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Taking a vacation and committing to traveling long term are not the same thing. On vacation, every day is the best day of your life. You’ve got an idea of what you want to fill your days with, and you’re constantly going on fun (usually expensive) excursions. Long term travel has days like that, but for the most part you’ve just committed to living an everyday life—just in a new country. It’s a different beast entirely, and it comes with its own set of rules for survival. These are my top tricks for not just surviving, but really making the most of your adventures.
1. Pack light. REALLY light.
Everyone travels differently, but trust me when I say that it's going to get really old, really fast if you're lugging around a massive suitcase. If you're traveling long term, we're talking months—maybe years—you're not packing an outfit for every day of your trip. Pack a few outfits for various situations (active, swimwear, casual outfits, and a nicer outfit), and know that you'll have ample opportunity to shop if something comes up and you don't have the right things. Keep your toiletries travel size as well, and when you settle in a city longer term you can invest in full size. By keeping things light, you have less you need to worry about, packing and unpacking are a breeze, and travel days involve minimal hassle.
*If you can't quite get around this tip yet, it's alright. It took an airline losing my suitcase for the entire duration of my trip to Italy for me to truly understand how little you need whilst abroad.
2. Plan ahead. But not too far.
I mean this in terms of knowing what city you'll be in and where you'll be sleeping when you get there. Some people are planners, others prefer spontaneity, and I find this to be a happy medium. Even the most experienced travelers may find themselves overwhelmed when they land somewhere new (🙋♀️landing in Sydney). Having your accommodation booked before you arrive takes that bit of stress off of the post long-flight zombie version of yourself, and gives you some immediate direction when you leave the airport. Not booking too far ahead beyond that gives you the freedom to stay longer if you like, take tips from other travelers you meet on where to go, or even tag along with them for a bit. I took a job in a city I'd never heard of after my first two weeks, and was incredibly glad I hadn't had my heart set elsewhere.
3. Some days are going to be uneventful, and that's OK.
Unless you’re traveling on an unlimited budget, there are going to be days that you don’t do anything particularly travel-y. There’s no need to look at those days and feel as though you’ve wasted them. It’s easy to get wrapped up in feelings of guilt knowing you’re in a new place, surrounded by new people, and you haven’t taken part in any of it. Travel can be exhausting, whether it’s the actual travel days spent in planes, buses, or trains, or the days spent exploring cities, museums, or nature preserves. Beyond just for more budget friendly days, you need time to relax and unwind. These days are perfect for spending an hour or two in a cafe, posting up in a park and reading, soaking up some sun, or picking a comfortable spot to people watch.
4. Stick to your budget, and try staying under on slow days.
For me, every day is a pretty strict budget day, but I’m especially thrifty on the days I’m not meeting up with people or don’t have anything planned. One of the easiest areas to save on is food. A lot of days I limit my food budget to about $3 a day. While this doesn’t seem like much, when you break down your grocery purchases and usage it’s a pretty easy cap to meet. What this does for me is relieve any stress of overspending when I want to do something—like snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef or going on a night out with friends or to dinner. The money you save on quiet days gives you the freedom to spend what you like on occasion without added stress.
5. Go for that run.
When traveling, you don’t necessarily put a focus on taking time to exercise, but it is incredibly important for both your physical and mental health that you do. Running is an easy go-to of mine that you can do literally anywhere, and it comes with the bonus of becoming more familiar with your new area. If you aren’t a big runner, then make sure you pick up hobbies that keep you active, and you can commit to doing regularly. Hiking is another favourite of mine, which can usually be done for free, and in the right spots also provides Insta-worthy landscapes. The point is, keep yourself moving.
6. Say "Yes"
The best experiences I've had whilst traveling have been the ones I've least expected. You set out to do one thing, you're in the right place at the right time, you meet someone new, and suddenly you're at a private wine tasting night with sommeliers, chefs, and wine distributors (full story to come in a later post). That night, and in every similar experience, there's been a part of me screaming that for some reason I shouldn't. "I can't possibly intrude," "Talking with a large group of strangers is out of my comfort zone," or even just "I don't belong here." But sometimes you need to buck up, tell your insecurities to screw off, and reap the rewards of your bravery.
***All that being said, ignoring your own insecurities is not to be mistaken for ignoring situational red flags. If you feel unsafe, don't ignore your instincts and put yourself in a dangerous situation.
7. Recognize Unicorns
Obviously I’m not telling you to check every farm you pass by for that one horse with a horn. What I’m referring to are the incredible experiences that you come upon, like the one I vaguely described above, that make you take a step back and wonder how the hell you ended up there. Make a point of recognizing that you’re some place incredible, and make sure you’re completely present for the entire experience. Take note of every little detail, no matter how small it may seem, because those are the moments you’re going to look back on most when you think about your trip. Those experiences are the entire reason for traveling, the world is meant to amaze you, and you, in turn, are meant to be amazed. Fully experience the people, the culture, the nature, the food, the wine, the art—whatever it was that inspired you to go in the first place.
Whether you’re a die-hard traveler, an occasional adventurer, or you’re just researching for your first trip, these tips should help make your experience easier and more rewarding. Once you’ve adopted the travel lifestyle, the way you live abroad seeps into your day to day life at home, and you tend to find new or increased appreciation for the world around you. Happy travels, wherever they may take you, and stay inspired!