The Downsides of Long-term Travel: 9 realities to prepare yourself for
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Thought you’d escape the rat race and skip carefree around the world for a year or two in a perfect little bubble of bliss? Well, I’m here for a fun reality check. Yay! Shit happens, and there are plenty of downsides of long-term travel, wherever you are in the world. You see, it’s not all flower crown swings and chatting gaily with locals; and I’d rather you were mentally and physically prepared for the downsides of long-term travel before you set off than end up locking yourself in a dirty bus station toilet stall for a mid-trip breakdown. I’ve got 9 ‘ere downsides of long-term travel for you, let me know in the comments if you have experienced any others!
You may also want to have a gander of these posts before your trip:
Travel burn-out is a real thing, and it needs to be taken seriously as it can have an effect on all parts of your life abroad. You lose all zest for life, the thought of packing up your rucksack yet again starts to feel depressing instead of exciting, and you are more susceptible to illnesses as your body feels so run down. In extreme cases, it can have you wanting to get the next flight home and never travel again. We almost cut our 3 months in Brazil short when we started getting bogged down by the burn-out just 1 month in. Thankfully we persevered as it ended up being an incredible leg of our travels!
If you’re going away for 6 months or more, I would strongly suggest taking things as slowly as possible, avoiding the temptation to cram as much as possible in by moving every 2-3 days. Consider a week or two stay every now and then when you come across a place you really like. Don’t try to frantically tick off everything there is to do in a city; only focus on the things that actually interest you. Curb your drinking for a while and try to get as much good food and sleep as possible.
If you’re away for 18 months or more, consider setting up a home-base where you can spend a few months at a time and feel like you have a stable home away from home. For me, that was the sprawling city of Bogotá, Colombia.
2. Temple Fatigue
Not quite as trip-threatening as travel burn-out, but this downside of long-term travel can certainly dull your experiences. Temple fatigue comes when you’ve simply seen too much of the same sort of thing – usually because the guide books told you to rather than because you have a particular passion for it. In South-East Asia, this tends to happen a lot in the case of temples – beautiful as they are – in Central America you might get it from ruined pyramids – mighty as they are – and in South America you can expect to be worn out by churches – gold-plated and sparkly as they are. It’s not that you don’t appreciate the impressiveness of what you’re seeing, your mind just zones out in the monotony of yet. another. temple.
3. Broken record conversations
Remember how mind-numbing it was in the second week of your first year of uni, when you were still having to have the same conversations over and over – what’s your name, where are you from, what are you going to do here? Well, prepare for Freshers Plus. Hostel life is cool and all, but it’ll have you feeling like a broken record. In the end, you’ll be able to recite your intro answers in your sleep (though just a reminder, sleep-talking is generally not appreciated in dorms). In the last months of our trip, I actually started leaving out the more exciting aspects of our background and careers just because it was so hard to deal with the same reactions and questions over and over again without sounding like a bit of a prick to myself.
Anyway, you’ll know you’ve made real travel buddies when you start talking about anything other than basic demographics and travel patterns, and these sorts of convos will become so refreshing you want to cry.
Honestly, this is not something I ever really experienced when travelling, but I know a lot of people who really suffered with it. I think because I travelled alongside a partner for so long I always had a little bit of home with me, and to be frank I’m not very good at keeping in touch with my family anyway. One thing to know though is that homesickness is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re not suited to travelling or that you’re not a strong person. Most people say that diving head-first into distracting activities and really getting to know the local culture so it’s not such a shock anymore really help. Make sure you’re scheduling in some video chats with people back home, too!
5. Constant budgeting
If you hadn’t already envisaged that your time backpacking would mostly be spent struggling to count foreign coins out of a small purse and then tracking everything you’ve spent on a budgeting app, time to have a little rethink! OK, so not everyone goes as far as to head down the app tracking route (we found the automatic tracking on the Revolut banking app to be enough), you will need some tight daily budgeting in place if you’re not doing this on a trust fund. Of course, one of the sad downsides of long-term travel is that even spending time in the world’s most value-for-money destinations will eventually start to rack up quite a bill, so it can be easy to spend willy-nilly thinking ‘oh, that’s so much cheaper than home!’
