When you take the time to prepare for extended travel, you will have a much better trip.
We recovered from jet lag, but something still felt a bit off.
It took us a while to realize the simple problem: in our pre-departure packing fervor, we’d taken no time to mentally prepare for extended travel.
We were suddenly surrounded by the unfamiliar.
Another culture, a foreign language, different customs.
It was part culture shock, part “I can’t believe we’re doing this for 3.5 months” shock.
One day we had full-time jobs and were living in Washington, DC.
Two weeks later we’d quit our jobs and moved our stuff to Minnesota and ourselves to Argentina.
Sure, we’d done a lot; but we didn’t take time to mentally prepare for extended travel.
Having no set schedule, no boss to report to at 9 am, and no place to call home was disorienting.
All we had done was book our flights to Buenos Aires.
In retrospect, the shock could’ve been easily avoided, or at least alleviated, with a little mental preparation.
After our months’ long excursion to Argentina, we experienced amazing sites, including the Perito Moreno Glacier, Iguazu Falls National Park, Peninsula Valdes, and the penguins at Punta Tombo.
We didn’t want to waste the opportunity there, but didn’t have enough energy to fully experience Guatemala.
Luckily, we still made it to Tikal National Park, an unbelievable place filled with Mayan ruins and exotic animals.
Table of Contents
How to prepare for extended travel in 7 steps
Learn from our mistake and take steps to prepare for extended travel.
Take these steps to get ready so you can start enjoying your destination as soon as you arrive.
Jot down your expectations
Ask yourself some basic questions.
What do you think the new culture will be like?
What do you hope for?
How do you think it will be different from your culture?
Writing down your expectations will help you realize exactly what they are and how they might be different from reality.
Write out your goals
What do you hope to accomplish while you’re there?
Conquer a new language?
Do some freelance work?
Jot down a few goals before you go and revisit them after you’ve been there a while.
Having them prepared beforehand will help you stay on track once you’re there.
Nail down a schedule
If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, a daily schedule will give you a sense of normalcy.
And help you maintain your sanity.
What time of day do you want to get work done?
When do you want to read or write?
How much time do you want to spend sightseeing versus relaxing or working?
You don’t have to stick to it completely, but a basic schedule will help you figure out your life in a new country.
When you take the time to prepare for extended travel, your time there will be much more relaxing, enjoyable, and productive.
Communicate with your travel partner
If you’re traveling with someone else, take time before you leave to talk about what you hope to get out of your travels.
How much time do you want to spend alone?
How many hours a day do you hope to work?
Getting your expectations out in the open will help prevent misunderstanding or conflict later.
photo credit: Leposava
Get to know the culture
Before you leave, rent movies and read a book or two about the country you’ll be visiting.
Your guidebook can only provide so much insight, and your local library may be a treasure trove of cultural information.
Knowing a little about what to expect can go a long way toward helping you prepare for extended travel.
Talk to people who have lived there
If you know someone who is from the country where you’ll be traveling, or who has lived there, ask them about it.
Especially ask about what’s different there, what they were most surprised by when they came to your country, and what they think might be the biggest shock for you.
Narrowing down a big list of must-see destinations to a small list can really help you prepare for extended travel.
If you don’t know anyone who’s been to your country or region of choice, ask around; a friend of a friend might have studied abroad there.
A great way to find out what to see and do as well as what to avoid in a new place, is to ask people who have lived there.
Depending on your interests, you may do better asking for suggestions about the hidden gems, not just the typical tourist attractions.
Learn some of the Language
This is the one step we did fairly well before we left and it’s definitely helped.
Take a few hours to learn at least some basic phrases in the language of the country or countries you’re visiting.
Hearing a foreign language all around you is always disorienting, but being able to communicate and understand even a few words will help you feel at home much faster.
Be sure to avoid travel burnout as well by planning some downtime during your travels.
What else can you do to prepare for extended travel?
Check out Long Term Travel – Too Much Time to Think?
Other Tips to Prepare for Extended Travel
I love making lists. Actually, what I love about making lists is crossing things off.
