First, a quick note: I’m posting over at Turtleduck Press this week, talking about the “ooh, shiny!” of gardening and what happens when the initial obsession wears off.
Second, this is a travel post week. If you haven’t noticed, I’m alternating travel posts and general life posts on Wednesdays. Mondays are still for books and other media, and sometimes you get a bonus on Fridays with WANAFriday posts.
Last time we talked about planning for a long-term trip. This week, I’m moving on to what happens when you’re out there.
Long-term travel might sound like a dream come true, and in many ways it is. But it’s also exhausting, like running a marathon (er, not that I’ve done that…). If you’re travelling with a companion, you’ll want to avoid murdering each other. If you’re travelling alone, you’ll cope with loneliness at some point.
Here’s how we dealt with these challenges.
1. Have an idea of your travel style before you start…
- We knew we didn’t want to go hostelling — been there, done that, wanted a room and preferably a shower to ourselves — but we didn’t need an international hotel chain to feel comfortable. We didn’t know at first where between those two extremes we would fall.
- We knew we were okay with cheap-to-midrange restaurants, but wanted to avoid street food for the most part.
- We wanted to take public or cheap transportation, but in relative comfort — in India that meant trains and auto-rickshaws rather than buses.
- We identified the sorts of activities and sights we were most interested in — mainly seeing temples, forts, and other old buildings, but also some light adventure tourism and hiking, and just soaking up the feel of a place.
2. …But adjust your plans and standards as you go.
In Malaysia, our first guesthouse was a super friendly, family-run place…where the AC ran only at night, showers were shared (and out on the balcony!), and breakfast was DIY cereal. In India, our second guesthouse was another super friendly place in a historic home…where our 950-rupee ($20) room was right behind reception, so we could hear loud conversations for 16 hours a day, plus the attached bathroom was in a closet under the stairs, and the rooftop restaurant made all the construction noises from the back sound even louder.
In both cases, we decided to raise our rates a little and get a bit more comfort next time. (For this reason, we didn’t pre-book all of our accommodation.) We still stayed in family-run guesthouses that were a little rough around the edges, but that was part of the fun. We ended up paying about $30 a night (for two people) in Malaysia and Thailand, and $20-30 a night in India.
Conversely, by the end of our India and Nepal stint, I found myself getting a lot more comfortable with public squat toilets than I ever imagined I would. Turns out they are scary and gross, but nothing I couldn’t deal with.
Remember you’re in a very different country and culture. Practise being flexible!
3. Pace yourself…
If you’re measuring your travel in months rather than weeks, you can’t expect to see four sights every day and a new city every two days…you’ll burn yourself out! So mix heavy sightseeing days with quiet days, especially:
- when you first get to a country — give yourself around 5 days to orient yourself in your first location, do a little sightseeing, and get used to the unique challenges of that country
- after you’ve been doing a lot of sightseeing — give yourself at least 1 day of downtime
- after you’ve been travelling for a while — give yourself 3-7 days of just vegging out in relative comfort
4. …And don’t try to see everything.
Six weeks in India might sound like a lot of time, but trust me, it’s not. You can’t see everything in a country. You probably can’t even see all the sights in a given city without burning yourself out after three cities. (Ask me how I know.)
So don’t try. See what you can, see what you’re interested in, see what you have time and energy for. It’s okay to let the rest go.
5. Know yourself and your needs…
My travelling companion and I are both introverts, and Asia can be an assault on the senses (sometimes all five of them at once). We found we needed a lot of downtime (see #3). We also needed quiet spaces and solitude — another reason we didn’t want to go hostelling. So we spent a fair amount of time in our hotel rooms, on our respective netbooks. This confused people sometimes, but we were a lot saner for it. We even spent a few days apart, doing separate things.
On the other hand, when I went to Norway and later Ireland as a solo traveller, I got very lonely sometimes — even though I loved how liberating it felt (and yes, even though I’m an introvert). So if you’re travelling alone, you might need to seek out people. Hostelling is a great way to do this because there are lots of solo travellers. You’ll always meet people in the mornings and/or evenings. Sometimes you’ll even find travelling companions for part of your trip.
And yes, paying attention to your needs might mean you buy a hamburger once in a while because you miss Western food. That’s okay too.
6. …But stretch your comfort zone.
What is travelling for, if not for getting out of your comfortable routine and being open to new experiences — really living? Of course you’ll want to keep safety in mind. But being unsafe and being uncomfortable are not the same thing. Do try the squat toilets…or try the street food…or try haggling…or try ziplining. (We did all of those things — click through to read more.) Maybe you’ll love it!
You’re still going to be exhausted and overwhelmed and homesick at various points. That’s part of travelling, too. But if you follow these tips, you’ll enjoy yourself more and be less stressed.