20 Nov How to Keep Sane While Traveling Long Term
We dream of endlessly roaming the world, crossing off our bucket lists and seeing the most incredible places on Earth. We look forward to immersing ourselves in captivating exotic cultures and meeting people diversely different from us. We want every single day to be a profound learning experience.
That, until we fall into a traveling routine and get tired, homesick and burnt out. It could happen to anyone who’s away for longer than a few months. We start craving for comfort food, stay in our hostels longer than necessary and escape through Netflix. Hearing other people speak our native language sounds like music to our ears.
Here’s how I kept sane while traveling long term:
#1 Pack right and pack light
I cannot stress this enough. This is what’s going to make or break your trip. Pack too little and you might freeze to death on a 12 hour train ride from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. Pack too much and you will dread every single time you have to get up and go, literally.
I am 1.5 meters or 5 feet tall, weighing only 40 kilos so I was careful not to overdo it. My first long term backpacking trip was all over Southeast Asia for 6 months, and that was quite easy, maintaining my bag’s weight at 7 to 9 kilos. I started in Indo with all my beach clothes and bikinis, some yoga leggings and a hoodie for plane for bus rides. I rented snorkeling and diving equipment when I reached Koh Tao, and rock climbing equipment for Vang Vieng and a much anticipated week long course in Tonsai. Myanmar was surprisingly cold, but they had a huge flea market where I bought a couple of pieces of thicker clothing and ditched them as soon as I left. You can get away with just a pair of flip-flops and sneakers in Southeast Asia.
My best advice is to carry laundry soap and make it a practice to wash dirty clothes when possible. I usually wash a few pieces of clothing during my shower before bedtime. This way, your dirty laundry doesn’t accumulate, plus you’ll save tons on costs. Organize your clothes, underwear, bikinis and the rest of your stuff in separate compartments so you don’t go crazy looking for that one particular thing.
#2 Research on visas and entry requirements
Especially if you have a third world passport! The best way to do this is to get updated information by emailing each embassy, as blogs and travel guides can be outdated. Some examples of additional entry requirements, aside from visas and their costs are: ID photos, medical or vaccine certificates, bank or credit card statements, hotel booking, tour itinerary and exit tickets.
There is always a 50/50 chance that the immigration officer will ask for any of these requirements so it’s best to be prepared. Print them out in case your gadgets run out of battery. It will save you the stress of fulfilling the necessary requirement on the spot or worse, the extra cost of rebooking a later flight.
#3 Be more spontaneous
Once you are in a new country, it’s time to let loose! If you’ve done your research, you’ll probably have a short list of places where you can stay for your first few nights. If not, you’ll probably end up going with the other backpackers you met on the journey. It’s like the blind leading the blind, but hey, you asked for adventure didn’t you? While you’re at it, try Couchsurfing to stay at locals’ houses instead of the usual hostel or Airbnb. Hosts will offer you valuable insights and know the country from a local’s perspective. And always, always find kids to hang out with!
#4 Balance your time alone and time with others
Even the best hostels can quickly turn into hell when you are constantly surrounded by people – sober or not. It’s fun to explore new places with others, but try to spend some valuable alone time as well. Humans need some personal space to think and reflect. I, myself need a couple of weeks to make sense of my path, see where I am currently and where I want to go next.
Find a book you can lose yourself into, maybe grab a pen and write on your journal. Be creative and sit for hours drawing or painting your surroundings or whatever comes to mind. Maybe get a soothing massage at the spa if you can afford it. Challenge: try not to think about anything travel related for the day!
#5 Yoga, meditate, take long walks
Constantly carrying your backpack is a lot of stress for anyone’s body, not to mention all the 12 hour bus rides from point A to B. Destressing with some yoga poses will alleviate some tightness or pain on your shoulders and back. Having a consistent practice ensures strength, flexibility, stamina and mental clarity that is so crucial to our well being, whether traveling or not. Carry a travel yoga mat so that you can practice on the go, the thinnest and lightest one you can find works.
Breathe. I know it’s hard to find quiet moments when you are constantly in a rush, but sitting quietly and breathing freely does wonders for your well being. We need to silence the unnecessary chatter in our minds so we can be present in each moment that life presents us.
Get enough rest. So for continuous peaceful sleep, I have a trifecta of things that really help — an eye mask, good 3M earplugs (the yellow foam ones) and a sarong or a blanket. Also, turning off my phone, or at least the wifi really helps. I need all 8 hours to feel rested.
#6 Make friends, avoid relationships
If you are young and your goal is travel to your heart’s content and you find fulfilment in this endeavor, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Meet people, network with like minded individuals, maybe find your tribe. Talk to people from various backgrounds and different walks of life and learn from them. However you must be careful not to use people to your own advantage.
Be honest with yourself and with others. Take my advice with a grain of salt. Don’t start a relationship when you know you wont stay in a place for too long anyway, or you’ll inevitably end up hurting them or compromising what you really intended to accomplish in the first place. Worst case scenario (i.e. broken heart), try to move on from the past and always keep looking ahead. Note to self: stop adopting random animals as well.
#7 Call your mother
When my mom moved to my favorite surf break in the Philippines, I knew she was going to be all right. She is currently 67 years old, and without access to fast internet so she can’t Skype, Facetime or even use messaging applications. I made it a point to call her once a month to update her about my life, and it always made me feel better. She never saw any photos of my Latin American trip until I came home and printed some for her.
She might not know the difference between Nicaragua and Nigeria, but she’ll be glad to know you’re still alive. Boast about your new laundry skills, and how much you’ve been bicycling everywhere. Tell her how broke you are and how you’ve been eating rice and beans all day for the last few months. Tell her how you felt when you flew over the Napali Coast or when you finally saw Machu Picchu with your own eyes. Besides, do you really need a reason to call your mother?
And if you go a little crazy on the road, well that’s when you know you’re no longer a tourist! Safe travels. 🙂