Long term travel: What you need to know

Long term travel isn’t for everyone – but if you are keen for an adventure exploring the world, you will be rewarded by stretching out your journey. You’ll see the world from a different perspective, gain confidence and patience, and be enriched by seeing unique cultures and meeting people from all walks of life.

I travel at least six months of every year – and it only gets more addictive as the travel bug bites hard. Last year, I travelled for a 9-month stretch from the beaches of Hawaii to the pagodas of Japan. Along the way, I visited Europe, Africa, South America and Central Asia – venturing to a total of 33 countries. Some were repeat visits returning to places I loved, or catching up with friends I’d made on previous backpacking adventures. Many countries and destinations were brand new.

“How did you make your money stretch that far? How can you travel for that long? Did you quit your job? How did you know where to go? What is your daily budget? Did you plan out everything before you left? Don’t you get homesick?”

These are all questions I got asked repeatedly during my trip – and hopefully this handy guide will help answer them.

To find out how I can travel for at least six months a year, read on for my best saving and travel tips – and what you can expect from a nomadic lifestyle.

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The saving phase

Assess your priorities

You can’t have your cake and eat it too – this is particularly true for long term travellers.

If you want to travel long term – you have to sacrifice in some areas of your life while you’re saving. Figure out your priorities. Is your priority a coffee every day or a new dress each month – or is it exploring the world?

I prioritise travel above anything else so that means I never buy coffee, takeaway, drinks out, movie or concert tickets. I survive on instant coffee, always make my own meals and have a few drinks at home with friends. I’m content with Netflix. Hiking is my hobby – and that’s free!

I never buy new clothes unless they are needed for travel such as a rainjacket, or to replace stretched or torn clothes. I wear the clothes I already have. I can only take what I can carry in my backpack – and the rest sits in storage for months. I don’t need that many clothes.

I don’t own any furniture. I rent a furnished room in a sharehouse.

I live differently to almost everyone I know because I don’t eat out, or update my wardrobe or have a big Saturday night out. But that’s ok – I’m travelling the world.

Put your savings in high interest accounts

If you’re heading out on a long term trip, most likely you’ll have a chunk of money saved. Keep this in a high interest account while you’re at home to make the most of your savings.

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Scrutinise all areas of your life to find savings

Look closely at all your bills and see if you are on the best plan or with the best company to meet your needs.

For example, look at your phone plan, health insurance, car insurance, contents insurance and gym membership. Ask the question – is there any way I can make this cheaper? In most cases you can – but no one tells you until you ask the question. For example, I was insured for people under 25 to drive my car. There’s no one I know under 25 who would ever drive my car – I saved $30 by removing that option.

When you’re travelling, also look at if you can cancel any plans (such as health insurance) so you’re not paying for anything while you’re away.

Buy discounted vouchers

Need a massage? What about a gym membership? Many services can be bought at discounted prices on sites like GroupOn or ScoopOn. For example, you can get massages or month-long gym memberships for just $20. This can save you hundreds of dollars.

One of my favourite money saving hacks is also getting my hair cut at hairdressing schools. The students have to learn somehow right?! $12 haircut anyone?

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Long term travel tips

Don’t plan too much

Keep your plans flexible so you can stay longer in places you like – and leave the ones you don’t at any time.

When I’m travelling, sometimes I don’t know where I’m staying the next day – but that’s the way I like it.

It means that I move on when I want to – and often hostels are cheaper in the lead up, particularly in off season times as they want to fill as many beds as possible.

I always have a general idea of the countries I want to visit and how long I might stay but never specific days unless I need to be in a certain place at a certain time, such as to meet a friend or for a festival.

Also long term travel allows you to take your time and use cheaper options to get around. It’s generally cheaper to take buses or trains rather than fly but it can take five times as long to get to your next destination.

Ask locals about the best things to do

I don’t think about what I’m going to do in each destination until I’m nearly there. A few days ahead of going to my next country, I might read a few blogs on things to do and figure out how to get to my hostel from the airport, bus or train station.

When I arrive – that’s when I really start planning. I’ll talk to the hostel staff about what they recommend and grab a city map for more ideas. Then I go exploring.

