The Pros and Cons of Long-term Travel (an Honest Assessment)

Long-Term TravelI’m in the middle of packing for a 2-3 month trip to Mexico, which has me thinking a lot about the good and bad aspects of long-term travel. If you’ve thought about doing some extended travel, I thought you might appreciate an honest assessment of both positives and negatives.

This time around, things will be a little easier for us, since we spent 7 months traveling last year. We’re also headed back to a place we’ve already been to, which requires less research and planning than going somewhere completely new.

The Benefits of Long-term Travel

Let’s talk about the good aspects of extended travel first.

You may have heard some of this before. I wrote quite a bit about how much I enjoyed our travels last year, and for good reason. There is a lot to love about traveling long-term. It literally changed my life.

  • Weather arbitrage rocks. It’s 55 and rainy here in San Francisco today (maybe much colder where you live). Where we’re headed, it’s 85 and sunny. Any questions?

  • It can be much cheaper than living in the U.S. / U.K., or other expensive countries. The cost of living in Mexico for us is 1/3rd to 1/2 of our normal cost of living. Your results will vary, depending on where you’re from and where you travel to, but there are lots of great inexpensive places around the globe.

  • Immersion in another language speeds learning immensely. We learned a decent amount of Spanish last year in Mexico, and no doubt it was exponentially more than we would have learned at home. It takes far fewer hours to learn a language when surrounded by it.

  • Being in another place is exciting. Experiencing a new culture is exciting and invigorating. Seeing new sights, eating new foods and meeting new people will all awaken your senses, stretch your intellect and satisfy you in a way that you just can’t get at home.

  • Meeting new friends is easy on a long trip. We made a bunch of great new friends on our trip, and I’ve heard from other people that they experience the same thing when long-term traveling. People are just happier and more open to new connections when traveling or living abroad.

  • Long-term travel is much more relaxing than short-term travel. A week or two of vacation is great, but you’ll experience a whole new level of relaxation after a month or more away. Even better, that feeling can follow you for months after you get back home.

  • It can change your entire view of life. Long-term travel can help you reevaluate what’s important to you in life. It takes getting away from the daily grind and intense Western/American culture to clear your head and see things in a new light. I discovered the world of lifestyle design while on my trip and haven’t looked back.

The Negatives of Long-term Travel

Now to the negatives of traveling long-term.

What, there are downsides to extended travel? Yes, definitely. In fact, some of these are reasons enough to keep some people from trying long-term travel at all. It can be uncomfortable and challenging. There are also some risks and costs involved.

  • Packing sucks. There’s no way around it for me. Packing for a long-term trip requires some forethought and sacrifice to make sure you take what’s essential without bringing too much.

    In addition to packing for the trip, subletting your apartment or house while you’re gone means you’ll be packing up your home as well. We’re in the middle of that now, and it’s definitely a lot of work.

    We’re renting our place furnished, which cuts down on some of the work, but we still have to remove all of our clothes and personal effects. It probably takes us 2-3 full days to get everything ready. Last year (our first time packing for a long trip), it probably took more like a week. We’ve eliminated a lot of “stuff” from our lives that we didn’t need, so packing is getting easier.

  • Logistics are time consuming. Making flight arrangements, booking accommodations and getting visas and paperwork in order can take a lot of time. There’s not much getting around it either. You can always travel without reservations, but I’m not that adventurous and it still doesn’t eliminate all the work.

  • Traveling with a dog takes extra work. If you want to bring Fido or Fluffy along (we’re bringing our 11-year-old Vizsla named Kinsey along this trip), be prepared for some additional considerations. You’ll need pet-friendly accommodations and special airline arrangements (and extra time at the airport). You’ll also probably need to visit a veterinarian within 72 hours of flying or border crossing, and your pet may even be subject to quarantine, depending on the country.

  • You will miss out on some things “back home.” I mentioned in the post from earlier this week that little problem of not being able to exist in two places at once. That unfortunately means that you’re probably going to miss out on some things at home, like birthdays, parties, special events, etc.

  • You can become disconnected from friends and colleagues over the long haul. If you travel for an especially long time, or make a habit of being away from home for extended trips, you’ll eventually start to lose connections with some friends and colleagues. It depends of course on how close you are to people, but there’s no doubt that the distance can weaken or break some relationships.

  • There are some risks associated with subletting, prepaying for accommodations, etc. We haven’t had any major issues so far (knock wood), but I’m well aware of certain risks we’re subject to by living this lifestyle. For example, prepaying for accommodations internationally and subletting our apartment could cost money or damage to our property. Common sense and checking references can help, but there’s no way to be 100% protected.

  • Travel will disrupt your work. If you’re trying to work remotely, be aware that the logistics of travel will keep you from getting as much done as you might be used to. Once you understand this, you can plan around the travel and make your life easier. If you settle into a place for a week or more, you’ll be able to get in a groove again after a couple of days.

All Things Considered, Is Long-term Travel Worth It?

For me, there’s no question that long-term travel is worth it. I think the answer depends on a number of factors though, including where you’re traveling to, who’s going with you and how long you’ll be gone. I would want to live in Siberia alone for two years (or Houston for a year, which I did back in 2001).

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of long-term travel? Is it worth it to you? Tell us in the comments!

photo by misselisabeth

I'm Corbett Barr, founder of Fizzle and Palapa and co-host of The Fizzle Show. This is where I write about building businesses, living the good life, and doing work that matters. More about me »

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