If you’re dreaming about quitting your job and leaving the grind behind to travel the world for an indefinite period of time, there are a few important things you need to take into consideration before making this life-changing decision!
This year is the 7th year of my life on the road. It seems like it was a lifetime ago when I made the decision to become a nomad (read here why I decided to leave the grind behind). I don’t regret my choice and I feel blessed that I had the courage and the opportunities to create this lifestyle for myself. However, it doesn’t mean that I’ve been constantly in a state of delirious happiness.
A lot of people misinterpret what it means to travel for an indefinite amount of time. When you look at Instagram or Facebook, the life of a (long-term) traveler seems like paradise. Well, yeah, I wouldn’t take photos of myself with my head in the toilet pot whenever I suffer from food poisoning but you get the picture. We only want to share the good on social media, not the bad.
I understand why travelers and travel bloggers mainly share the fabulous moments of their lives. Our intention is to inspire people, entertain them with our photos and stories, make our followers dream about life’s possibilities and show them how to make those dreams come true.
This is one of the reasons why Niko and I started this Journal but I’d also like to share the reality of long-term travel. Before you decide to quit your job and leave everything behind to embark on a long-term journey, you should be aware of the following things:
* A long-term trip isn’t one endless relaxing holiday
There’s a big difference between going on a trip for a few weeks or months and traveling for an indefinite period of time. Unless you have created something that gives you a good passive income, there will come a time during your travels when you’ll have to stop somewhere to work.
It’s true that you can travel for a very long time on a tiny budget (read our tips here) but unless you work, your savings will eventually disappear. When that happens, you won’t have many choices. First, you could try to see how long you can keep going without money. We’ve done this before and although it’s quite a thrill of traveling without money, it’s also very rough and we wouldn’t recommend it! Your best (and only) option is to get out there and find a job.
If you got some useful skills, you can find work anywhere. I did many different jobs over the years, from waitressing, housekeeping and teaching to working on a sheep farm and picking fruits. There were a few jobs that I really didn’t like (cleaning toilets wasn’t the paradise I had in mind when I was dreaming about traveling the world) but I to suck it up and do it if I wanted some money to continue my “endless holiday”.
Read Everything you need to know about finding a job abroad (don’t worry, there are way more fun jobs out there than cleaning toilets)
You could also work online. Thanks to the evolution of technology, you can now become a ‘Digital Nomad’. This means getting an online job and working from anywhere in the world as long as you have a decent wifi connection. This is how Niko and I make an income nowadays. We both work as online teachers and I do some extra freelance work online, such as developing websites, writing articles, etc.
Are you interested in becoming an online teacher? Read our Ultimate Guide to Online Teaching!
However, there are also limits to the lifestyle of a digital nomad. You’ll constantly be in search of a good wifi connection because no internet means no income. As online teachers, we have to keep our schedule in mind so we can’t just go anywhere whenever we want to. We need a quiet base where we can teach without any interruptions, whether they are caused by people or power cuts.
Even if you have a well-established online business or a lot of freelance work, you’ll have to put in the hours of work. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to work outside near a swimming pool in a warm destination instead of inside a grey office but if you want to create a steady stream of income, you’ll have to be disciplined and work hard on that online business or portfolio.
And don’t think that a (travel) blog will make you rich quickly! Way too many people underestimate what it means to be a successful (travel) blogger! All the bloggers I know who “made it” and earn good money from their blog worked their asses off! They spent more time in front of their laptops (40+ hours per week) than the time they spent on traveling.
If you want to travel the world for an indefinite period of time, don’t expect it to be one endless holiday or you will be deeply disappointed! Be willing to work, whether it is by receiving free food and board in exchange for volunteering or by making money through a local or online job. If you don’t like this idea then you should keep your day job (apply for another one if your current job makes you unhappy) and go on short trips instead.
Teaching online in Turkey
* Long-term travel affects your relationships
Embarking on a long-term adventure will inevitably alter the relationships you’ve built with family and friends at home. In the beginning, you won’t feel the effects of this so much as everyone will be curious and excited to follow your adventures. You’ll probably stay a lot in touch with your parents, your siblings and your close friends, thanks to apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype,… but as the days, months and eventually years go by, you’ll notice a change.
I used to have a strong circle of friends when I was still living in Belgium. Throughout the years I stayed in touch with most of them and whenever we meet up, it seems like we’ve never been apart. However, some friendships that I was convinced would stay strong, have slowly faded into a memory. I wasn’t there when they needed me and for some people, out of sight means out of mind. It hurts when this happens, I’ve shed a lot of tears over it but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
I can’t really blame those old friends for leaving my life. I left theirs, at least physically. I’ve often felt guilty about it and sometimes I still do. I can’t always be there when they are going through a rough time and I also miss out on a lot of positive events in their lives, such as weddings or when they have a baby. For me, this is the hardest part of living a nomadic lifestyle, being absent from the people that I love.
The bond I have with my family is different of course. They won’t disappear out of my life that easily. I’m still in touch with my mother and my sister on a regular basis. But I often miss them and sometimes I wish that I could spend more time with them. Especially with my niece. She was 3 years old when I left Belgium and now she’s becoming a teenager. I feel that I missed out on a huge part of her life and I can’t make up for that.
It’s not that easy to fly to my home country on a regular basis. I know that I shouldn’t feel guilty as I’ve had some very open and honest conversations about this with my family and they fully support me on this unusual path I chose in life but there are times when I feel homesick and I just want to hug my mum, go for a coffee with my sister, play games with my niece and spend some real quality time with them.
