Traveling Long Term – 8 Things I’ve Learned On The Road..

By Posted in - Big Trip & Budget Travel & Europe & Featured Post & Travel Gear & Travel Resources on January 26th, 2011

I had been dreaming about this trip for years. Really, YEARS. Now that I’m finally on the road I am so happy, I honestly don’t know why I waited so long and I can’t wait for the second leg to get sealed up (hopefully in the next couple of weeks)! The first leg of this journey taught me a few things about myself and travel in general. So at about 50 days in, I took some notes so I could share the little tidbits I had learned.

1. I am a slow traveler.

Sure it sounds awesome to jet set from Iceland to London to Paris to Venice in just 6 days. I’ve discovered this type of travel is not for me. Traveling fast is the surest way to see nothing and experience a lot of aggravation. Having only 2 – 3 days in a new location is just not enough for me. I like to wander around foreign streets and get lost. Getting lost really eats into sight seeing time, which is a problem if you only have a couple days. By traveling slow I can wander around as much as I want and still see the Eiffel Tower. It’s also a lot easier on the budget because you have time to figure out where the cheapest and best tasting crepe/pizza/wine is and you can figure out the cheapest ways to get around. I think in Southeast Asia I’m going to plan at least 1 month per country with limited movement.

2. I love volunteering.

The grape harvesting crew at Cerreto Libri.

Seriously if you are low on money and don’t mind some hard work look into wwoofing as the basis for your travel. Europe has been amazing but expensive. It was very difficult to stay on our budget of $50/day for 2 people even though we slept in cars and ate bread and cheese for about 2 months straight. The best part of the European adventure (besides locating lost family members in Lacedonia Italy) was the two weeks we spent on the Cerreto Libri farm in Pontesseive, Italy. Not only do you get to experience local culture in a way that is really hard to do when traveling but you get to help someone else out, which is really good for you as well. We have written about wwoofing quite a bit recently and if you’re interested in learning more check out other posts for more information about wwoofing.

3. Take out half the crap in your bag.

Our backpack carrier after Randy's bag broke in Iceland. This lasted about 10 mins with both bags before the straps snapped.

Yes, I read this a million times before i left but never truly understood the importance of it. Traveling with a heavy bag is a serious buzz kill because when you miss that train you are going to be stuck for a few hours with your giant bag. Time that could be spent wandering around finding the best espresso will be spent sitting by your bag in a dingy bus station. Having a heavy bag really limits your mobility and greatly increases frustration. We spent about 3 hours lost on the streets of Venice trying to find our hotel. Venice is a maze and it also has a lot of small bridges. Three hours going nowhere with your heavy backpack on while walking up stairs and over many small bridges is going to bring out the worst in anyone. Getting lost could have been a fun thing but since Randy’s backpack actually broke the first week of our trip (more on this in another post) and we had to attach it to a little wheelie thing for the remainder of the trip, carting it around Venice became a near impossible task. Carrying my backpack on my bag was bad enough in Venice but bending over to lift Randy’s bag over every little bridge was a nightmare that left us in bad spirits.

4. Travel is an emotional roller coaster.

Getting on the road was easy, unwinding on the road was tough. I felt like I missed Iceland in a large way because I was walking around in a strange daze. I was getting my traveling legs and trying to let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety and a lot of unresolved grief the stress of preparing brought on. Honestly I felt out of place the first 10 days or so on the trip. It is really important to factor in a few days of adjusting to a new life in the beginning of the trip.

5. Sometimes I like a little dash of a non budget life.

Whether that means allowing yourself as many gelatos as possible in a 24 hour time frame or enjoying a meal that consists of more than just bread and cheese, it’s important to sometimes act like a normal human being without crazy budget constraints. I loved camping but sometimes I thought we might have pushed things a bit too far since our budget didn’t leave us with a lot of other options. Putting Europe as our first destination was probably not the best idea because learning I like a little sample of non budget travel life was an expensive lesson to learn there.

6. Having a solar charger or a back up battery would be awesome!

Finding both WiFi and electricity together (while on a budget) is tough and a HUGE time waster. Even having a back up battery or one of those things that stores an extra hour of back up power would be awesome. On long train rides I could only work as long as the battery held out. Because of that I was always behind on processing photos and getting work done. That meant time I wanted to spend sightseeing was instead spent searching down electricity so I could catch up. Having extra power would have been mighty nice and it’s something I am going to look for on the next leg of the trip.

7. Managing expectations is something worth working on.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy - literally covered in advertisements.

