The Pros and Cons of Long-term Travel (an Honest Assessment)

  • January 14, 2010 by Corbett Barr
  • 35 Comments

Long-Term TravelI’m in the middle of packing for a 2-3 month trip to Mexico, which has me thinking a lot about the good and bad aspects of long-term travel. If you’ve thought about doing some extended travel, I thought you might appreciate an honest assessment of both positives and negatives.

This time around, things will be a little easier for us, since we spent 7 months traveling last year. We’re also headed back to a place we’ve already been to, which requires less research and planning than going somewhere completely new.

The Benefits of Long-term Travel

Let’s talk about the good aspects of extended travel first.

You may have heard some of this before. I wrote quite a bit about how much I enjoyed our travels last year, and for good reason. There is a lot to love about traveling long-term. It literally changed my life.

  • Weather arbitrage rocks. It’s 55 and rainy here in San Francisco today (maybe much colder where you live). Where we’re headed, it’s 85 and sunny. Any questions?

  • It can be much cheaper than living in the U.S. / U.K., or other expensive countries. The cost of living in Mexico for us is 1/3rd to 1/2 of our normal cost of living. Your results will vary, depending on where you’re from and where you travel to, but there are lots of great inexpensive places around the globe.

  • Immersion in another language speeds learning immensely. We learned a decent amount of Spanish last year in Mexico, and no doubt it was exponentially more than we would have learned at home. It takes far fewer hours to learn a language when surrounded by it.

  • Being in another place is exciting. Experiencing a new culture is exciting and invigorating. Seeing new sights, eating new foods and meeting new people will all awaken your senses, stretch your intellect and satisfy you in a way that you just can’t get at home.

  • Meeting new friends is easy on a long trip. We made a bunch of great new friends on our trip, and I’ve heard from other people that they experience the same thing when long-term traveling. People are just happier and more open to new connections when traveling or living abroad.

  • Long-term travel is much more relaxing than short-term travel. A week or two of vacation is great, but you’ll experience a whole new level of relaxation after a month or more away. Even better, that feeling can follow you for months after you get back home.

  • It can change your entire view of life. Long-term travel can help you reevaluate what’s important to you in life. It takes getting away from the daily grind and intense Western/American culture to clear your head and see things in a new light. I discovered the world of lifestyle design while on my trip and haven’t looked back.

The Negatives of Long-term Travel

Now to the negatives of traveling long-term.

What, there are downsides to extended travel? Yes, definitely. In fact, some of these are reasons enough to keep some people from trying long-term travel at all. It can be uncomfortable and challenging. There are also some risks and costs involved.

  • Packing sucks. There’s no way around it for me. Packing for a long-term trip requires some forethought and sacrifice to make sure you take what’s essential without bringing too much.

    In addition to packing for the trip, subletting your apartment or house while you’re gone means you’ll be packing up your home as well. We’re in the middle of that now, and it’s definitely a lot of work.

    We’re renting our place furnished, which cuts down on some of the work, but we still have to remove all of our clothes and personal effects. It probably takes us 2-3 full days to get everything ready. Last year (our first time packing for a long trip), it probably took more like a week. We’ve eliminated a lot of “stuff” from our lives that we didn’t need, so packing is getting easier.

  • Logistics are time consuming. Making flight arrangements, booking accommodations and getting visas and paperwork in order can take a lot of time. There’s not much getting around it either. You can always travel without reservations, but I’m not that adventurous and it still doesn’t eliminate all the work.

  • Traveling with a dog takes extra work. If you want to bring Fido or Fluffy along (we’re bringing our 11-year-old Vizsla named Kinsey along this trip), be prepared for some additional considerations. You’ll need pet-friendly accommodations and special airline arrangements (and extra time at the airport). You’ll also probably need to visit a veterinarian within 72 hours of flying or border crossing, and your pet may even be subject to quarantine, depending on the country.

  • You will miss out on some things “back home.” I mentioned in the post from earlier this week that little problem of not being able to exist in two places at once. That unfortunately means that you’re probably going to miss out on some things at home, like birthdays, parties, special events, etc.

  • You can become disconnected from friends and colleagues over the long haul. If you travel for an especially long time, or make a habit of being away from home for extended trips, you’ll eventually start to lose connections with some friends and colleagues. It depends of course on how close you are to people, but there’s no doubt that the distance can weaken or break some relationships.

  • There are some risks associated with subletting, prepaying for accommodations, etc. We haven’t had any major issues so far (knock wood), but I’m well aware of certain risks we’re subject to by living this lifestyle. For example, prepaying for accommodations internationally and subletting our apartment could cost money or damage to our property. Common sense and checking references can help, but there’s no way to be 100% protected.

