The five stages of long term travel

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ January 5th, 2010. Updated on July 31st, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » How to live overseas » Long-term travel.

Stages of Long-term travel

I’ve wanted to write this for a year now, but it didn’t feel right until now. As many know; travel is relevant to the person doing it. Some travel for a quick holiday, some take a year out, others are perpetual. From what I can see I am the only one out there traveling in search of home in this way, and writing about it as well.

For those looking at this travel journal live you’ll see that the timer of my journey is ticking over to 5 years of travel now. That’s five years of travel without returning to anywhere for a quick rest, or chill out at home. I don’t have any place like that anymore.

This has been a solid five years of travel in continuous search of home.

I’ve been through several stages over the past five years. As it’s relevant to my own quest; I don’t know if others have experienced something similar or not. What I do know from reading books, blogs and from the mass of personal email I get from people wishing the same, there are a few similar trends.

Year zero (the start of long-term travel)

This is the beginning. One’s first tepid and anticipated steps out of the cocoon of home and into the real world that many fear to tread alone. For me it was the start of a life time of working, saving and dreaming. I spent 6 months in a euphoric state of see everything and do everything. I partied, I met as many people as possible. I traveled for the sake of travel. It was my first taste of a dream becoming reality.

After 6 months reality kicks in, and the been there, done that mentality to late nights out works its way into your daily life. Now it’s time to see, learn, and engage in travel.

Year 1 (traveled for one year)

The first milestone. You’ve accomplished something that most travelers wish to get done. You know the ropes, learned from a few mistakes. And, you have moved up in the ranks of hostel table chit chat. People are happy to travel with you and learn, you are happy to have them come along as like it or not you still make mistakes and it’s always good to have someone around.

Year 2 (2-2.5 years of long-term travel)

Travelers Ego kicks in. You’ve been at it 2 + years. You know the ropes like the back of your hand. Your stories move up to the higher level of the travelers table. People want to know you, ask you questions, and gaze at you as if everything you say is better than a guide-book. After all, you’ve been there, and done that.

I’ve seen some people mouth off on a frequent basis in hostels once they reach this stage. Know it alls who like to mention they’ve been on the road 28 months 3 weeks and 5 days whenever someone new sits down. Their own ego fails to let them notice the looks people shoot at each other as this person can top everything you’ve done, or has been to the one place that was better than where they were.

Thankfully I was in an isolated place during this period. And while I did mouth off, I had some friends who were more experienced in certain travel aspects. They were also good enough to kick my ass when I did unleash the travelers ego!

Year 3 (3 years + of long term-travel completed)

For me this was a difficult year. 3 years of travel without returning to anywhere is pretty much uncharted territory for most. During this year I found loneliness sneaking up. Along with a loss of purpose. Day to day in normal life we have jobs. An anchored social life, and routine.

I found emails drying up from friends once they realize “Oh, he really is going through with this thing.”

It was a struggle to keep going and stay motivated. I’d not accomplished anything in my mind. Other travelers became less interesting again, as I’d been there and done that.

Travelers ego was no longer a problem as I simply didn’t like to talk about travel so much. I was trying to refocus on a task at hand that didn’t seem to be getting closer. And, there was no one else out there that one could relate with. Reality was setting in.

One’s clothes also need replacing by now too.

Year 4 ( moving well into the fourth year of long-term travel)

Something (a place or person) snaps you out of your lost and hopeless mentality. Purpose comes back and you reestablish goals. Things become clearer. And you start to put things together in a more systematic way. Discussing travel with others is no longer interesting as you know yourself better than others how to do it.

This is new territory and you begin to see a pioneer mentality to travel, and how to cope with long term travel. You are confident in everything, prepared for anything, and nothing fazes you.

Other travelers no longer swarm around when you answer about how long you’ve been traveling. Instead they nod and give you a strange look as if to say – why? and how? and; is this person sane or not?

Survival. Purpose. Experience. It’s all too easy to travel now. Every country has the same basics that you know exist. One seeks out the places that others do not venture to. It’s not so important to see the Pyramids in Giza as it is to touch base with the simple man in the street selling oranges.

This is again new territory and instead of mapping it out. It’s the lessons from the past that truly seem to be holding one up to the ridicule of so many years of travel.

I don’t mention to people how long I’ve been traveling now. It get’s too many strange looks. Too many repetitive questions.

