In June, we boarded a plane to Madrid, Spain to begin this crazy adventure. Now October, I sit in the fall (?) heat of SE Asia while reflecting on what I've learned thus far. To celebrate four months on the road, here are four important lessons I've learned about traveling long-term.
1. You don't have to love everywhere you go, and you won't.
But you should respect each culture and its people. You should ask every new place what it has to teach you. Walk with your head up and eyes open. Look at people and listen to the songs they sing and stories they tell. Take note of the things that challenge you, perplex you, move you, and capture you. What do they say about this new place? What do they teach you about who you are and how you fit into the world?
You will not love every country and city you visit, but you will learn something as long as you stay open and leave the ethnocentric thinking at home.
2. You don't need as much as you think you do.
I have been so surprised by how little I actually need. I've been even more surprised by how little I remember or miss our stuff. I've worn the same pants and pair of sandals for the last four months and while my clothes are starting to smell and get holes, I don't need new ones.
The things I do miss are not things at all. I miss our family and friends. I sometimes miss routine. I always miss our dog.
But I don't miss stuff and I am detaching from everything. At the beginning of our trip, I lost a pair of really expensive hiking pants. Anthony lost a shirt or two. Then my clothes turned pink from being thrown into the wash with red shorts. Our sleeping pad got a hole. My prized Patagonia hat was smooshed multiple times. And someone stole my iPhone. It didn't take long before I stopped caring about these things.
Instead, I've learned to be content and grateful for what I do have: a solid pair of running shoes, hiking boots that have left prints in Norway, Vietnam, and (soon) Patagonia, my kindle and journal, my one cozy pair of leggings, and my passport.
3. Don't be cheap.
You don't have to eat questionable food and sleep in a bunk with bed bugs to save money. You also don't have to avoid countries with an expensive reputation just because everyone says so.
While the online travel community loves to brag (myself included) about traveling like a hippie and eating 50 cent meals, there is nothing fun about puking your guts out or sleeping in a dorm with farters, snorers, and unclean sheets. Yes, I admit these make for the best travel stories, but let's not go overboard.
Instead, learn when to splurge and when to say no.
In Spain, we saved tons of money by eating in grocery stores and finding bars with happy hour ($2 pintxos and wine, holla!) In Norway, we took advantage of wild camping and clean tap water. While Cup of Noodle is not my favorite food, it worked well for cheap camp dinners. In Thailand, we volunteered in exchange for room and board.
4. Stop Comparing.
I hate that I even had to learn this lesson and it feels embarrassing to write it, but here it is: stop comparing your travel stories and pictures to other travel bloggers.
Before the world of Instagram and blogging, traveling was a private endeavor. Maybe you sent a few postcards home or found a payphone to make a call, but otherwise, the journey was sacred and private, only to later be experienced by others through books and face-to-face conversation.
Fast forward to 2015, I can't even google the words "travel for a year" without articles and blogs popping up from the many travelers who have plunged into the nomadic life. And, I'm by no means speaking poorly of these people, they inspired Anthony and me to make the leap ourselves. In fact, I'm doing the same thing by blogging and instagraming our travels.
My point is, it's not a competition.
I love to write and I love to share about our journey, but I often have to check my motives and make sure I am allowing the sacred to stay sacred. As soon as I find myself drooling over other travel photos and wondering why mine aren't as epic, I have to stop and walk away. It's not healthy and it's not fair to mine or anyone's journey.