16 entirely wrong assumptions about long-term travel

It's time for a dose of reality. 

Long-term travel is hard. It can be ugly. It can be smelly. It can be extremely frustrating. And - whisper it - sometimes it can be a bit boring.

However, it is always, always, worth it. 

Our two year backpacking trip through Latin America provided us with some key insights to being on the road for an extended period of time - the sort of stuff you wouldn't necessarily expect or hear about before you set off - and we want to share those pearls of hard-won travel wisdom with you. 

So, if you're off on a big adventure, or just interested to know what may happen if you do, take note of these 16 entirely wrong assumptions about long-term travel.

that your whites will stay white

Andrew used to have a few pairs of fancy white Calvin Kleins which would be worn on special occasions - every guy has them, right?

After a few months on the road however, there was nothing remotely fancy or special about those pants!

This is what happens when your jean shorts split whilst on a Salt Flats tour!

This is what happens when your jean shorts split whilst on a Salt Flats tour!

We all make the mistake of packing some items which we look great in (especially once we've got a tan) but the reality is that those white vests and t-shirts will inevitably get covered in unavoidable pit stains, dirt from your backpack and, between your hand-washing and unreliable laundry services, will just never look clean and crisp again.

For sure, pack some of these and wear them sparingly, but make sure the majority of your traveller wardrobe is not light or white.


that all your technology will survive

A Kindle. A smartphone. One Macbook. One camera. One tablet. Two Macbook cables - that's the technology that died, got broken or stolen on this trip. The items that survived are all held together by duct-tape and have been knocked, banged or scraped far too many times for it to be healthy.

Travel is tough on technology, so don't be shocked if your gadgets suffer a similar fate to ours! Take duct tape, invest in a cover/protector/case and make sure you have the insurance to replace them if they do end up breaking down!


that you won't have to budget

As most of you will know, we set ourselves a budget of £15 / $23 each per day for our two year trip. We won't always travel like that, but it was an essential part of our Latin American adventure and was one of the main philosophies we adapted for the trip.

When you start a long-term adventure, you are flush with cash and only time and opportunity lie ahead of you. However, it's very easy to go a little crazy at the beginning - when everything seems cheap and every activity simply has to be done. That approach however almost always leaves the well a little dry for the tail-end.

Whether you're a flashpacker, a budget backpacker or a luxury jetsetter, having a sound and measured approach to your travel fund is essential. Your perception of value will change the more time you travel, your perception of what is worth your time and money will change and your willingness to spend your dwindling funds will also shift.

We remember meeting a young couple in Argentina, in the first week of their one year world adventure, who were recommending a glacier ice-trek to us in town. The cost? $250 USD each. We explained that that formed one-third of our monthly budget, to which they replied that they were also travelling on a tight budget. We knew that in a few short months they'd look back on that adventure and be shocked at how much they paid (that's not to say they will regret it).

In addition to helping you look after your funds, we also think that - even if you do have lots of cash to fall back on or fund the trip - adopting a slight budget traveller mentality throughout the trip is a healthy and enriching attitude to have on your trip.

Whilst it's wonderful to sleep in a fancy hotel or eat at a high-end restaurant, for us, travel is not all about abundance and being able to live like a King or Queen every day, but rather about having amazing experiences, humbly. After all, it is often the people you meet along the way that make your trip, and more often than not, you will not find them in 5* resorts.


that you will always want to move on

Everyone travels at their own pace. For some, the fact that we covered only one part of the world in two years will seem insane, whilst others will perfectly understand our reasoning. 

We're pretty sure you can understand why a few days in Itacaré, Brazil turned into a couple of weeks!

We're pretty sure you can understand why a few days in Itacaré, Brazil turned into a couple of weeks!

Whether you're fans of super-slow travel or are more of a 'been there, done that, let's go' sort of person, on any long-term trip, you're bound to fall in love with a place and never want to leave. And, when that sensation hits you, we would implore you to scrap your thoroughly researched itinerary and do exactly that!

Want to know more about our go-slow travel philosophy? Check out this article.


that travel is all you need when you travel long-term

When you're stuck in the office, looking up 'country best of' lists and planning your route when the boss isn't looking, it may seem that travel is the be all and end all; a panacea to your boring life. 

However, on a long-term trip, you may find yourself getting, well, a little bored of travel. Lazy days are all well and good at the start of a trip, when having nothing to do or nowhere to be except in a hostel hammock is a blissful departure from what used to be the daily norm, however that sensation won't remain.

Indeed, too much free time may end up being viewed as wasted time.

So, our suggestion is to focus on establishing some form of project or goal to accompany you on any trip. Always planned on learning code? Always wanted to speak another language? Never had the chance to study the great philosophers because you've always been too damn busy? Now is your chance.

If we didn't have our website, in addition to learning Spanish, then we could never have lasted two years of permanent travel. Not only will a project or learning goal give your mind a focus, it will give you a welcome purpose and diversion on those rainy days or long bus journeys - and maybe just help the CV or open up new opportunities for when you return. 


that every day will be sunny

Perhaps this is more of a UK-centric thought process. Given that our little island isn't blessed with the best weather, we Brits tend to suffer from the tendency to assume that EVERYWHERE else is sunny all the time.

