When Travel Loses Its Luster

Vendors call out from their booths. The bright yellows, reds and greens of fruit and vegetables pounce my view with every glance. Reaching ‘our’ vegetable lady, we make the usual purchases. Then we visit the other regulars to buy the remainder of our groceries.

My husband and I are doing the weekly shopping at the local market in Panajachel, Guatemala. After more than a year here, we’ve learned where to get the best prices on produce, who sells chia seeds, cashews and wheat flour, and when local apples are in season.

We’ve also watched as the hills around us have changed, from the earth brown of freshly plowed fields, to the bright greens of growing maize to the pale yellow of corn stalks before the air is filled with smoke from their burning.

As a traveler on the move, these are some of the nuances of a place that you’ll never be able to assimilate.

But embrace slow world exploration, “settling” in one locale over a period of several months or even years, and you discover a new side to travel. Now you’re learning the name of the local tortilla lady and finding that favorite local hangout that serves the best authentic food.

Grocery shopping

Sounds captivating, doesn’t it?

For many wanderlusters, this is the ultimate dream. Long term travel has a lot to offer. It’s a great way to absorb the local culture and language and provides an inexpensive way to explore the world.

But when you slow down and aim instead for unhurried and long, ‘travel’ begins to take on another form.

However, there are a few things that long-term travelers have discovered that you may not know, but should be prepared to encounter as the months (and years) of travel add up.

Long term travel is more like “real” life than a vacation

Many people think of “travel” as one big vacation. Tours, excursions, hotels, restaurants and the like. But when you slow down and aim instead for unhurried and long, “travel” begins to take on another form.

Instead of hotels, it’s rental houses. Eating out morphs to shopping at markets and grocery stores and cooking at home. There’s house cleaning and errands and work (for many digital nomads). Life must go on.
It can be more interesting, because you’re living it in a different place, but don’t be surprised when some of the initial honeymoon phase wears off as your attention turns from sightseeing to daily duties.

Long-term travel can lead to mundaneness

Market in Panajachel

Unfortunate but true, as your attention turns toward those daily duties, and shopping at the market is no longer a tourist attraction but a weekly chore, it can begin to lose it’s initial fascination and instead become monotonous.

The same lady is yelling about tortillas for sale everyday. Every week I have to lug my groceries out to the street to catch a taxi. What was exciting and new and stimulating and “part of the experience” is now normal and routine.

What was exciting and new and stimulating and ‘part of the experience’ is now normal and routine.

The good thing is, as a nomad, you can move on and go somewhere new, where the intoxication of fresh experiences takes over once again. Or you can consciously look through the lens you had when you first arrived.

If not, be careful, because the mundaneness can lead to something even worse… annoyance.

Long-term travel can cause culture annoyance

Napping

During the “honeymoon” phase of travel, all the nuances of a new culture are fun, fascinating, and entertaining. It’s what makes travel intoxicating.

“Wow! They use broken bottles on the tops of the walls as ‘barbed wire.’”

“Woah! They’re so laid back here, so relaxed and unhurried. It’s great!”

Everything you encounter is just “part of the experience.”

But once those novelties lose their newness, and you get into a normal life routine, they can often become annoying.

“Why do I have to dodge dog crap every time I walk around town to do my errands?”

“Why are there so many flies at the market while I shop?”

“Why do I have to wait in line for 3 hours just to get a cell phone or withdraw money from the bank?”

It happens to the best of us, so when culture annoyance occurs, it’s best to take a pause and a deep breath and remind yourself why you chose this journey in the first place.

Long-term travel can result in visa challenges

Passport stamp

Heading off to explore Central America for three months? Sounds great, have a wonderful time.

Plan to slowly explore for three years? You’ll certainly face some visa challenges.

When you travel long-term, visas can become a really big deal… and often a big annoyance.

Did you know you can only visit Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador for a total of 90 days? Not 90 days each, but 90 days total for all four countries (it’s called the CA4, similar to the European Union’s Schengen Agreement.) If you want to explore longer in those countries then you’ll have to renew your 90 day visa by visiting Costa Rica, Panama, Belize or Mexico. (Just make sure your up to date on their visa requirements as well!)

When you travel long-term, visas can become a really big deal… and often a big annoyance. Many expats have put down roots in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But did you know that you have to leave Thailand every month just so you can continue living there longer.

If you want to slow down and really enjoy a place, dealing with visas becomes a major challenge.

Long-term travel can cause you to be “one of those” expats/travelers

Thailand McDonalds

When you travel to a place, you go to experience what it has to offer. But some travelers and expats visit a place expecting to find it a mini version of their own country. They’re the ones you’ll here making statements like, “XXX would be perfect if only it had a XXX.”

Yes, you may miss certain things about your home country. But the intention of traveling to or living in a foreign land is not to make it more like your own, but to embrace how it is. If you miss certain things so much you wish they had them where you are, maybe it’s time to go home.

Long-term travel is an outstanding way to spend a portion of your life — as an indie, couple. or family with children. It has much to offer that short term trips cannot.

But we should beware the potentially unavoidable pitfalls, and be prepared for them when they cross our path.

Read more on the realities of long-term travel and how to deal with travel burnout:

Manifesto - replace broad expectations with nuanced realities

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Leave a Comment

  • Melanie Murrish said at 2014-03-24T14:25:22+0000: Great post Rachel; those rose-tinted glasses don't last for ever! My Mam says we should have had a caravan for that very reason.
  • Karen Schindel Johnson said at 2014-03-26T04:48:57+0000: Right on! About "Plan to slowly explore for three years? You’ll certainly face some visa challenges...If you want to explore longer in those countries then you’ll have to renew your 90 day visa." Need to be aware some countries don't endlessly renew. They may limit how many times per year your visa is renewed or extended.We have so much learning yet ahead for us, I hope we can learn to roll with the punches! and move on gracefully.
  • Elvin Gabrielle Torres said at 2014-03-25T19:28:15+0000: This is a very interesting article. I do not like to use the term "long term traveling". It is like you said, "people get the idea that you are on vacation". It is not like that at all. I prefer to use the term "living" when referring to being in different countries long term. It is much better to experience the location and people in the everyday cycles and mundane tasks even with some of the problems.
  • Cliff Hsia said at 2014-03-25T14:31:09+0000: Agree! And I can relate to those emotions in Guatemala. Traveling makes you appreciate the things you have at home more and makes returning home that much more sweeter.
  • Howard Flacker said at 2014-03-24T17:48:46+0000: When experiences that I knew to be totally amazing only felt pretty cool, then I knew the lustre was off my traveling and it was time to go home.
  • Jennifer Miller said at 2014-03-25T13:39:19+0000: Nice one, Rachel! So true...