Something I did do with our extended trip to Argentina was to make a lot of lists.
Here’s a glimpse into it.
- Sell stuff we’re not taking with us on craigslist
- Move stuff to place for storing
- Get banking in order
- Tell post office forwarding address
- Make copies of all essential documents and leave with someone we trust
- Decide on cell phone situation (keep one US phone active and “pause” the other?)
- Decide what other electronics to bring (computer, cameras, etc)
- File power of attorney paperwork for important decisions in case something goes amiss while we’re away
- Determine any medicines needed for travels
- Determine any shots needed for travels
- Make packing list
- Figure out what we need to purchase before we go (a bag lock, new lens for camera, lens case for camera, extra memory cards)
- Determine best guidebook and buy it
- Find online research about places to visit and print or download to computer
- Buy small Spanish dictionary
- Find volunteer options abroad
- Book first few days in the hostel
- Figure out health insurance options
- Figure out travelers health insurance options
Remember that it’s all too easy to get caught up in physical preparations like buying supplies and packing, but it’s equally important to mentally prepare for extended travel.
Whether you are going to Argentina or Alaska, taking these steps will help you get there.
Long Term Travel – Too Much Time to Think?
One thing I didn’t expect about long term travel was having so much time each day.
I knew that I would have free time, but I figured there would still be little things to do, even if it was just lots of sightseeing.
The great thing about having extra time to just be is that it ensures you will avoid travel burnout on your trip.
Will you have a fulfilling time long term travel?
photo credit: CarbonNYC
What to do on an extended trip
Now that I’ve had a few weeks to distress (it took about 3 weeks before I could finally relax) I can do whatever I want.
Besides sightseeing, writing, and reading (things I expected to spend a lot of time on) I devote my time to other activities I didn’t consider before.
Here are some things I do with my time and my reflections on them:
I used to sleep 8 hours a night and feel pretty well-rested on most days.
Now my body wants to sleep 10 hours.
When I think about it, 10 hours of sleep each night seems too much.
Isn’t this what society tells us?
I’m trying to cut my sleep back to 9 hours a night.
I might even set a travel alarm clock.
Who would have ever thought I’d say that?
Because of all the sleep and lack of stress (I presume) I dream a lot.
And wake up remembering most of my dreams.
These vivid dreams are rarely about our travels.
Rather, they incorporate people from my past — some people I haven’t thought about in ages.
I know I should probably keep a dream journal and figure out what all these dreams mean, but part of me would rather not over-analyze them.
Apparently it has to do with major changes in my life.
I don’t have a job or any real responsibilities so now I have lots of time to think.
A huge amount of time to think. And not that much to think about.
So my thoughts (like my dreams seem to do) go to my past; memories that I didn’t even realize I had.
I think about the future and what it will look like.
I try to take in every moment and “live in the present.”
But still, I have more time to think than ever before, and I’m not sure I like it.
Sitting in my hotel room, there is nothing to clean, nothing to fix, really no errands to run unless I wanted to wash my clothes or buy food, etc.
Prepare yourself in advance for long term travel and the extra time you will have to think, and you will be more likely to enjoy it more than I did.
In Defense of Food (a great book) argues that we should take our time when eating and cooking.
Here, enjoying Argentine cuisine, we definitely do that.
The Argentinean culture is naturally slow.
If dining out, it’s easy to take an hour at breakfast drinking a cup of coffee and eating medialunas (pastries).
Lunch can take 1.5-2 hours; afternoon coffee and snack 1.5 hours; late dinner 2 hours.
This is if we ate every meal out and took our time Argentinean style.
Obviously we don’t spend 7 hours of our day eating, but it’s probably close to 4-6.
Most of the time is spent sitting in the cafe or restaurant and talking or thinking.
When we cook it’s probably the same amount of time, only most of the time is spent preparing food, cooking it, and cleaning up.
The nice thing about experiencing long term travel is that we get to experience the customs without feeling like we have to rush through them.
Is it possible to have too much time during long term travel?
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure this lifestyle is totally for me.
It is a true blessing to be able to experience long term travel.