  • Travel will disrupt your work. If you’re trying to work remotely, be aware that the logistics of travel will keep you from getting as much done as you might be used to. Once you understand this, you can plan around the travel and make your life easier. If you settle into a place for a week or more, you’ll be able to get in a groove again after a couple of days.

All Things Considered, Is Long-term Travel Worth It?

For me, there’s no question that long-term travel is worth it. I think the answer depends on a number of factors though, including where you’re traveling to, who’s going with you and how long you’ll be gone. I would want to live in Siberia alone for two years (or Houston for a year, which I did back in 2001).

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of long-term travel? Is it worth it to you? Tell us in the comments!

photo by misselisabeth

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Lynne January 14, 2010 at 1:43 am

I think the “who you travel with” part is so important! I spent two months travelling alone in Thailand and it drove me crazy seeing so many beautiful things but not being able to turn to a friend or someone I love and say “Wow”.

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:07 am

Yeah, traveling alone definitely has its own set of issues. Traveling with someone you don’t like would be a whole other story too.

Andrew MacPherson January 14, 2010 at 3:11 am

The packing! My god the packing! That’s probably the real reason I bought a boat. It’s just one big suitcase that I pack myself into instead of unpacking everything else.

Work impact isn’t really of a volume of time issue for me. I have a problem getting in the right mindset when the time arises. It’s more of a synchronizing my mood with my schedule thing. This is especially true with writing. Where do you land on the time-focus continuum?

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:10 am

You’re right, it’s just hard to concentrate and get work done when your time is broken up into weird chunks, or when there are 1000s of exciting activities and new places waiting for you out your doorstep. It just takes practice and dedication to make working on the road work well.

Anthony Feint January 14, 2010 at 3:26 am

For me long term travel is also definitely worth it and the pros outrank the cons in my mind.

Loewen Behold January 14, 2010 at 6:34 am

Great analysis, but despite your detailed explanation of both side, I have to say the pros really win for me. Thanks for reminding me how much I love travel and inspiring me to design some into my future.

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:10 am

Glad to help!

jforest January 14, 2010 at 6:40 am

I mostly agree with this, and I agree with most of the other commenters that the pros outweigh the cons. One con I don’t agree with too much is: You can become disconnected from friends and colleagues over the long haul.

For me, most of my closest friends are friend I made in college, and we’re since scattered throughout the country. There are heavy clusters in Virginia, and some in California, but mostly, we’re spread out. We are still able to stay connected, and visit each other a couple times a year at various parties and trips. I think in this day and age, ti’s much simpler to stay connected with the advent of skype, IM, websites, email and the like.

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:12 am

I’m the same way with old friends from college, high school, etc. There are certain friends with whom the bond is so strong that geography doesn’t affect the relationship. Thank god for those. It’s the other people I’m talking about, the more convenience-based friends and warm acquaintances who you can lose a connection with. You will probably make up for those losses with new friends in new locations, but it’s something to be aware of.

Earl January 14, 2010 at 7:33 am

This is a difficult topic to put into general pros and cons. For example, I don’t have a dog, an apartment to sublet, I travel with one backpack and most of my friends are in other countries, so almost none of the above cons apply to me. Every person would have a completely unique list of cons, while its a little easier to generalize the pros. And to me, no matter what the cons are, the pros always win when it comes to long-term travel!

And I’ve now been in Mexico for 6 months for some of the very same reasons you listed – mostly language immersion and low cost of living…

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:14 am

Great point, Earl. I guess you’re more nomadic than I am, and this was from a more traditional (fixed home base) perspective. It sounds like you’ve structured your life to really minimize the negative aspects of traveling permanently.

Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist January 14, 2010 at 9:01 am

I’m with JForest concerning the friends issue. My people are also dispersed around Europe and Latin America, so traveling might in fact be an opportunity to get in touch rather than to lose contact.
Also, packing in my experience is getting easier the more you travel. I noticed that in the end, pretty much everything I need can be found on the road, so if I forget something, it’s not a big problem. That of course doesn’t mean that I LIKE to pack… it’s definitely the most unpleasant thing for me, apart from bureaucratic errands (visas, health insurance etc.).

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

Yeah, most things can be found on the road, although there are certain electronic gadgets that are harder to find (and more expensive) once you’re outside of the U.S.

Betsy Talbot January 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I agree with a lot of the other commenters regarding maintaining relationships. I’ve already lived a somewhat nomadic life (moving every 2 years or so for the last 10 years), so my friends are scattered and we stay in touch via Facebook, Twitter, and Skype. I don’t see this changing drastically when we leave for Ecuador in October.