Work out how much you have vs. how many days you plan to be away, and always always always have enough money for an emergency flight home in a separate bank account that you can’t accidentally access in the throes of a particularly rowdy beer pong night. If you’re interested, you can see how much we budgeted/spent in each South American country we visited.
6. Weight fluctuations
If you meet someone who travelled for a significant amount of time who claims their weight didn’t change at all, they’re lyinnnnn’. You’re very likely going to find that your weight swings – firstly, you’ll be trying all the different foods, you’ll be stocking up on heavy snacks for long bus journeys, and you’ll be drinking waaaay too much in a bid to get through the aforementioned broken record questions. Then, at some point you’ll inevitably get sick, and your appetite will die along with your love of street food. You’ll adapt to new altitudes, discover a love of hiking and start shedding pounds without even realising it. Expect this cycle to yo-yo as you reach regions with different vibes! I thought I was doing well until 2 coxinhas a day in Brazil killed off my waistline and added an extra STONE to my bod. So worth it, though.
7. Falling behind on health checks
When you’re constantly on the move, and (depending on where in the world you’re from) perhaps have found yourself without access to free healthcare for the first time, one of the downsides of long-term travel is that it can be difficult to keep up with checking the smaller health niggles that might need to be nipped in the bud. You also easily lose track of your regular check-ups like smear tests, only seeking medical attention for emergencies. For those coming back from their trip intermittently, make sure you’re booking all your health checks in during your time back home, and if you’re away constantly don’t feel like it’s a luxury to book into a private clinic for whatever you need, even if you have to pay out of pocket.
We had to get Andy a knee check-up in Panama City – it was very expensive compared to the UK but our wonderful travel insurance did reimburse us for it, and the service was crazy fast. Always make sure you’ve declared any pre-existing conditions on your travel insurance so that you’re covered. In Colombia, I had to get my contraceptive implant removed, and ProFamilia did it for so cheap (around £25) I just paid up in cash.
8. Travel buddy tensions
Truly, no matter how long you’ve known someone, or how much you love them, eventually they are going to get solidly on your tits. Travel couples especially will experience bickering and frustration at some point, because not only are you with someone 24/7, but lots of non-coupled travellers tend to steer clear of couples because they think they won’t have the same vibe or that they want time alone, which further isolates you. There are going to be times when things feel wildly out of control or perhaps you feel like you’re in a dangerous situation, and even the tightest couples or friendship groups will do well to continuously come out of a barrage of obstacles unscathed. Some will make you a better team, others will build up resentment over time. It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for travel couples to break up during or just after long-term travel.
It’s always best to address any issues up front – if you’re travelling in a group, do not air your issues to someone else in the group first; even after everything is solved, the person you had troubles with will not be able to relax and enjoy the rest of their trip once they realise you’ve all been bitching. There’s no shame in asking for some space to take a day to yourself, and if you’re a solo traveller feel absolutely free to ditch whoever you’ve been travelling alongside if they start to grate on you.
9. Life goes on without you back home
This was by far the biggest pull for me to come back to the UK. When you leave for a big trip, all attention will be on you as people get excited with you and want to ask alllll the detailed questions about what’s to come. They’ll seem so excited, in fact, that you’ll be lured into assuming that they will be just as interested to hear about your travels once you’re actually on the road. In reality, other than seeing a few cool pictures and making sure you’re still alive, most people you know back home won’t be bothered to ask the details of what you’re getting up to, and when out of sight, out of mind, they’ll quickly move on with their own lives (as they should, by the way!).
However, seeing everyone getting on with things without you – buying houses, getting promotions, starting families – can make you feel uneasy if you think about it too much. With waning interest in what you’re up to and a heavy focus on adulting back home, it can be hard to snap out of feeling like you’re missing out on valuable life progression time, especially if you’re mid-20s and up. You worry that when you do eventually return, you’ll be playing a frantic game of catch-up to get to where your friends are in life. It’s not just your friends, either – Andy really struggled with knowing that his young nephew was growing up scarily fast without him. Thing is, everyone back home really is quietly following your adventures, secretly wishing they could have your experiences. Once you return home, you’ll be jealous of others that are still away. Savour the freedom while you can!
So there are my top 9 downsides of long-term travel; let me know any others you have experienced in the comments section below. Of course, don’t let these put you off travelling altogether – the positives of a long-trip absolutely outweigh the difficulties, and any issues will surely help to develop you as a person.