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Counting the Cost of Long Term Travel

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“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.”

– Anna Quindlen

Six months ago, this quote was a pretty good encapsulation of Justin’s and my understanding of what it meant to pack our lives into backpacks and embark on our long term travel adventure.

Fjord, Oslo, Norway, Uncontained Life

And while I wouldn’t say the quote is no longer relevant (quite the contrary), reflecting on the past 186 days, another quote comes to mind:

“You must pay for everything in this world one way and another.”

– Charles Portis  

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Ok, I know…kind of a weird quote to associate with long term travel. Let me explain: 

“You must pay for everything in this world one way…”

If you’re an avid travel blog reader, you’ll probably agree that the idea that there is a “price” that you must pay if you choose to travel long-term isn’t often discussed. 

Top of Matinloc Steps Philippines

Indeed, in the superbly well-framed world of (some) travel blogs, going abroad long term can appear to be a non-stop series of delectable meals at cosy restaurants, hipster-chic “hiking” outfits (seriously, you want me to believe you climbed that mountain in half-laced kid-leather boots?) and exotic landscapes…all (of course) with perfect lighting.

Bali Scooter Ride Sunbeams

Yes, long term travel is amazing; but this (privileged) choice does have costsmostly in terms of comfort and control. Indeed, the great and terrible thing about long term travel is that is absolutely no way to plan for every eventuality (good or bad).

Underground River, Palawan, Philippines, Uncontained Life

And so, some days, instead of having #blessed moments (#gross), you will end up…

…having your debit card be eaten by an ATM machine in Beijing;

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…spending hours prepping the 101 details needed for a visa application;

…going on a more damped-than-expected boat ride;

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…having a minor freak out because you’re completely lost and no one speaks English (or broken high school-level French) and your damned phone won’t connect to the internet;

…sleeping in the airport;

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…cursing the heavens because the mosquitoes clearly did not get the memo that they are supposed to be repelled by Deet;

…and feeling like a complete a-hole for complaining about your lack of comfort and control when there are people literally living under bridges.

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Granted, the two C’s (comfort and control) do become less important with time. You learn to shrug things off and adapt, rather than melt down. Which leads me to the last bit of Portis’s quote:

“…and another.”

Let me just pause to say, I love that the end of this quote isn’t “or another.” Because if we’re talking honestly about the “cost” of being a long-term traveler, it’s not enough for Justin and me to say, “sometimes difficult and uncomfortable things will happen to you.” We also have to talk about another kind of cost.

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The fact is, long term travel changes you as a person.

It changes you because when being out of your element ceases to be the exception and becomes the norm, you begin to see differently, the views and standards you were accustomed to in your home country. You also start to appreciate new perspectives and practices (even the awkward ones).

Korean Spa Foot Bath Uncontained Life

It changes you because of the people that you meet–both locals and fellow travelers. These folks will be your partners for never-to-be-forgotten experiences you won’t find in any guidebook.

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Palaweno Brewery, Puerto Princesa, Philippines, Uncontained Life

It changes you because you realize that even when it’s too hot to sleep or your room is suddenly invaded by the world’s largest spider, that you aren’t even thinking about going home…

Uncontained Life Spider Philippines

…You’re just hoping that tomorrow is better and that the local store has a good stock of ice cream bars (because, as everyone knows, ice cream solves everything).

Thailand Popsicle Watermelon

It changes you because you have shed all of the things that filled your closets and drawers have discovered that having less stuff is not only fine, it’s freeing.

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It changes you because you’ve rejected (however temporarily), the “stable” career, the perfect house, etc. in favor of finding your own path and discovering the beauty and the joy and, yes, even the pain that the wide world holds.

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And even though the exchange isn’t free, even though long-term travel costs you your old comfort zone and your old assumptions…it’s a price worth celebrating.

Lao Tzu Quoto: Wat Pho Thailand

What have you learned from traveling long term and/or living abroad?

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