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Long-term solo travel and three mistakes I wish I avoided

long term sleeper train

Long-term solo travel. I wouldn’t call it easy. Being homeless and living on the road is hard work!

By my sixth month, my travel enthusiasm began fluctuating. I was still thrilled by the unending travel adventure I was living; but also, starting to feel run down from shouldering the constant responsibility of it. Being it was my first attempt at long-term travel however, I didn’t expect things to be 100% smooth sailing. I knew I would hit rough spots and battle demons. But had I planned better, I’ve no doubt my ride would’ve been smoother.

Here are three mistakes I wish I avoided…

1)    Budgeting for long-term travel

 Some folk plan their budget before they travel. Not me. In Korea, I’d proudly socked away my earnings in a bank, feeling pretty well off. My brilliantly crippled budget plan:

a.  Don’t spend extravagantly

b.  The cheaper you go, the longer you can hold out.

Duh, right?  Immediately when I hit the road, my money turned to liquid. It spilled and leaked into my purchases of small and cheap things. My financial red flag rose when I noticed I was going to the ATM more times than I should. Three ATM withdrawals in under a week in India?! That’s a problem. Call in rehab. I wasn’t luxuriating at the Marriott, nor was I taxiing around town or partying at nightclubs.

On the contrary, I was getting by cheaply. So what was jail-breaking my funds? The culprits:  a ‘cheap’ SIM card plan of 500 minutes (way more than I needed), an 8 GB USB stick, a travel mouse for my laptop, some bangles, the list goes on…

Advice:

Beware of the “little” and “cheap” purchases. They add up! While you can’t really scrimp on hotels and transportation, you can watch yourself on the extras you buy. Also, keep a record of expenses to track your spending and have physical markers to signal, when you’ve passed its limit. Physical markers you can use might be a daily spending allowance or allowing yourself limited ATM withdrawals and money exchanges.

Read my post: How do you Budget for Long-term Travel

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2)   Not planning for my trip or knowing what I wanted

Bereft  was the feeling accompanying me each time I parted ways with a traveler I’d shared time with. Why? It wasn’t the empty chair across the table at dinner time nor the loss of giggles over shared foibles of the day.  It’s that two heads in planning are easier (and quicker) than one!

Deep inner freak out is where I landed, on the night before leaving Bali and my new travel buddy, Autum. I’d grown used to sharing the decision-making process and it was a relief not having to shoulder all the responsibility. Returning to Thailand alone, I now felt lost. Wind blowing on the tips of my toes, I was stoned with a look of, ‘I’m here. Where do I go next?‘  My mind was blank.  Worse yet, the options were endless and my desire wasn’t speaking up. The idea to go to Ko Tao for scuba diving certification, was a vague and random afterthought I hadn’t taken seriously. Until now…

Going solo can force ‘choice-overload’ and inner freak outs.  To admit to yourself, you’ve got no clue what you want in life, at the moment is yeah, stressful.  You learn to figure it out, but it’s a bumpy ride. Yes, I was flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and winging it; screaming my entire way down.

Advice:

Get out those “buckets” & “lists” and plan a general route of ‘ Countries you want to see’ and simple reasons as to why. Create a goal or project for yourself to inject meaning into your travels. This will help if you ever feel like you’ve lost your direction or traveling feels meaningless. Keep your route flexible for adding-on travel partners or taking trip detours.

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3)  Dealing with feelings of Homelessness

Living travel hobo for months straight was something I found difficult. Bouncing from country to country, living from day-to-day and making decisions on the spot… all of this gets tiring.  After a spending a long time on the road, you just want to unpack your bag!

Feeling fried, harried and stressed, l longed for a firm mattress, a clean room and a bit of pampering. I wanted to commit to a place, connect to it and take my time lazily getting to know it.

I cast my anchor when guesthouses felt comfortable, but I was reluctant doing this as much as it was needed. Unfortunately, there’s a common plight among many travelers (myself included); there’s always undercurrents of “Gotta go, gotta move, gotta see and conquer” mentality.