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Be money savvy

One of the most common questions I get is if I have a daily budget. Yes and no. I don’t have a daily budget, but I do like to stick under $20 a night for accommodation and eat from street markets or make meals from supermarkets as much as possible. I rarely go to restaurants so I can eat as cheaply as possible.

I also get around as cheaply as possible using public transport that the locals use – or when I’m city exploring I walk a lot rather than using the bus or metro to get around.

Your money needs to stretch a long way – so you can’t just say that meal is only $10, or that souvenir is only $5. It all adds up  – so be savvy with your money, every cent counts if you’re in it for the long game.

Pack light

You’ll get pretty tired of strapping on your backpack week after week. Packing light will make your life much easier as you transit between destinations.

Unless you’re continuously chasing summer, you can’t pack for every climate – and you shouldn’t try. Take what is suitable for the climate you’re going to – and post items ahead of you.

For example, my next trip starts in winter, but will finish in the summer months. I’m only taking winter clothes, and sending a box of summer clothes to a friend in Germany ready for when I arrive in six months’ time.

Make sure you only take clothes that you will definitely wear and are travel suitable. Irons are hard to find on the road so don’t bring clothes that wrinkle easily. Pack clothes that you wear regularly at home that are suitable for the climate you’re going to – that’s what you are most comfortable in.

Money and visas

During long term travel, you obviously can’t carry all the money you need. The best way to deal with money matters is to carry some US dollars as an emergency back up – but for the most part, you’re best to get local currency out from an ATM when you arrive in a country.

As for visas – sometimes you can’t plan these ahead as you don’t know the dates you’ll arrive in a country. Many countries these days have e-visas (visas that you can apply for online) – but for the ones that don’t you can usually get them at their embassies in nearby countries. Do your research in advance though to see what countries you plan to go to need you to apply for a visa.

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What to expect during long term travel

It will become a way of life

Long term travel is not a holiday, it’s a lifestyle. You wake up not knowing what the day will bring. Each day you go out exploring and meeting people – or you’re in transit, sitting in buses or trains or at airports for hours. Sometimes you have to get up before the sun rises to catch an early flight, or your bus pulls into town in the middle of the night and you have to creep into your dorm.

After a couple of months on the road, this will seem normal to you, and you’ll be sure to lose track of what day of the week it is.

You may or may not get homesick. The more I travel long term – the less homesick I get. These days, I usually don’t miss home as such – I miss aspects of it such as being able to easily get the snack food I grew up with – or having my own room to have a good night’s rest. When I’m travelling long term, that is my life so I don’t get really crave ‘home’. The world is my home!

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Long term travel is not glamourous

Despite what many think – long term travel, especially as a solo traveller, is not glamourous. You’ll spend a lot of your time in transit. As highlighted previously in this guide, long term travellers are on tight budgets to make their money stretch as far as possible. Sometimes this means sitting on a bus for 15 hours or taking a flight with three stopovers before reaching your destination.

You will most likely be staying at hostels – meaning you’ll be woken up repeatedly by snorers, people turning on all the lights at 1am, or someone constantly snoozing their alarm at 6am, 6.10am, 6.20am…you get the idea.

You may not be able to do laundry for two weeks, or you hair may be a knotty mess, and your backpack smells.

Long term travel can be hard work and sometimes you will have bags as big as your backpack under your eyes and want to slap the next snorer. But I promise the good times outweigh the bad.

You will burnout 

Long term travel is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s different to a holiday in that you don’t have to squeeze everything in to the space of a few weeks. If you go exploring or transit every day, you will burn out.

Learn to recognise the signs of when you’re getting tired. Find a destination you like every 6-8 weeks and stay there for at least four days without having to tick things off your list. Read a book, relax in a pool, walk around the neighbourhood. You will feel better for it and be full of energy to tackle the next destination.

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Long term travel is all about taking the time to enjoy seeing the world, soaking up the vibe and sights of a destination and not just ticking items off your list. Armed with this guide, you will have a better idea of what it takes to travel long term and figure out if it’s for you.

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