How to Travel Long Term

If you love to travel (which I do), you can’t help but wishing that you could a) travel more often and b) travel for longer periods of time.

In our 2-week-vacation society, lots of people dream about taking off 3 months, 6 months, a year, or even longer to see the world. If you’ve never traveled for that long, it may seem like an impossible dream. What would you pack? Where would you stay? Who would you travel with? How on earth could you ever afford it?

I’m not going to say it’s easy, or cheap, or completely worry-free to travel long-term, but I will say that it’s very much possible and, with the right attitude and know-how, incredibly rewarding.

Deciding to Travel Long Term

Traveling long term is a matter of priorities. To really go explore the world for a significant amount of time, travel has to be a top priority. If it comes second or third to work, paying a mortgage, or being a homebody, traveling long term is not going to bring you a lot of happiness. If, however, you’re one of those people who just has to travel, leaving the comforts of home behind can be very rewarding.

Logistically, traveling long term requires you to figure out how to leave in the first place. The main things that prevent people from traveling long term are their job and their belongings.

As for your job, you have three options: quit, arrange for a leave of absence, or figure out how to work part-time remotely. What route you choose will affect your travel budget and your travel style. If you quit or take a leave of absence, you’ll have to work hard on saving money before you go. But you’ll also have complete freedom to spend your time as you wish once you’re on the road. If you work remotely, you’ll have to choose your destinations and accommodations more carefully, and you’ll be limited in the amount of time you can really get away. But you’ll also have money coming in, which can make your trip more comfortable.

Your belongings includes things like your house, car, furniture, books, electronics, DVDs, and clothes. Basically, it’s anything that either requires a payment or is too bulky to take with you. If you’re serious about traveling long term and adopting a more nomadic lifestyle, the best piece of advice is to get rid of as much of your stuff as you can. Hold a yard sale. Sell it on Craigslist. Give it to charity. If you don’t want to take it with you, and it’s not sentimental or valuable enough to put into storage, you probably don’t need it.

Affording to Travel Long Term

Affording to travel long term is a daunting topic. The first place to start is to do some research on how much it actually costs to travel to the destinations you want, in the comfort level that you prefer. This can range from $1000 a month for a budget backpacking trip through South America to more like $5000 for a slightly more comfortable jaunt through Europe. Consider your essential expenses — housing, transportation, food — and what standard you’d like to travel at. Will you stay in hostels or rent a vacation home? Do you eat out a lot or will you shop and cook for yourself? Do you want to take lots of trips around your chosen destination to really explore the area?

Calculating a rough budget gets your on your way to setting a savings target for your trip. Equally important as saving is that you reduce or eliminate any money going out for home-based expenses. Pay off as much debt as you can. If you have student loans, check if you can have your payments deferred while you travel. Paying rent and utilities while you travel is a huge burden, so terminate your lease and put your belongings in storage (or, even better, with friends or relatives). Aim to eliminate any payments going to anything you won’t be home to use: cable, cell phone, car insurance, Netflix subscription, gym membership, etc.

One of the secrets of long term travel is that you may have the opportunity to make some money as you go. If you stay in one place for a while, let people know that you’re looking for work and what your skills are. Even if you’re not legally allowed to work in a country, you can still exchange your services for free lodging. I’ve done some light cleaning around at a hostel I was staying at and earned 1 free night for every 2 hours worked. A friend of mine re-designed a hostel’s web site in exchange for free lodging.

The most important budgeting advice to keep in mind is that traveling long term is a different style of travel than short-term vacations. It’s a slower pace of travel and you’ll have plenty of time to see, do, eat, and drink everything worth your dollar. You won’t feel compelled to “live it up” every day and night, because you’re traveling for months, not just a week or two. As you get more comfortable traveling and more knowledgeable about your location, you’ll find cheaper ways of doing things and learn about more affordable local hangouts.

Packing for Long Term Travel

So, you’ve decided to take the trip. You’ve saved the money. You’ve bought the plane ticket. Now it’s time to pack. Better take the whole closet, half the DVD collection, and a suitcase full of books since you won’t be home for months, right? Wow, if you do that, you’ll probably want to chuck it all out the window before long. The key to traveling long term (or traveling any length of time, really) is to pack light.

1. Don’t pack things “just in case”

If you don’t use it regularly, don’t pack it. Remember that you can buy almost anything anywhere these days. The general rule of thumb is, if you’re sure that you’ll need it, pack it. If you’re not, leave it. (An exception to this rule is medications that you may need on short notice and that aren’t easily available abroad. )

2. Pack for one week

There’s a fantastic trick that long term travelers use to go for months with only a small amount of clothes: laundry! Lots of hostels have laundry services. Some even do your laundry for you. Most towns also have laundromats. Plus, if you pack clothes made from quick-drying fabrics, you can wash them in the sink after you wear them and they’ll be dry in the morning. With all these options, there’s really no need to pack for longer than a week (or two, at the very most).

Think about what you wear in a week: a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, maybe a pair of shorts or a skirt, a couple of tank tops and t-shirts, a sweater or two, and a light jacket. Choose pieces that you can mix, match, and layer. Dark colors are good because they show fewer stains. As for underwear and socks, you can probably go with as little as 2 or 3 pairs and give them a wash every time you shower. Ex Officio makes a particularly popular pair that’s made from a quick-drying and breathable cotton-poly blend.

3. Pack multi-taskers

When it comes to bulkier items like shoes and outerwear, bring something that can do double duty. The jackpot is to find a shoe and a jacket that can work as well on rugged hiking trails as on stylish city streets. For shoes, I usually bring 3 pairs: a sturdy double-duty model like a Keen Presidio, a light sneaker for strolling around, and a pair of flip flops. You have to do some research to find the right shoes for your needs and style. As for outerwear, I bring 2 jackets: I love my North Face Denali fleece jacket because it’s warm and wind-resistant, but still looks good with a pair of jeans. If it’s raining, I layer a thin rain-proof shell on top.

4. Choose the right gadgets

When I travel long term, I always take my laptop. I usually do some work when I travel, plus I like to journal and edit my photos, so my laptop is a must. I have a MacBook Pro, which is relatively light and very dependable. Of course, traveling with a laptop has its good and bad parts. Read more about traveling with a laptop and make up your own mind. Of course, there are lots of other gadgets that can save precious space and weight in your luggage.

Healthy Long Term Travel

Staying healthy is important because it allows you to enjoy your trip to its fullest. It’s tough to keep up with a healthy diet and regular activity when you’re traveling, but if you’re away from home for a long time, bad habits can really add up.

One of the biggest challenges for me is to eat enough fruits and vegetables while I’m traveling. In some countries, fresh fruits and vegetables are just not a big part of the regular diet. Plus, the combination of eating cheap (pasta, bread, canned soups, etc.) and sampling the local delicacies means that you could go days without eating a single fresh, green thing.

An easy way to fix this is to buy your own fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and cook for yourself. I also buy easy-to-eat fruits like apples and bananas to snack on. Plus, I take a multi-vitamin to make sure I’m getting all the nutrients I need.

In addition to taking daily care of yourself, you should definitely take out travel insurance to cover unexpected healthcare costs and emergency services. This is essential if you’re quitting your job and losing your health insurance. If you’re keeping health insurance at home, check your coverage and consider taking out travel insurance to cover more travel-specific events.

Travel insurance also covers things like trip cancellation and trip interruption, which means you’ll get some money back if you have to cancel or break off your trip mid-way for covered reasons. Plus, if you’re traveling with some expensive gadgets, you can opt to have your stuff covered in case of theft or damage.

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