Unless you can find or create a personal connection with a place, most travelers seek short-term stays, anywhere from 3-5 days, maybe a week tops!

Advice:

Give yourself a forced break from the road. Create a clean and safe home somewhere for at least 5 days, but definitely shoot for longer. Splurge on a nice hotel,  an apartment or  spacious timeshare rental if you need to. Apartment rentals or even swaps can occasionally be found on places like craigslist.com.  Timeshares can be found for low prices and provide added luxury and amenities to relax and rejuvenate you. Give into yourself and those little comforting crutches, as many times as you feel you need.

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What are some mistakes you wished you avoided on a long-term solo trip?

 

78 Comments

  1. Personally I couldnt last half as long as you. I was living in Amsterdam and got depressed by the first week since I didnt feel I had a ‘purpose’ beyond waking up, finding another cafe/ restaurant/ canal to enjoy… and mind you I was getting ready to start a new job! My other tips on this though, is that if you’re not the kind that can go non-stop on end, a hub-and-spoke type travel may be more your thing. It sure is my tried and tested (and preferred!) mode of travelling. http://glamouroustraveller.com/2013/01/03/so-youve-decided-to-start-travelling-the-world-now-what/

  2. John says:

    This article you have is sign that you are learning from your past experiences. And it is really a good thing for all the aspiring travelers and readers to learn from your experiences as well. I guess the key here is planning for the worst to come along when your’e out on long journey.

  3. Waegook Tom says:

    Ahh, budgeting! I think people often budget for transport, accommodation, food…but they do forget the little things. Extra suncream, toiletries that will need replacing, batteries, the occasional souvenir. It does add up.

    Staying put in a place is also something every long-term traveller needs to do once in a while, if only to regain a sense of home and sanity.

    • @Tom: Yes, you’re correct! All those little things totally add up and it’s sneaky too. As for staying put for a while ; that’s a great recommendation. The fact that I didn’t give into that more often worked me haggard.

  4. Cathy Ly says:

    Oh man, great topic!! I wish I did not spend as much on accommodations and honestly took more chances with hitchhiking – spent way too much dough on transportation!!!

    • @Cathy: I know sometimes, I want to cut down my spending so much I begin to risk my own health and safety. In many cases, its turned out well, but it just takes one that doesn’t. As a girl, be careful when you hitch hike.

  5. BEATRICE says:

    i love love love reading your stuff, they are funny, entertaining and so informative and endearing! I’m soon going to be going on an adventure myself as somewhat of a solo traveler to South korea. Anyway really great…

    • @Beatrice: Apologies for the delayed response and thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment. I wish you the best on your next adventure~ fighting!

  6. Devon says:

    This are great trips. I, too, have struggled with slowing down from time to time and not feeling guilty if I spend an extra day someplace that’s compfortable, or if every day isn’t jam-packed with sightseeing. But I try to remind myself that a RTW trip is a marathon not a sprint, and if I don’t have a few days of rest, I will burn out and not fully enjoy each of my days on the road.

    Also, I spent WAAAY too much money on my phone. It is a crutch for me and a way to feel connected to my friends at home. But they have email! When I get to Asia in January, I am cutting that off…

    • @Devon: I love what you said about the RTW trip being a marathon and not a sprint! Exactly!!! Although I admit, it’s hard to break a bad habit, sometimes. That was one of my difficulties. tee hee.

  7. Leyla says:

    Excellent tips! Number 3 particularly resonated – I was on the road for three years full-time and not having a home was one of the biggest challenges I faced. I beat by doing two things. First, I developed a strict routine – doing identical things when getting up and going to bed every day no matter where I was. It somehow strung the days together into a sense of place. The second thing was to stay a length of time in each country and allow myself to get to know it. On my backpacking trip across Africa, I stayed two months in South Africa and Ethiopia, and a month in Mozambique, Uganda, Eritrea and Tanzania. In Asia I spent two months in Shanghai and nearly a year in Thailand. That length of time allowed me to understand a culture and get under its skin, meeting people and living more like a local than a tourist. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • @Leyla: Awesome comment, Leyla! It’s wonderful that you got to stay in those places for that long. Women going complete nomad is something I’ve admired but still have to work through in budget and trust. I agree, the longer you can stay in a place, the more you get to understanding the culture and people. I like the tip about “doing identical things” and having a routine. That’s something I didn’t think about. Thanks for the insight from the experience of a long-term backpacker!

