5 challenges of long-term travel and how to cope

privacy 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.

VIDEO: Many steps around the world


A new video by Japanese filmmaker Takayuki Akachi shows people taking steps all around the world. Sounds simplistic, because it is, but the video shows a beautiful slice-of-life from around the globe. His concept is described as “collecting the steps from all over the world and playing a music with the steps.” The artist specializes in a “lone backpacker” style of filming that allows him to travel without a film crew. This isn’t his first round-the-world video effort: last year he made the stop-motion Traveling Denim, documenting a pair of jeans over two years and 50 countries. Check out all of his videos on Vimeo.

Music by Dulo, video sponsored by Onitsuka Tiger sneakers. MANY STEPS from Takayuki Akachi on Vimeo.

Grantourismo blogger on guidebooks and travel writing

Grantourismo on guidebooks and travel writingLast week I posted a Q & A with blogger Lara Dunston and her husband and partner Terence Carter about their travel project and blog Grantourismo. In addition to good advice about renting a vacation apartment and getting “under the skin” of a place when traveling, they had a lot of interesting things to say about guidebooks, both from their experiences writing them and how they see travelers using them wrong.

Read on for more on the guidebook writing process, how you can use them best on vacation, the changing media landscape, and which bloggers and publications offer the best content for travelers.How did this project stem from your experiences as travel writers?
Grantourismo began as a personal travel project that developed from our frustrations, firstly, with our own work as travel writers, and secondly, with how many travelers rely so much on guidebooks. Terence and I wrote, updated or contributed to around 50 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, Footprints, Rough Guides, DK, and others, and what we loved most about guidebook writing was when we worked on a city guide and rented an apartment for a month or two and really got beneath the skin of the place.

So many writers who aren’t residents of a place ‘parachute in’ to a destination for a few weeks and do crazy 18-hour days ticking off sights/bars/restaurants etc in a frenzy and leave. We didn’t start travel writing to live like that. However, what we disliked was the tedious stuff – ensuring the post office was in the right spot on the map, checking bus timetables, etc. We’d also been doing lots of feature writing, especially profiles, for magazines and newspapers, and what we loved about that was experiencing places through their people.

What’s the difference between guidebook and feature writing?

Grantourism guidebooks travel writingWith guidebooks, unless Terence had a photography commission for the same book we were writing, we mostly traveled anonymously. As feature writers we could contact people, doors would open, and we’d have incredible experiences, and come away feeling like we’d really learnt something. For instance, for a story on Michelin-star chef Pierre Gagnaire’s Dubai restaurant, we spent a night in the kitchen, Terence cooking and me observing and notetaking and – Terence ended up cooking a dish for Pierre! Grantourismo was an attempt to develop a project that would give us the opportunity to have more of those kinds of experiences and have the best of both worlds, of guidebook and feature writing. We also wanted to inspire travelers to travel in the same way, to engage more with locals and explore their own interests when they travel. This desire grew out of a frustration with seeing how obsessed people were with their guidebooks and witnessing travellers miss out on amazing opportunities because they would only go to places their guidebooks recommended.

I’ll never forget going to a great little stand-up seafood tapas place in Barcelona and seeing a young American couple sitting on the doorstop next door frantically trying to figure out if it was in the guidebook. The place was heaving and it was full of locals! Just go in! There’s also another famous tapas bar in Barcelona which once had a great reputation but it fairly mediocre now but because it’s in every guidebook, people line up for it an hour before it opens. Yet there are 20 other better tapas bars in the surrounding streets! We’d rather see people leave their guidebooks closed occasionally, talk to locals more and pursue their interests. If you’re passionate about food and cooking, why not go to a place and do a cooking course, stay in a vacation rental and shop at the markets and cook? If you love a restaurant get tips on where to eat from the waiter, and if the restaurant is quiet, why not ask to see the kitchen and chat to the chef?

So can travelers still rely on guidebooks for basic info?
Guidebooks are great for background information on a wide variety of topics on a place. What’s the alternative? Lugging around half a dozen books on the history, politics, geography, culture etc of the destination? Or load those books onto a Kindle or iPad, although of course not all travelers can afford hi-tech gadgets or even want to take them to some destinations. The ‘front/back matter’ in guidebooks can usually be relied upon – sometimes the stuff is written by subject experts, or it’s written by authors who do a great deal of research, it’s fact-checked, and it doesn’t date quickly.