In my own journey I know more than ever about the feeling of home. I know where it’s not. I no longer have to linger anywhere. I no longer doubt. I know what I am looking for. This is perhaps the year that is the coming of age in this journey.

Year 5 ( 5 years of long-term travel completed right here, right now)

This is what you are reading :)

The future (moving into year 6 of long-term travel)

As learned in the last year, things are easier now. I know more about this journey that I ever thought possible. While practical reality is more relevant (finances), the fact of the matter is my search is suddenly becoming a lot more clear.

When things become clear the steps are not so lonely, and those very first steps in year one are retracing themselves back to the soles of my feet. The adrenaline of a new path in life. My journey around the world in search of home is 5 years old.

I fought my whole life to do this. I could have stopped and just settled on many an occasion. I am glad I did not. Though this causes a future sacrifice. The fact that I feel closer than ever; more than ever- washes any apprehension away.

I am not unique in my search on this planet. Millions grasp, claw, break the rules, sacrifice and challenge societies dictates to strive for a new and better place to call home.

I just happen to be writing about it here. Maybe it can help some others who are on the cusp of taking that first small step into the giant stride of hope.

I met a man from Niger who crossed the Sahara on foot to find home … he did it.

I met a woman from Nepal who sold everything to smuggle herself to the U.S.A to have a chance at a good life … she did it.

I am a guy traveling the world in search of home … I will do it.

If you are looking for practical articles about long term travel preparation do check out my exclusive page on long term travel advice.

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23 Great responses to The five stages of long term travel

  1. Dave says:

    I can relate to a lot of what you said. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed staying in one place after 15 months of travel until I found Medellin, Colombia, and stopped dead in my tracks. I called it home for 5.5 months, and still see myself going back often in the future.

    I set off on my trip around the world with the question of where in the world I could see myself living, aside from the USA. I felt lucky to have found that place, even if it was in the last country of my trip, mere weeks before I was to return home.

    I have faith you’ll find your home, and glad to see you still do too!

    • -Dave- Thanks for the comment. I’ve heard of Medellin, it must be a good place indeed. These places usually kind of spring themselves on us without warning. Usually just as we are about to leave! Such is life on the road. I don’t know whether it’s psychological or something else, but always something good comes along just before leaving. I hope you get to return there. Thanks again for stopping by.

      -jessiev- Hi Jessie, Glad you liked the post! Not sure if I’m able to live anywhere … but adapt yes :) And yes a sense of humor helps, otherwise I don’t think it’s possible at all! Very glad to have you following along.

      -Tee- Namaste Tee, that’s an inspirational story indeed. The ability to go forth and do what you want to do is a power very few harness. It can defy many a pundit. I am sincerely glad to know another such person. Well done to her, and long may the adventure of living one’s dreams continue!

      -Debbie Ferm- Yes I do. It’s both. But after Nepal I believe the feeling of home is something you can quickly realize. After which practical aspects such as visas, culture, political stability and so on also have to play apart. So far the latter modern day aspects hinder many things before one even starts. It’s easy to say things like ‘home is where the heart is’ or just go, but the reality rarely allows it to be a smooth transition or even attempt. Nonetheless, we keep moving and pushing towards the goal! Thanks for the kind words.

      -Nora – The Professional Hobo- Same to you Nora. Always glad to hear you enjoy a post here. Let’s see what 2010 brings!!

      Nice quote by Mr. Jobs too :) Glad to hear your in the fight too Flip! Yes I’ll drop you a line if I do more than a stopover in Manila. I still have yet to visit the giant garbage dump which I can never remember the name of! But yes of course it would be cool to meet up.

  2. jessiev says:

    YAY!! this is my VERY favorite post here. you are now a true global traveler, a cultural marginal, able to live anywhere and adapt to just about anything. only a very small percentage of people are able to live this interculturally. and to have done it with such a sense of humor (love the getting new clothes comment), that is just amazing. bravo!! and i look forward to following more of your journey.

  3. Tee says:

    And now you know of a woman who, when given her death notice by her doctors, packed what she could in a van and started driving across the country to find the place she would die. When she’d gone almost as far as she could (South Carolina to Washington state), she found home. And she knew what it was when she felt it, even though, at age 43, it was the first time she’d ever felt it (I was a military brat and a military wife…twice). When she got home, her happy spirit aided in healing her body enough to get out of a wheelchair, get on a bicycle, give away the van, and never look back. She’s still not completely well, but she’s never been more at peace…because she is home.

