How To Know If Full-Time Travel Is Right For You

To those not doing it, full-time travel can sound like “living the dream.” And while it can be a dream life, it isn’t always easy. It definitely isn’t an endless vacation.

In 2017, I quit my job to travel the world. Thus far, I’ve been to six continents and over 25 countries. For those of you contemplating full-time or even part-time travel, here are some ways to determine if this life is the right one for you.

Fish at a market in Vietnam.

Fish at a market in Vietnam

Photo credit: Heather Markel

1. You Love Trying New And Strange Foods

I’m lucky that I’ve always been adventurous with new foods.

From the time I was 16, I lived with a French host family. My host brother, one day, offered me a taste of the sheep’s brain he was eating. I recoiled in horror. Fortunately, I realized I had no right to an opinion until I tasted them. So, I did. I can now experientially say that I do not care for sheep’s brains. The important part is that I tried them.

As you travel the world, you’ll constantly encounter strange foods whether it’s meat, fish, fruit, or vegetables. More importantly, you’ll find it difficult to find foods you’re accustomed to. For example, peanut butter is often not readily available. Potato chips in other countries are flavored with bacon, barbecue, spices, and flavor combinations you’ve never considered. Trying to travel the world on a very specific diet can add frustration to the journey because the more you limit your food choices, the harder it will be to find them. Insects can be on the menu, as can innards. If you’re hosted by a family for any part of your travels, it could be considered insulting if you don’t eat what they serve you. Being open to new foods is an essential part of traveling full time.

2. You Can Handle Different Beds Every Night

Have you ever gone on vacation and, as you traveled back home, said, “I loved my vacation, but I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed!” You’ve no doubt purchased a mattress you love, broken it in, and enjoyed a good night’s rest. When you travel full time, you don’t get to come home to that bed anymore. You have to adjust to a new mattress, different pillows (sometimes made by stuffing clothing into a pillowcase), and different bedding (a top-sheet is not part of many cultures) every place you go. While this may seem trite, full-time travel can leave you missing the comforts of home; from your bed to street noise and more, you’ll constantly adapt to new places as you lay your head at night.

Two bags of the author's luggage.

The author’s overflowing luggage

Photo credit: Heather Markel

3. You Can Live Out Of Your Suitcase

Depending on where you stay and how long you’re there, you may or may not have space or interest to unpack. Your life becomes a series of packing and unpacking every time you change locations. I find that if I’m in a place for a week or more, or if there are drawers and a closet with hangers, I happily unpack. Oftentimes, however, I’m in a spare room with none of the aforementioned luxuries, so I pull things out of my suitcase and try my best not to make a mess. Whenever it’s time to pack again, it amazes me that I can never fit the same amount of belongings into my bags the way I did on my first trip!

4. You’re Prepared To Pack Light And Carry Your Luggage

Unless you’re traveling first class, or with an RV, you’ll be carrying your bags. This can be from trains or bus stations to youth hostels, and it can also be up the stairs to your room in a budget hotel.

Being able to afford full-time travel for more than a few months means staying in places that don’t offer luxury services. You’ll learn, very quickly, that you don’t want to travel with more than you have to. I’ve donated clothing and more to charity, or gifted items that were too heavy to new friends as I’ve traveled. Unless it’s extremely hot, I wear the same shirt two days in a row. After months on the road, if I get tired of a shirt, or it’s seen its last wash, I’ll donate or toss it in exchange for a newer one.

It’s important to note that full-time travel is not glamorous. You won’t have much use for makeup, and you won’t have space for fancy clothes or your dancing shoes.

5. You’re Courageous When It Comes To Personal Development

One of the things that surprised me during my first year of travel was how much I learned about myself. My journey felt like an adult vision quest. It wasn’t always fun.

Along your travels, you’ll face new situations, be challenged, and be pushed outside your comfort zone. These are the experiences that help you grow and become the person you want to be. Sometimes, you won’t enjoy what you learn. Other times, you’ll be delighted to discover how resourceful you can be. The important thing to realize is that when you travel full time, you no longer have the daily distractions of an office or friends and family to keep you from discovering yourself. It takes a degree of courage and perseverance to do this work. Make sure you’re up to the challenge before embarking on a full-time travel journey.

6. You’re Prepared To Do A Lot Of Planning

When you go on vacation, you may feel delighted to pick a location that excites you, book your travel, reserve your hotel and tours, and go! When you travel full time, planning itself becomes a full-time job. Every time you want to move to a new place, you’ll have to sort out how to get there, where to stay, and what to do. The more frequently you move, the more planning you’ll have to do.

I’ve learned to let go of planning every moment and focus instead on transportation and lodging. As far as tours and sightseeing, I let that unfold the moment after I arrive. That takes a lot of stress out of the process.

7. You Won’t Give Up Just Because You Can’t Access Wi-Fi

If you’re planning to work or blog while you travel, you’ll quickly find that Wi-Fi is the bane of your existence. The signal may be weak, non-existent, or shared with so many people that uploading a photo is either impossible or takes hours. Try having a video call and after numerous call drops, you’ll turn off the video, and curse the network gods.

Consider bringing a Wi-Fi hotspot or a phone that allows you to tether, and purchase a local SIM card. Local SIM cards offer data rates that are significantly less expensive than roaming with your US carrier.

A view from the author's hotel window in Posadas, Argentina.

A view from the author’s hotel window in Posadas, Argentina, where she spent 2 weeks recovering from travel burnout

Photo credit: Heather Markel

8. You Accept That Boredom And Burnout Are Par For The Course

The same way you get burned out working applies to full-time travel. As previously mentioned, this is not a full-time vacation. Once you’re living the travel lifestyle, you’ll have moments of boredom, disappointment, and burnout.

Here’s an interesting remedy: When I started my travels, I used to move approximately every three days. Several months in, I found myself in a small town in Argentina with no tourism. I booked a three-night stay and asked to add on three more. I then added another few days, and finally, ended up staying for two weeks. The joy of being able to avoid packing, planning, and being able to feel like I had a home base for an extended period was just what I needed. If it happens to you, know that it’s normal. Go with the flow and plan to relax until the burnout subsides.

9. You’re Prepared To Be Viewed As An Ambassador For Your Home Country

While it’s not an official appointment, you’ll meet people along your travels who have never left their own country. For some, you’ll become their view of your country. Your behavior will become the basis for them to judge other people from your country. I was fortunate to live with a host family as a teenager. I learned to speak fluent French because of them, and in my travels, I learned that Americans who travel and expect everyone to speak English are not always well thought of. This prompted my obsession with learning the local language of every place I traveled to.

It’s essential to respect local cultures and tune in to how people live, do business, and address one another. American culture often finds us insisting on exemplary customer service and complaining if we don’t get it. Outside of America, I’ve found many cultures move at a much slower pace and tend to be much less demanding. Understanding layers of formality and courtesy is essential. You’ll have much deeper experiences with locals when you respect their ways, rather than argue or try to change them.

Full-time travel is, in my opinion, an experience everyone should have, even if only for a few months. It will change you in extraordinary ways. However, it’s not for everyone. Make sure you set your expectations before embarking.

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