Updated: Feb 8
A few things I've learned traveling long-term...
1. Don’t Sweat the Small Things.. (perishable or otherwise)..
Charging cables, universal plugs, portable chargers, headphones, toiletries, etc.. the smaller it is, the more likely you are to lose it.. so don't sweat the small things.. Keep in mind that you can always buy whatever you need while traveling.
When I first started traveling, I obsessed over everything.. what's the best portable charger, what clothes do I bring, what type of power adapters will I need.. and on and on and on.. but the truth is, (and I feel stupid for not thinking it through).. is that if you're going where people live, you can buy anything you need to survive; even in a worst-case "my laptop fell in the pool again" scenario, you can order it online and have it shipped to you, or, you for literally anything less painful, you can buy it at the local supermarket.
And by the way, if you are traveling long-term.. 3 months or more.. you WILL lose things, shirts will get stains, cables will get lost, headphones will get left at coffee shops and towels will get destroyed at the beach.. but it's okay, because you can buy a super cheap backup of anything you need, whenever you need it.
This is also why I recommend not spending a lot of money on travel-specific gear, unless you 1) know you can't find it anywhere else, and/or 2) know you won't lose it or forget it.
2. Treat Yo Self..
If you're traveling long-term, put down roots for two weeks to a month to really get a feel for the place; but more importantly.. it enables you to make each new place your "home..
It takes anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks for your mind to become accustomed to new places, habits, routines, people, etc.. and if you're constantly hoping around, you'll be putting a massive strain on your body and mind, whether you realize it or not..
So relax.. stay put for a month, and try to think of each new place as your home, even if it is just temporary.
3. Identify Your "Spaces"..
Similar to the above, but to be a bit more specific.. with everything changing so fast, people coming and going, trying to find where to get groceries, where to relax, how to get around in addition to trying to absorb and/or DO all the fun activities that a new place has to offer, it can get extremely overwhelming.
One way to mitigate this is to identify your "spaces," immediately when checking in to a new place.. and by "spaces" I mean... take the things you know you do regularly.. cooking, eating, reading, working out, sleeping, etc.. and pick or find a spot that accommodates those activities.. this will help you relax in a new place. You actually do this naturally, whether you're aware of it or not.. but by doing it consciously, and becoming aware of the "spaces" your body needs, you can drastically speed up the process of getting comfortable.
I wish I'd known this when I first started traveling long-term, as I frequently found myself feeling out-of-sorts, but I couldn't figure out why... "the weather is great, the people are friendly.. why am I feeling.. weird..?" And often times it was because I hadn't identified a place to just relax, away from people and chaos; or because I wanted to work out but didn't know where or how...
So if you're traveling long-term and want to maintain your sanity, become conscious of the "spaces" you need, and identify them as soon as possible.
This is also a great way to help pick your next hostel... does it have a kitchen, a workout facility, a coworking space, a library, etc... Once you're aware of your body's expectations, it's much easier to keep it happy.
4. Book for a Day, Stay for a Month..
In addition to committing to a new location for a few weeks to a month and identifying your "spaces," it's equally important to stay flexible.. at least to start...
No matter how much research you do ahead of time, you will eventually checkin to a hostel and immediately hate it.. or at least, not love it.. so I recommend booking for just 2-3 days at a time, at least to start.. and if you love it, extend your stay for a week or two... but don't commit to a full month at a place you've never been..
Not only does this allow you to "test the waters," but it also provides a ton of flexibility.. You'll meet lots of people while traveling (whether you want to or not - add link).. and you'll get tons of recommendations for off-the-beaten-path cities, hidden gems, neighborhoods, etc.. use that knowledge to maximize your experience, or at the very least, minimize the chances of hating a particular location because, deep down, you just hated where you were staying.
5. Get Away from the Main Drags..
Get away from the main street (but keep your eyes open!).. This may be obvious if you're already considering long-term travel, but if you walk three blocks away from the main tourist drags, prices will drop drastically.. and you'll get a more authentic feel for wherever you're staying. But I do have to warn you, unfortunately.. it does come with risks.. as you might expect. Check for travel advisories before you start wandering around and if anything makes you nervous, trust your gut and stick to where the people are..
