I quit my job to travel the world almost three years ago. Yes, I know you have heard that phrase before -- but I am not going to tell you about how you can do the same thing while making six figures selling e-courses. This is not that kind of article.
Traveling was everything I thought it would be -- and so much more. It gave me more confidence and time to reflect on feelings and fears I had long suppressed. Each day I woke more inspired to take chances and find new adventures. Despite all this, there was one thing I didn’t know: how hard traveling could be.
I was 27 when I quit my job, and completely over the long hours and stressful living caused by the nine-to-five world. I had recently ended a tumultuous long-term relationship so it became easy for me to let go of the material attachments in my life. I was on a life-cleansing streak.
A life of travel was my next step, but within weeks of backpacking, I was hit with unexpected dilemmas and an uncomfortable reality. Here are the three biggest hardships I learned about traveling:
1. Country Counting Can Kill Your Travel Experience
I saw it all over social media -- especially Instagram: backpackers, frequent flyers, and travel bloggers bragging about hitting 30 countries before 30 years old. I secretly wondered if I could achieve that too.
I felt so far behind, at 27 years old. But if I explored quickly and kept it moving, I could do it… right? I wanted to be a part of the passport club because traveling excited me. I wanted to be able to join those conversations because they seemed overjoyed and proud.
But they weren’t me -- and this was not their journey. I hadn’t realized that yet.
When I left my job to start traveling I lived in Costa Rica for two and a half months on just $500, staying still and embracing one location. Shortly thereafter, with a slight restlessness and desire to see as much as possible, I explored five countries within the same amount of time.
But something was different about that second experience. I loved the adventure, of course, but it felt quite rushed.
And these days, as weeks turn into months and months into years, I find parts of the experiences and memories fading away. Towns blur into each other and I most recall rushing to catch planes and buses, getting sick, resting for 1-2 days, and moving on.
What about the in-between? When we rush, we’re always thinking about our next move and forget to appreciate the moment. If it wasn’t captured on social media or in a photograph, I fear many of my undocumented travel memories could be lost because I was moving too quickly.
I eventually learned my lesson, yes. And got my 30 countries. But those 30 countries felt no different than visiting 20, I later realized. And if I could do it all again, I would’ve taken my time.
I would have ignored the counting and stayed at least one month in each country, digging my feet into their daily routines and stopping to journal and observe more.
2. You Will Often Feel Guilty and Disconnected with "Home"
Defining "home" was challenging for me when I first started traveling. When I quit my job, I rented my apartment and belongings for a few months before eventually purging almost everything I owned. It felt freeing and uplifting to not feel tied down by my possessions.
I thought I could take on the world.
But I did not account for how I would feel when calling home to get caught up on the latest family misfortune news, or browsing the Internet to see my country in shambles.
I felt guilty for missing birthdays and holidays -- I knew my mom was emotional about it. I felt guilty knowing so many ill and impoverished people would probably never see what I am seeing due to their circumstance. I felt fearful reading about police brutalities against Black people and domestic terrorism in the United States. I felt helpless watching Native Americans fight for sacred land.
This was my home and there was nothing I could do about these things from across the world. I felt disconnected and wondered if I was wrong for traveling in the first place.
I should be on home soil fighting, I thought. Making change.
It took some time and significant research to realize that I could do something. That I wasn’t as disconnected as I thought.
I started by signing petitions, voting absentee, and making calls to legislators. I changed my course and purpose. I no longer traveled for my own growth, but to continue inspiring people through my travel writing and blog. I even started shedding light on thoughts and events and how they relate to travel. To my surprise, these small actions pushed others to participate in moving mountains; it was more than I expected.
I was suddenly answering daily emails and messages from people who felt encouraged to take chances. I started uplifting others to take advantage of their passport privilege and explore more to broaden their perspective. To open their hearts.
I tried my best to start traveling with purpose and it helped me feel most connected to "home."
3. Wanderlust Can Be Insatiable
Whether it’s a gap year, study or volunteer abroad program or some variation of “I quit X to travel the world”, you will have no idea how addictive traveling can be until you dip your feet in.
I knew I loved visiting unfamiliar destinations. I knew I loved exploring different cultures, cities, and natural wonders. But I could have never guessed how addicting it would be.
By definition, wanderlust is a strong desire to travel. But no one told me this desire would never be satisfied. No one told me I couldn’t just backpack for six months. I couldn’t just travel to new continents. I couldn’t just take a break from work.
No one told me I would want more.
More countries. More treks. More beaches and waterfalls.
Wanderlust is dangerous. While I have certainly heard about people who get tired of budget travel or backpacking (understandably so) they never quite stop traveling, they just change the way they travel.
Yes, there are some people who return to the working world, but it is usually to start a business idea they thought of while overseas, return to a job they absolutely loved, or get a quick gig to replenish their travel fund.
I am currently on my fifth wanderlust relapse.
That’s five times saying, “I just want to explore X countries for a few months and then I will settle down.” Five times!
I don’t say that anymore because I know my wanderlust may never be satisfied. No one visit can show you an entire country or culture: the world is too big and there are too many places to explore.
One day I might have a family and consider swapping long-term travel for quarterly adventures, finances considering. One day I might take luxury trips instead of slow budget travel. Or one day I’ll live in a place that offers more direct, affordable access to other countries.
I cannot imagine myself saying, “I’m done with travel.” I cannot imagine that desire fizzling. If I had known that sooner, I would've tried to better balance life and travel, adjusted my expectations, and kept in touch with friends and family more often, as opposed to delivering empty promises of "I'll be back soon."
Travel will always be a part of my life in some way.
I am glad I learned these difficult lessons early on and am sure travel truths come in seasons. The good thing about traveling: you learn to keep an open mind.
Explore Gap Year Programs around the world to plan your own.Photo credit: Unsplash