I’ve been traveling since August 2010, but it hasn’t been entirely constant: I’ve spent a little time living in Auckland, Christchurch and the Czech Republic in between that. In that time I’ve been to 23 new countries, met countless amazing people and done incredible things. I’ve enjoyed swimming with glowing fish in Ha Long Bay, volunteering with wonderful children in Cambodia, walking through the cobblestone streets of Prague, Coachella Festival in America and being stabbed in Indonesia. I feel like I’ve packed a lot of life into the past two years.
Sometimes I meet people and I tell them what I’ve been up to and they look at me, starry eyed, and they tell me I’m so lucky. I don’t doubt that I am, coming from a country like New Zealand has afforded me numerous opportunities not available to the majority of the world and for that I’m grateful. But I’m not lucky in the sense of having a trust fund backing my travels, it has taken sacrifice and I’m not just talking of the financial nature. Long term travel is much cheaper than most people think. If travel is a priority for you, then you will find ways to save as much as you can to make your trip a reality. And you’ll work almost any job along the way to sustain it. But there’s other sides to travel that in reality make it a little less awesome than everyone thinks.
From a materialistic point of view long term travel is hard. I don’t have a “room” anywhere in the world, there’s no fixed space for all of my things to be. Which is probably a blessing in disguise, because I’m less likely to buy things because there’s simply no where to really put them – unless I feel like giving my friends and family more keepsakes to mind for me (thanks team). When I’m on the road, every few days I’ll have a new bed – there’s very little that becomes constant when you’re on the move. Most of my active wardrobe fits in my backpack, I have three pairs of shoes and I rarely have an opportunity to unpack all my things. Whenever I go clothes shopping I have to think long and hard about whether this piece of clothing is something that I would want to wear in a third world country, because so many of my good clothes were ruined on my first trip to Asia. I haven’t bought any new jewelry in years, again, because I don’t feel it’s appropriate to take with me to developing countries.
My backpack has probably been the best investment of my trip, there’s no way that I could travel as I do with a suitcase. But some days I glare it and wonder why it can’t pack or carry itself. Could you imagine packing up your bedroom every few days and lugging it around on your back? That’s what I do, but on a smaller scale, although it doesn’t really feel like it! Although my backpack only weighs about 14kgs at the moment, when I combine it with my laptop bag and camera bag, I am borderline being winded after 20 minutes of walking with it. I thought packing would get easier or at least a little less painful, but it hasn’t. Just the other day I was in San Diego basically jumping on my backpack trying to cram everything in and shut the zippers before the contents exploded – much to the delight of a random guy in the hostel. Some days when I’m wandering around with my backpack on, I catch a glance of myself in a store mirror and cringe at my likeness to a turtle – it’s uncanny.
I love arriving in a new city with nothing but an address, and a map, and finding my way: it’s my own little version of The Amazing Race. I find the unfamiliar fascinating. There’s something special about finding a favourite cafe in a new city, or a mind blowing museum. Enjoying things you know would be impossible to do so at home, is just one of the little perks of traveling.
But sometimes it really sucks arriving somewhere and knowing that none of your friends are going to be there. I like meeting new people, but I’m at the stage in my travels where I’m getting a little tired of the typical traveler questions.
The “Where are you going?” “How long are you traveling?” “Where are you from?” and so on.
I understand why they exist and they serve a purpose, but sometimes you’ll be in a place for just a day and it seems like there’s little point engaging in the travelers introductory conversation for the 12th time today. I don’t like that I’m a little jaded in this regard, but I suppose it’s a necessary evil to keep me sane. It’s hard meeting people you know you can’t see tomorrow, and probably wont see again, on a daily basis.
Conversely, travel makes you act a little differently when you meet people whose company you really enjoy. Because travel, in one way or another, is fleeting, you’ll find that often the connections you have with people will be intensified. Whether this is merely because you’re on holiday and have all the free time in the world to spend together, or because you know you wont see them in a week/month/year and so you open up and let yourself be venerable. Either way, I’ve found myself developing bonds people which felt disproportionately strong when compared to how little time we’d known each other.
And in turn the goodbyes become disproportionately hard. Saying goodbye to someone who you’ve just spent every waking moment of the past two months with is hard. Especially when you know you wont see them for a very long time. Then, when you do see them, chances are it will be different. I feel like I’ve said more goodbyes in the past two years than anyone should ever have to say in a lifetime. I’m not particularly good at saying goodbye, because I find it frustrating when I want to see someone again and circumstance doesn’t allow: it just sucks.
A few months ago I realised that there’s absolutely no point even considering a relationship at this stage of my life. There’s still a lot of Europe, all of South America, Africa and the Middle East that I want to travel – that’s gonna take some time. While I’m not opposed to traveling with someone for some of my trip, there’s something special that I love about traveling alone – there’s a magic that I’ve not been able to emulate when I’m traveling with others. Being in a relationship right now would mean compromise. I would have to compromise my travels and in turn I’d be compromising myself. This isn’t easy for me to admit, let alone write, because I love being in a relationship, but now just isn’t the right time. And it’s probably not going to a good time for a very long time. It’s a bit hard to swallow, as I think few things in life would make dating as ridiculously impossible as perpetual nomadic travel, but it is what it is.
Traveling long term involves a lot of sacrifices, but, unsurprisingly, there is an abundance of rewards. At this point in my life, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend my time exploring foreign territory, meeting unfamiliar faces and arriving in a new place with little more than a map and an address.