So you saved for a year, quit your job and told all your friends that you’re off to see the world on your first ever long-term travel adventure. You bought your round-the-world ticket, subverted the naysayers and bid adieu to the prescripted life. Now you’re several months in and you tell yourself that you’ve broken free; that you’re an iconoclast; that you’ve stuck it to the man. You think you’re having the time of your life, little aware that you’ve fallen into one of the common pitfalls of long-term travel. Here, we list 5 things to ask yourself to make sure your trip is all you hoped it would be…
1. Am I just ticking boxes?
Dead Sea? Snap, snap, tick. Petra? Snap, snap, tick. Red Sea? Snap, snap, tick. As you do the rounds, filling up your memory card, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of ticking boxes. You visit sights not because you want to see them but because your guidebook says you should. It’s important to ask yourself if you are still genuinely enjoying yourself or if you are travelling for the sake of travelling. There is no shame in returning home earlier then planned if you are no longer enjoying the road.
2. Do I really need the lowest price for this?
Long-term travellers can become obsessed with keeping costs down. Getting something for the cheapest possible price is often used as a badge of honour (“What?? You paid 10 dinars for that scarf? I got it for for one!”) but keep in mind that the point of haggling isn’t to get the cheapest price; it’s to agree on one that is fair and acceptable to you both. Granted, it’s important to be frugal when you’re on a shoestring budget but local economies depend on tourism so if you can afford to pay a slightly higher price, it’s okay to do so – you’re still a ’real’ traveller.
3. Am I being X’d by my friends?
Ok, so you might be traversing hostile deserts and discovering new species but must you bore the hell out of your friends with it? Posting several times a day on Facebook about yet another amazing sunset over the Indian Ocean or your daring trek through Jericho last night might elicit a few fittingly envious comments to begin with but soon enough, you’ll start being X’d from people’s newsfeeds. You won’t know of course so it may be no skin off your nose but if you want some friends left on your return, go easy on the bragging. Instead, set up a dedicated space (a blog, an Instagram account) so if people really want to keep up to date with your travels, they can proactively seek out the details instead of having it all shoved down their throats.
4. Am I just hanging out with expats and tourists?
We’ve all been there: the sweet familiarity of catching our mother tongue on foreign shores. We are social animals and thus predisposed to gravitate towards those we can connect with. It’s little surprise then that expats are usually found in clusters. There’s not too much wrong with banding together with other tourists or expats but if you can’t remember the last time you shared a meal or a drink with a local, then you’re doing it wrong. Travelling is about experiencing new cultures, so step outside your comfort zone.
5. Am I being ethical?
In addition to number 2 above, keep in mind that you are a guest in the country so leave it as you found it. That means you don’t engage in anything that is harmful to the country, be it littering, entertaining beggars on the street or indulging a harmful impulse (Thailand, anyone?). Find a more sustainable way to invest in a country, whether it’s a reputable children’s charity or raising awareness via your travel blog.