Five Truths About Long-Term Travel

One of the stages of the hero’s quest is to leave one’s community. This probably explains the deep-seated, archetypal appeal of travel. People long to travel. They long to get away from it all and have meaningful experiences in “exotic” locations.  They look to travel to reinvigorate, recharge, and refresh them, and they hope for personal transformation, a new outlook, and a broader perspective. Sometimes, people travel to find something or someone, and sometimes it’s to leave something or someone.

I am one of these people. I left for a six-month trip across India after a series of painful losses left me feeling flattened. And it worked. India completely revived me – my trip gave me a new man, a new family, a second home, a spiritual teacher, and a focus. As a writer, India became my muse. I have returned many times since that first trip, started a new career, and launched an India travel blog.

In the excitement of dreaming and fantasizing about long-term travel it’s easy to forget that it is not a panacea. You cannot run away from yourself, and the process is not always smooth, nor as glamorous or exciting as it seems.

Travel in India - Mariellen Ward 4

Here are five hard truths about long-term travel.

1. It can be expensive.

If you make travel a habit, it can really divert funds away from savings or upgrading your wardrobe, technology, or household goods. I mostly wear cotton kurtahs (long shirts) I bought in India because I can no longer afford to shop in Canada. I don’t have a TV because I couldn’t replace my 25-year-old box when it died.

Like all things in life, being able to change and move with the flow of life, the flow of energy, is always the healthiest and most satisfying thing to do – so I am now embracing being home.

Though traveling in developing countries can be cheaper than living at home (provided you live in a western region like North America or Europe), many travelers have to choose one or the other – traveling all the time or owning lots of stuff. Some are fortunate enough to have it both ways, but those people are generally in the minority.

2. It can be lonely.

Unless you travel with an equally keen partner, you will often find yourself alone, and out of the sync of things back home. It’s great to be alone, don’t get me wrong, but long-term travel can leave you feeling rootless. And if you are of a “certain age,” this can be an anxiety-provoking feeling.

3. It can be disillusioning.

On my fourth lengthy trip to India, I realized that the honeymoon was over. India had become so familiar that the spell of the “exotic” had worn off, and many of the sights, smells, and sounds were no longer charming, novel, or exciting – they were commonplace, tiring, or annoying.

At one point during my trip, I can remember thinking, “What am I doing here?” And with two more months to go until the trip ended, confusion and tedium loomed large.

4. It can be addictive.

Travel in India - Mariellen Ward 1

Running away from it all can become an addiction. And like all addictions, it has a dark side. Your original idea may have been to genuinely re-connect with yourself, but over time and repeated trips, you may find that you replaced one persona with another: now you’re the person who travels all the time instead of the person who worked 9-5 as a marketing coordinator. You can’t run away from yourself, but you can do a pretty good job of deceiving yourself for a good long time.


5. It can end.

When I first went to India, I gave very little thought to life after “the big trip.” But someday, you will be standing in a new apartment surrounded by boxes wondering, “What next?” It can be exciting, and it can also be a big let-down.

My six-month trip to India was originally a way of getting out of my tomb-like apartment, shaking up my life, and most importantly, manifesting a long-held dream. I have achieved all of these things and more, and I am now at a new stage in the hero’s journey: amalgamating my “boon” from those travels and studies in India and finding ways to share and incorporate those truths into a building a new life for myself.

It has been a bumpy transition, mostly because though this phase is just as exciting and rewarding, it gets a lot less press. However, like all things in life, being able to change and move with the flow of life, the flow of energy, is always the healthiest and most satisfying thing to do – so I am now embracing being home.

Mariellen Ward writes about India, yoga and transformative travel on her blog  BreatheDreamGo. Mariellen has just begun her seventh journey to India. You can follow her on Twitter @breathedreamgo and on Facebook.


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Older comments on Five Truths About Long-Term Travel

Shelley Seale
24 September 2010

Great article, and so timely after the mostly unrealistic romanticism of “Eat Pray Love.” I like the movie, but it didn’t address these VERY true things that come with long term travel. Kudos!

24 September 2010

Nice post Mariellen…some of my thoughts re:

1. Yes, but it can also be cheap. Cheaper than living at home. It all comes down to priorities and choice.

2. Being new to solo travel myself (and being or nearing that ‘certain age’) I can attest to this!

3. So so true. I think one of the biggest “mistakes” new travelers do is have high expectations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: expectations lead to disappointment. Just experience it for what it is, instead of what you think it will be.

4. I’m very happy to have replaced my old 9-5 persona with this one 😉

5. Reverse culture shock can be extremely difficult to cope with. Just think of those long weekends away with friends, and then returning, feeling a little depressed. Now stretch that long weekend to months and more “exotic” places visited.

24 September 2010

To get an idea of what long-term travel is like I suggest you read “A Month of Sundays” by Edward Webster. He and his wife (who is blind) travel to Europe for a about one year. His book describes their experience (good and bad) and gives you a fantastic look at what to expect. A great read before you take that long term trip!

Maria Andrea
26 September 2010

it can be exhausting too.