Originally published: November 18th, 2015.
I really don’t want this post about the downsides of long-term travel to come off as yet another spoilt brat travel blogger, whining about how hard their life is, because they have to actually set their alarm for tomorrow’s trip safari.
I hate that s**t.
This less-than-conventional life is what I always dreamed of and I chased after it, but it’s not for everyone and it’s often too romanticised. I don’t want to feed the misconception that everything is always sunshine and rainbows when you take this path.
I’m also not one of those lifestyle design bloggers who look down on anyone who has a stay-at-home career, a 9 to 5 job, or hasn’t been backpacking in their lives.
Do what you want, as long as it makes you happy and you’re not hurting anyone.
I just figured it’s only fair that you get to know about the other side of the long-term travel coin.
I usually look at things from both sides all angles:
Today I’m going to pinpoint only the cons of long-term travel, those that bloggers (myself included) edit out. The type of truths that Instagram would try and implement a gagging order, for if it knew what was coming.
1. Running Away From Your Problems
I know. I know. I can already hear a thousand travel bloggers screaming; “I’m not running away from anything…I’m running towards something,” armed with an arsenal of Mark Twain quotes to throw in my face.
Calm down, slip into the hippy pants that you purchased during your ‘spiritual experience’ watching Family Guy reruns in a cafe in Pai and hear me out…
I don’t think that everyone who chooses this life is a lost, hopeless soul running away from something, but they definitely do exist on the road and when the masks do come off, it’s a pretty high percentage. Even someone like myself who likes to look my demons in the eye and work out my issues can have the propensity to use this lifestyle as a distraction tool.
You can definitely shake off a lot of negative emotional shrapnel if you’re away from a toxic environment, which you needed to escape – but I’m afraid personal, deep-rooted issues can’t be eradicated by a change of geography and you can never run away from yourself.
You can’t outrun the truth. It always catches up with you.
Be real. Write it out. Go for a walk or a run.
Meditate. Read more.
Hang out with people who lift you up and love you for the imperfection that you are and call you out respectfully. Work out what’s holding you back and make a conscious effort to fix it day by day and don’t be so hard on yourself.
We live in a world of distractions from what’s really going on inside and long-term travel is one of them.
2. Long-Term Travel Creates a Lack Of Focus
Some who choose this life don’t seem to have this problem (or at least be living in a little bit of denial), but I believe they are an anomaly. Long-term travel is usually a major distraction to your core goals and life focus.
It takes a lot of mental bandwidth to work out where to stay, what bus to get, not get scammed and stay safe on the road; especially when you’re living like this for months, or even years and the result of spending your emotional reserves is not being able to focus on other important things.
My advice; if you want to work on building something online, it’s better to stay in one place for a while than to bounce around backpacking. Travelling long-term takes up a lot more energy than you think. It’s not all peace sign photos on the beach and beers at dawn.
You’re much better off rewarding yourself with a trip after knuckling down and making sure your house is in order first.
3. Romantic Relationships Are Harder
I’m personally very comfortable being single and equally enjoy being in a healthy relationship. It’s good to take a bit of time out alone and I also think dating is fun (if you don’t – you’re simply doing it wrong) but when I am in a relationship I want to give it my all to see if it’s got legs.
Long-term travel puts me between a rock and a hard place, as I have to choose a priority and to be honest, long-term travel has made me more selfish; opting to choose travel as the main focus over a romantic relationship.
I hate long-distance relationships and this way of living puts so much strain on building what you already have with a partner.
Couples who stay together in this lifestyle tend to want the same thing and share the same vision. It’s either that or one person has to sacrifice a hefty chunk of happiness in order to be together. I’m not saying it’s impossible – but it’s certainly trickier.
4. Online Business is All Over The Place
“I’ve made $X this month. I’ve arrived. I’m on my way! Knock out the champagne and let’s toast to the next level!!!”
Next month: “I’ve worked 60-hour weeks for a month and haven’t made a penny. I’m an idiot to think this would ever work and I should just get a job like a normal person.”
