One of the biggest misconceptions that many people who haven't traveled over a long period is that the life of those who spend a long time on the road is a bed of roses and that the exciting attraction of each location is only exceeded by the next stop on the trip. The reality is that there is a whole host of things that can go wrong as you travel, and there are also many emotional challenges that you may face as you travel for several months or longer.
This article isn't to try and put people off from long-term travel, but having an idea of how you intend to deal with different challenges or having a backup plan if something goes wrong is vital to ensuring you can travel sustainably.
Dealing With Illness
This is probably one of the most common challenges, although the severity of the illness that you may face can vary significantly depending on where you will be traveling and the local risks, along with your own health and existing conditions. The difficulty is that when you are ill, the natural reaction is to want to hide away for a few days, and for cold, flu and diarrhea bugs, getting a hotel room rather than staying in a dorm is a good idea as you ride out the storm.
If you are experiencing more serious symptoms, then knowing how to find the local doctor or hospital is useful, while having easy access to your travel insurance documents can also be important.
There are several applications that you can download on to your smartphone which can help you with this. Knowing how to explain to the local physician any ongoing medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma and your medication is also worth knowing.
Losing Your Passport or Travel Documents
Losing travel documents, or having them stolen while you are traveling is one of the most frustrating experiences that many long-term travelers will have to face.
It can be a real hindrance in terms of allowing you to move on to the next phase of your journey, while in some countries where visas are required and checked by local officials, it can even cause trouble for you getting around the country. Make sure that you keep a digital copy of all your travel documents and your passport which can be accessed online while knowing where your local embassy is when you arrive in a new country is also a wise precaution.
One of the things that many people planning a long term trip will overlook is that it can be quite common to feel homesick, and even to regret the decision to go traveling. The important thing is that before you go traveling, you consider how you can deal with these emotions, and maybe look at ensuring you are in regular communication with your family and friends at home. If you do regularly take a holiday as a group of friends, you may be able to encourage some to meet up with you along the trip, which will help you to overcome any feeling that you are missing your friends for long periods.
Missed Connections and Canceled Journeys
Another of the challenges that almost everyone will face as they travel is that eventually weather conditions, mechanical failure or even leaves on a railway line may cause you to miss a connecting journey.
This can be mitigated to some extent by making sure that you give yourself plenty of time in between each connection, but ultimately this won't always be enough. Make sure that you are covered for the cost of making the next journey by your travel insurance, and make sure that you gather evidence from the travel companies to show that you did everything possible to make the connection, which will help any travel insurance claims.
Leaving Your New Friends
One of the great things about long-term travel is that you will meet a host of new people, and you will often find that you click with those people as the personalities you meet as you travel will often complement your own. However, the counter to this coin is that you will become very familiar with having to say goodbye to your new friends, and while you are likely to run into many as you travel, this will often be the last time you see some people.
Social networks such as Facebook and Instagram can allow you to stay in touch and to see how their travels are going, but you will have to harden yourself to saying goodbye to new friends whose plans don't fit in with your route.
Having Your Wallet or Valuables Stolen
Dealing with having a wallet stolen, or losing valuables such as a smartphone or laptop can be devastating, particularly when you keep so much information on these devices. When it comes to these valuables, make sure that you have travel insurance that covers these eventualities, and ensure that you are familiar with the policy so that you know what you need to do, such as filing a police report, to claim on these policies. It is also wise to back up your devices regularly when you are in wireless internet zones, to minimize any loss of phone numbers, documents, and pictures that may happen. If you do lose your wallet, it is sensible to have a small backup fund tucked away that you can access online to be moved through Western Union or similar cash transfer service in the country you are visiting.
Fulfilling Your Medical Prescriptions
This is a difficult challenge if you are on long-term medication, as it will not always be possible to get local doctors to prescribe the same medicines in the country where you are traveling. One alternative is to make arrangements with your local GP surgery to allow family to fulfill the prescriptions for you and to mail them to one stop on your route, but you will need to check local restrictions on items that can be posted, otherwise, they may be intercepted and destroyed. The other option is getting such a prescription locally and may require you to arrange for your doctor to contact a physician in the destination country, or provide you with a letter explaining your condition and the medication you will need to be prescribed, which certainly requires preparation before you travel.
Developing Relationships as You Travel
One of the most challenging aspects of long-term travel is the fact that the act of traveling can make developing and maintaining long-term relationships difficult unless you meet someone who is going the same route as you. Even then, the pressure of maintaining a relationship as you travel is put under strain, as you will spend so much time together that any cracks or irritating features can quickly become a significant issue. Preparing yourself for this, and understanding that the relationships you make as you travel may be more fleeting than those when you are settled in one location can help you to be happy as you travel.
The Lack of Privacy in Hostel Dormitories
From the regular encounters with people who snore heavily, to trying to keep quiet as you sneak out of a dormitory to catch a 5 am bus, one of the biggest things to get used to is the lack of privacy you will have in a hostel. This can lead to problems such as not being able to get enough sleep through to trying to find a way to get dressed in private. You will find that your inhibitions do reduce after some time staying in dorm rooms, but it may also be worth budgeting so that you can stay in a private room from time to time, to catch up on your relaxation and to enjoy some much-needed privacy.
If you are going to be traveling for several months, the routine of visiting attractions, getting on to the bus and moving on to the next destination can become wearing after a period. There is a natural inclination to want some stability in your lifestyle, and the challenge of getting up and getting on the next transport link naturally affects this. For this reason, many people will prefer to ensure that the travel isn't constant and that there are periods of rest where you relax and do normal activities rather than visiting the sights or enjoying outdoor activities every day.