There’s just so much to see out in the world, it’s impossible to see it all in the few short trips you can manage to take per year on the measly 2-3 weeks standard vacation time you get when you’re first starting out (more if you’re in Europe, but still). For me, before I had even heard the term “digital nomad” or started to consider long-term travel, my goal was to save enough money to be on the road for a year. It seemed easy enough. Plenty of people take gap years after finishing school, so there was no reason I couldn’t do it as well. I had the budgeting and saving money part down, but when I actually started to plan where I wanted to go, I had such a hard time narrowing down the list to fit all the things I wanted to see and do into just one year.
By my calculations, in order to hit everything on my bucket list, I’d have to move every 2-3 days, and even then I might not be able to hit everything. That’s just simply not sustainable for a year, and while moving quickly and checking off boxes might be some people’s preferred way to travel, it’s definitely not for me.
So, the alternative was to figure out how to make it work long-term. If I was going to take the plunge and travel full time, it was going to be a permanent lifestyle change. It took a lot of deliberate planning and hard decisions to get to this point where I am permanently and intentionally homeless.
I’m not saying that everyone should quit their jobs and travel long-term instead of enjoying those short trips when you get the chance, because short-term travel can also be wonderful and I’d always advocate for any type of travel over staying in one place. The long-term travel lifestyle is not for everyone, by any means. But if you are considering making the leap, here are the tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned so far.
Pros of Long-Term Travel:
You can go anywhere at a moment’s notice, and that’s incredibly liberating. My entire life fits into a 45L backpack. I can be at the airport in under an hour, and go anywhere in the world. Because I work online, my job will come with me. For the gap year-ers and the non-digital nomads, the process is the same. When you can carry everything you own with you on your back, the possibilities are endless. While on some days the sheer number of options will seem overwhelming, there’s so much joy in going with the flow and seeing where life takes you.
Your perspective will change along the way, and you will grow as a person so much faster than if you’d stay at home. You have to adapt and evolve with each new place you visit. The exposure to new people and fresh perspectives will constantly challenge you to reevaluate who you are, what you believe in, and what’s truly important.
Every person crosses your path for a reason, and being in an unfamiliar place opens up your heart and your mind to those lessons. On my first round of traveling after finishing school, I learned more about people, life, love, humanity, and the way the world works in three months on the road than I did in four years of college. It took one eight-hour hike with a stranger to completely change my entire worldview.
You don’t necessarily need to travel long-term to experience this—it could be as much as taking a weekend trip to somewhere an hour away from your hometown, as long as you can go somewhere new and open your eyes to the people and cultures around you. While all our cultures, languages, and traditions vary wildly across the globe, we are all the same at a basic, fundamental human level, and kindness knows no language barrier.
Cons of Constantly Being on the Move:
It’s a lifestyle, and it’s going to be just as scary jumping out as it was jumping in. As scared as I was when I finally walked into my boss’s office after months of planning and told them I’d be leaving at the end of the month to travel the world, I’m committed now. It took a lot of deliberate, calculated steps to get to this point, and I’m sure it will take just as much work to stop. After all, a body in motion stays in motion. As hard as it is to adjust to the culture shock of being in a new place, reverse culture shock when you return home is so much worse.
But it is a lonely lifestyle. Even if you’re moving slowly and staying in the same place for months at a time, you’re ultimately still saying goodbye to those friends you make in each new place, and you can forget about having a real long-term relationship. The pool of people who share the same nomadic or semi-nomadic mindset is small and scattered, and so far, I’ve had a hard time identifying people who are even able to relate to what I’m doing, or why.
Long-term travel is a beautiful thing, and an experience I wouldn’t give up for the world (pun unintended), but ultimately it’s not sustainable. As you get older, your interests and pace will inevitably change, leading you to put down roots and move more slowly. That doesn’t necessarily mean stop traveling, but it could mean setting up a home base somewhere and spending a smaller percentage of the year on the road.
Anyone who has taken the plunge into long-term travel knows that even once you’ve stopped, travel is not something you’d ever willingly give up altogether. It becomes a series of trade-offs. Yes, see the world while you have the ability to do so, and don’t look back. But know that it’s not all gorgeous, instagrammable sunsets and coconuts. It’s a lifestyle that comes with pros and cons, just like any other.
Suggested next reading: Backpacker Culture: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly