Just how long do you have to be traveling before you can say you are "long-term traveling" or traveling long-term? By my estimation anything over 547 days (1.5 years). That's over 547 days of travel with no going home for extended periods etc.
But to each their own, long-term travel can really only be defined by yourself
My original journey was meant to be around a year. Plus another to get settled somewhere. It didn't quite out that way and 14+ years later I'm still going.
Whether you are thinking about long-term travel yourself, living overseas, or just interested in how people can "do it" the following page will be of help and interest to you.
Long term travel subjects
Listed below are topic summaries about long-term travel. If you want to know more then there are list of links below each leading into a full in depth article on that subject.
Just hopping on a plane and going is great. But if you are really planning on traveling long-term then some rough planning will make it even better.
I've written about how to plan an overland journey here. Give it a read, there's some great cross-over with long-term travel.
Draw a map: this is probably the most practical and realistic thing you can do when planning long-term travel. Circle the places you want to go. Now try to link them together in one direction with a line. Now you have a rough route.
Next steps in your plan of long-term travel:
» Read a little more about these countries and highlight the interesting places you might want to see.
» Now add how long you want to stay in the country.
» Finally look up the visa requirement of each country and see how long you can legally stay there and where you can get a visa from.
Travel Visas and long-term travel planning: do understand that not all countries give visas on arrival. Many require you to apply for one in an embassy. Many more insist that you can only get visas by applying from your home country. This is one of the biggest issues with long-term travel.
Take these things into account when planning your route. You might have to change starting points or routes if you want to visit a country that will only issue a visa from your home country. Other countries will have embassies in certain countries and not in others, don't forget to list these places out!
The weather: When marking out your map it's important to also note the time of year you will be traveling in a certain country. For example traveling southern China during the winter might mean heavy snow and public transport interruptions.
Adding to your long-term travel map: Now you'll have a list of countries, visa requirements and timeframe's. You can now start to add on new countries and places in between the main countries you want to visit keeping in mind visa and weather issues.
Vaccinations for long-term travel: Visit your nearest tropical disease clinic or your doctor for advice. Ensure you discuss Anti-Rabies, Hepatitis, Tetanus and Typhoid vaccinations. If going to South America ensure you discuss a Yellow Fever Vaccination. You should also have a log-book of these vaccinations and make a copy for safe keeping. Lastly make sure you discuss anti-malarial's if going to malaria infested areas.
Budget plan your long-term journey: This is also a good time to start budgeting your journey. Find out the average costs per day in each country you will be visiting. Add up rough totals and work out what you can or cannot afford.
Be sure to add in visa fees, vaccinations and all the overnight stays when waiting for these.
I do recommend you have some form of plan like the above. I've met many a traveler who has been thwarted by not doing any research before traveling.
Further articles on long term travel advice for planning your journey:» Overland tourist visa information
No matter how many times your tell people you'll be away for a long time many simply won't comprehend it. Indeed it's kind of hard to comprehend yourself at the best of times.
My advice: pretend you are looking after all your friends and family needs as if you are going to be incapacitated. You'll be able to tackle a lot more this way so read on ...
Keeping in contact: make sure you have all their contact details and have individual sit downs with all of them explaining why you are doing this. There's no need to be all heavy about it. But you might be surprised at how many people will either think you will be back soon or are abandoning them!
If necessary help them or ask them to set up things up like Skype or other ways to stay in intimate contact with them - this is very important. Close contact like this is something that breaks away after the 2 year mark.
Storage: You'll need to put your life into some boxes for a while. You can pay a company to mind things for you or have a friend or relative do it for you. Don't forget you might also want to send things you buy abroad back too. So you'll need to take this into consideration.
Wrap things in airtight containers: Things left exposed to air, humidity or the elements will not last. Wrap as much as possible up in air tight containers. Make sure everything is clean an dry. Use dehumidifying substances to preserve items
If you are leaving things with friends - catalog them into parcels or boxes. So if you need something they'll be able to send it onto you with ease.
Remember that you might be away for years and sending things back, so make sure you are not going to be a burden on too many friends!
Long-term online storage: Do invest in online storage before you travel! You should have a very safe place online to store important documents such as your scanned in passport, travel insurance policy and other items you may need.
You should also consider online photo hosting to store all your travel photographs. I've written some suggestions in an article just below here.
Further articles on long term travel advice for planning your journey:
» Preparing your friends and family for your long term travel (advice from me and several other long term travelers)
Quitting your job: Do prepare for this sensibly. Even if you hate your job leaving on amicable terms is a good idea. Remember if applying for another job overseas you'll often be asked for a reference from your last employer.
Taxes and social benefits: Do make sure to pay any outstanding taxes you may owe. If you have a pension fund or make contributions to your social welfare system consult a financial advisor for the best advice on how to handle this.
Many people who leave their home countries do not realize that by not contributing to their home state it may mean you will not be able to claim benefits when you return after an extended absence.
Banking: Online banking can be essential to you unless you have someone at home looking after your expenses and or income. If you are doing it yourself talking with a point of contact at your bank will help tremendously.
Banking part 2: You might want to consider appointing someone to legally take control of your money should anything happen to you. Or open a joint bank account with someone. That way if you get stranded somewhere or incapacitated someone can help you out without burdening anyone else.
Credit/Debit cards: Likewise credit card companies need to be aware of where you will be traveling to otherwise you might get a cancelled card. PayPal too needs to be aware of these things. Read more about how to deal with PayPal when traveling here.
Bills: do you currently have subscriptions, monthly payments etc? If yes canceling as many as possible in advance would be a good idea. Many companies take a long time to cancel your subscriptions. Following them up once you are traveling is not easy.
Income: are you planning to earn money when traveling long-term overseas? If yes then you'll need to get your bank account details ready in full, or set up a separate one to deal with people wanting to deposit into your bank.
Further articles on long term travel advice for financial planning:
How healthy are you? Get a medical check up a few months before you are good to go to be sure.
Current medical conditions: If you have any preexisting conditions you should seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner. Find out if where you are going will have any medicine you may require or if you should buy ahead.
Do get some form of medical letter stating you have been prescribed this medicine legally. Some customs and police may question you overseas.
Do get the generic pharmaceutical name for anything you need to take. Or any medicine you know solves your problems quickly. Generic pharmaceutical names are easily understood abroad, while brand names are not!
The full medical checkup: Get the works at least six months before you leave. And by the works I mean one of those long all day checkups that include chest x-rays, stool/urine tests, blood work ups and everything else a doctor advises.
Vaccinations: After you get the all clear on your medical go and see a doctor about what vaccinations you will require. Again, do this six months before you go as some of them take several months to prepare. Keep a record of everything in a vaccination booklet. Copy it several times, scan it and keep all records safe and accessible - read above about storing things online safely.
Get a dental check up before you leave: You should certainly have any dental work that needs doing completed a few months before leaving. A final clean then just before you leave. Long-term travel will mean you'll need to get dental check ups, cleaning etc from new dentists abroad. Try to get some recommendations from people living in the country.
Get medical check ups abroad: You should get a full check up every year when traveling long-term just as you would back home. Important things to note would be blood, stool and urine exams. In particular look out of parasites and other things native to the countries you have been traveling in. Find a reputable clinic to get all this in.
Get travel insurance before you leave: don't wait until you've left. Get your travel insurance sorted out before leave. Many travel insurance companies do not allow for policies over 18 months. If that's the case take the maximum they allow for.
Advice on finding long-term travel insurance: do some research on companies before you leave. Ask questions then. Not when traveling. Then when your travel insurance is about to expire you will be ready with another to take over or extend an existing one.
Many travel insurance companies do not allow you to extend past 18 months of travel. Many more also will not issue a policy if you have not been resident in your home country for over six months.
Long-term travel insurance companies do exist (see my recommendations in the links below). Take care on understanding the policies though and what is covered. Getting travel insurance in North America is very expensive compared to South America. You might be able to split it up with difference policies.
Stay fit when traveling: Excercise when on holiday or traveling is not something that comes to mind. Many people think moving around everyday exploring new places is what keeps you fit. Certainly if you are out everyday then it's better than sitting in an office. But there's more to it than that.
If you are eating out three times a day then the chances are you are eating a lot of high calorie food. Moreover just walking around is only considering light to moderate excercise at best. All that sweating? Maybe it's because of the climate?
Many hotels have gyms, neighbourhoods are similar. If you are in a place for a while make use of them. Join an online workout group or download some fitness videos. Put on your running shoes every morning. You might be surpirsed to see how many tourists and locals are out and about in the mornings keeping fit.
Further articles on long term travel advice for staying healthy abroad:
» Long term travel and staying healthy abroad advice (in depth article with advice from many long-term travelers)
The first thing you have to ask yourself is what region of the world am I going to first and at what time of year? Based on that you'll know if you have to pack for hot/humid weather or dry/cold. After that you'll be swapping and changing clothes as you move.
What type of clothes do I need for long-term travel? You could spend a day buying the latest travel gear from the trendiest store in town or online. Who wouldn't want a pair of ultra-breathable-UVA-proof-water-resistant-cut-off-combo-trousers with 1001 hidden pockets. I've been there too. Problem is 3/4 of the high-tek trendy clothes I bought originally ended up being ditched after 6 months as they simply hurt to wear long term.
Examples are trekking trousers that rubbed me the wrong way in the crotch. Shirts that faded due to hard public washing machines.
Yes not everything was that bad. One Mountain Hardware shirt and trekking pants have survived over 5 years. And two pairs of thick socks. Everything else lasts about 2 years.
Today I wear what I'm comfortable in everyday. A baggy pair of jeans, combats and shorts. I do wear long-sleeve trekking shirts, but most are cheapies bought on the road. I have some cotton t-shirts for comfort days or warmth. A windbreaker jacket, a fold up rain jacket, thick trekking socks and boxer shorts.
I carry one weeks supply of shirts, socks and underwear that are daily changables.That's it. I usually mix laundry day with a relax day for comfortable clothing.
No fancy high-tek clothing at all. It simply doesn't last long-term, is too expensive for constant changing and is uncomfortable to wear 24/7/365.
Some tips on long term travel clothes:
- Don't buy white t-shirts or white just about anything else. The public washing machines will turn them all grey in 6 months.
- Do buy long-sleeve shirts over short sleeve - sleeves keep you warm, wipe sweat away, can be rolled up and keep you covered in religious areas or places where smart attire is needed.
- Wear in your long-term travel clothes at least 6 months before you leave.
- Go for a run in those high-tek trousers, build up a sweat and don't wash them. Do this for a while and see if they cut into you anywhere that they shouldn't.
- Be careful of underarm deodorant that stains, once it's in then it's hard to get out.
- Itemize and take a photo of your washing before sending it to a dodgy washing service.
- Always carry some washing powder for emergency washes - if the laundry service looks like a bad place some extra power in the bottom of your socks to help with the wash (don't put it in a pocket as people usually check pockets for cash in public laundry services.)
- Pack a sarong or shorts and t-shirt or something comfortable for your clothes washing days so you can hang out with your laundry.
Not sure about what boots to buy for long term travel? Check out my article here:
From gadgets to bags and super trendy gizmos there's a lot out there to tempt you. Just remember you have to carry everything nearly everyday for a long time.
Here is my full comprehensive packing list for travel.
Meanwhile here are some essentials and tips on what gear to get for long term travel:
Zip around backpack: Avoid wheels, they add 1.5KG which you'll need for avoiding budget airline baggage limits. They are also of no use on many pavements other than in an airport. Also avoid top loading backpacks - they are utterly useless. Buy a zip around to get access to everything with out having to repack. Buy a backpack in a plain two tone solid colors. Avoid bright colors that draw attentions, avoid solid black as it pick up dirt colors easily. Get a backpack cover for protection against rain.
Day bag: Do get a solid day pack with lots of pockets and a strong back to protect your laptop, camera or documents. Avoid bags with no zips in the side pockets - you need zips to keep other peoples fingers out. Again, avoid solid colors for the sake of dirt and avoid bright colors that attract attention.
Do buy mini key padlocks: for the main compartments of your bags. Avoid combination locks as they don't last for long-term travel. No lock will prevent determined theft. But they will deter it and you'll be surprised how many beach huts don't have locks on the doors or hostels with no locks on lockers - double up and use the same locks when in need.
Tiny key ring torch - I've used it more often than I can remember.
Swiss army knife - No need for the jumbo sized one, but if you are going into the back of beyond you'll need it from peeling fruit to opening cans to screwing things back in place.
Dry Bags - I've lot's of these. I used them to wrap electronics in. To keep my dirty laundry separate. And to keep medicine in. Get them in different sizes.
Shoe cord & Duct Tape - Both are very cheap and both have been invaluable to me when traveling long-term. Shoe cords have replaced broken boot laces, acted as impromptu washing lines and strapped bags together. While duct tape has worked in emergencies to keep broken boots together, tape things up etc.
Plasters - Sounds silly, but I've gone through a lot. Usually for finger cuts or covering up blister areas on my feet.
Hanging Wash bag - If you are going to buy anything fancy and travel trendy go for a hanging wash bag with lots of zip compartments. Nothing worse than having to put your stuff onto a wet shared bathroom basin or floor.
Before you read my huge packing list below use this as a rule of thumb before buying anything:
Is this something I will use at least once a week? If not, then don't buy it.
Right, I could go on. But I have already written up the best packing list article here. Which contains a LOT more than the above. Go through it and pick out what you need, not what you think you need.
Preparing mentally for long-term travel is vitally important and something few people consider. Do keep these things in mind.
Loneliness: you will feel lonely. Either at the start of your journey, in the middle or at the end. It happens. Staying in contact with friends back home is one of the keys. Keeping hobbies when traveling is another as is having a routine.
Homesick for everything: missing home, the food, the people and your old life. Again this in normal and shouldn't be expected. Again staying in touch with people back home will help. Remember people's birthdays and arrange for quirky things like night in with them via Skype!
Relationships and travel: finding romance when traveling is very different to dating back home. Many people are constantly on the move. You might be traveling in extreme environments making a night out in a humid local cafe not as appealing as a quiet restaurant back home. Do make friends and never expect too much when traveling. Be aware of loneliness and exhaustion having negative effects on your decisions. And always take precautions.
Make as many social friends as you can. Exchange emails and social networks. Stay in touch with people you meet. You will lose contact with many people and you will make great new friends. You'll also meet many people going through the same things you are.
Cultural differences: traveling long-term means you will meet people from many cultures. Both local and foreign. It can become overwhelming and filled with pressure. Remember your own culture and be respectful of others. Learn about new cultures and their history before going to the country.
Alone time: you may be used to having some privacy whenever you want it at home. When traveling long-term it's one of those things that people sorely realize they miss. Shared bathrooms, communal dining areas and tours. The fact is in some countries you will be stared at and questioned continuously. It can wear you down.
Take time outs. Enjoy movies by yourself. Book into a nice private hotel room once in a while. Ask other long term travellers for advice - they'll be happy to give it.
Further articles on long term travel advice for being mentally ready:
It may seem strange if you've never traveled for a long time but you can easily get quite sick of traveling.
Always being on the move. The mental act of having to stay alert all the time. No routine or long lasting friendships. No one to turn to and let off steam. The constant bombardment of people always looking for money. It can indeed get to you after a while.
How to deal with travel burn out and monotony? Rather than go over many things again, I've written an extensive separate article on The Longest Way Home about this. Do read: Long-term travel monotony and how to deal with it.
You might find the following article helpful as well:
A diary or long term travel blog will help you with all of the above when it comes to planning for a long-term travel journey both when you are on road and when you come back.
When it comes to recording your experiences with long-term travel I do recommend a blog over a handwritten diary. I've done both. The fact of the matter is carrying lots of growing diaries will add to your baggage weight. There's also a chance your handwritten diaries may get lost or stolen.
Start writing now: I started my own long-term travel blog many years ago and it's become a fantastic place to write out what I have experienced and record it all.
Get a blog up and running before you leave. You can keep the entries private or open to everyone (your choice). Either way you'll have a record of things you want to keep. Do make sure to learn how to back it up before you leave though.
Taking photographs and storing them for a long time: Taking photos is a great way to remember your journey. Long-term travel photography is a little different in that you can't just keep on adding memory cards into your bag.
My advice is to get a couple of portable hard drives which have a large capacity. And, invest in an online photo hosting (storage) system.
It does take time to upload your photos and write things out. You don't have to do both. But I do recommend you do one or the other.
If you lose your photographs or journals then it's not just data your losing it's your memories too.
Further articles and advice on creating a long term travel blog:
For anyone who is interested in photo hosting - I've used and recommended Zenfolio for many years. I also have a discount code for 10% off their plans. Just use the discount code when you visit the site and sign up.
My discount code: " BDV-TGN-A7X "
More advice on long term travel
The above sections on long term travel advice have a huge network of knowledge in the links associated with them which in turn have many hours of reading in them.
I do advise anyone planning to travel either short, medium, long term or even living abroad to have a read through them as there's plenty of helpful advice.
In the meantime keep an eye on this page and my articles on long term travel for new additions!