5 challenges of long-term travel and how to cope

Does the thought of quitting your 9-5 job, packing a bag, and booking a one-way ticket to travel the world sound appealing? While in many ways it is, there are also a lot of challenges that go along with long-term travel. Learning how to deal with these hardships can be a big help in making an around the world trip, career break, or extended vacation a lot more enjoyable.

Challenge 1: Lack of privacy

Unless you’re extremely wealthy, chances are you’re going to be traveling on a tight budget if you plan on being away from home for more than a few weeks. Most likely, you will be staying in shared accommodations like hostels or volunteer homes and sleeping on people’s couches, leaving you with very little privacy.

So, what should you do? Many times hostels rent out single rooms that can allow you some alone time on a budget. While you’ll still pay more than for a shared dorm, it can be worth the splurge once in awhile. You can also try looking for sublet listings in the area or searching Airbnb for cheap rooms for short and long-term rent.Challenge 2: You feel homesick

While you may believe that traveling will keep you too distracted to miss home, think again. Chances are, at some point you’re going to crave something from the life you once lived, whether it be the people, the food, an activity you used to do, or just being able to lounge in your bathrobe while eating cereal from the box.

When traveling, I usually carry around photos of my friends and family back home, not only for myself but to show locals who are curious about my life in New York. It’s also a good idea to purchase an affordable calling plan, such as Skype or PennyTalk, to make calls when you feel like you need to hear someone’s voice. I’ve also found that keeping a blog, or at least an active Facebook page, helps because friends and family can follow my trip and comment, which makes me feel more connected to them.

If it’s a food you miss, going to the more touristy areas and trying to find the Western-style restaurants can help you find what you’re looking for. While in Ghana, I missed pizza so much that I actually took a 3 hour bus ride to get some, no joke. While I enjoyed trying local cuisine in Africa and getting to know the culture, I was at the point where I would have literally run through fire if I knew there was a McDonalds or Pizza Hut waiting on the other side.

Whatever it is you miss, try to recreate it. But always remember how lucky you are to be having an experience abroad and to not let homesickness keep you from missing out on unique experiences.

Challenge 3: You miss your normal diet and fitness routine

This is my biggest challenge when traveling for a long time. At home I’m very regimented in my workout routine and there are certain healthy food staples that I eat on a regular basis. Depending where you are this can be challenging, but not impossible.

Your first stop should be a local market or supermarket where you can find an array of unprocessed foods. While they might not have exactly what you’re looking for they may have something similar. For example, in Ghana I really missed apples, which weren’t always available. I started eating mangoes to subside my cravings and realized I actually liked them more than apples. Also, try to book accommodations with kitchens so that you can prepare your own meals and choose your own ingredients.

While you may not want to waste precious time at a local gym or late nights out partying are making it difficult to wake up, change the way you look at exercise. Don’t think of what you’re doing as a fitness routine but as a way to see a city from a new perspective. Bike from one town to another, go jogging through a picturesque park, swim at a local beach, or take a unique fitness class that you might not take at home and look at it as a cultural experience. Another tip: limit your use of transportation and try walking and biking. Not only will you save money and reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll burn calories.

Challenge 4: Quick relationships become the norm

Regularly traveling from city to city and always meeting new people can be a lot of fun…until you have to say goodbye. However, goodbyes become the norm when you are globetrotting, and it can be difficult to part ways with so many great people.

With this, one important thing is to change your outlook on the situation. While it isn’t fun, you’ve got to think about how lucky you are to have gotten to experience a new place with such interesting people. Take a lot of photos, make memories together, and at the end of it all exchange contact information. With all of the technology and social media platforms we now have, keeping in touch with people all over the world is easy. I can’t even count how many times I’ve actually planned other trips with or gone to visit people I met while backpacking. So, don’t be discouraged. And at the very least, you’ve made a new pen-pal.

Challenge 5: The actual traveling part of traveling gets exhausting

While getting to roam around the globe and see different places is fun, the actual means of getting to these places can get old. Sitting on long train rides, waiting in line to get through security at the airport, and stuffing yourself into a crammed bus are hard enough, but when you’re doing it regularly it can become downright draining.

Since teleporting is not yet an option (but probably will be soon at the rate we’re going), the only thing to do is to schedule vacations away from your vacation. Take a week (or longer) off from moving around and stay put in one town. While many people want to see as many different cities as possible, sometimes it’s better to see less places for more time to really get to know the culture.

Pack something that reminds you of home – International travel tip

No matter where the destination, chances are you’re going to be out of your usual comfort zone when traveling abroad. When I embarked on a two-week trip across parts of Europe last year, I began to feel homesick after a couple days and wasn’t enjoying my “trip of a lifetime.”

Fortunately, I discovered that my friends had tucked a few pictures of themselves in my bag before I left. This gave me a little piece of home to carry along with me.

Therefore, when leaving home for a period of time, it’s a good idea to bring something familiar with you, to quell any sadness. Whether it’s a picture, blanket, or favorite snack pack, a comfort item can handily ward off being homesick.

Send food! – What American snacks cost in the UK

Anyone who’s ever lived abroad for a long period of time knows that one of the “comforts of home” you miss the most is food. When I went to university in Liverpool, I stuffed my suitcase annually with macaroni and cheese, microwaveable popcorn and Twinkies (not because I liked Twinkies, but because they were mentioned on “The Simpsons” and my roommates wanted to know what they were).