This is tough because at some point in your planning you’ve imagined what the location will look like, feel like, smell like and even taste like. Sometimes you will be right, sometimes not. I talked Venice up in my head for at least the past 3 years. I loved Venice but I kept trying to find what I imagined in my head, which meant I was searching for things instead of just seeing them for what they were. I didn’t imagine large commercial ads covering the Bridge of Sighs but there they were. I had no expectations at all for Paris and it was kind of added in at the last minute and every single thing there blew me away. It is an amazing city but I think I loved it more than most people because I had absolutely no expectations for it. I didn’t even look anything up online before I left and we didn’t buy a guidebook for the city until we got there. I didn’t know a lick of French and didn’t know about the amazing $3 crepes they sold on the streets or the 6 piece band that plays in the subway station. I had nothing conjured up in my mind about it so everything appeared to me exactly as it was instead of how I imagined it should be and it was beyond amazing.

8. A paper & pen are worth their weight in gold.

The infamous notebook. Besides my camera this is my favorite travel accessory.

I realized on the trip that I am too ‘digitized’. By trade, I can’t help it. I have my camera and I need my laptop to do my work. However we’d been using Randy’s IPod for everything in the States. We used it to make lists on, calculate exchange rates, take notes, manage our day, etc. We relied on it heavily during the trip but more than anything I liked the tiny little notebook my sister gave me right before we left. The notebook is where I scribbled all my ideas, my personal thoughts, strange conversations I overheard and it’s also where I put all of my Italian family member’s contact info. I guarded it with my life but never had to worry about scratching it or dropping it. It doesn’t have a battery and no one wants to steal it. It’s what I used to write the names of people I’ve photographed on the road and it’s also what I passed along the Sorrento train for the boys to write their names in which ultimately landed in the Boys On Trains post. Would I have passed along an Ipod? No way. Paper and pen are king on the road and I am more attached to my notebook now more than ever because of all the memories it holds. I lost my pen during the last 2 weeks in Italy and I had to buy a new one in Siena. I couldn’t even remember the last time I actually went out to specifically buy a pen but I felt like I was really missing out by not having it. When you travel make sure you bring paper and a pen (or maybe 2)!

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(41) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Erica -

    January 26, 2011 at 2:55 am

    I think that finding out what type of traveler you are during a massive trip is part of the growing process. I’ve never been out of the country for more than 3 weeks so I’m dying to learn what my threshold is.

    At least from this point on you know how to change your plans accordingly. 😀

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 9:16 am

      Yeah, it was a great learning experience. I don’t think I will ever feel the way I did in Iceland. It was a very weird feeling knowing I was out traveling, had no ticket out of Iceland and no real time frame to be anywhere else. I’ve always been limited by a couple weeks in the past. It as surreal really. @Erica,

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christine Gilbert and eat-laugh-love-anon, BeersAndBeans. BeersAndBeans said: Traveling Long Term – 8 Things I’ve Learned On The Road. […]

  • Sarah -

    January 26, 2011 at 5:45 am

    I wholeheartedly echo “take half the crap out of your bag”! When we did a ten-month RTW journey w/ our two school-age kids, we limited ourselves to one bag each and one carryone. The biggest thing is to limit shoes and heavy jackets (get by with a waterproof windbreaker and dress in layers instead of a jacket). Nice to discover your blog! You make me miss our time in Cinque Terre 🙂

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      Wow! I can’t imagine packing for a family of 4! We limited ourselves to one carry on and one backpack each but still it was too much! Great ideas about layering and leaving the jackets at home and I agree one of the toughest things to pack (at least for a girl) is shoes. They all have to be multi-purpose! @Sarah,

  • Cherie @Technomadia -

    January 26, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Sounds like an excellent start, and excellent lessons learned so far!

    After 4 years on the road, we still struggle with finding our ideal pace and riding the roller coaster. In actuality, I think it changes often. Sometimes a quicker pace works, and sometimes we’re called to be still in a spot for a while. Especially when you’re trying to manage getting work done. And that’s the cool thing, you don’t have to choose.. just find what works for you, now.

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      thanks for commenting Cherie! I just checked out your blog and loved it!! I signed up for your feed. I too, dream of spending a winter in the islands – I hope you guys have a great time! @Cherie @Technomadia,

  • Christine -

    January 26, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I’m with you on the slow travel–even in Europe, I think that having a week in each city is key to really being able to explore! Tough on the budget though. You’ve inspired me to look in WWOOFing in Australia–I’ll let you know how it goes!

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 9:17 am

      Yeah, you are totally right – although even a week in Paris is not enough! I did not want to leave and felt like I could’ve spent months just exploring the city. I felt that way in Venice too and a lot of other places. Wow – I can’t wait to hear how it goes in Australia!! Good luck 🙂@Christine,

  • Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World -

    January 26, 2011 at 8:16 am

    When we went on a trip to Western Europe many years ago we wrote down our expenses on a small notebok… we still have it now and it’s such a great souvenir. We treasure it as much as we do the photos we took while we were there.

    We’re going to take one along with us on our RTW trip as well.

