I travel long-term and most of the time, it works for me. When I first started travelling, I didn’t just want a gap year to go crazy and party, or a year of adventure travel before returning back home to the UK, to live a conventional life. I wanted an entire lifetime of travel, an existence of exploring and being nomadic.
I travel because I love it – really love it. It’s my passion, my essence and sometimes I think it’s the reason for my existence. To travel, to explore, to forever globetrot and to discover the whole planet.
To live this life, I realised I had to travel long-term, and make travel my lifestyle. When others ask me about my travel life, I describe my style of travel as slow and immersive, long-term travel.
I do sometimes take short trips to new places, but mostly I travel to and stay in places for a medium to long time. Sometimes I live there for a year or more.
The other thing I realised I had to do to live this life, was make sacrifices. And lots of them. Some are small, some are pretty tough to take. But I made that decision and I continue to make that decision every day.
Some days that decision is very hard to live with.
I get lonely. Even though right now, I travel with a partner. And he agrees with me, as he sometimes feels the grey cloud of loneliness looming. Living nomadically and unconventionally places you outside the circle of societal norms and that means long-term travel can make you feel very lonely and isolated.
Not because of where you are, but because of where you aren’t.
Part of the price of long-term travel is a vibrant life, tainted with loneliness.
I’d love to tell everyone most of my days consisted of sleeping in, hanging on the beach, eating exotic food and having rum cocktails at sunset, but long-term travel is just not like that.
And if you decide to travel long-term, that presumption is one of the main reasons why you will feel disconnected from your friends and family back home.
LEAVING FRIENDS AND FAMILY TO TRAVEL AND THE PRECONCEPTIONS
The people you leave behind will continue to live their lives, but yours will change. And they don’t see these changes in your life, they only know and are mindful of their own existence. Whilst your everyday reality, starts to become wildly different to theirs.
You used to live a similar life to them, in that town/city you left, so you feel you’re still connected to them through your friendship. But because your travel life isn’t something your friends understand or have lived themselves, you aren’t relatable to them anymore and their conventional life isn’t something you relate to anymore either.
I made great efforts to keep my friendships alive when I first left the UK 10 years ago to go travelling. I used to send them heaps of interesting photos, text or email them with updates of what I was doing and I used to stay up late/get up early to make lengthy video or phone-calls, despite the time difference.
More recently, I have become slightly slack with my friendships. In some cases, I feel they have become lax in their role of the friendship too. It takes two to keep a friendship or relationship going successfully and I’m only human, so I am never going to take full responsibility for it.
We all get busy, our everyday life things are priority and sometimes because I don’t feature in my friend’s everyday lives anymore, I become less of a priority. And when a year or two of not seeing each other turns into three to four years, it’s even easier to…forget.
I hate this saying but ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sadly does often apply here.
On my end, the same applies in a way. The time difference becomes the first challenge and I also get busy and have everyday life things to deal with. But often the everyday things I deal with are so much more complicated and exhausting, than the everyday things I used to deal with back in the UK.
There are SO many examples I could use, so I’ll just share a few.
- Once whilst living in New Zealand, during a time when we lived by permanently house-sitting, one of the months was dry for house-sit opportunities. It was also a time when we had a very tight budget, so we couldn’t just go stay for a month in a hotel. We had to move ELEVEN times in one month (with no car), it was so exhausting and such an anxious time.
- Once whilst we were both working full-time jobs in Auckland and living in someone’s borrowed camper van on their property, we had to move out for a week. Someone else needed to stay in the camper van, because their property was pre-booked for an Airbnb booking.
Because most budget accommodation in Auckland was booked out and options were limited, we had to move FOUR times in that one week – whilst still going to work at our jobs everyday. Which meant on several days, we took our entire world of belongings in our huge backpacks to work with us.
I was working as a Corporate Reception at the time and had to go in early to ‘hide’ my stuff behind my desk until I could move it to our new accommodation that day, after work. We didn’t even have a car to carry our luggage or keep it in.
- Another time, we spent months waiting it out in Thailand and Malaysia for an offshore Australian visa to be processed, so we could live and get jobs in Australia. Our money ran out, we got broke and suddenly Asia didn’t seem so cheap anymore.
And when Australian Immigration asked us for extra supporting evidence for the visa, gathering and collating documentation, plus navigating the postal system in Thailand, became an arduous task that took days.
These are not everyday things, that I ever experienced living back home in the UK. During those stressful times, I only prioritised keeping in touch with my Nan, but I can’t even imagine how much of a mess my head would be if I had to also remember to call my friends every few days.