In international cities like London, things are a little easier. Specialty stores carry all manner of American goods — in fact, you can even find some at Selfridges. But, in case you thought that meant students and expats don’t need care packages stuffed with their favorite snacks, get a load of the prices. For example: The jars of Jif you see above are £4.75. That’s $7.58 in US dollars (as converted by Google, disclaimer here), which I think we can all agree is some mighty fancy peanut butter! Wait till you see the Lucky Charms.

I snapped all these at Selfridges on January 28, 2010. Send your loved ones a cheap box of their favorite American goodies today.
This trip was paid for by VisitBritain, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own.

5 ways to thwart homesickness

As every traveler knows, sacrificing the comforts of home can be difficult. Strange foods, inclement weather, and lying in bed at night without the one you miss the most (your dog) can all lead to the ruination of your vacation or trip. Particularly when you’re somewhere very different from your usual surroundings, the pangs of craving the ease of your normal routine and the desire to share your new experiences with loved ones back home can be crippling.

It’s a good idea to address the possibility that you may get homesick before you leave. Here are 5 ways to thwart homesickness — things you can do before and during your trip to help stave off the blues.

1. Photographs. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in this digital age, many of us don’t carry photographs with us anymore at all. It’s nice to have something tactile with you that you can take out on the top of a mountain or on a boat in the middle of the sea. On the flip side, having a hard copy will keep you from sitting in your room stalking your loved ones’ Facebook pages.2. Talk. My friends who’ve been solo backpacking in foreign lands all say the same thing: you’ll never feel more alone in a crowd than when you don’t speak the language and nobody knows you. It’s fortunate for us that many countries in the world speak English, but there are still plenty of places where you can go and be totally linguistically helpless. After a day or two of struggling to communicate, you may feel like shutting up altogether — but don’t. Think about it as developing your non-verbal skills. If you don’t continue interacting with the people around you, you will almost definitely get bored and/or sad. And you will want to go home.

3. Keep moving. In the great tradition of “fake it till you make it,” keeping yourself occupied means less time to pine away. It’s that simple. Just get out of that hotel bed, put down that phone, and go experience something, even if you don’t want to.

4. Limit your contact with home. While cutting off communication altogether is unnecessary, those from whom you are away are bound to respect your need to be just that: away. Constantly reading e-mails may make you worried about the office, constantly calling home will get you too involved in the day-to-day stuff which can probably be dealt with without you or wait until you get back. If saying “goodnight” to your honey is your crutch, go for it, but don’t waste your precious sleep with any of that “you hang up first” nonsense. Say “goodnight” and rest up for another exciting day.

5. Bring yourself a comfort item.
Nobody has to know that you still sleep with a nightlight or a teddy bear, or that you deeply love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (which you can totally make with most hotel coffee-makers), or that you like to watch your dvd of Mary Tyler Moore reruns when you’re lonely — but these are all things that are easy to bring along on almost any trip. A simple thing like your favorite trinket on the nightstand can help you feel grounded when you are far from home.

Got more ideas? How do you keep from getting homesick on the road?

Homesick with a Polish Cold

[Note: I’m traveling through Central and Eastern Europe through the month of October.]

I feel comfortable, now, writing about homesickness, because I’m no longer homesick. But for the past week or so – since leaving home – I have been, and it has hammered on my ego as a traveler.

I shouldn’t have these feelings, I think – I’m supposed to be enjoying this life on the road. But life on the road can be hard, and the uncertainties and confusions blindside you when you’re weak and tired and lost. When you’re at home, these road blocks seem romantic and adventurous, but when you’re actually there — with twenty pounds of gear on your back — confused, cold, and hungry, it’s real. And then you wonder why you left your comfortable bed, hot shower, fully-stocked fridge – why is it that I wanted to travel?

When you’re away from home – it doesn’t matter if you’re 8 miles away at work, or 8,000 away in Poland – you begin to dream of all the things you would be doing if you were at home. It’s usually productive things, like exercising, cleaning the kitchen, or mowing the lawn. Because when you’re homesick, anything is better than what you’re currently doing. But it doesn’t work this way. When you do eventually get home, you fall back into your routine and never go outside of that box. This is why the fridge rarely gets cleaned, and your running shoes still have near-perfect tread. The quicker you realize the gravity of this situation, the quicker you will stop thinking of those things you wish you could be doing but wouldn’t be doing anyway, and instead start enjoying your time away – focusing on what’s happening right now, even if you are at work, or things aren’t going your way. You are, after all, in Poland – might as well enjoy it. But this is easier said than done.

On the road, something as simple as a trip to the store for cold medicine for your girlfriend becomes an ordeal, where you speak absolutely no Polish, the clerk no English, so communication is broken down to its simplest form. Single. Word. Sentences. “Medicine? Drugs? Cold?” You pantomime your way through a conversation — like a game of grocery-store charades – clutching your throat, faking a sneeze. And even then they’re still not sure what you mean, so you’re given a box of Aspirin and sent on your way. If I was at home, you think, I’d pop into Walgreen’s, pick up some Sudafed, and be on my way. As soon as you start thinking this way, you become homesick. That is homesickness – a longing for the routines and easiness of home. And there’s absolutely no escaping it no matter how big your travel ego.

It can, however, be overcome, and overcome it you will if you travel long enough. Thirteen days is how long it took me this time – not even halfway into the trip. I’m no longer thinking of the things I would be doing if I were home but wouldn’t do anyway. I’m rolling with the punches, confused, still hungry, and acting like a fool in the corner supermarket. And I don’t miss Walgreen’s.

But then again, I’m not the one who has caught a Polish cold.