And I do love being able to cook and read and hike and sight-see and stay up late watching whatever I want on television without worrying about sleep deprivation.
But I can’t get over the feeling that I’m not really contributing anything back to society.
Next week we’ll be volunteering at Chacra Millalen so maybe then I’ll feel like I’m giving back.
But right now I can’t help but wondering if all the time I spending sleeping and dreaming and thinking and eating is excessive.
It does feel wasteful when you are abroad but it is often necessary to avoid travel burnout.
Another tip is to take the time in advance of your trip to prepare for extended travel.
Have you enjoyed long term travel?
Did you feel guilty or enjoy the change?
Long-Term Travel: Why it Works for Us
Week-long trips can be wonderful, but often feel like a whirlwind.
Especially when you’re traveling internationally.
By the time you get over jet lag and adjust to the new time zone, it’s time to head back home.
This is one of the reasons my husband and I started looking into long-term travel.
Long-term travel works
Nearly six months ago we packed up our apartment in Cape Town, South Africa and hit the road.
While long-term travel may not be for everyone, here are a few reasons it works for us.
Long-Term Travel is Cost-Effective
South America is at the top of our bucket list.
Often the most expensive part of travel is getting there so when we go to South America, we’ll go once for 6 weeks — rather than making 6 one-week trips — to save money.
Plus, the trip will be more eco-friendly because we’ll only have to fly there and back once.
We also don’t have a home or a car in America.
Because we don’t have to maintain a home here, we’re able to allocate our money to our lives on the road.
There are many areas of the world that are cheaper than the United States, so it can actually be money-saving to be on the road somewhere else.
We are Flexible
I think long-term travel has worked for us because we are both pretty flexible.
We spent a few weeks after our honeymoon without water in South Africa because the pipes froze (we got to know each other really fast…).
Whether we’re running up against frustrating border officials or locking ourselves out of a safe that contains all of our cash and our passports, we are able to roll with the punches and make it work.
Long-term travel also means that our timeline is flexible.
We know roughly where we will be when for the next few months, but are able to adjust our schedule as needed.
It can also help to mentally prepare for extended travel before you go on your trip.
There is Time to Invest in Relationships
My husband and I are both relational people and we enjoy getting to know people and investing in their lives.
Long-term travel gives us the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships.
Having the time to get to know people depends on how quickly you travel; by working slowing through countries, we have been able to build life-long friendships.
We also experienced aspects of other cultures that we never could have on shorter trips.
One of the most interesting cultural experiences I’ve had was going to a Zulu funeral.
When a good friend’s father died, we were thankful to be able to support her and honored that she would want to include us in such a important family function.
In fact, the family considered us such honored guests that my husband ended up speaking at the funeral.
We could not have had the same experience if we were just traveling short-term.
We Can Work Remotely
Most Americans get a few weeks off from work a year so the idea of long-term travel can feel overwhelming.
In our case, I am a writer and my husband is a web developer.
So whether we are in a coffee shop in Rwanda or Starbucks in Detroit, we can work on projects and meet deadlines.
Even though we’re traveling, we are still working 40 hours a week — our scenery is just changing.
We are currently in the United States.
Last month we were in Iowa, this month Michigan, and we’ll be spending April in Florida.
Working remotely provides us with the flexibility we need to take care of our expenses and travel at the same time.
Long-term travel gives us the flexibility we love, saves money, and gives us time to invest in relationships.
That’s why it works for us.
It’s difficult for many due to limited vacation time off from work and limited funds; however, without those constraints, you may well love long-term travel.
Americans get an average of 25 days of vacation each year, so when they think of travel, they often assume it must fit into this time frame.
Have you considered long-term travel?
Do you think it would work for you?
Ultimate Packing List for Round-the-World Trip
We’re in the final 24 hour countdown to Argentina and our bags are officially packed using the Ultimate Packing List.
The last time we traveled for more than a couple weeks, we each hauled a giant pack and a smaller backpack.
This time around, we decided packing light was the way to go.