Where guidebooks can be unreliable on the other hand is in the perishable information – reviews of hotels, restaurants, shops, cafés, bars, their addresses, phone numbers, prices, opening times etc. It’s not necessarily the author’s fault. Businesses move or close down, things change. It’s the fault of the publisher and their long production schedules – sometimes a year or 18 months can pass from the time the author has done the research to the time the books hit the shops. Some places never change or change little, like small country towns, but cities like Shanghai or Dubai change constantly.

We once worked on a first edition guidebook that took two years from the time I submitted the manuscript and Terence submitted the photos to reaching the bookshops. I wrote the first edition of one guidebook and updated the second edition, but I know that book has since been reprinted twice without further updates. How can travelers rely on those books? In some cases, I think the publishers have a lot to answer for, particularly when new museums or significant sights would make a ‘Top 10’ list but haven’t been added.

Any guidebook series you do like for local recommendations?
We like niche guidebooks, such as Hedonist’s Guides, which uses authors that really know their stuff when it comes to restaurants, bars, and hotels.Hedonists also come in a cool hardcover book as well, so they don’t fall apart, and as iPhone apps that are updated much more frequently than the book.

This year, on our Grantourismo trip, we’ve been on a mission to find locally produced guidebooks in each place we’ve visited, and when we’ve tested out a book and loved it we’ve interviewed the publishers/editors and showcased the book on our site, such as the arty and rather philosophical ‘My Local Guide to Venice‘ and the straight-talking ‘Not for Tourists
in New York. We want to encourage travelers to look for these books because they bring a uniquely local flavor and multiple perspectives on their destinations, unlike the big mainstream global guidebook publishers where the authors’ personalities are never allowed to shine.

Grantourismo guidebooks travel writing
What can user-generated content like TripAdvisor offer travelers compared to traditional media?
I think user-generated content supplements books and travel features in newspapers/magazines but can never replace quality guidebook authorship or travel journalism. While user-generated content wins out in terms of currency (the reviews have dates), guidebook authors and travel journalists are professionals with expertise. It’s our job to assess hotels, restaurants, bars, sights, and so on. Having slept in thousands of hotels across all budget categories, eaten tens of thousands of meals at all kinds of restaurants, visited thousands of museums, etc, gives you a degree of experience and expertise that the average traveler who has 2 weeks (in the USA) or at most 4-8 weeks (in the UK/Australia/Europe) holiday can never hope to match. If a guidebook author tells me the XXX hotel is the best in Milan and a reviewer on Trip Advisor tells me the YYY hotel is the best, I know whose opinion I’m going to trust.

If the traveler writing on Trip Advisor focuses on describing in detail their very specific experience of a hotel or restaurant, that kind of information can be helpful when weighed up against other reviews by travelers and experts. Where it can be detrimental is when the Trip Advisor reviewer starts making claims about a certain hotel being the best in the city or the cheapest or friendliest or whatever. What I want to know is how many hotels have they stayed at or inspected to be able to compare their hotel to? A guidebook writer specializing on a destination might have stayed at a dozen hotels in that city over a number of years, and inspected 50 others. So when it comes to user-generated content, my main issue is with the authority of authorship. There are also plenty of games being played out behind the scenes with
manipulation of reviews (both positive and negative) of properties. In a recent destination we visited a local foodie who told us to simply ignore the top 10 places listed on Trip Advisor as they’re rubbish. And she was right. We’ve personally seen scathing reviews of hotels and restaurants that we know are some of our favourites in the world – so who are you going to trust? The user ‘britney_1537’ or a professional travel writer?

Where do you see travel journalism going?
I can’t see travel journalism in magazines or newspapers changing significantly because it hasn’t changed in its genre, form or structure a great deal at all. What has changed is that there are far more journalists working for broadsheets and travel magazine these days that are doing trips ‘courtesy of’ a tourism body or travel operator – and it’s apparent from the first paragraph, even if it’s not declared. There has definitely been a trend toward publications redefining and narrowing their focus and we’ve seen wonderful new niche travel publications born in the last year or so such as Wend and AFAR – a magazine after our own hearts and minds!

I can see traditional travel publications embracing more user-generated content in the way that some of the UK newspapers have been doing by incorporating reader’s travel writing and tips and linking to those on their main travel pages. I love how The Guardian in the UK engages its readers on Twitter and I dig the Twi-Trips that Benji Lanyado does, which are kind of mini-versions of that fantastic journey the Twitchhiker did that had us all engrossed in his journey halfway round the world relying totally on the hospitality of strangers.

