Planning a round-the-world (RTW) trip is fun and exciting, but it can also be overwhelming and scary. I know this well. Last year I departed on a year-long adventure through Asia and Europe mostly with another travel partner, but sometimes solo. Along the way I learned seven lessons that I wish I had known before taking off:
Don’t be so Darn Terrified of the Unknown
Before departing on my RTW trip, I caught a case of the “what ifs”? For those of you that have never experienced this debilitating condition, allow me to clarify. I was scared, utterly terrified of the unknowns and differences that I was sure to encounter while traveling abroad. What if no one would talk to me? What if I unknowingly did something to offend someone? What if I hated the food? What if someone attacked me?
On July 1st, 2012, I landed in Vietnam and within two weeks my ceaseless worries dissolved. Travelers, particularly women, should always be careful. But, the vast majority of people in the world are decent, and proper planning and precaution go a long way. Persistent worries of the unknown detract from the very point of long-term travel – to maintain an open-mind in order to grow and experience in places completely different from home.
Yes, I know everyone says this. But, it’s true. Backpacks are heavy, doing laundry is cheap and shocker of the year, there are clothing stores everywhere. Who cares if you wear the same shirt a couple days a week? You likely won’t repeatedly encounter the same people anyways, and even if you do they’ll be minimalist backpackers too. So put down that cute bright-pink dress and fourth pair of shoes, your back will thank you for it later.
Delhi Belly is Practically Inevitable
While traveling in Asia, I followed every precautionary food warning. I didn’t eat raw foods, rarely meat and only dined in popular restaurants. Yet, I still had belly issues. My month in India was the absolute worst. Stomach aches are wicked. And, if you’re traveling long-term, particularly in India, it’s very likely that you’ll be confronted with moderate Delhi Belly at least a couple of times.
Switch Regions/Continents Throughout your Trip (if the budget allows)
After traveling in South Asia for a few months, the little things starting to get to me – the noise, the curries, the mosquitoes, the never-ending train rides and the touts. I knew I should be grateful to be experiencing places so vibrant and unique, but exploring started to seem like a chore. So, I scheduled a break, a stopover somewhere so vastly different from South Asia that it felt like another planet. Scandinavia. It was clean, it was comfortable and man, did it make me yearn for a return trip to South Asia! Moral of the story – enjoy and appreciate each destination, and when you start taking things for granted hop to another region/continent.
Travel in the Shoulder Season
This one is a biggie. Traveling during the high tourist season means hordes of travelers and inflated prices. But, traveling during the bad weather, low season can be miserable (I know this well after getting leeched on a hike in rainy Sri Lanka…). The shoulder season is the perfect sweet spot where the weather is generally nice, tourists are at a minimum and prices are low.
My initial trip itinerary fit all of mainland SE Asia into a two-month period. Have you ever tried to do a mad dash through Laos in two weeks? Impossible. Instead of enjoying each moment, I found myself constantly strategizing on how to fit it all in. So, I reworked the plan emphasizing the importance of travelling slow, which loosely translated to one country per month. It was cheaper, easier and way more fun!
Long-term Travel is Life-Altering
My RTW trip changed me. From the small (I now love pickled fish) to the revolutionary (wow, Buddhism is interesting) and everything in between (discovering that extreme watersports, long motorbike rides and multi-day treks rock) – I’ve returned home a different person. Certainly, this isn’t a bad thing. But, it can be difficult to reintegrate into a home that has generally remained static – the people and places are the same, but now I’m different. Would I trade in my RTW trip to erase these discomforts? Not in a heartbeat. But, it is something to be aware of before departing on your own legendary RTW trip.