Travel

7 Lessons from 7 Months on the Road

After 7 months and 10 days of travel, I arrived back to the U.S. on March 10th for a few weeks.  My brother-in-law got married so I headed stateside to celebrate, rest, spend time with family, and plan for what’s next (we’re heading back overseas…we just have to finalize where!)  After 222 days of straight travel, I’ve learned a lot…about travel, myself, my relationship, the world…the list goes on and on.

Following the first part of my trip, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned after more than seven months of long-term, round-the-world (RTW) travel.  Hopefully, these are helpful whether you are planning to take a long-term trip or just you who love to travel on the weekends!

Our last evening in Washington, DC

Deciding to embark on a year-long, overseas trip was difficult.  Even the day that my husband and I left on our trip, a little something in the back of my head still questioned our decision.  It questioned whether I should have quit my job, given up my apartment, left my friends and family, and gone on a crazy trip with no plans for when exactly I would return or what I would do when I got back.  However, I quickly found that I adapted to a totally new life on the road.  I found a different rhythm to my days.  While I missed my family and friends, it wasn’t hard to stay in touch, particularly with Skype, FaceTime, iMessage, email, and social media accessible nearly every day.  While there are some things that I missed being able to be home for in person, being away wasn’t as nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  And, I’m not going to lie, working on my own schedule and at my own pace was nice after years of jobs that didn’t have much respect for work-life balance.  On the road, I was able to find my own balance.  If you’re thinking about long-term travel, don’t let things at home hold you back from taking life in a new direction.  It’s easy to find a reason not to go.  Those things will never be that far away…and, you can always come back to them.

 

Image from Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off Video"

Image from Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off Video”

When Craig and I started to let people know of our plan to quit our jobs and travel for a year, we usually got very positive reactions.  However, among the excitement and curiosity, we also got some not-so-positive reactions.  Most weren’t directly to our faces, but it was clear that not everyone saw our decision as a good one.  Some people see our decision to do something different as a judgment on their life and their decisions (which it is not…you have to do what’s right for you!).  Not everyone has thought of what a great experience this trip would be for us but thought about how it would impact them (and usually in a negative way).  Some thought we were foolish.  But, there will always be haters, and you can’t let them bring you down.  And, while it would be nice to have the full support of everyone for our crazy adventure, we know that sometimes you just have to shake it off!  🙂

 

Planning session in Tiberias, Israel

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog before, I’m a planner.  I like to be organized.  Lists, spreadsheets, and guidebooks are my friends.  I know that not everything will go according to plan, so I like to have a backup plan ready.  However, I’ve found that when you have to plan every activity, meal, and accommodation of every day, it can be exhausting!  And, no matter how much work you do, things don’t always go according to what you plan.  Some days, sites are unexpectedly closed.  Some days, the weather doesn’t cooperate (for example, rain in the desert).  Some days, you run out of time.  Some days, you are just tired and want to have a “rest day.”  Some days are so full that you don’t have the time or energy to come up with an elaborate plan for the next day.  Over the course of my trip thus far, I’ve learned to plan less.  I’ve tried to talk to locals to find out where to go and what to do.  I’ve enjoyed just wandering through a city to see what I come across rather than planning every step in advance.  Plans are nice, but they don’t have to be perfect.  Often, the best experiences are those that weren’t part of any plan!

 

