Getting your mind ready for long-term travel
This is going to be a relatively shorter article than many others in this series about long-term travel. The reason for this is that most people considering long-term travel will have a myriad of reasons for doing so. As such writing a single article on dealing with the psychological preparation behind it will inevitably not be relevant to many. Or more likely it will be the last thing on one’s mind.
Mentally preparing for a long journey is simply something that you have to experience yourself to fully understand due to it being relevant with your own life
That said there’s no harm in reading about my own lessons learned and some other established long-term travelers too before embarking on your own journey.
Understand that, mentally, things will never again be the same
You’ll have your own reasons for long-term travel. Just remember there are others that will be effected too. Do read the article on preparing your family and friends for long-term travel. That out-of-the-way here are three before, middle and ending things to be conscious of.
1. Before long-term travel you will slowly be building up to an all time psychological high. This is good, but it can also cause you to lose focus on some practical aspects going on around your life. Keep a careful eye on this and try to have a close friend give you a reality check every now and then.
2. When on the road you will be alone for long periods of time but rarely have any privacy. It sounds small but during the mid stages of long-term travel this can sneak up on you.
3. Coming back can be just as traumatic if not harder. Call it reverse culture shock or call it a bite of reality. After years away from home you will experience people who have moved on and a culture that’s not quite as you remember it.
Keep these three things in mind as you begin your mental preparation for long-term travel.
Preparing to say goodbye to your family and friends
Mentally preparing for the big goodbye. The easiest way to handle it is perhaps by engaging people in your travels and staying in touch via video on a regular basis. Having a blog and connecting through Skype are two excellent ways to take your family with you.
It’s no substitute but it will help with mental preparation. Again, a lot of this is covered in preparing your family and friends for long-term travel.
Be prepared to take a vacation from your long-term travel
Don’t box yourself into the “never coming back” or “travel forever” or “I can take anything” or “I’m going to be location independent” or “I’m going to earn a living on the road and travel forever” scenarios. No one said life was going to be easy and no one said you should put yourself through unnecessary hardships either.
Have a place in mind that you can go and sit things out if you need a break from the constant toll of long-term travel. It might be a place you’ve already visited and found relaxing or it might be a place that you feel you can escape your current style of traveling.
Personally I’ve avoided and never had good experiences going to places other people have suggested for this. Why? Because we are all different and have different needs. What is one person’s utopia might be an others slight version of hell.
Pre-travel mental preparation check list
- If you have any current mental disorders get an evaluation about the new challenge that long-term travel will bring to you.
- Be prepared for depression. Travel is great but just like in real life long-term travel brings its own problems and issues.
- How do you cope with excitement and peer pressure? Keeping a check on things is vital at the best of times when out there alone.
- Do think about what it will be like to sleep in a bed that thousands more have slept in before you and that you’ll be doing it for many years.
- Think about how you will cope with not having good daily conversations with people who understand you perfectly.
- Traveling with a partner? Be ready to test the strains/joys of literally living 24/7 with someone.
- Think about what it will be like having the same(ish) wardrobe for many years & keeping it all in one bag.
- Understand and be ready for exposure to things you might not be comfortable with or used to. Starving street children, rude people, lack of communication for even the simplest of things, lack of time management, living without electricity, long bouts of sickness, emotional stress and cultures / beliefs that conflict with your own.
- Learn how to recognize signs of stress, depression, exhaustion anxiety and physical well-being.
- Coping with new sights or wonder and amazing people can have you thinking everything is great – keep your feet firmly planted.
Cope with these and everything else will fall into place.
Some experienced long-term traveler top tips in mentally preparing for long-term travel
As I mentioned at the start of this article mentally preparing for long-term travel is something that’s very hard to tell someone. It’s best to read other people’s experiences and relate them into your own.
With that in mind I asked some long-term travelers and experts in the field to share their top pieces of advice when it comes to long-term travel mental preparation and what to expect.
Peter Daams co-founder of Travellerspoint recommends:
“Try to tie up as many loose strings as possible. The more organised you are before you leave, the quicker you’ll be able to settle into travelling. Try not to set up too many expectations for your friends. i.e., don’t tell them you’ll upload pictures every day and constantly be available for Skype. Most people just aren’t able to do that once they get travelling.
I also recommend getting online beforehand and trying to connect with some other people who are going to the same place as you. It’s great to share the enthusiasm with someone and your co-workers are not likely to really want to hear all about your great plans.”
Michael Robert Powell from The Candy Trail recommends:
“Retain a love for fresh life experiences – there’s always something new to try or see or do.”
Jason from Digi Drift recommends:
“Traveling long term can be physically hard on the body. Especially when done on a tight budget, but it’s the mind that needs to be in the best shape for such a journey. For those who’ve traveled long term previously. It’s easier to prepare for what can be expected, but for those contemplating their first long term journey. You must prepare the mind for what lays ahead.
Speaking to people that have been there and done that can always help, but get into their head and ask the hard questions. Maintaining a course whilst on the road for many months or years can be tough, and to be quite honest it’s not for everyone. If traveling alone, you must be content with your own company, otherwise forget it.”
Wade Shepard from Vagabond Journey recommends:
“Mentally preparing for long term travel is simple: cross bridges when you come to them, don’t worry about situations that are not right in front of you, and allow yourself to be taken away by the organic flow of life on the road. Don’t worry about what you’re going to be doing a week from now, don’t waste mental energy getting concerned about your next nighttime flight arrival, your next border crossing, the next reputedly dangerous city on your itinerary.
Have confidence in your abilities, remind yourself that you’re smart enough to figure things out in the moment, and be wise enough to know that all the mental preparation in the world is often moot in the face of actual raw experience. So sit back and enjoy the ride, go out there and make mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time around. Wisdom is only gained through experience, and the chaos element is part of the great charm of world travel.”
Earl from Wandering Earl recommends:
“Remember that the overwhelming majority of people you’ll encounter on your travels are good, honest people and that the world is not nearly as dangerous as we think. While it’s important to be cautious when you’re in a foreign country, there’s no need to assume that every local you meet is out to cheat or harm you in some way.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people! This is the most rewarding aspect of travel – meeting and learning from others who you would otherwise never have come across in life – but you won’t experience it if you treat everyone with a high-level of suspicion. At the same time, if a situation doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right and you should move on…but in reality, such situations as these will be greatly outnumbered by the positive interactions you’ll have, no matter what part of the world you visit.”
So there you go. Some great suggestions and tips from many people well versed in long-term travel on how to keep your mind working in the many months and years you may be abroad.
True long-term travel is not as easy as it seems. Nothing ever really is. But reading the knowledge of others is a sure step to making things a lot easier in the long run for yourself.
Long-term travel planning is not something many people have written in-depth about from beginning to end. I’ve been long-term traveling for over 7+ years. And I’ve been long-term travel planning for most of my life. Read more of my articles on long-term travel