Travel writing, especially about long term travel, tends to be about The Good Things™. There are indeed a million and one good things about long term travel. But, the truth is that long term travel comes with its own set of challenges and it certainly isn’t a cake walk for the most part.
The obvious show stopper for most people of course lies in making money while on the road to continue to fund their life and travels. However, I’m going to talk about the less obvious challenges that one might not foresee at the start.
Seeing your folks less
This problem isn’t just limited to long term travel. If you live very far from your parents or extended family, you will still face this issue. You spent 18 or more years living with your parents and siblings and it is a huge life change to see them just once, twice or three times a year if you’re lucky. Most people are caught up with the rigors of life and don’t truly realize how less they actually see their parents.
If you want to understand and get a handle on how many times you will see your parents in the rest of your life, here is a good calculator: seeyourfolks.com
You will probably be shocked at how low that number comes out to be. See your parents more, even if you’re a perpetual traveler or digital nomad.
On the bright side, being a perpetual traveler means that you can probably see your folks for longer periods when you DO see them because you don’t have a traditional job/leave schedule.
Let’s face it, eating healthy on the road is a huge challenge in and of itself. You end up eating out a lot more and if you’re new to a place it takes a few days to learn where the healthiest eats are located. Furthermore, you’re often limited in your choices by the geographic region you’re in and by the local food habits.
It’s extremely challenging to be vegetarian in South America. If you forego meat, there aren’t that many other options for you to chow down on. In contrast, try eating something that hasn’t been fried in Thailand. If you like plain yoghurt, it’s almost impossible to get unflavored yoghurt in either South America or South East Asia, you will almost always be treated to some version of vanilla and sugar.
With every move, you need to adapt yourself to the local flavors and find the healthiest balance for your system. This is easy enough to do if you live in a place for 3 or more months. But at a faster rate of traveling eating healthy becomes a huge challenge.
Not having stuff in your fridge
Oh, so you have a fridge full of stuff you like? LUCKY YOU!
There are times when I get hungry at 11PM. Instead of having to head out somewhere and find a nice place (or a 7-Eleven), wouldn’t it be awesome if I had this thing called a fridge with some of my favorite goodies? Well, unless you’re a traveler that likes to carry around a Kelvinator in your backpack, you’re out of luck.
Keeping your back straight
After sleeping on hundreds of different mattresses I can say with confidence that my back has suffered greatly from the perpetual traveler lifestyle. Mattress quality does not matter much for people who travel 2 weeks a year. So you get a back ache but then get fixed up when you get back home. Try sleeping on various mattresses of questionable quality for a year. Your back will weep.
Yoga has helped a great deal in this respect. I always wake up feeling bent in four different directions but after a few minutes of stretching and Yoga things seem to go back into place.
As a person who works online on the road, this is perhaps my greatest pet peeve. If I’m in a cafe or using a WiFi hotspot at a hotel and the internet suddenly slows down to a crawl you can be sure that I’ll be giving dirty looks to everyone who could be suspected of being a bandwidth hog.
There are so many categories of bandwidth hogs. Kids who just have youtube videos streaming on their iPhones but they’re not even watching the videos (they’re probably looking at the TV on the wall instead..) – WHY ARE YOU STREAMING STUFF IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING IT?!!! Then there are those unsuspecting people who have windows laptops chock full of malware hogging bandwidth for one reason or another. Then there’s that lady in a suit, blackberry in one hand, iPad in another, having a 9-way video conference with her office mates in Asia, Australia, the Americas, etc. But the greatest offender is the geek who decided that a donut cafe is the right place to stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones. He knows what hogging bandwidth does to other people and yet, he does it anyway. Well, Mr Geek, please remember that Winter is Coming and it’ll get you first.
Having to answer “Where are you from?”
Well, I’m from India but I haven’t lived there in 10 years, which happens to be more than 1/3rd of my life.. I travel around and live on the road.. But where’s your house? I don’t really have a house. It all sounds very suspicious and I can see the look on the other person’s face changing from “I just asked a routine question” to “What are you F*!KDLA*!#(!^ going on about?”.
The worst part is that normally people don’t understand what I just said and don’t know what to ask next so the conversation sort of freezes there. I’ve often defaulted to simple answers now like saying “Chile” or “Portugal” or “India” and then sort of easing them into the “I travel a lot for work” or “I can work while I travel” kind of angle.
Things seem to work better this way.
Not having deeper relationships
It’s very hard to form deep friendships as an adult. It’s even harder if you’re not around for more than 30,60, or 90 days at a time. Most other people don’t have time and if they have time, they don’t have flexibility of time. So the limitations that adult life places on ‘just hanging out’ severely affects the ability to form meaningful friendships in a short span of time.
On the other hand, your friends are all on the other side of the planet, living their lives and you’re no longer an active part of their lives. This does lead to some level of social isolation. Zara and I travel together so at least we have each other, thank goodness for that!
Skype and Hangouts do help a little bit but there’s no substitute to having dinner around a table full of smiling faces. There just isn’t.
Not getting food that you like
There have been times and places that we could not find any decent Indian food. Portuguese food is out of the question in most places outside Portugal but it’s not so different from other western cuisines so Zara doesn’t get as ‘food-sick’ as me. There have been times in Asia that Zara has desperately wanted some good bread though!
After a few months of traveling in Patagonia, I began to crave some good Indian food. But you need to take a 2 hour flight up to Santiago to get it. There was a moment in Coyhaique, Chile that I was actually considering taking a flight to Santiago to eat some real daal! I didn’t take the flight and just decided to suck it up for another month. But I seriously considered it! Desperation!
To offset these kinds of issues we always travel with a few tea leaves from India and some snacks. Missing Indian food? Shove a handful of Bhujia in your face and wait for another month or two.
The buying stuff conundrum
Zara and I are not consumerist in general. We like to spend our money on experiences rather than things. We do however need to buy new clothes and other knick-knacks now and then. But when I see a t-shirt I like, I go into mental ping-pong mode. “Wow, I really like that t-shirt. But if I buy it I’ll have to carry it. I have the space available in my bag though… But then if I let myself buy this one, I’ll buy the next one and it’ll be a tsunami of t-shirts and my bag will eventually weigh a hundred kilograms. But this t-shirt is really nice and if I don’t get it then in the next country it won’t be available.”
I usually end up not buying the t-shirt and so, three years later, I can still carry my bag around and all my photos look like I have 2 pairs of clothes. YAY!
Got any other long term travel pet peeves?
Throw ‘em in the comments and let us know!