I’m proud to say, after much pruning of our packing list, we stuffed all of our travel gear into two carry-on size recycled packs — so it’s better for the environment and for our backs.
Also checkout our Review of Best Portable Travel Chargers
We’ll be spending the next 4 months traveling through Central and South America, getting to know the region, and practicing our Spanish.
Since Argentina is a huge, geographically diverse country, we’re bringing clothes for every climate.
The only things I’d add to this packing list for a longer round-the-world trip would be a scarf and a pair of long underwear.
Kimberly’s Ultimate Packing List
2 long sleeve t-shirts
3 short sleeve quick dry t-shirts
1 quick-dry sporty tank top
2 tank tops
1 sleeping / exercise t-shirt
1 lightweight hoodie
1 zip-up fleece
1 Nike running / rain jacket
1 pair The North Face Women’s Paramount Porter Convertible Pants (I love love love these — one of my favorite pieces of travel gear.)
1 pair jeans
1 pair sleeping shorts
1 pair sweatpants
6 pairs underwear
2 sports bras
2 regular bras
5 pairs socks
1 winter hat
1 pair gloves
1 pair sunglasses
1 medium Aquis microfiber quick-dry towel
1 small quick-dry towel
1 Eagle Creek small shoulder bag
1 Diva Cup
1 pair sunglasses
Mountainsmith Lily recycled pack
Elizabeth’s Ultimate Packing List
1 athletic tank top
1 other tank top
2 long sleeve shirts
3 short sleeve shirts
1 sleeping t-shirt
1 Nike running jacket
1 lightweight zip-up hoodie
1 pair khakis
1 pair jeans
1 pair sweatpants
1 pair sleeping shorts/athletic shorts
1 pair khaki shorts
3 short socks
2 long socks
2 sports bras
2 regular bras
Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes
1 pair nicer black flip flops
1 pair shower flip flops
Our Shared Ultimate Packing List
2 mini shampoo bottles
Small bottle of sunscreen
Antibacterial hand gel
Halls cough drops/vitamins
Pacsafe backpack protector
Nikon D40 camera with 18-55mm lens
Nikon 55-200mm lens
Canon PowerShot SD700
3 extra memory sticks
Joby GP3-01EN Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod
Lonely Planet Argentina guidebook
Eyewitness Argentina guidebook
Small Langenscheidt Spanish dictionary
Penguin Spanish phrasebook
Spanish grammar book
Books for plane
Journals, pens, tape
Camelbak BPA-free water bottle
Klean Kanteen 27 oz. water bottle
Locks for bag
Eagle Creek money belts
Emergency contact numbers
Passport and marriage certificate copies
Ecobags reusable produce bags
2 Baggu reusable shopping bags
Deck of playing cards
We hope you can use some of these ideas from our Ultimate Packing List as you plan your next adventure!
Tips for Picking the Best Travel Companion
As far as picking traveling companions goes, I have been fortunate: my best friend and my husband are both wonderful travel companions.
But on a recent trip, my husband and I traveled for about a week with some people we met along the way.
While it worked out okay, by the time we parted ways I was happy to be back on our own.
Between complaining about the host families accommodations and not being culturally sensitive about taking photos, I knew I had to start being a little bit more careful about who we travel with.
Tips for picking the best travel companions
Match budgets and taste
Some people prefer luxury dining experiences and have high standards when it comes to where they lay their head.
Others are more the camping and hunt-for-their-food type.
Put the two on a trip together and, in no time, they’ll be arguing about where to stay and which restaurant to visit.
Not only should travel companions have similar interests, they should also be in agreement about basic finances during the trip.
When I went to Europe for the first time with my best friend, we agreed that we were probably going to have make some sacrifices for our budget.
It’s amazing how long you can survive on pretzels and Nutella!
Go with the flow — or not
Some travelers are a bit uptight, while others take a more laid-back approach to trip planning.
If you fall into the latter category, traveling with someone who doesn’t may be frustrating — and vice versa.
On the other hand, in could work out perfectly if one of you is a planner and the other doesn’t want to plan at all.