That, unfortunately, couldn't be further from the truth.

Before leaving, Latin America brought to mind permanent sunshine and heat. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to learn that it's also freezing in parts, sees a lot of rain at certain times of the year and, sometimes, can be thoroughly miserable weather-wise. 

Beautiful? Absolutely! But, it was supposed to be a view of Torres Del Paine!

Beautiful? Absolutely! But, it was supposed to be a view of Torres Del Paine!

In and of itself, that shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but it's something which can significantly impact your travel experience. For example, for a four month period from Chile to Uruguay and the beaches in the south of Brazil, we had barely twenty bright, sunny days. The peaks of Torres del Paine were obscured by cloud and we only went to the beach three times in the two-and-a-half weeks in Brazil, whilst some towns in Uruguay were a complete write off because of the dull, overcast conditions at the supposed start of summer. Even on our last day of the entire trip, in the middle of Brazilian summer, we weren't able to head up to Christ the Redeemer because there was so much fog and rain.

So, wherever in the world you choose to travel, be prepared for dull, wet or overcast days disrupting your plans more often than you may think. 


that you won't get the shits at least once

We don't buy the paranoia amongst some travellers about avoiding eating street food or in local markets. One girl told us that her tour company had advised her to bring her own disinfected bowl and cutlery to every place she ate at in Guatemala, which is just as insulting as it is foolish.

'Eating like a local' is a huge part of the travel experience and is something we recommend to everyone. But, with so many new flavours and ingredients all at once, in addition to iffy water supplies and some questionable hygiene practices, it isn't a surprise that every traveller will suffer some stomach upset on any long-term trip. In fact, it's part of your initiation to the 'hardcore backpacker' club!

In the last two years, we were both struck down with bouts of 'the skits' (that's a medical term you know) a few times. And, as fate would have it, it would always be in a place where we couldn't afford a private double or where a 'nice soundproof bathroom' was not viewed as a requirement.

So, now you know it's inevitable, would you like to know how to deal with it? Take a look at this article.


that every local is amazing

Every country has its share of saints, every country has its share of scumbags.

If you're lucky, then the former will comprise the majority of your interactions. Regrettably however, it is inevitable that you will meet people who have no interest in helping you, no desire to show some kindness or understanding or no inclination to make you feel welcome as a guest in their land. 

Not every local you meet will be as happy to see you as this little girl in Quilotoa, Ecuador.

Not every local you meet will be as happy to see you as this little girl in Quilotoa, Ecuador.

One of our biggest frustrations amongst the travel community (usually witnessed in drunken hostel chats) is the binary manner in which locals are viewed based on a handful of subjective experiences; everyone's either a thief and scammer or they are all the most amazing, kind and generous people on the planet.

Both positions are naive and equally patronising or insulting. 


that your partner's bowel movements will remain a mystery

Prior to this trip, there were two taboo subjects in our relationships: pooping and farting. 

Alas, after two years spending about 98% of our lives by each other's sides (ironically, the 2% alone time would be when one of us was in the bathroom), one of these sacrosanct areas of coupledom came tumbling down.

As it turns out, when all that separates your private room from the bathroom is a shower curtain, or one of you is suffering from the conditions described earlier on in this article, it's pretty hard to maintain that sound and smell barrier which had once been so steadfastly held.

If you're travelling as a couple who don't yet know each other that well, then be prepared to become very very aware of things and habits you'd have no desire to learn or know about your loved one when at home!


that your body will stay the same

We had pretty much the exact same diet for 24 months and did about the same level of exercise. Despite that, Emily put on 5 kgs, Andrew lost 5 kgs. 

Although many blogs, including ours, will outline how easy it is to stay fit when travelling, the reality is it's very very difficult. This principally occurs because establishing any sort of routine for a consistent diet and exercise routine over the course of a long-term trip is nearly impossible.

Food and its affordability changes from country to country, your cooking facilities vary so much that certain meals are impossible to prepare, whilst you will not always have the space (or inclination) to exercise when your schedule is so scattered between adventures, long bus journeys and extremes of temperatures. Plus, travellers like us drink a lot of beer. 

The most important thing? Stay healthy, stay happy and stay smiling whatever changes occur. After all, you can always get back to the gym when you get home but some of the adventures that come along when you're on the road, well, they may be a once in a lifetime sort of thing!


that your fussy eating habits will remain

Emily is a pescetarian, so we knew that would present issues on the trip through a continent that simply adores consuming meat. However, the more important lesson is that those of us who have irrational likes and dislikes of certain foods will, eventually, be pummelled into submission to simply stop being so fussy.

Seafood is EVERYWHERE along the coast!

Seafood is EVERYWHERE along the coast!

Andrew has never been a fan of coriander or adding lime to dishes - just try staying that way in Mexico! Emily used to turned her nose up at green peppers in anything and detested papaya - now she can't get enough of them. As for beer, well, Emily certainly developed a taste of that despite shunning it back home.