I remember walking around downtown San Jose, Costa Rica, taking a wide loop around the main roads and suddenly, after turning a corner.. it was like a scene straight out of a movie, groups of men huddled at various points along the block.. they all stopped.. looked up at me.. and I knew I was in the wrong place.. And it didn't stop there... I immediately turned around and starting walking back towards society.. but two of the guys started following me.. yelling at me.. (of course, I didn't understand the language, but you know the tone of voice..).. and I just kept walking... speed walking actually.. They followed me for THREE blocks until I was maybe half a block from the main drag.. it was terrifying.. and I later found out I wandered into a well-known bad part of town.. It's crazy to think how close it was to the nonchalant, happy-go-lucky trinket shoppers just 200 yards away..
So yes, 99% of the time it's completely safe and worth it to wander off the beaten path.. but please do some neighborhood research before you start walking, and save yourself the trouble.
6. Hit the Super Market :D
This is frequently my first and favorite stop in a new city or country.. and it's fun for a million reasons.. 1) You get to interact with the locals, 2) you get to see real/expected prices for basics like water, snacks, booze, etc.. as baseline before you go spending three times as much at a local convenience store, 3) they always have funny names, 4) you can stock up on anything you may need for your stay and know you're getting the best prices, 5) they usually have working ATMs (!) and 6) they (frequently) have the weirdest stuff... you can have just as much fun wandering around a supermarket as you can hitting the nearest tourist attraction, if not more..
So make the super market your first stop in any new country, and let the adventures begin.
7. Stick to Warm or Hot Climates (if possible)
This will either sound super obvious or super inconvenient to start.. depending on when/where you're starting.. but I bring it up because it's sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around how much freedom we have when we first start traveling.. we're SO excited to see a million places, so we start arbitrarily choosing our "hops" without considering the weather/climate/temperature... but I would highly recommend planning your trip around the seasons... Europe in the summer, Southeast Asia in the winter, the Caribbean during dry season, etc.. (add link to cheat sheet)..
Yes, you may have to backtrack and take multiple long-distance flights, but trust me, you will enjoy your year-round summer vacation much, much more than trying to pack all-weather/four-season gear for any type of weather..
8. Download WhatsApp
I knowwww, you have an iPhone.. but 90% of the world uses WhatsApp, only Americans are obsessed with iMessage and iPhone phones... WhatsApp is where it's at if you're traveling; businesses use it, travelers use it, it is THE method for communicating, especially when you don't know the local language... (does it have built-in translation services??). So save yourself the trouble and download it before you leave, and don't be surprised when you end up using it to make reservations, order taxis, communicate with the front-desk at whatever hostel you're staying at, etc.. It's a must-have.
Also consider using Google Maps offline, some type of VPN.. and any country specific apps; you'll have to do some research before you go on this, but for example.. ADO for bus tickets in Mexico, Didi (the Uber of China), etc.
9. LOOK Like a Tourist
Yes... it's okay.. I know you'll constantly read blogs about how to blend in at different locations.. but why? Who cares? You'll rarely, if ever, actually blend in.. I'm not saying you need to go out of your way to look like a tourist.. but certainly don't worry about blending in either.. it simply doesn't matter.. EVERYONE looks different, especially other travelers... accept it... go with it.. forget about it..
It can also help you connect with other travelers.. I've met many travelers just by noticing a city, sports team or brand on their clothes.. and it makes for an easy conversation piece if you're looking to make new friends.
Traveling is one of the best ways to disconnect and give yourself space to think.. use the time wisely to write and reflect on anything that happens or anything that's been troubling you.. If you're not already journaling, this is the perfect time to start. :)
11. Consider International Shipping
This may sound crazy.. but consider shipping a package home every couple months...
This is especially true/useful if you're embracing minimalist travel and looking to keep your pack small.. it may cost a bit.. but you get your shopping fix, you can save the things you love and you can send home gifts for loved ones.. all while not having to worry about how you're going to fit that tiny hand-carved elephant gift in your backpack without breaking it.
It also makes for a fun, albeit hard/confusing/scary, travel experience. :)
12. And Lastly, Leave it at Home
If you’re unsure on if you should bring something, LEAVE IT…always remember.. if you’re traveling somewhere where people live, you can purchase anything people need... makes sense doesn't it?
The only things you should pack are things that can't be commonly found.. which automatically removes toiletries, clothes, shoes, sandals, sunglasses, power cables, headphones and a million other things as "non-essential"... leaving you with just the things that might be difficult to find while traveling.. things like specialized travel gear, waterproof bags, laptop accessories, etc. Ask yourself first, could I find this while traveling if I absolutely needed it?
Note: This post is a work in progress, check back later for more tips and advice, or share your tips in the comments, thank you!