Just make sure you and your travel companion are on the same page about the structure of your trip and who gets input into the planning process, and you’ll be good to go.
We all know that travel doesn’t always go as planned.
Regardless of your travel style, be sure to pick people who will roll with the punches and stay positive regardless of what happens.
It’s best to have similar interests
If you are a shop ‘til you drop type and your travel companion loves the great outdoors, you may have trouble finding travel activities you’ll both enjoy.
Be sure to travel with people who have similar interests — but remember that similar does not mean “exactly the same.”
It can be great to travel with someone who pushes you to have new and exciting experiences while traveling.
If you’re traveling with someone who’s passionate about music, they may seek out the local music scene and you may get to experience parts of culture you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
Daily routines matter
Are you an earlier riser who tucks in early or a night owl who parties all night?
If you’re up at the crack of dawn, a travel companion who sleeps until noon won’t be a good match for you.
Chances are you’ll be up, showered, and ready to go — and they will just be rolling out of bed.
On the other hand, if you’re just gearing up for a night on the town and your travel companion is already yawning, you probably aren’t compatible.
Even if you don’t have the same daily routine at home, you can make it work on your trip; if you can agree to a general schedule before you leave, you can prevent a lot of frustration during the trip.
Your best friend may not make the best travel companion
Even if you’re great friends at home, you won’t necessarily be compatible travel companions.
Traveling with someone is like being their short-term roommate — and we all know those people who were best friends until they shared an apartment or a dorm room.
On the road, you’ll be spending a lot of time together, often even more time than you spend with your significant other.
If you’re not sure you can spend 24 hours a day with your best friend, it may be time to consider other travel companions.
Tours vs DIY travel
Some people prefer traveling as part of a tour.
They love picking a trip and not having to do most of the planning.
For others, the planning is half of the fun.
They love doing hours of research before a big trip, figuring out the best places to stay, and where to visit.
If you are a big fan of all-inclusive tours, you may not like traveling with those who are a bit more DIY when it comes to travel.
What’s your style?
Tips for Finding Last-Minute Summer Travel Deals
Summer travel season seems to go faster than other times of the year.
If this has come as a shock to you, it’s time to book a vacation!
Last-minute summer travel deals can be had if you know where to look.
Find time on the calendar (preferably during the week) and hit the internet to find a deal on summer travel.
Before you know it, you’ll be sipping a tropical drink or hitting the links.
Last-Minute Summer Travel Deals
Book directly through resort and airline websites.
Destinations and airlines list exclusive deals directly on their own sites, so don’t overlook this avenue to savings.
Even if nothing is advertised, the chances of snagging a deal directly through a resort website are high: simply ask if they have any promotion they can give you.
Usually, the answer is yes, and even if not, upgrades upon check-in are common.
Resorts like to be loyal to customers who book directly with them instead of booking sites.
Check destination and tourism center websites and social media.
Destinations often write about local events and celebrations on their Facebook pages.
If you’re thinking of taking a last-minute vacation to a particular region or city, check to see what’s happening there right now, or what’s upcoming on the tourism calendar.
Deals on lodging or attractions can be found this way, especially on a city or destination’s tourism department Facebook page.
Many tourism departments have lodging partners, and pass on savings to you when they refer you.
Find last-minute airfare deals by being flexible.
If you’re flexible about your destination, airfare deals can be found on sites such as AirFareWatchDog, which allows you to search by best deals instead of particular cities and dates.
You can also find great deals to Europe: 25% off on Vueling.
But don’t pair airfare deals with hotel or rental car add-ons: you can almost always find the better deal booking each component separately.
Choose first-come, first-served campgrounds.
If you’re driving and camping, steer clear of campgrounds where reservations are accepted.
These will most likely be completely booked during the summer months.
Instead, head to campgrounds where the policy is first come, first served (many national park campgrounds abide by this policy for at least some of their campsites).
Hit the road early to get a spot.
Consider a mid-week vacation home.
If you’ll be staying in one location for the duration (or majority) of your vacation, consider a vacation home.