  8. Feather Ives says:

    1. I wish I had traveled to the cheaper places first. I spent way too much money at the start of my trip. I had enough to last me at least 9 months, but only ended up staying on the road 5. One of the reasons my cash didn’t last as long as I’d planned is reason number 2.

    2. I made the mistake of thinking that a lot of my trip would consist of WWOOFing, and I wouldn’t have to spend that much money. I had planned to WWOOF for 7-8 weeks of my trip, but only ended up WWOOFing for two. With WWOOFing you can go days or even the entire stay without spending any of your money because room and board are provided.

    3. I also made the mistake of thinking I’d be Couchsurfing more. That also didn’t work out especially once I discovered how much I love cheap Italian hostels (11-12 euro).

    4. Also, I wasn’t aware that my iPhone would still work if I could find a wifi connection. I only found that out here in Korea. I wish I had known. I was paying for my iPhone during my trip and could barely use it. AT&T didn’t tell me that for $10 a month, I could put it on hold. I would have gladly done that and used wifi to access internet and maps etc.

    I will do it again, and I will learn from my mistakes. I feel a blog of my own coming on. xo

    • @ Feather: You’ve experienced some great lessons! The budget part does kind of kill it, at times. I was in Asia/S.E.A. where things are much cheaper than Europe and I was watching each dollar. So I’m sure watching your budget in Europe must’ve been suffocating! It’s like cha-ching! cha-ching! everywhere you go. Also, staying on a local couch is one way to taste the flavor of the culture but sometimes, you want your own space/bed. Europe does have a nice hostel scene. I don’t blame you and yes, that adds up too. Sometimes, you gotta splurge.

  9. Great tips Christine! I ran into the same issues at the end of my year long travel. Too many things to choose from, in the end I just got lazy. I do recommend taking a break, but do it longer. I took a month off from traveling in Chiang Mai. Hired myself an apartment to avoid the hostel life, settled down for a while and got to know the place. It was just what I needed!

    • @Jarmo: Renting an apartment is a perfect way to beat that homeless feeling! I had always considered doing that in Thailand for a couple of months, but when the thought arose on the road, I got to feeling a little cheap. In the long run, I think it would’ve been the cheaper option than a hostel and I’d be able to laze around the city and get to know it more.

  10. Bali says:

    I like the picture with all ears: D Traveling solo is not a bad thing because you can visit everything you want and it is quiet.

    • @Bali: Don’t worry- ‘sunny side to solo travel’ post will come soon and you’re very correct- solo allows you to take your time imbibing on your dreams with a country. I’m sure this post must make solo travel look harder than it is and that’ s not my intention. There are many positive sides to solo traveling indeed.

  11. Hannah says:

    Great tips, C! I wish I were brave enough to travel solo. We should be travel buddies one of these days!

  • […] both, winging my travels through Southeast Asia and India and having extended my travel time. The fatigue of long-term travel, winging plans and budget crunching was starting to set […]

  • […]  Read Long-term solo travel and three mistakes I wish I avoided […]

  • […] When I was living in New York, working in television, I’d travel to/live in different states anywhere from a day to a month. Sometimes, the relocating was constant and home was just a place to do my laundry. I liked that, because I could feel nomadic, while also knowing there was greater purpose and bigger vision that I was working towards with others. To collaborate, work with others and contribute my skills towards a goal is fulfilling to me.  Backpacking for seven months through Asia/Southeast Asia, I didn’t have that strength of vision or collaboration process and there were times I felt like a tumbleweed, without cares or goals. There are times, traveling non-stop without a plan, feels empty and meaningless to me. I learned a lot about myself through this and If I did another long-term backpacking trip, I’d do it differently. […]

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