    I have no doubt that, with your awareness and inner peace, you will find home. Some day. Your post is so poignant, so beautiful and heartfelt. Namaste’.

  4. Debbie Ferm says:

    Do you have an idea of where “home” might be, or is it more a state of mind than an actual place?

    The five stages seem to lend themselves to other things besides travel. Parenting, for example, college, or even blogging. Very good observations about life.

  5. Awesome post, Dave – thanks. What a great recap and reflection. I look forward to your continued search – and eventual success – in finding home. To a great year!

  6. flip says:

    “I fought my whole life to do this.”

    very profound sir… i was watching Steve Jobs commencement video in youtube and he mentioned the same thing…

    “do not settle for anything less, look for what you really want in life.”

    For most of us live based on what others tell us to do, it’s hard to gain strength and stand on our grounds and say, “This is not what I want.”

    It takes even more courage “to fight for it.”

    I just have started… Thanks for sharing your life.

    I’m sure you have inspired alot of people (including me of course)

    If by any chance you get to Manila, let me know

  7. Josh Covering says:

    I really am impressed. It’s great to have the experience you have & then to share it. Thank you!

    Your photography is also stunning. It takes an eye and passion to do what you are capable of.


  8. Renny says:

    I’ve known some travelers, both short and long-term. What you’ve written here is very true to reality. You’ve gained a fan!

  9. Mau says:

    I feel exactly the same. I’d like to just pack my things up and leave. I don’t mean to pry but, wasn’t it hard for you to leave everything behind (friends, family, the routine, etc.)? Also, where are you from (if that’s not confidential information)? You know, just trying to understand the whole situation better…

    • -Mau- Many people do, few carry it out. It depends on what you mean by hard? For me the hardest thing was getting to the point where I could leave. That journey in itself involved more sacrifice, hardship and difficulty than anything else. All your others points are answered on my
      About page Thanks for the comment!


  10. Akila says:

    Great, great post. We’re looking, too, though not as in depth as you. We’ll find it some day just like I know you will find yours.

  11. Sandy says:

    I am thrilled to have stumble upon your blogs about travel. I have been reading them and have a sense of respect and excitement for your journey. I will continue to follow you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with such insight.

    May I ask a question? How is it possible for you to stay in the countries with the Schengen treaty? I am trying to stay in Europe for five months next spring and summer. I will be in Italy for a month and have rented a very small flat in Paris for two months and then wanted to spend the rest of the time in Amsterdam. I am unable to get a visa unless I stay in the same country.

    This is a crazy question–but here goes….Do you have a favorite country or place?

  12. Hey, did you know about this guy, Guillaume Combot, who is walking from South Africa to France ? He has recently reached Europe and is expected in Paris sometime at the beginning of 2012. I only recently herad about him. It may serve as an inspiration. His biography is sort of interesting too. It sounds like he is some type of introspective thrill seeker, who is also interested in education, in addition to learning more about himself.

  13. Walter Heck says:

    very nice post. i’m in year 5 myself now and i find your stages to be remarkably accurate. i have been more nomadic then traveling though, for the past 3 years i’ve mostly stayed in a placefor as long as a tourist visa allows and then explored from there. it allows me to get some work done for my own company and build budget for the next leg of the trip.
    curently i fell in love with a Turkish girl and i find myself strangely happy with the mostly regular life we have here. We are prparing to leave together and go traveling though, and sometimes i worry about us then being in different stages of travel. do you have any experience with that by chance?

  14. Lyndsay says:

    I have always dream of traveling the world, inspired by you (whom I’m proud to be a fellow Filipino), I would start my vagabonding soon. It may not be as extensive or gutsy like you did (or who knows? we don’t know what future can bring), but I am set to start my global travel this year. I don’t know how long and how far it would take me, but I know I would reach my right destination when it finds me.

  15. Amber says:

    Interesting journey. Just stumbled across this and wonder what you would say about years 5 through 8? I did a RTW in 2009, returned “home” for 2 years to save money and now am back at it for almost a year. Will be curious to see if I go through some of these same stages myself. Perhaps I will be more accelerated than “normal” because this is my second go around, and this one is permanent – but, that’s probably just my traveler ego, right?