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 cliché 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.