5 things I totally underestimated about long-term travel
1. Monotony can spring up in travel too.
It seems counterintuitive to suggest that having new experiences can get old. But curiously, when I travelled long enough, I realized that the newness of travel itself becomes routine. Instead of my routine being a daily commute, grinding at work, and catching an hour of exercise on my way home, my routine became riding a bus, seeing beautiful sights, having intense conversations with strangers, and then waking up the next day and doing it all over again. Suddenly, what used to be an exciting break from my ordinary life simply became my ordinary life.
I remember deep into my second month hitchhiking around Patagonia, I would wake up and sometimes hardly notice the jagged, snow-capped mountains anymore. What just a few weeks ago had been breathtaking, now felt completely ordinary.
Human beings really can get used to anything. No matter how beautiful something is, we can still manage to get tired of it after a while, and again begin the cycle of longing for something more.
2. You can find friendliness everywhere. But “warmth” is rare.
While traveling, I always felt grateful at the friendliness shown by strangers. But what was often missing after so much time traveling without family and close friends was genuine warmth. After being on the move off and on for three years, I have learned to not take for granted those people who have this quality. It’s common to find people who will greet you, give you directions, help you out when you need it. It’s common to find hostels with a helpful staff and a welcoming lounge or bar. But it’s not common to find people and places that make you feel totally safe and at home and comfortable to be yourself.
While making travel decisions, I now choose where to go next not so much for the destination itself or what it objectively offers, but instead how I think I’ll FEEL in these places. Will I be surrounded by warm people who make me feel at home? These days, that question often takes the highest priority.
3. Even wanderers sometimes crave a sense of community.
Growing up, I rarely felt any sense of belonging in my hometown. My parents, brothers, and I lived far away from extended family and often celebrated holidays on our own. As one of few Latinos in our predominantly white, Southern part of town, there was little cultural community in my neighborhood either.
In many ways I’m grateful for this upbringing. It made traveling come naturally because I never necessarily felt a strong sense of belonging in any space I had been before. However, as I get older, I realize a sense of community is crucial, even for the independent person I learned to be. In fact, it makes it easier for me to live an independent lifestyle when I seek out relationships with other people who understand the unique difficulties this kind of lifestyle requires, and provide support and understanding when it gets tough. As someone who has moved around as much as I have, I’m realizing my community won’t necessarily look traditional, like a church or neighborhood. But nonetheless, I can still prioritize connecting with people who can specifically relate to my way of life.
4. “Settling in” to a new place is hard.
When I asked my friends back home why they too hadn’t taken time off to travel, many gave this as their reason. Since they had exerted so much effort into building a support system and social network in the city they had lived, they didn’t want to go through the effort of doing that all over again by leaving. The more I’ve traveled, the more I respect the energy this takes.
In fact, the process is so incredibly difficult that most people never go through it more than a handful of times. They stay in their hometowns, or towns close to where they graduated college, or towns close to their families and old friends and thus never have to deal with the vulnerability of searching for new friends. When I first started traveling and moving around, I found the idea of making friends exciting. These days, I’m also respecting how exhausting it can be.
5. Collecting adventures isn’t always enough.
Often while traveling, I’d meet travelers who loved to talk about their life as a string of really great moments collected together. In the beginning stages of traveling, I agreed. I subscribed to the “Life isn’t about the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away” philosophy. I loved that traveling created so many of those moments and made me feel undeniably alive in a way no other part of my life had.
But over time, this philosophy also seemed like somewhat of a cop out. It isn’t enough for me to have a life that has simply amassed really amazing experiences. That seems too easy. What I’d want instead is to use my collection of amazing experiences to build something outside of me that lasts, whether it be a career or a creative piece work or a relationship I’ve worked on for a long time.
When I focus only on “great moments”, I often overlook the joy that only comes from working on something over time, the kind that can’t necessarily be seen in one single moment, but instead consistently nourishes me throughout me life. I’m learning to find that joy equally valuable.