You might or might not know that I’ve spent the last six months living in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. With about a month to go until I head back to the UK, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences.
In short, I’ve loved it. Long-term travel is without a doubt one of the most life-enriching experiences I’ve had.
Over the past few months, I’ve heard from a lot of people who say some version of the following:
“Oh, travelling! I wish I could do that, but…”
The clauses following the “but” usually revolve around:
- Personal safety
- Fear of being feeling overwhelmed and out of their depth
- Strange cultures and people
- The “War on Drugs” (spoiler alert: it’s probably not going to affect you)
- Not knowing how to press the ‘pause’ button on current commitments (house/family/friends etc.) for a few months
What really lies at the root of these things is uncertainty, which is totally understandable. Not only do we not have a crystal ball, but there are a lot of preconceptions and misconceptions floating around about what long-term travel is like, what you need, how you can do it, and so on.
If you’re thinking about taking the leap into long-term travel and you’re grappling with any or all of the obstacles above, I want to shed some light on the realities of travelling and what it’s looked like for me over the last six months. Everyone’s journeys are different, but I hope that explaining more about my experience will get you thinking about ways you can turn your thoughts into reality ;)
How this is going to work
I’ve divided the travel series into the following weekly posts. By separating them out, I’ve tried to give a fair perspective on the good, the bad and the ‘would do differently next time’:
- The benefits of long-term travel (this one)
- The drawbacks of long-term travel
- The realities of long-term travel (stats, plus other observations that don’t fall into benefits or drawbacks)
- A recommended packing and preparation list for long-term travel (practical bidness)
As a bit of context, I’ve been travelling with my partner, Jake. As I’ll talk about more in a future post, we haven’t done the traditional backpacker thing of moving from place to place every couple of days, nor have we relied solely on hostels for accommodation. Privacy and comfort are important to both of us, so we’ve mostly stayed in private apartments and houses.
Now, the Benefits…
1. De-attachment to stuff
I didn’t have that much stuff to begin with, but I got rid of a lot of possessions before we left to maximise space in our tiny storage unit, and I’m resolved to get rid of more when we return.
Having to pack up everything and put it in storage was a useful exercise. Getting rid of physical clutter is mentally cleansing. Having lived out of a rucksack for six plus months (and been perfectly happy doing so), I’ve realised that there’s a huge difference between what I want and what I actually need. This is something I’m going to be a lot more aware of going back to England.
When you have to carry everything around with you, you’re suddenly a lot less inclined to hold onto things you’re not using. I heard a lot of people say “You won’t need as much as you think you will” before leaving. Even though I was careful to only take what I thought were essentials, I could have definitely left more at home. Instead, I ended up leaving them in various places along the way, hopefully other people got more use out of them.
2. Language skillz
When we arrived in Argentina, neither Jake nor I spoke much Spanish beyond counting to 10, hello, goodbye and “I want two beers please”. Taking an intensive course helped us transition into Spanglish with hand gestures, and we’ve now reached the point where we can get by. Even though our conversation skills are still somewhat lacking, we understand most things that people say to us (and can fill in the gaps where we don’t).
Learning a new language through immersion is mind-bending, intense, and rewarding. You feel like a frustrated child trying to get your message across for the first few months, and then want to throw a small party when you manage to have your first conversation with someone who actually understands what you’re saying.
Trust me: it’s a very different (and far more positive) experience than sitting in a classroom.
3. Good weather
We’re from England, where good weather is a rare and beautiful experience. Anywhere with sunshine automatically gets bonus points.
4. Awesome experiences
I’ve had so many great experiences over the last few months, ranging from slightly-crazy impulse decisions like climbing a volcano, to not-quite-so-crazy-but-still-memorable events like a horseback jungle treks, cenote swims and thermal spring visits, to mundane-but-magical everyday moments.
First prize for ‘awesome time’ goes to climbing the Villarrica Volcano in Pucon, Chile. At the summit, we experienced the most amazing view of the surrounding landscape, punctuated by other snow-capped volcanos in the same tectonic system. Standing on top of a live volcano is a truly incredible experience.
As you can imagine, bum-boarding all the way down again was also totally awesome.
5. Different lifestyle
My routine has changed from place to place and here in Sayulita, it’s probably my favourite:
Wake up (no alarm)
Go running on the beach if it’s early enough
Lunch/stroll through town
Beach time before sunset/exercise if no morning run
Cheap and delicious taco dinner
18 months ago, I was getting up at 5.30am to commute 1.5 hours to London, working all day, commuting home, and collapsing. Any personal habits I wanted to cultivate went out the window, as did spending quality time with friends. So, things are somewhat different now…
Most weekends, we take a bus into the nearest city, Puerto Vallarta, to pick up anything we need (there are no major grocery stores here), wander round the cobbled streets and/or watch a movie. We’ve watched more movies in Mexico than we could ever afford to in the UK, and in much nicer cinemas. We’ve also eaten more frozen yoghurt than I thought would be humanly possible.
These are day-to-day details, but ultimately that’s what our lives consist of: a series of moments. We don’t have space to carry much with us, so we end up spending most of our money and time on experiences, which are far more rewarding in the long-term. That’s one of my biggest take-aways from this trip.
Having had a major spider phobia for as long as I can remember, Mexico has been good exposure therapy. After some of the critters we’ve seen in our house here, house spiders in the UK are practically cuddly.
Why is this important to my authenticity? Because I don’t want to be controlled by my fears.
At the beginning of this year, I started transitioning this site into a sustainable business. I wouldn’t have taken that step in the UK – not yet, anyway. Getting distance, and getting perspective, helped me remove a whole load of psychological junk that was in my way and enabled me to engage with something that is my authentic work.
I’m still finding my feet, adjusting to being in the driving seat, and figuring out what this thing is actually going to be. I’m also excited about the future of Becoming Who You Are and serving authenticity-seekers everywhere. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been brewing up lots of projects and resources, including a potential community.
For the most part, people we’ve met have been incredibly friendly, warm, helpful and curious. A couple of people made funny comments about the Falklands/Malvinas in Argentina (it was a big anniversary while we were there) but if my Spanish had been better at the time, I would have had no problem explaining that, in my opinion, the whole thing is BS anyway.
Speaking of BS, travelling is great for deconstructing some of the myths that exist around certain cultures – especially the propaganda that comes out of the US. I’m going to talk about this more in a future post, but saying ‘don’t go to Mexico because of the drug war’ is like saying ‘don’t go to New York because because there’s a war in Los Angeles’. It’s just not reality. And for anyone that does want to believe the hype, well, all the more room on the beach for us :)
Being away has also helped me R-E-L-A-X and stop worrying so much. In the beginning, I worried about a lot, especially after getting mugged. During this trip as a whole, however, I’ve become more mindful of my experiences and this has helped me let go of things I can’t control – not a bad habit to cultivate overall.
The pace of life is very different here, especially compared to London, and things don’t happen like clockwork on the same day every week or when you think they’re going to. And that’s OK. You learn to live with it, and then you learn that your new-found flexibility and acceptance of uncertainty can be applied to other areas of your life too.
And so we come a full circle: the funny thing is that it’s uncertainty that stops a lot of us (me included) from taking the leap and booking that plane ticket, but it’s through this experience that I’ve learned to live with uncertainty and appreciate the ride, rather than hanging on for the destination.