I also think we’ll start to see more travel writers like Terence and I who have worked across traditional media platforms entering into direct relationships with companies as we have with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals and producing content on their own websites and blogs or on the company’s blog, as say, David Whitley has done for Round the World Flights in the UK. But it will only work if the writer can negotiate editorial control as we did with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals. As long as writers maintain their integrity and apply the same ethics they would to a story for a newspaper or magazine, it’s a good thing. But how many travel companies are willing to give writers this freedom? If you look at our last few posts on Cape Town and our first posts on Kenya – which are both reflective and critical – you have to ask yourself how many travel-related companies are willing to let writers produce this kind of content that doesn’t gloss over the situation on the ground?

How can travelers benefit from the changing media landscape?
Travellers can benefit by content that is more creative and less restricted by a publications editorial style or writing guidelines, by content that is more freewheeling in spirit. A perfect example is Pam Mandel who blogs at Nerd’s Eye View, who has a unique, intimate, chatty style of writing that wouldn’t work for a lot of newspapers for instance – but she’s heading off to Antarctica soon on a sponsored trip and I can’t wait to see how she brings her own singular brand of writing to that adventure. What’s important with these gigs, like Grantourismo, is that travel writers continue to be upfront, honest, critical and opinionated in their writing. They need to maintain their integrity and ethics. Travelers in turn need to expect that of the writers they’re reading – if they’re seeing ‘sponsored story’ or company widgets/logos on their blogs (both travel writers and bloggers), they need to look for an editorial policy. It’s only by writing critically that writers will win readers’ trust in the long term and projects like Grantourismo will succeed.

Check out more on Grantourismo on their blog and Twitter page.

All photos courtesy of Terence Carter.

On long-term travel, snobbery & judgmental blogging

If you read Gadling, there’s a half-decent chance that you read other travel blogs, too. Don’t worry. We’re cool having an open relationship. We read other sites, as well. Some have the financial backing of investors or media companies. Others are independent labors of love written by one or two people who enjoy travel, started putting words to HTML and hoped that someone would read the stories they shared. Many of the travel blogs that have been popping up lately focus on round-the-world (RTW) travel, career breaks and long-term (or, seemingly, permanent) travel. It’s that last category of traveler (and their corresponding blogs) that has begun to grind my gears.

I love travel. I assume you, a Gadling reader, loves travel. But is traveling all of the time – with no home base – really that fantastic? Furthermore, do people who adhere to that lifestyle have the right to belittle those with stable lives and jobs? There’s been a lot of idealizing of traveling permanently and, quite frankly, I find a lot of it condescending. It’s time for a reality check.One of the most well-trafficked sites dealing with long-term travel is Nomadic Matt. That’s also the name by which the site’s founder, Matt Kepnes, is known. Matt has been traveling virtually non-stop since 2005. At 29, he’s known very little of adult life beyond traveling. Which is why I was so insulted by his recent post, “Why We Travel,” on The Huffington Post. For someone with such limited exposure to the “real world” of steady jobs, rent payments and the stresses of daily life, he has some very firm opinions on why his lifestyle is far superior to the alternative that the vast majority of Americans call normal. The following quote is indicative of the message he was attempting to convey in his post:

“In this modern world of 9 to 5, mortgages, carpools, and bills, our days can get pretty regimented and become pretty boring. Typically, our days rarely exhibit huge change. Under the weight of everything, we often lose track of what’s important to us and what are goals are. We get so caught between commutes and errands or driving the kids to soccer, that we forget how to breath and to smell those roses. When I was home I could plan out my days months in advance. Why? Because they weren’t going to be much different — commute, work, gym, sleep, repeat. Yet on the road, every moment represents a new beginning. No day is the same. You can’t plan out what will happen because nothing is set in stone.”

I should note that I know Matt. I like Matt. The limited time we have shared has been pleasant and he seems like a nice guy. However, I do not think that his perma-travel lifestyle is one that should automatically be envied or revered. In fact, I don’t want that life at all.

What someone at the age of 29 who has been traveling for much of his adult existence could possibly understand about the life that he rails against is actually less perplexing than his broad generalizations about those of us who do not abide by his philosophies. While there are certainly countless people who are lost in a sea of TPS reports and hollow pursuits, to write off all people with stable, non-travel lives as working stiffs is condescending at best and offensive at worst.

