Why and How to Embrace Long-term Slow Travel

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What comes to mind when you think of “longterm travel?”

A three week vacation instead of the standard American two weeks? A month off? A summer in Europe? Round the world? A gap year? There are all sorts of travel, and all have value. If all you can manage is a week’s break and a package tour of Bermuda, by all means, take it! So we don’t confuse a two week trip to the Mayan Riviera with longterm travel, let’s begin with a definition of terms:

Vacation

Usually one month or less, funded by a “real job” back home, and usually granted by permission of a manager or someone else that you have to “ask” for the time off. A vacation is a total break from your real life, relaxation, adventure, not what you do every day. Vacations are good. We all need them.

Summer Break

Usually 1-3 months in duration, you’re using the school schedule to your advantage and getting a little extended time away. Usually funded by saving up. Tends to be a gateway drug to longer term travel. I took my first summer trip on my own when I was 16, never looked back.

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RTW

A round the world trip. A classic adventure that has become a highly marketed commodity. RTW tickets and packaged “adventures” are sold hand over fist to the young and newbie travelers. They are wonderful. If you’ve never traveled and you want to go RTW, no reason not to take one. But… you could just go on your own, without the tickets pre-arranged. Usually 12 weeks to a year in duration, if you come back from this without serious and growing wanderlust, I’ll be shocked. Usually funded by saving up.

Gap Year

For the slightly more adventurous, a gap year is a year in the world, free form travel, perhaps volunteering or Wwoofing, perhaps not. In my opinion, a gap year is a very valuable, perhaps even essential part of an education; especially if a person was not well traveled as a child.

There are people who long for more, who desire to travel in an open ended way for a variety of reasons. These people fall into a group I call “Longterm Slow Travelers.” (LTST)

LTST

Longterm Slow Travelers are a growing demographic of nomadic folks who keep going after their gap year, or restructure their lives later to recapture something they realize they’ve lost in the “real world” of the corporate universe. These people travel slowly, spend a month to more than a year in one place at a time, dig deep into a culture and a language, seek to understand the world around them. It’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s open ended. It’s funded along the way, either by converting a career to something location independent, or by recreating their whole definition of self and creating multiple income streams through a variety of means.

Does this idea appeal to you? Let me introduce you to a few of my friends:

Talon Windwalker: Single dad who closed the door on a career, pulled his kid out of school, and hit the road. He’s a SCUBA instructor and a writer now, working as he goes. He’s about a year and a half into his journey.

Theodora Sutcliff: Single mum and son on an open-ended world tour. If you think her blog is fabulous, you should read her son’s!

Family Travel Bucket List: These folks have seven kids.  You read that right!  And they are fulltime travelers. If a family with seven kids can make it happen, what’s your excuse?

Duane Forrest: A good buddy of mine. I thought I’d throw in a single guy just for balance. He plays his guitar to support himself and set up an arts school in Honduras for underprivileged children in his village.

These are just four of my friends. I know of hundreds of people who make LTST their lives. You can, too.

The Secrets of LTST

1. It’s not a vacation

This is our life. We work, just like you do. Well, probably not just like you do, we work around our lives instead of living around our work, and that’s a mental shift that’s important to make. All of the hard things that happen at home, happen on the road, too, only in strange places and languages we may, or may not, speak. Don’t make the mistake of confusing “dream life” with “easy life,” or perpetual vacation.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

2. We have bases

LTST does not mean that we never have a “home.” We might choose to ride our bicycles and sleep in tents for a year or three, but we also know that fully furnished homes can be rented for a song in most of the places you dream of going. We’ve rented in France, Guatemala, Czech Republic, Tunisia, USA, and Thailand, to name a few. You walk in with your backpack and you’re home, right down the to forks and knives that are waiting for you.

This article is being written from a three bedroom, two bath house with A/C and a pool, walking distance to a pristine beach in Nai-Yang, Thailand. We’re paying approximately $560 USD a month.

There are several ways to find a base: Google “holiday homes,” “vacation rentals,” or “fully furnished rentals” for an idea of what to expect. A better approach is to have a little faith in the universe and just show up where you want to be and pound the pavement until you find what you want! The best places aren’t usually listed online!

3. We’re going deep, not just wide

Talk to your standard gap year or RTW traveler and you’ll immediately get the laundry list of countries, landmarks, and experiences they’ve ticked off of their list. There’s nothing wrong with that – seeing things is good and going several places is important. Here’s the difference with the LTST crowd though: We’re usually going deep in a culture, not just wide around the world. It’s often about cultural understanding, language acquisition, or education in our crowd. We see plenty of stuff, too, but the stuff we see is often not in the guidebooks. I know it sounds snobbish. It’s not meant to. It’s just that some things take time, and there’s no substitute for giving yourself the time.

4. It’s a balancing act

We’re continually balancing work and travel, but we’re also continually balancing enthusiasm and burnout. Longterm travel can get tiring, and knowing when to root down and take a break vs. when to push forward and create momentum and adventure is not always easy. It’s one thing to carefully plan your year, which goes frighteningly fast once you’re headed RTW; it’s another thing to be diving into your fifth year but only your fourth continent with no real “end” in sight.