Unless you’re a member of the upper echelons of lifestyle design like Tim Ferriss, the chances are you’re going to have to spend a hell of a lot of time (and financial investment) working on something that you have absolutely no idea you can make money from. It’s terrifying.
With sexy stories like “ditching the boss” so that you can be your own, it’s hard not to be seduced into this lifestyle with open arms. But a monthly paycheck does offer a certain level of comfort and you kiss that goodbye when you go down this road.
Letting go of something you’ve spent countless hours/weeks/months/years on because it doesn’t work is heartbreaking – that’s if you do manage to detach from your ego, which doesn’t want to let you ‘fail.’
I echo the sentiments of the aforementioned Ferris if you want to have a crack at this life (and are in the privileged position to do so) – save up enough money to live in a cheaper country of your choice for six months and work your balls off on your idea.
Make it your priority and make those months count.
As an added not-so-great bonus; sometimes friends and family don’t understand that you still have to actually work for your money.
It’s not rare for someone to take things personally if you can’t meet up or drop things off and chat at the very last minute. ‘Self-employed’ seems to translate to ‘open all hours’ to some people but in reality, it’s not the case. Switching off is also a nightmare and it negatively affects my sleeping patterns when working with people in different time zones.
This one is admittedly more eligible for people who work online and travel long-term, but as that is growing in popularity it is a worthy entry to this list.
5. It Makes You Trust Less
Last night I was sat around a table with fellow travellers talking about a conundrum that we face on the road; to trust, or not to trust. That seemingly polite guy giving you directions when you’re lost? Yeah, now he wants money and will be pissed off if you don’t cough up.
You can’t even trust taxi drivers in most places and the tax that you pay for being a traveller is you’re often a walking target for people to rip off (I would probably do the same if I was in their shoes). You become immune to bullshit on the road, grow tired of being constantly treated like a mug and learn to spot a trick pretty fast after a lot of practice.
But what about those occasions when someone just wants to be amiable and connect with you on a human level? The truth is long-term travel hardens you and as much as you want to give the benefit of the doubt – you probably shouldn’t.
It’s all about self-preservation and most importantly staying safe, but this permanent state of distrust isn’t always the best way to go about life and it doesn’t feel good to default cynical all the time.
6. Getting a Good Cup Of Tea Becomes An Actual Life Goal
I’ve seen every crime against tea known to man. Milk in first. Teabag on the side. Lukewarm water. More milk than water. Then abomination that is the brand Lipton being the only option? It’s enough to make a tea connoisseur weep.
7. Major Con of Long Term Travel: It is Unhealthy
I don’t care about any beautiful, smoothie bowl-munching, yoga-posing in Balinese rice paddies ladies that you follow on Instagram, or that shredded dude travel influencer whose DM’s you’re sliding into when you’re feeling brave on Friday night red wine; long-term travel is not healthy.
Genuine, long-term travel; that being having constant momentum of visiting new places for a long period of time will negatively affect your sleep, central nervous system and hormonal health.
There are of course better/healthier ways to do it (which admittedly tend to be less fun), but it’s just not comparable to having some sort of a routine in one place when it comes to the subject of optimal health and fitness.
Conclusion: Long-Term Travel is No Longer For Me
(Slight Edit) I said I didn’t want to sound whiny, but reading back on this post – I’m not sure I did a good job. I think I must have been a little jaded at the time and I ended up committing to living in Chiang Mai, Thailand as my forever place.
I just wanted to throw out the ‘other side’ that isn’t really talked about a lot and I don’t want to add to the social media culture of comparison, as long-term travel can come with downsides. This life isn’t for everyone, but for those who want it – the tough times are definitely worth it for all those amazing travel memories.
What exactly is “long term,” anyway? It has no official number, for me, 3 months seems pretty long nowadays, and my longest stint was 3 years!
You can always try it out for yourself and go back to what you know if it doesn’t work for you. There are of course a lot of pros to combat against all the cons of long-term travel too, but this post wasn’t about that and I hope I at least managed to balance the books somewhat so that people can have a more weighed-up position on the topic at hand today.