There are more than enough “mommy bloggers” – many of whom also write about travel – who enjoy driving their kids to soccer while also taking them on holidays from Disney World to Djibouti. Is there a trade-off that comes with starting a family? Well, the number of blogs out there about taking kids on trips all over the globe would indicate that there doesn’t have to be. And for the people who do stay home or perhaps only occasionally take traditional vacations, if they are happy, why is that bad?

While defining why he travels, Matt says, “[w]e want to see the world, see something different, see something change. Travel allows for change…We all want something different from our daily routine, something to challenge us.” Again, these are generalizations and gross misrepresentations that diminish the enriching and often diverse lives that people with roots firmly planted in one place have created for themselves.

His post also neglects to mention things like hobbies, families, friends, social functions and fulfilling lives that include careers and pursuits that make those so-called working stiffs happy. I have friends who are not travel writers. They have jobs in fields such as marketing, education, law and insurance. They are husbands, wives, parents, dog owners, volunteers and caregivers. They are also drummers in bands, founders of supper clubs, distillers of whiskey and triathletes. In short, they are well-rounded human beings.

I’m not alone in believing that people can have stable lives, travel only occasionally and still enjoy everything that the world has to offer. Over on the Resident Wayfarer blog [Disclosure: I know the author but am respecting his/her wish to remain anonymous], a post addressed this very topic. “To me, travel can’t define a life, travel must be the thing that holds a mirror back up to yourself, to your life, and forces you to see it in a different light, through different eyes, reversed.” In other words, travel provides a broader context within which you attempt to understand things, including yourself. The post closes with the following declaration:

“I remain the person with a home base that I love, a well-balanced wanderlust, and a pretty low bullshit-o-meter.”

In a very succinct manner, the author managers to sum up why not everyone with a 9-5 feels the way Matt suggested that they do.

Over on SoSauce, Alisha Miranda also expressed her disdain for judgmental travelers who view their opinions on the subject as the gospel. [Disclosure: I am also friends with Alisha] She wrote,

“…don’t tell me the right and wrong way to travel. I don’t want to hear it. I’m doing fine on my 2 passport stamps and don’t need your worldly views dragging me down for whatever reason you feel necessary. I’ll travel however I want, whenever I want, to whereever [sic] I want. The lifestyle I choose as a traveler is entirely my decision…It seems like travel writers these days won’t tolerate anything less than a full-time backpacking lifestyle.”

To insinuate – or outright declare – that there is only one way to travel is narcissistic and condescending. It insults your audience and creates a false debate about the nature of travel. A debate that is actually more about the writer than it is about travel.

People travel for myriad reasons. Be it to take a break from work, introduce their children to Cinderella or learn about new cultures. They also do it to run away. Or to avoid a reality that scares or confuses them. Is eschewing the “real world” to travel permanently as difficult as those long-term travelers suggest? Is it more challenging than raising children, being an active member of a community or pouring yourself into a hobby that becomes a passion?

It seems to me that creating a fulfilling life – however you define that – is your own business. It may include travel. It may not. The travel could be road trips to ride roller coasters, all-inclusive getaways to tropical beaches or, yes, packing up completely and leaving your current life behind. That’s up to you. And you know yourself a whole lot better than any writer does.

Daily Pampering: ‘Suite’ ride on the Seabourn Sojourn world cruise

If you’re going to see the world, you might as well do it in style. The Yachts of Seabourn just unveiled its Seabourn Sojourn in London and is preparing the ship for a 2011 sail around the world.

The 110-day World Cruise from Los Angeles to London via the South Pacific, New Zealand, around Western Australia, Indonesia and Southeast Asia, India, Arabia and the Mediterranean will be beautiful from the Seabourn’s Grand Suite, which offers guests up to 534 square feet of space.

How much for the journey of a lifetime? The good news is that you don’t have to stay in the Grand Suite, in which case it will only cost you around $50,000 to sail the world. But, this column is about the ultimate in luxurious experiences and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to convince you to go around the world in the Grand Suite for $233,285.

If it helps, price of the cruise includes first class round-trip airfare, private transfers, 300 lbs of luggage shipping, and $1000 shipboard credit.

p.s. You’re totally worth it!

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.