8 Lessons Learnt From Long-Term Travel


For me, long-term travel was a huge learning step. The day I left home for a whole year was literally the biggest day of my life, and I think it always will be. I feel I’ve learnt a lot since that first big trip. When 22 year old me, in my cheap bulky hiking boots, fake tan and too much make up, left  London Heathrow Airport, excited but terrified, struggling to carry the terribly packed 60L backpack on my back.

I cried as I hugged my family goodbye. And I struggled to stop myself crying on the 32 hour flight to the other side of the world, because I already missed them. And because I was scared and worried. Because I didn’t know if I was making the right decision; is long-term travel really for me?

Looking back, crying and feeling terrified was pretty normal but unnecessary really. Yes I stepped into the unknown, away from my family and everything I had ever known, with all my savings and a man I had only known for a year. But it was 100% the right decision. I came out a new, better person, with memories that will last a lifetime.

It’s cringe and so clichΓ© but yes, travel did change me. And now, a few years later, I’m looking back at everything I learnt in that year.

And how next time, I want to do it even better.

Here’s 8 things I learnt from long-term travel and what I would do differently next time!

Me in Northen Thailand, April 2014.

1. Reduce the size of my backpack to just one 40L, carry-on backpack

For me, this point just has to be number 1. I cant stress enough how much pain I went through backpacking with over 60L on my back and 20L on my front. I have already chosen my new backpack – the Osprey Farpoint 40, which I can’t wait to try out on our upcoming 3 week trip to Morocco! It’s also carry-on sized, so it will save money on checking in luggage.

My new backpack! The Osprey Farpoint 40

2. Pack more carefully

Following on nicely from the last point, I would pack way less unnecessary items. These are some of the things I packed last time which I would not take again:

  • 3 pairs of shoes – I packed big hiking boots and Vans trainers (both of which I found uncomfortable) and a pair of flip flops. Next time: I would pack one pair of light, good quality trainers which are also suitable for hiking and 1 pair of flip flops
  • A sleeping bag – Although I did use this, it was too big and bulky. Next time: This would be replaced with a sleeping bag liner.
  • Books – I carried about 4-5 books at one point as well as my eReader, this was all way too heavy. Next time: I would replace these with just an eReader and no more than 1 book at a time!
  • Loads of clothes – Quite simply, I packed way too many and I then bought a load more in Asia.
  • 3 towels – I packed 2 x quick dry travel towels and 1 large bath towel. Next time: Just 1 quick dry towel.
Me and my backpacks, Bangkok (November 2014)

3.  Plan a little less and don’t book things too far in advance

So I planned every little detail for my last big trip. I also typed it all up into a seriously humongous Word document, printed it all out, and took it with me in a folder.

And then I didn’t even look at it once.

Still, I’m a big believer in planning for trips (that’s just me) but I have learnt that planning for travel is one thing, but I shouldn’t have actually booked things that are far in advance, as a lot of our plans actually changed. For example, we booked a flight from Chiang Mai to Vientiane, 6 months in advance. And because our plans changed in Southeast Asia, we didn’t even end up taking the flight. So that was a waste of money…

4. Allow more time. Travel slower

I don’t want time to be a constraint in future. I want to travel with the ability to just stay for another week or month in a place, if we wanted to. The world is huge, and looking at a map it’s easy enough to think you can just get from A – B in a few hours, that you’ll see enough of a place in 2 nights and experience all that you want from a country in a few weeks. But in reality, long-term travel is tiring and can involve very long journeys and many nights spent on buses and trains, you may also really love somewhere and want to spend way longer there. Next time I want more time.

So what if I want to stay here for another week, or a month, longer than planned?

5. Go with a bigger budget

Following on from the last point, one of the reasons we had to travel with time constraints was due to a very strict budget and limited money. What I would do differently next time (as well as having a bigger budget) is to have a completely separate budget, aside from the daily costs budget which is all we budgeted for last time. This separate budget would be for our activities (whether it be a tour, sky diving, scuba diving, safari’s etc.), situations where more money is needed. Obviously money doesn’t just grow on trees, so a way to do this is save money at home for a little longer before rushing off too quickly.