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 9:19 am

      That’s a great point Jill! We kept track of our expenses in the IPod and it crashed and all of our data is lost. I have been told we can get it back but I’m not sure how. Sometimes a journal is just so much better. What a great souvenir as well – you can share it with your grandchildren one day and they’ll say things like “That was all it costs for an ice cream??” hahaha@Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World,

  • Kevin Winter -

    January 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    It pains me to get home from a trip and find something that I never used or wore. I’m getting better at packing (no, getting better at leaving things at home), but I still have a ways to go. I would say that overpacking is the number one travel sin.

    I can’t agree more on pen and notebook idea. I travel with more electronics than I really need, and still the number of times I’ve gone searching for a pen and a scrap to write something down on… those silly little golf pencils have often been the most useful thing I remembered to bring.

    I, too, am a slow traveler. I like to explore how locals go through their everyday life and you just can’t do that in a hurry. Travel styles really become important if you have a travel partner- I’ve been on trips where the other person is faster than I am (we’ll rest when we get home!) and slower than I am (I just want to sleep all day…)- neither is a good thing. Travel styles among travelers makes all the difference.

    Keep up the good work, and safe travels!


    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      I knot packing is tough! When I’m on the road I’m ready to give away almost everything but when I return I still have issues packing too many things for the adventure. 🙂@Kevin Winter,

  • Laura -

    January 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I really enjoyed this post because I can relate to a lot of what you’re experiencing. We recently spent a year on the road and ended up extending our trip by two months because we enjoyed taking our time and traveling slowly. I learned early on that heavy packs are the worst. When we finished our trip I had to remind myself that it was alright to buy things again since I no longer had to carry them around everywhere on my back! 😉 And as good as we are at budget traveling, it’s definitely nice to splurge once in awhile – especially when things aren’t going exactly as planned.

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      Wow – good for you Laura! Still even with my heavy bag, I mentioned to be a few souveniers for my family. They weren’t bit but as you know all the little weight adds up. 🙂@Laura,

  • Connie -

    January 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Long term travel really does teach things about yourself that you would have never discovered. I think the most important thing I’ve learned in the two years of travel I’ve done so far is that I am quite capable of taking care of myself in sticky or uncomfortable situations. It’s empowering! Congrats to you for finding so many things about yourself that you didn’t know before!

    • Bethany -

      January 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      That’s awesome Connie. I completely agree. A friend once said to me that most people don’t just go to Europe and have no idea where they are going to stay. It seems so common to me, I forget even something like that for a lot of people is unthinkable. Congrats to you as well to 2 years of self empowerment! @Connie,

  • Andrea -

    January 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Agree with all these points! Especially the little notebook (we have one too) and taking half the stuff out of your bag. When we first packed for our current trip I realized my pack was a bit small for a year. Rather than buy a bigger one I just left stuff behind. Haven’t missed anything so far and probably won’t either.

    • Bethany -

      January 29, 2011 at 11:45 am

      I know, It’s tempting to get the bigger bag but it’s just better to leave things behind. If you really need it, chances are you can find it somewhere on the road. @Andrea,

  • Sally -

    January 28, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Yay for slow travel! I’m a slow traveler (like continental-drift-slow) and always have been. I’ve tried to do the whirlwind thing but I end up just feeling cranky and stressed and like I didn’t get a chance to really savor my time in each place. It’s really hard to explain to people who are whirlwind travelers why this method works for me. I ran into some friends in Penang, Malaysia who are whirlwind travelers — they had post-it notes on their Lonely Planet pages and an entire binder full of sightseeing suggestions. I ran into them again 2 weeks later in KL — they had visited pretty much every city in Malaysia by that point… I had visited two. They thought I was crazy. I thought they were crazy. But, hey, to each his own! (I still think they’re a bit crazy).
    P.S. I want to go WWOOF in Europe now. You all look like models in that photo! I can definitely say I never looked nearly so glamorously rustic while I was WWOOFing in Malaysia!

    • Bethany -

      January 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

      haha… I read some of your Malaysia posts about wwoofing and they were hysterical! Believe me, up close I did not look glamorous! I was full of burrs and rashes from strange plants!

      How everyone else managed to look so good, i’ll never know. I think the Tuscan sun and out of this world food had something to do with it 🙂

      I 2nd your opinion on the traveling too. Traveling fast like that couple sounds horrible. In my opinion, it’s the quickest way to see nothing at all! @Sally,

  • Kirsty -

    January 29, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Totally agree with slow travel, we realised by our second stop that we wouldn’t last very long if we moved on every few days to a new place. We like to get to know somewhere and we don’t particulary enjoy travel days!
    We have also learnt the hard way that we should pack less stuff, we have chucked loads of things away but we’re about ton shed even more weight (hopefully) when we head after to Laos in a couple of weeks!