Making it happen:

Often LTST grows out of a passion discovered on a gap year or RTW trip. People are bitten by the travel bug and have to keep going. Sometimes it’s passion driven based on social justice issues: education, agriculture, human trafficking, the plight of orphans, or food distribution. There are as many reasons to make a life of travel as there are travelers doing it. For our family, it’s all about education and bringing the world to our children as we show them the pale blue dot we call home.

The harsh reality is that not everyone can do this, but MOST people could, if they really wanted to. We have friends with health challenges that preclude leaving their home town, which makes us all the more grateful for the freedom we have in this season of our lives. There is no guarantee, and to put off our dreams for some nebulous “later” is a dangerous gamble indeed.

There is no guarantee, and to put off our dreams for some nebulous “later” is a dangerous gamble indeed.

For most people, LTST is totally possible. I know this because I know people from all walks of life who are doing it: single, couples, parents, intentionally child-free, young people, and one very old man who we met cycling for three months across Europe at 82 years old. It was not his first (or his last) solo cycle tour. We know people with physical and psychological differences who do it, people with serious health challenges in their families who are traveling full time, people who make six figures on the road and people who cobble together the next month’s income out of the magic of the internet, day by day.

For most people, it’s just a matter of restructuring priorities and income streams. People of all ages and walks of life make it happen. Career and money obstacles are the most cited reasons that people “can’t” to do it… and are also among the lamest and easiest to overcome. There are good reasons not to travel – money isn’t one of them. Does that rankle you? I’m not saying money doesn’t matter, au contraire, but money is an obstacle that can be overcome. Check out the websites of Adam Baker, Chris Guillebeau, or Lea Woodward for help on that front.

Planning: Less is more

LTST is not about checking stuff off of a list or making the “highlights” tour as is so often the case with RTW travel, or a fixed time frame adventure. It’s fine to have an over arching goal: we know one family road tripping North and South America who aim to hit every single country, another family that is determined to see the “biggest” thing they can find in each place they go, ours is to touch our children’s feet to each continent before we emancipate them to their own paths. But there doesn’t have to be a time frame, because there’s no rush.

For most people, it’s just a matter of restructuring priorities and income streams. People of all ages and walks of life make it happen.

You can follow the work, seasonally, or on a contract basis. You can travel specifically to learn languages or other skills. You can migrate with the good weather. After a couple of years you manage to untether from that guidebook and the expectations of others and find yourself walking authentically in the world, as yourself, and seeing through your own eyes. Resist the urge to over plan, and that gets easier.

10 reasons why LTST is a great way to spend a decade:

  1. Because you need to learn and you need to discover your authentic self and be stretched.
  2. Because you’re here now, you’re healthy now, and you’re not promised more than right now.
  3. Because kids grow up too fast to waste any time.
  4. Because your career needs a makeover.
  5. Because you need to learn to believe in yourself, support yourself, and succeed in your own right.
  6. Because we all need to redefine what “succeed” means.
  7. Because you want to give back to the world that gave you life.
  8. Because you need to remember how to dream.
  9. Because you’re dying… everyday, a little more.
  10. Because you want to.
To read more about long-term, slow travel, check out the following articles and resources:

 

Photo credits:  gloria.manna, SarahC1978, afiler, all others courtesy of Tony Miller and may not be used without permission.

 

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Leave a Comment

  • TurtlesTravel Blog said at 2013-06-19T14:16:47+0000: Well-said. We've been traveling full-time since about 2004. We're still figuring it all out, but wouldn't change the basics of our lifestyle for anything. No regrets whatsoever. Thanks for the post!
  • Bobbi Hartwell said at 2012-08-08T13:34:48+0000: Leaving 3 weeks from today and hadn't had a term (not that it should matter) to explain our plans to people: "but it's not a vacation - we'll still be working [our telecommuting jobs], just living somewhere else a few months at a time!" So thanks for the label and the links to follow up on. I'll look forward to finding some new favorite blogs.
  • Marcey Levine said at 2012-10-13T19:20:37+0000: Seems odd to many, maybe just a few....., but this is the life!
  • Marguerite Spooner said at 2012-08-17T00:07:42+0000: Love the thought at almost sixty it's time for a change of pace.
  • LifePart2 said at 2012-07-30T21:44:38+0000: I worked for 25 years and my longest break was once; three weeks. All others were a week and occasionally two. Now I travel full time and know life is better and never the same. Great article!
  • Kelly O'Laughlin said at 2012-09-10T23:04:41+0000: The Family Travel Bucket List folks have 5 kids, not 7. :)
  • UnwireMe said at 2012-07-30T15:24:00+0000: Love the Lake Atitlan picture!
  • Jeff Milum said at 2012-08-09T21:39:41+0000: These folks are a rare breed. On my one year RTW honeymoon we only met one couple who was longer than a year. They had been going for 4 years and are still on the road. Good luck to y'all who go this route!
  • Jennifer Miller said at 2012-08-03T06:58:44+0000: Thanks for the encouragement! So glad you're all out there doing the LTST thing, it really is an amazing way to live!
  • Alex Ivory said at 2012-08-02T12:55:52+0000: Welcome to my world baby! Wherever I hang my hat is my home!