6. Be more adventurous with food

I really wish I had been more adventurous with food. It took over 7 months of long-term travel before I actually became interested in trying new, more adventurous types of food. Before that, we generally ate the same type of food every day. In India, our diet was mainly chicken curry, bread and rice. In Southeast Asia, it was generally chicken, egg and rice or egg and bread. Although at the time even that was an achievement for me, as I wouldn’t even eat egg before I started to travel… next time, I want to explore new cultures more through food!

Egg, chicken and rice every day!

7. Understand that plans can (and probably will) change

This is a big one for me. I’ve never been very good at being spontaneous, but travel has taught me that although there’s nothing wrong with a plan, plans will change. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a really good thing. We ended up travelling for longer than originally planned and spent 4.5 months working in Australia. Travel has taught me to be free.

Brisbane – The city we lived in during our time in Australia

8. Finally…. Know that I am making the right decision

Discovering my love for travel was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I have learnt more about the world through travel than I ever imagined and I have so many stories and memories that will last forever. It’s my choice to spend my money on travel rather than on nice clothes or a car. But that’s my decision, and right now, I know it’s the right decision.

Shaun and I in Cambodia, June 2014.

8 lessons learnt from long-term travel - and what I would do differently next time!
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Hi, I'm Zoe. Welcome to Zo Around The World! Since 2012, I have travelled to 24 countries within 4 continents. Zo Around The World is a collection of my travel experiences – particularly writing about backpacking and budget travel. I am a self confessed over-organised travel planner, travel has become my favourite part of my life and let me show you how it can become yours too

130 thoughts on “8 Lessons Learnt From Long-Term Travel

  1. Awesome post! The more you travel, the more you learn how to pack πŸ™‚ I brought so many things I didn’t need with me on my 3 month trip to Southeast Asia. The one thing I wish I brought though – my hydroflask water bottle. Nothing beats cold water on those hot, humid days in Thailand!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The fact that you’ve come away with these great pointers to share with the rest of us is great. I’m sure there were many more personal lessons relating to yourself, challenges you faced and things you discovered about the wider world that perhaps you’d one day be able write about! Great post πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m going to Thailand in April and everyone from friends to doctors are discouraging me from eating street vendor food. I’m feeling torn between being my adventurous self and not getting horribly sick for the entirety of the trip. Any suggestions from the travel community? Help!


    1. We travelled to Thailand a few years back with three kids so I was extremely worried about the same thing. There were some really dodgy looking venders that we passed up but we found many on street “food halls” (a collection of venders in permanent locations under one roof) we figured that if the locals were eating there then it should be fine. We had no problems. Just make sure you only drink bottled water and we also made sure we used bottled water to clean our teeth.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I agree with the above in that if it’s busy with lots of locals eating there, you can be pretty sure it’s good! πŸ™‚ I didn’t get any food poisoning in Thailand. And yes 100% stick to bottled water not tap water! Thanks for your comments πŸ˜€


  4. Good lessons. Im agree that travel is spontaneous, somehow we have to learnt from our mistakes, my lessons : make the itinerary, I have traveled 10th countries and never had one. So I missed many things,but travel is still great things to do..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I google the crap out of the location before I go so I know exactly what there is to do and see. I make a list and take it with me. This doesn’t mean I see it all but it allows me a more informed choice when on the road

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! And all of this is so true, especially the first one! When I first traveled I had so much luggage as well and I was horrified every time I had to put on my backpack again and move locations. Now I just travel with a lot less and switching locations isn’t so bad anymore πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  6. P-L dit :La présence des grands centres urbains, a fortes concentrations de population et utilisation plus faible de l&bqiuo;automrsle pour les transports en commun, peu expliquer une partie de cela. Essayez de ne pas avoir d’auto en Saskatchewan Pourtant c’est très possible à Montréal, Toronto et New-York..!


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