    • Bethany -

      February 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

      Hi Kristy, thanks for commenting! Have fun in Laos – I can’t wait to go there. @Kirsty,

  • Lucie, Lachlan & Bow Wow -

    January 29, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Only now (after over 25,000 km on the road) am I beginning to get my head around travelling light for a more comfortable journey! Thank you such wonderful advice.

    • Bethany -

      January 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

      It’s tough! Leaving behind a lot means wearing the same thing over and over again, which thankfully I’ve become really good at! @Lucie, Lachlan & Bow Wow,

  • Jolynn -

    January 29, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Loved the article! I’m going to also check out wwoofing!

    • Bethany -

      January 29, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Thanks for commenting Jolynn and def. check it out – it was a blast!@Jolynn,

  • joan mckniff -

    January 31, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    great list ! I’ve just been awarded a transportation pass for free w request to post items, send in occasional photo. please be kind all. I don’t want to schlep my laptop and have only had little virgin top up mobile in case of emergency. sooooo I’m thinking of a phone w email, camera and lets me send photos to face book. would it be enough to do all or do i need to bring a net notebook or whatever. be kind,i’m old…….but slow traveler…5 years in Paris.

    • Bethany -

      January 31, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      Hi Joan! Good for you!

      I guess my first question is are you going to be on an international trip or based in teh U.S.? An Iphone would be great for you but then you have to jailbreak it or need a plan. A netbook would also be a good choice. Fill me in w/ the details of the the length of the trip and the country and I can give you some ideas. 🙂 @joan mckniff,

  • Annie -

    February 1, 2011 at 3:04 am

    As I read through this post, I was shaking my head in agreement at every single word. It’s so true, I hate rushing through countries and I’m always disappointed if I have big expectation for sights (I should say ALMOST always).

    I haven’t tried WWOOFing but absolutely will, maybe in Oz or NZ and although I’ve read many posts on it, yours have been some of the best and have made me really WANT to do it!

    As for the food budget, that’s where my boyfriend and I struggle the most. We love food and we love experiencing what each country has to offer. We really struggle with budgeting in this department. I keep reading about (and telling him about) all the heaping plates of Pad Thai (etc) that we can get for $1-2 in SE Asia… it’s very tempting!

    Great post! As far as budgeting in Europe, it’s definitely hard but you live and learn and it sounds like you still had a great trip! Yay for starting the second leg soon!

    • Bethany -

      February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      I totally agree. I’m thinking of SEA for the same reasons – $1 pad thai?! yes please! @Annie,

  • My Kafkaesque life -

    February 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I hate to rush when I travel, but sometimes you have limited time and have to make the best of it.

    • Bethany -

      February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      @My Kafkaesque life,
  • Fresh From Twitter -

    February 21, 2011 at 10:28 am

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  • Casey Camilleri -

    May 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I agree that just throwing yourself in a city with no expectations is better than dreaming of what it could be.

  • Top 100 Travel Blogs – Online Degrees -

    July 12, 2013 at 7:44 am

    […] This is the blog of a photographer and a journalist traveling the world together “in search of the unusual, the mundane, the beautiful, and the forgotten.” Some interesting recent posts include When Street Hawkers Attack! Rome, Italy, Calmness and Cuisine in Malta, and Traveling Long Term – 8 Things I’ve Learned on the Road. […]

  • Anne Rapp -

    November 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    What a great list with a different perspective. As my boyfriend and I get ready to take off on our first “world tour” I anticipate going through some of the above. I’m glad I’ve been researching things such as investing in a good backpack/luggage as well as extra batteries for your technology.
    There is so much to be learned from the road and I appreciate your views!

  • Anne Rapp -

    November 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    What a great list with a different perspective. As my boyfriend and I get ready to take off on our first “world tour” I anticipate going through some of the above. I’m glad I’ve been researching things such as investing in a good backpack/luggage as well as extra batteries for your technology.
    There is so much to be learned from the road and I appreciate your views!

  • Ivana -

    December 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Sounds good, guys 🙂 I totally agree to minimize luggage. We travel long term with two carry-on backpacks and is absolutely worth. Thanks for mentioning solar charger!

    Have a great time

  • Annie@GreenTravelReviews -

    December 18, 2013 at 5:26 am

    I agree with you on pretty much everything, Especially number one. I’ve never felt jetsetting through the largest amount of countries in the shortest amount of time is any good way to travel. How will you ever immerse yourself in the culture. You make some really good points here, great post!

  • Annie@GreenTravelReviews -

    December 18, 2013 at 5:27 am

    I agree with you on pretty much everything, Especially number one. I’ve never felt jetsetting through the largest amount of countries in the shortest amount of time is any good way to travel. How will you ever immerse yourself in the culture. You make some really good points here, great post!