The one thing I will miss is the regular face-to-face contact with my 4 or 5 closest friends here in Seattle, and since we’ll be gone for a few years there is no way to think of it as “temporary.” I just got back from a walk around the lake with a friend and she said she was really going to miss doing that – and I will, too.

As for packing/logistics, we are going a little more extreme than you. We are getting rid of most of our possessions and selling our house, so we won’t have a home base to manage while we’re gone.

I think you’re preaching to the choir here on the pros and cons of travel, though. We may disagree on the cons based on lifestyle, but you definitely attract the kind of readers that want to hit the open road no matter what the cost! :)

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm

It’s true, I doubt many people reading the blog will come to a different conclusion regarding long-term travel, but who knows? Each person’s ideal lifestyle is different, and travel certainly isn’t a requirement.

Katie Warner January 14, 2010 at 3:09 pm

love the article and upon discovering this article will be following this blog. I have recently started a blog about living and long-term living abroad. Please feel free to check it out at http://blog.traveling4yfb.com/

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Cheers, Katie. Nice meeting you.

Jason January 16, 2010 at 10:13 am

Awesome list here Corbett. My gf and I are planning an Australia trip (awhile from now…) for a year so it’s nice to hear your thoughts on travel. Luckily we won’t have to deal with subletting or having a “real” job while down there. This kind of insight into long-term travel makes me even more excited!

Second time to the same area in Mexico – have you considered making your next (third) trip to a different destination?

soultravelers3 January 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Fun reading this & the various perspectives in the comments!

We’ve been on our open ended, non-stop world tour as a family since 2006 & similar to some of the others we have all of the positives ( & more) but none of your negatives. It’s all based on the “how” isn’t it?

Like Andrew’s boat, our small, green RV with solar power saves us packing woes & has allowed us to travel to 32 countries & 175,000 (mostly overland) while living luxuriously & very cheaply (23 dollars a day per person!) in Europe.

Yet like Earl, we also often travel for months at a time with just a small day pack each & that includes laptops & homeschool supplies, since we have simple living down pat. (The RV makes a perfect storage unit/home/vehicle combo that is easy to leave for months at a time and does a lot of sitting while we bike, hike & take mass transit or jump on a cargo ship etc.).

We love the total freedom of not having a home, yet we have enjoyed coming back to the same beautiful warm village in southern Spain for the last 4 years where our child goes to the local school in her 2nd language & has consistent friends. Next year it will be Asia for a few winters where she can immerse deeply in Mandarin Chinese, her 3rd language. We’re actually more comfortable in Spain now, than SF Bay area where we are from!

We easily rent beautiful, furnished 3 or 4 bedroom new homes with awesome Med sea views for a pittance, which are filled with every convenience, so that serves our need for a home, familiar friends, gardening etc. Fun trying a new one each year! We also thrive on webcam free calls that keep us very connected to family & friends around the world.

The 2 things that were hard for us at first happened to be English books for my voracious reader & music lessons, but we solved that online with digital libraries and 2 amazing teachers (1 for violin & 1 for piano) that teach our child via webcam from another continent!

We like combining about 6 months of slow travel and 6 months of deep immersion as both “feed” different needs for us, enriches and prevents burnout. It’s so satisfying that we’re not sure if we will ever have a need for a “brick & mortar” home.

I agree with Betsy, you are preaching to the choir, but it’s still fun to read and contemplate all the different ways!

fenton July 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

PS Does age matter in this travel hacking thing? I just turned 67 and ready for a whole new life–preferably in jolly ol’ London town–thanks again Corbett.

brian January 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

To me there is no comparison – the mind broadening effect of long term travel is worth anything I would miss at home, especially material items. Friends and family, you’ll miss of course, but your friends and family will/should love you regardless when you return…if you return.

Robert January 19, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Corbett, awesome list. Always glad to pick up tactics for long term travels, vacation, retirements and such. Pros and Cons lists are always helpful. I’d add as a pro that you live much more in the moment, something I could use some of right now. On the flip side…my con is a big loss of continuity. Staying on target with a project, communication or pretty much anything is challenging while traveling…your mental fortitude is tested to get “in the zone” each day in a new place. Part of a skill you’d built up traveling often though, right now I couldn’t imagine bouncing from place to place while launching and building my blog. I’d lose my thoughts!

John Bardos - JetSetCitizen January 21, 2010 at 2:49 am

I hate packing also. My wife and I are keeping stashes of clothes and other belongings with family in Canada, Japan and Hungary so that we don’t have to bring much when we go to those places.