While many are booked solid on summer weekends, they’re often empty during weekdays (especially Sunday night-Monday night), and owners are willing to make deals.
Many vacation home booking sites allow travelers to make arrangements directly with owners (HomeAway has this policy), giving travelers the chance to negotiate.
Think outside the ‘summer travel’ box.
Instead of heading where the masses go in summer – beaches, theme parks, and national parks–think outside the box.
Head to a ski resort with rooms standing empty (most now offer mountain biking, ropes courses, or hiking in summer) or a typical spring break location, such as Arizona or Palm Springs.
Yes, it will be hot, but activities can be planned for morning or evening with plenty of poolside fun in-between.
Book activities mid-day.
While on vacation, most people don’t want to sweat on the golf course mid-day.
Ditto for bike excursions, horseback rides, or outdoor tours.
Often, these activities will be discounted if you do them during the heat of the day.
Book your tee time for 1 pm and ask for a discount.
By thinking counter-intuitively (and doing whatever the crowds are not doing), you can find great deals on summer travel.
Go directly to the source of the deal instead of using impersonal booking sites, be flexible, and think outside the box.
Have you planned summer travel yet?
What deals have you found last-minute?
Travel Burnout – To go or not to go to Tierra del Fuego
Have you ever experienced travel burnout? You know the feeling if you travel as part of your job.
But have you ever experienced it while you were supposed to be having fun, while on vacation?
Every once in a while when traveling for an extended period of time, you might just need a break, even when you’re in an amazing place.
Traveling isn’t as exciting; it wears you down.
It’s not quite homesickness; it’s just being tired of being on the go, seeing so many new sights, not being able to take it all in, and spending money.
After being on an extended trip to South America and seeing the sites of Buenos Aires, Peninsula Valdes, Bariloche Argentina, and more wonderful locales, we were exhausted.
In the end, after much deliberation, we ended up not traveling to Tierra del Fuego, which would have taken more than 20 hours by bus.
We have no regrets.
Feeling guilty about not “doing more” leads to travel burnout
Part of it is that we felt so blessed with the opportunity to travel, we didn’t want to miss anything.
But we finally learned when we feel travel burnout that it is best to take a few days to just relax.
We learned we should do what we wanted to do instead of feeling like we should have to do something.
In the past two months when we’ve started to feel this way — even just a little — we’ve stopped for a few days.
We’ve found a private room or an apartment (rather than a hostel) which has cured the beginnings of travel burnout.
We can cook our own food, take it slow, and spend a little less money.
Had we had our trip planned out better, we should have arranged our trip to Chacra Millalen, an organic farm in Argentina, when we wanted some downtime.
We are very hard workers, but we didn’t realize the weekend there was “off.”
Had we planned this better, we could have incorporated our volunteering a few days earlier and then had the weekend to relax.
photo credit: Vautrin Baires
Tips for avoiding travel burnout
We’ve learned a lot from this experience.
In the future, when we plan for trips that are longer than two weeks, we will build in some downtime to reduce travel burnout.
You will most likely know when you are experiencing travel burnout.
Tips for avoiding and reducing it will depend on where you are.
It could include relaxing time at the hotel pool; a day reading and wandering at the beach; or a day hanging out in the lodge or hotel.
It could entail an entire day, hanging out in the hotel room, reading a book — and not a travel guide.
Even when we are on the go, it helps to plan for just one or two sites a day, and spend our thoroughly enjoying them instead of rushing through.
It is so much more enjoyable to spend time and enjoy where you actually are, rather than always be thinking about “what’s next.”
We will spend a day without going out to eat by taking advantage of room service or snacks and sandwiches from a local grocer.
We will do our best to avoid the crowds and busy times by not planning trips during peak seasons.
All in all, our extended trip to South America, with most of our time spent in Argentina, has been wonderful and better than I could have imagined.
Argentina is an incredible country with so many wonderful sights. But sometimes even an incredible vacation can wear you out.
Take time and precautions to avoid travel burnout.
With better planning and more of a “living in the moment” attitude, you will be happy with what you have seen and experienced rather than trying to squeeze more into your vacation schedule.