I had to be resourceful, quickly adapt to change and try to mentally keep myself together.
Over the years, sometimes entire days were taken up by finding somewhere else to move to, budgeting our money and getting used to new places every few days or weeks.
Times like that for us were lived in survival mode.
I do sometimes share these stories or issues with my friends and family and although they are interested and sometimes concerned, I know they are struggling to really understand the life I’m living.
And so the disconnect continues.
IS LONG-TERM TRAVEL LONELY?
When you start travelling, you may find that there is sometimes an expectation, that you should be the one to call or visit home, because you’re the one who chose to ‘leave home’. This is something that bothers me sometimes.
There could be many reasons for this, some people have a preconception that it’s still expensive to phone other countries, some were brought up with older values that it’s the younger persons duty to call the older person. Sometimes it’s down to an obligation in the friendship that was originally created, one of you might have always had the expectation, that it was down to the other person to make the effort to call or visit.
Although this expectation does fade over time. Once you’ve been away years and people start to realise you aren’t on holiday, you’re simply living a different life in a different place, they don’t expect you to call with travel stories any more.
So the friendship has to evolve into something else.
But into what? After this many years of travelling, I’m not even sure I know. Some of my friendships have been neglected on both sides for so long, they’ve grown stagnant.
And before you know it, you’ve not spoken in a year, or longer. I know in some cases, if I don’t make the first move to reconnect, they won’t. Then that makes me wonder, do I really want a friendship like that?
And so the procrastination continues.
One thing I always tell people who are new to travelling, is you will learn who your real friends are. True friends will keep in touch even if only sporadically, they will do their best to understand and will be honest and communicate, if they can’t relate to you.
And they will be keen to find a way to fix it, so the friendship can continue. It’s about nurturing the friendship, so it evolves in a way you can both be happy with.
Sometimes you have friends who you already know are fickle and the outcome is what you predicted, but some friendships fade away and you are left surprised and disappointed. Most of the time, you’ll be shown the good heart and intentions some of your friends have, that you maybe didn’t notice or appreciate before.
Although my style of long-term, slow travel remains, I sometimes stay in one country a long time and live there, but never feel like I belong there. For example, the past few years we have spent house-sitting permanently, which means moving often.
It can feel exciting and refreshing to move to a new place and discover a new lifestyle. But it is also hard moving and always starting again.
When we arrive to a new house-sit, we have to get used to the new house, the pets and the area, maybe even a new country, culture or language. When we move house-sits rapidly, it can become exhausting having to always seek out what we call ‘the new stuff’, finding the nearest supermarket, new bus routes and new parks or beaches to walk the pets.
For me finding new cafes to captivate my coffee addiction is fun, although I sometimes might really miss the vibe of the last one I fell in love with and then had to leave behind.
Seeing a new beach for the first time can be beautiful and stunning to look at, but sometimes I find myself longing for the magical feeling that a beach I used to walk on, gave me.
We are always the new people and house-sitting does create a feeling of belonging in that area and community, until we leave and move on again.
I feel I’m forever going to meet new people, but never know anyone. And always live in new places, but never belong anywhere.
This is just one, of the few downsides of long-term travel.
IS LONG-TERM TRAVEL FOR YOU?
Long-term travel really does take a particular type of person to enjoy. You’ve got to be independent, unflappable, flexible, be comfortable spending time alone and be adaptable in the face of continual change.
You need to be social enough to reach out and make friends, but also be strong enough to say goodbye when you leave, or when they move on.
You need to accept that you won’t always be there, when your friends back home have something new to celebrate. Equally so, as a traveller you’re usually the one who has no-one around when it’s Christmas or your birthday. If you’re sentimental or extremely tight with your family, you may struggle spending the holidays or family events alone.
I’ve spent a lot of these occasions alone. Even when I wasn’t alone, I sometimes spent it with the wrong type of people, who made me feel like I was alone anyway.
I’ve never been a huge lover of Christmas, Easter or other similar holidays, anyway. My way of life has made me care a lot less about the material aspects of these occasions. I now prefer to spend these times with people I love, in a place I love, and I care very little about the consumerism or costs that surround these holidays.
I spent my last Christmas Day on the beach with a rum & coke, chicken sandwiches and zero gifts or presents. But I was on my favourite New Zealand beach, with my partner – so I was happy.
Buying gifts and other expected spending habits, just aren’t significant to me. I love experiences, not things.
I value memories, over material.
But I still miss people.
And that’s what I’d buy if I had to buy a gift at certain times of the year. A plane ticket or two, whenever I wanted. But not a plane ticket to a faraway land, but a ticket to a faraway person.