The best part of regular traveling is that it forces you to cut down on your stuff. It is very liberating to not have to worry about physical possessions. We are currently in the middle of cutting back our life to what can be carried on a plane. Getting rid of the the physical clutter helps to clear my thinking as well.

Corbett Barr January 21, 2010 at 8:14 am

Yes, cutting down on possessions has been a great side-effect of long-term travel for us. I always wanted to try being a minimalist, and now I get to try it out on the road.

Ash January 21, 2010 at 6:09 am

Just got back today, and let me tell you what – I really missed being able to throw toilet paper in the toilet, a steady internet connection, and weird things like carpet, Target & being confident that I’m tipping an appropriate amount in restaurants. :)

Corbett Barr January 21, 2010 at 8:12 am

It’s always the weird things you miss most, isn’t it? Although potable tap water is always nice too.

nomadic matt January 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm

like everything, there is a pro and con but really, the worst part about long term travel is none of the things you mentioned. The worst part is the temporary relationships you have. Every relationship is short and while sweet, it’s short. You don’t build bonds in any one place. That can be a drag

Jordy January 29, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Much agreed. I have friends strewn all over the world, and while I love that they bring eclecticism and interest into my life, ultimately it’s frustrating as hell. Being in a traveling frame of mind opens you up to meeting new people like no other experience, to the point that you can deeply connect with someone over the course of only a few hours. But it’s not real in a way: it’ll always end.

You didn’t go to high school or college with them, you shared a brief, wonderful time, and without a strong base of previous experiences, it’s often a beautiful moment you’ll never be able to return to.

Kudos to Corbett for getting across the very true point that it is often (far) cheaper to travel aboard than to live the average cell phone/SUV/cable package US lifestyle. I live a pretty austere Midwest existence, and I still spend more out on a casual night at the bar than I’d spend over the course of the better part of a week in, say, China.

I disagree with your packing problems, though. I find it fun to radically pare down your life. I spent 3 months in Latin America living out of a day bag sized backpack. I knew every inch of it: every ounce that bag held, every audible sigh the zipper made as it struggled close, was a symbol over the total control I had for each day’s destiny. How often do you carry everything you own and really choose your fate all over again every 24 hours? I thought it was pretty neat…

Archan Mehta January 23, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Hey Corbett:

It is a moving experience to learn about your sojourns to exotic locales.

However, if you travel a lot, jet lag can take a heavy toll on you. You cross time zones and some of these destinations can take days to reach. You also find yourself stuck at airports, waiting for the next plane to catch. It helps to be organized with details, so you don’t lose things.

Be careful about drinking water from the tap and hygiene issues. Sometimes, the street food looks delicious–especially when you feel hungry–but you can fall sick. The quality standards in some countries may not necessarily live up to your expectations. If you have a sensitive stomach, be careful about what you eat and drink even at home.

And buy a juicer to blend fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. Enjoy such a beverage in small quantities throughout the day. You can even carry that juice with you in a thermos. It will help to fortify you with essential vitamins and minerals. You need to monitor your immune system when you are always on the go to prevent illness and other mishaps. I hope these suggestions help. Corbett, your life is an inspiration to all of us!

Luther Cale January 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

I lived 8 months last year in Ecuador and now I am living three months in Chile, and I love your write up! I think you nailed it.

I especially like the advice to take a week in a new location to get settled before gearing up for work. When I have done that, I have been golden. When I have ignored that advice, I was quite frantic. No need, just chill! Thanks – reminded me why I love this lifestyle so much. Off to see a Beatles tribute band try to break the Guinness Book world record tonight in Valparaiso, Chile (I will not be staying for the whole thing, but I do love me some Beatles).

Earl January 14, 2010 at 9:29 am

I meant to ask, where are you headed in Mexico? I’m over in Playa del Carmen if you’re ever in the area…

Corbett Barr January 14, 2010 at 9:36 am

I’ve heard Playa del Carmen is gorgeous. I’ll be on the exact opposite side of Mexico, near Manzanillo.

Matt January 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Corbett-

In a way, can’t this “filtering” of acquaintances be a positive? Like you, I subscribe to Ferriss’s Lifestyle Design philosophy. A core part of that is protecting your more precious, non-renewable resource = your time. And lots of uncommitted “friends” can abuse your time.

I find that investing in the friends that matter always produces an awesome ROI. They’re the friends that, regardless of your GeoTag, will always be there for you. I’m skeptical about the others…

Enjoy Mexico!

Cheers!
Matt

fenton July 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Corbett this is a great idea and one that for me whose time has come! I just found out about travel hacking from a friend last night–he’s having the time of his life! And I’m ready to do the same!

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