Of course, you’re going to meet many new people during your travels and form new friendships. Travel makes you connect with people more quickly but one day your time in a place will be over and you’ll have to say goodbye. Then it’ll be the same as with the friends you left at home. You’ll stay in touch but you won’t know when or where you’ll see each other again and they might fade into a sweet memory along with the trip you made together.
Changing relationships are an inevitable part of life, not just a consequence of choosing a life of travel so this shouldn’t stop you from making the decision to travel the world. I just want you to know that the road can become pretty lonely at times. To build a close relationship with someone, you have to invest time in that person, time that you don’t always have if you often wander around. You’ll have to be prepared to say goodbye as often as you say hello. It’s impossible to predict how travel will change your life and your relationships, you’ll just have to trust in the course of life. Que sera sera…
Friends from Belgium who came to visit me in France. I miss these lovely people!
* Traveling won’t solve your problems
A lot of people think their lives will be one big adventure once they start traveling the world and that the problems they were facing at home will disappear into thin air. I understand that when you are unhappy, you want to make changes. But there’s a big difference between going away for a little while to clear your mind and running away, thinking you can leave your unhappiness and troubles forever behind.
Traveling can be like taking a painkiller. It soothes your aches and pains for a while, makes you even forget that they were there in the first place. But painkillers don’t cure disease and illnesses. They just give a temporary relief. The same applies to traveling if you’re using it to escape from problems.
The root of your unhappiness lays within yourself. Traveling won’t magically make your problems go away. You can escape your pain for a little while by going to a tropical island and not think too much about the past or future. Being in a new environment will raise your spirit and will help you place things into a new perspective. But the truth is, whatever you are running away from will eventually catch up with you.
This happened to me during my second year of travel. I was living in a hostel in a small hippy community in Australia. On the outside, everything seemed perfect. I was surrounded by tropical forests, had good people around me, had a fun gardening job that provided me with some extra pocket money and I was living the ‘free life’. But I wasn’t experiencing the happiness that I was hoping for.
I wasn’t emotionally or mentally free from my past and pain. Nothing could fill that empty space within me, not even the thrill of being in exotic destinations. It wasn’t until I took matters into my own hands by asking people for help and making the changes within myself that I started feeling happy and free. Traveling had nothing to do with my healing process, I was the one who decided to take responsibility and solve my issues.
Traveling the world is an amazing thing but remember, it’s not the solution to your problems. If you want to travel in order to escape life, you’d better solve your personal issues first, otherwise, you’re going to hit rock bottom. If you choose to travel in order to improve yourself, enrich your life experiences and broaden your horizons, then you’re traveling with the right mindset.
“ The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” Alain de Botton
* Don’t underestimate the lifestyle of a long-term traveler
Traveling is all fun, new and exciting in the beginning but after months and months of living out of your backpack, sleeping nights on hard floors, eating crappy and unhealthy food and constantly being unsure of what the next day will bring, there will come a day when you’ll feel mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.
It’s almost unthinkable for new adventure seekers that traveling can be very demanding and that it in some cases it can even lead to travel burnout. There’s a big difference between going on an adventurous vacation for a few weeks and constantly being on the road. Long term travel is not a holiday. Constantly meeting people, adapting to new cultures and having a zillion of new impressions in one single day asks a lot of energy, especially when you’re a highly sensitive person like me!
If on top of that, you don’t have a regular income, you’ll be constantly thinking about your budget (or worrying where the next paycheck will come from) and you’ll compromise your health by eating crappy food because it’s cheaper and spend nights sleeping on hard floors in cold or humid environments instead of paying for a soft bed in a hostel or hotel. Spending months without eating or sleeping properly can be quite damaging to the mind and body.
Niko and I used to travel a lot like this and although we’re happy to have experienced how it is to backpack on the cheap, we wouldn’t be able to do this continuously anymore. It was just way too demanding for our bodies and mental health!
Hitchhiking in the snow and rain isn’t always that fun…
That’s why we changed our ways a bit. We’re now traveling slowly from country to country and regularly taking a break from the road by renting a small flat where we can recharge for a few weeks or months at a time. We work a lot online so we can create a regular income to be able to buy proper and healthy food and to treat ourselves from time to time to a nice room in a guesthouse or hostel whenever we’re moving from place to place. Everything is enjoyed in moderation and traveling is not an exception. What’s the point of exploring new places when you feel so exhausted that you don’t enjoy them anymore?
Don’t underestimate the lifestyle of a long-term traveler. Don’t compromise your health for money because it will catch up with you one day. Do what feels right for you and often give yourself a break from the road. If your plan is to travel the world for an indefinite amount of time, you’ll have plenty of days ahead, no need to rush to tick off countries from your list. Enjoy the places you visit and stay healthy!
I wrote this post not to demotivate you but to make you aware that long-term travel is not an endless vacation. It’s not the ultimate freedom. It’s a lifestyle with all its ups and downs. You’ll have many magical and thrilling adventures that will make you feel so happy that you’ll feel invincible and deliriously in love with life. You’ll also encounter some challenging times in which you’ll question your decisions and wonder what the f**k you’re doing. But hey, most people go through these phases, no matter what they do or where they are.
So if you really have the desire to take the leap and travel the world, do it! The most important thing is that you do what makes you happy and enjoy the ride that is called life!