered lunch for a tour group at our workaway in Tuscany.

I think you can also combat this problem by setting goals and continuing to work on something for yourself.  For me, this blog serves as a project I can focus my efforts on and feel like I'm making progress or at least learning.  You can learn languages, teach yourself to meditate, read the classics, or take an online course.  

I will warn you though- unless you have a lot of self discipline, it's hard to stay on track.  "Learning Italian" for us went from studying each day to sometimes picking up the vocabulary book when we were bored.  I suggest creating some accountability by telling others your plan or by signing up for an online course where your work is tracked or monitored.

2. You stress about money.

Even when we're on or under our budget, we stress about money.  It's inevitable when all you're doing is spending and not earning.  

We went from packing away thousands of dollars every month and getting so excited about that process to only spending.  It's a tough transition.  

Aside from the daily stress of bleeding cash, there's the larger anxiety knowing that we're basically blowing ALL of our money on this trip and our return.  

Paying $1,400 in cash for our Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.  I was happier after we finished and I realized it was worth the expense.

Paying $1,400 in cash for our Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.  I was happier after we finished and I realized it was worth the expense.

Sure, I have retirement savings, but I'm not contributing to that this year.  And we both have student debt that we'll have to deal with once we return.  

We've had to come to terms with the fact that, while our peers are buying homes and getting ahead on their long-term saving goals this year, we're choosing to spend our money on this trip.  

Freezing and wet on the Inca Trail.

Freezing and wet on the Inca Trail.

Sometimes I can emphatically say that it's the right choice.  At other times, I worry about falling behind.

3. You have to manage unrealistic expectations.

It's so easy to look at a travel Pinterest board and think, "That's all I need! To sit on a beach and relax!"  

You have to take travel photos with a big grain of salt.

I see well-dressed vacationers taking selfies everyday, and I can assure you that when the camera isn't on them, they're normal.  They're not all laughing and smiling and jumping for joy in front of ocean sunsets.  They're just... living their lives in a different place.

Traveling is amazing, and you will see incredible things, but traveling is also hard, boring, and exceedingly frustrating.  

Waiting in a long bank line to pay for Bolivian visas.

Waiting in a long bank line to pay for Bolivian visas.

It's easy to forget these things when you're planning.  Sometimes I wonder if the anticipation of a trip is almost as good as the experience itself, because as we set expectations and start dreaming, we rarely remember the realities of going outside of your comfort zone.

Taken the morning we went shark cage diving off Cape Town, South Africa.  I was SO excited to do this and ended up freezing and getting sick off the boat the entire time.  Not fun.  

Taken the morning we went shark cage diving off Cape Town, South Africa.  I was SO excited to do this and ended up freezing and getting sick off the boat the entire time.  Not fun.  

The fall can be hard once you get to the place and are wearing the outfit you imagined you'd be wearing (maybe there's a straw hat in the mix?) and you're at the cafe and you get the glass of white wine, and the sun is setting and...

I mean it's beautiful, but you're still you.  

You may be trying to "just live in the moment," but you can't just stare at a sunset for your entire vacation.  Eventually your mind will wander, and you'll wonder if you really need to print those tickets you bought to the museum or if they'll let you scan the code from your phone.  Then you'll wonder if your phone will even work because you never actually made that call to Verizon before hand, and oh shit, are you getting charged for the data you've been using trying to get Google maps to work?

So it's not perfect.  

And that's sometimes hard when you've been dreaming and anticipating and creating expectations.

4. You question your life back home.

I've never been an especially patriotic person, but I've never disliked being an American either.  That said, when you're surrounded by Europeans who speak two more languages than you and know more politically about the rest of the world than you and can't understand all of the school shootings and the homophobia and generally just look better in those white jeans that you want (and yet still seem to eat pasta every day HOW THE HELL DO THEY STAY THIN), it's hard to wonder whether your lifestyle in the U.S. is the best.  

You start to judge the Americans around you.  You start to see how loudly Americans talk, and sometimes you feel disgusted by it.  You start to notice how our intense work schedule means that people feel burned out and bitter and then relax on the weekends by overeating and overdrinking.  How we can't stay still without checking our phones.  How Facebook is just one big political ad mess.  

And it makes you feel a little farther away.  Because you love those American friends, and you FEEL American (and will become defensive if said Europeans ever say something negative about your country), but at the same time you won't completely feel at home in that world either.

5. You freak out about your career.

Yes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and no, I don't regret it, but I would be lying if I didn't feel a tinge of jealousy when I see my friends getting promotions and finding their way in their careers.  

At six months in, I'm no closer to knowing what I want to be when I grow up than when I started.  I know more about what I don't want, but it's not like you can look out at the sea enough and all of sudden it will come to you that you're actually meant to be a nurse, and voila!  Problem solved!  You will never question your career choices again, and you will have found your calling! 

I don't know if I have a calling.  I think there's pressure on people our age to have one, and if you could just discover it, everything would be great.  In reality, I wonder what I will do job-wise when I get back, and I stress out about whether or not I'll be able to find that job (or really ANY job) upon our return.

6. You miss your people.

This goes without saying.  At times, you will feel really far away and just wish things were easy.  You'll try to facetime or Skype and the internet will crap out and you'll have that whole, "I can see your face but there's no audio... oh there you are... nope it says 'reconnecting'" exchange that will make you sigh and just say, "Fuck it, I wish I could just meet you at a bar so we could talk face to face."  

When we Skyped from the bottom bunk of our hostel in Colombia because the wifi never worked anywhere else.

When we Skyped from the bottom bunk of our hostel in Colombia because the wifi never worked anywhere else.

You'll meet people on the road, and sometimes you'll have fantastic exchanges that will make you feel close to those people, but the vast majority of conversations will involve some version of, "Where are you from?" and "How long have you been traveling?"  

Apparently it weirds people out when you ask strangers you've just met what their biggest fears are or how they think they'll change when their parents die.  

Sometimes I feel desperate for a real deep conversation with someone other than Nate.  

7. Your health suffers.

Yes, you get a lot of sleep, and you don't stress about that work thing that you sort of fucked up, and your mind slows down enough that you don't feel like you'll crawl out of your skin if you can't access your gmail.  

BUT, you'll also overeat and overdrink.  A lot.  And you'll eat crap.  

When you're in Italy (the food capitol of the universe), it's really hard to order salad.  It's so much easier to order pasta.  Or pizza.  Or pasta.

You will berate yourself at night for not eating any vegetables that day, but the next day you will be tempted again at restaurants with delicious local treats that are never good for you.  Think about it- a city's "signature dish" is always bad.  Deep dish pizza in Chicago, fried chicken or BBQ in Atlanta, bagels in NYC.  Quebec has poutine for God's sake.

No one is ever like, "Oh you're going to Memphis?! Don't forget to try the garden salad!  It's bonkers."  

Here in Catalonia (northern Spain), the local cuisine is primarily meat/seafood and fried dough things.  Also churros.  And sangria.  And red and white wine.  And these delicious vermouth cocktails.  

So needless to say, we're getting fatter and often feel like we're not taking super good care of ourselves.

Of course, this is totally something within our control.  We just haven't yet mastered the art of saying "no" to that delicious but terrible deep fried thing and opting to go for a run instead of sitting on the beach.


In the end, all of this is worth it.  Despite all the anxiety, I never think, "Shit, we've made a huge mistake."  I wouldn't take this trip back for a second, but I do think it's important that people know the costs.  And my goal with this blog is always to be honest about the good stuff and the bad.