If you're travelling long-term, and on a budget, then it's inevitable that you'll have to question your own tastes and preferences, and expose yourself to things you may otherwise have rejected out of hand. And the brilliant thing is, you will probably end up loving tastes and flavours you never expected to like!


that you won't get scammed

Every country's backpacker circuit is rife with tales of 'this happened to my friend' or 'have you heard about the scam they try there?'. Although a good deal of this is a mixture of paranoia, Chinese whispers and a tendency to create an 'us and them' mentality, there's no doubt that scams focused solely on travellers do exist. 

As hinted at above, there are people out there whose daily existence revolves around trying their best to ruin your day or entire trip. If you're lucky (or oblivious to it having happened), then you may avoid this on certain trips; however you are bound to run up against it at some point on your travels. In Nicaragua, a couple of taxi drivers and bus drivers took advantage of us, but, by and large, we didn't have any major incidents and put this down to a healthy mix of common sense, scepticism, not being on our own too much and a big dose of fortune.

Do your research, speak to people in hostels who have just visited a place and, remember, that if something or someone sounds too good or kind to be true, then it probably is. 


that the stylish will remain stylish

Despite how we've appeared of late, we were actually pretty stylish before we boarded that plane to Mexico. We had fancy haircuts, spent far too much money on a t-shirt and, when we left the house at least, looked pretty good. 

However, when you don't have the funds to buy the fashion magazines, let alone the clothes between their glossy pages, and you're travelling in countries where people save their money for essentials such as grandma's medicine and food for the family, your priorities tend to shift a little. 

The simple fact is that, no matter how well you pack and how much you bring, six months down the line, you just won't look the same. 

Our advice? Ignore the thousands of super coiffed beautiful women on Instagram and the flashpackers that travel for a couple of weeks and find beauty in freckled noses and sun-blushed cheeks, bare feet and ripped jeans and focus on seeing the world - not just how the world sees you.

Want to know more? Read Emily's article on being a girl on a budget here.

that every day will be mind-blowing

Travel fatigue or burnout are also inevitable; anyone who tells you it isn't simply hasn't travelled for long enough or is lying to preserve the Instagram-friendly representation of the travelling lifestyle.

Again, it's something that you don't necessarily think about or plan for whilst you're preparing for your trip - and why would you!? Your time is better spent getting excited about all the amazing experiences you're going to have and focusing solely on those.

It's not everyday that you'll see landscapes like this!

It's not everyday that you'll see landscapes like this!

However, one day, you might notice that you have literally zero interest in the next place you're visiting. You've got no desire to read a guidebook or blog posts. Instagram just looks like it's full of tanned narcissists. Local quirks and customs make you angry, rather than make you smile. Having the typical hostel chats over a beer is the last thing you want to do. You may once have dreamt of Buenos Aires, but at that moment, you couldn't care less about being there.

The most important thing about having a serious case of travel fatigue is recognising when you have it and finding a solution. For us, that solution came to mean that we needed to settle in one place for a couple of weeks, unpack our rucksacks and do whatever made us feel happy. 

And, after a while, that wanderlust feeling will come back to you - we promise. 

Have a read about when we diagnosed ourselves with a severe case of travel fatigue.


that you will come back the same person

Prior to Andrew leaving, a work friend would jest that he was "going to find himself". It's a cliché often chucked at people who like to travel but it does contain a kernel of truth. Although we weren't travelling to find ourselves or become different people, changes to our mentality and weltanschauung were an inevitable consequence of a long-term trip, well-done.

We learned so much more about ourselves as individuals and as a couple. Our perceptions of a huge section of the world were transformed. Our knowledge of so many countries and so many cultures deepened and widened considerably. We learned a new language. We learned of a history that had never been taught to us. We launched our own enterprise. Our views on poverty, nationality, governance, development and redistribution were examined, challenged and then re-examined constantly. 

The hardest thing? Coming home and finding that whilst your world has been changing from day to day, that things elsewhere have likely remained very much the same.


that you will regret it

Now, we've possibly sounded a little too negative for some people in this post, especially those planning for their first big travelling adventure. Don't despair!!

Yes, on a long-term adventure, you will have struggles, you will have doubts and you will have moments of utter shiteness. Those are the moments that people are less aware of and which bloggers like us write less about because, well, people prefer awesome shots and inspiration.

So, in the interests of balance, here's some of that for you.

Although you will definitely have some rough times on your long-term adventure, if all goes well, those will encompass only a tiny part of your trip. In between, you'll make lifelong memories, have experiences others at home can only dream of, meet some great people, fall in love with places you never knew existed, sample new tastes and flavours every day, discover more about your own culture and beliefs by being exposed to others, gain a whole new perspective on what you value in life and have so so much fun.

Travel is a choice and those of us who embark on a long-term journey at least once in our lives, are making the best one ever...

...even if it does mean that you might end up almost having a dose of diarrhoea in the middle of a packed Colombian bus whilst wearing your swimming shorts. 


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Having the opportunity to travel long term is an amazing thing - but there are a few things that every person should be aware of before embarking on their first adventure!