Walking from Mount Nebo to Madaba in Jordan

In the past, I’ve always been the type of person who needed a vacation from his/her vacation.  I get to a place and want to see each and every nook and cranny in the short time that I’m there before leaving.  However, when you’re traveling full time, I’ve found that you can’t really do this.  Every day is a travel day, and there isn’t necessarily an end date when you are going to go home and rest.  (There may be…but, it’s likely months away!)  So, rather than rush through a city or country, I’ve tried to embrace slow travel.  I’m not going to lie…it’s been hard for me to do.  For our first six weeks in India, we visited more than 20 cities.  It was crazy!  The longest we stayed anywhere was four or five nights.  And, usually, it was one night or two and then we were on to the next place.  However, as weeks turned to months, I found that type of travel wasn’t sustainable or enjoyable long-term.  Rather than rushing around, it’s a lot more pleasant if you get to know a place.  I like learning the rhythm of a new city.  I like finding a restaurant I love and having the staff remember my order or sneak me extra ketchup packets (as they did in Jordan).  I like running into my guest house/hotel owner somewhere on the street and having him recognize my face.  While this type of travel isn’t always feasible on a 10-day vacation, I’ve found it’s crucial to enjoying my time on the road during our RTW trip.

 

Watching the sunset in Wadi Rum, Jordan

I have done a good bit of solo travel in my life.  And, I would say that the majority of the travel bloggers that I follow are solo travelers.  However, in traveling with my husband for the past seven months, I’ve really enjoyed having someone to share all of my travel experiences with.  I also love seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.  When visiting an incredible place, it’s nice to able to share the experience in person rather than trying to recreate it over the phone.  When I’m at a low point, it’s nice to have someone to cheer me up and help me keep going.  When I’ve learned something new about a people, culture, or place, it’s great to have someone to talk through it with me.  And, at the end of each day, I’ve really liked having someone to reflect with on my experiences.  While traveling by oneself can be a very fulfilling experience (and I recommend that everyone do it at least once!), it’s also been wonderful to have my husband along for the ride.  Not every day is easy when traveling with someone.  (You can read more about how we survive and stay sane here.)  And, while some days things would just be a bit easier on my own, I wouldn’t trade having my husband by my side on this trip for anything.

 

Making new friends in Amritsar, India

As always, even in my travels, I like to push the envelope a little bit.  I’ve heard a number of people say that they will never travel to India or the Middle East because of the way (they perceive) women are treated in many of these places.  And, if this is your thought—no offense—but I think you’re very wrong.  Over the past seven months, I’ve spent months in countries where women are often not treated equally and where they are even looked down upon because of their gender.  However, I’m not going to let this stop me.  At every chance I get, in a respectful manner, I try to challenge social norms just a bit.  When visiting some countries in the Middle East where the men may manage the family and do most of the talking, I made sure that I spoke up.  I talked to immigration officials, I made hotel arrangements under my name, I talked when we met someone on the street who wanted to learn more about me and my husband and where we were from.  In small ways, that were respectful of the country I was in and the people around me, I presented myself as a capable, strong, and independent person who was to be respected…regardless of my gender.

 

After hearing too many horror stories of people being scammed or burned, it’s easy to put up a guard when traveling.  When someone starts to be nice to you in a place you don’t know, doesn’t that mean they just want something from you or to try to take advantage of you?  This is the attitude that I had when we began our trip based on past experience.  And, honestly, after six weeks in India, an attitude that was sometimes necessary.  However, the longer, we have traveled, the more we have found that the majority of people are curious, kind, generous, and friendly.  Not everyone is out to get you.  From the English language student in Turkey who used his transportation card to pay for our tram ride when the ticket booth was closed and then wouldn’t let us pay him back to the sisters in Jordan who saw taxi drivers trying to rip us off and insisted we share a cab with them, there are good people out there who want to share their country with you while also learning about you and where you’re from.  We were given email addresses by so many people in Jordan whether we had known the people for just a few minutes or interacted with them over the course of several days.  They always told us that no matter where we were or what we needed not to hesitate to contact them.  In Jordan, we also tried out hitchhiking for the first time and were amazed by how kind everyone we met was.  A group of siblings picked us up as they were running errands on a weekend afternoon and brought us along.  Another family, who spoke really no English offered us a ride, and then wanted to share their coffee and snacks with us for the journey.  While it’s important to be careful when traveling, just don’t be so careful that you miss out on unique experiences with locals that can make your trip amazing.

Is there a particular lesson that you have learned while traveling?  If so, share it in the comments section below!

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