The double-edged sword of long-term travel

This is one of those posts which could easily be read the wrong way.  So, gentle reader, approach it with a generous sprit.

Getting along together most of the time
Getting along together most of the time

One of the blogs we read regularly is the Latest from Wander mom. They’ve just celebrated six months on the road and she was explaining how she’d hit a low-point and, facing “the not inconsequential task of planning the next six months of travel” she’d contemplated just giving up on the rest of the trip and returning home. This struck a bit of a chord with me, especially as it echoed a conversation we’d had with our Canadian friends last week. Our Canadian friends had mentioned that they’d needed a couple of weeks ‘off’ – they were finding it difficult to contemplate the next stages of travel. And Jennifer and I had seemed to hit a bit of a planning roadblock recently.

It’s not that we’re not enjoying the trip. And this emphatically isn’t a whinge. It is worth mentioning though.

Over months of travel there are inevitably good days and not so good days. Generally it’s less about the places and the travel, and more just the natural ups and downs of a family together. When the kids are in a good mood they can be wonderful – we positively glowed with the compliments from the other people on our tour yesterday. But inevitably they have days when they are niggly and annoying. And so do we adults; although we don’t tend to demonstrate that by hitting each other in the way they sometimes do.

All of that’s quite natural, but months of travelling have us all spending more concentrated time together than we would rack up in a year at home. I certainly haven’t spent this much unbroken time with the kids since they were babies. That magnifies the niggly and annoying things. Now don’t get me wrong, we love the time we’re spending as a family – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when it gets tiring. As Wander Mom put it:

“The root of this angst was the fact that as we travel we have good days and bad days, great days and nasty days and each of us can be individually good, bad, great or nasty on any given day.”

The other thing is the constant change. I must say I love the novelty, the moving on, seeing new things. So I’ve been giving some thought to why we seemed to hit a roadblock on our planning and why other RTW travellers experienced similar issues. I think it comes down to the fact that change means having to make decisions. At home significant decisions pop up on a fairly infrequent basis. Travelling like this, you’re constantly making decisions: Where to stay. Which train to catch. Do we walk or catch a bus. Where should we eat. Where do we find a printer. And so on.

The great thing about travel is that we’re not dealing with the humdrum unchanging rhythm of home. I haven’t touched a vacuum cleaner in three months. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next week. Grocery shopping wont be in the same local Woolworths. And that’s all good. But on another level that rhythm of home is reassuring and easy. It doesn’t require thought and constant decision-making.

Breaking that rhythm of home is one of the reasons for travelling; and it’s one of the joys of travelling. But sometimes that steady beat has an allure; sometimes you just want to bury your head in the sand and not have to deal with novelty and daily decisions.

I know, I know; poor us. But really I’m not writing this as a complaint or a plea for sympathy. There is, however, a reality to the undertaking that is long-term travel, which makes it different to a two-week  holiday.

Anyway, for us the last few days have seen a flurry of organisation. Trains have been booked, we’ve got the first part of the UK sorted out and we’ve decided about South America. Spain is locked down and we’ve worked our way through a couple of thorny decisions about two of our longer legs in Europe. So our travellers-block is broken. Spending ten days in one place seems to have encouraged us to embrace the novel again.

2 thoughts on “The double-edged sword of long-term travel

  1. We are settled in one place for six months and have very much struggled with the non-stop “otherness” of the experience. It’s not every day, it’s not debilitating, but there’s very little that’s familiar to fall back on. The street signs are different. The casual language is all different (all the idiomatic phrases, what do you call “standing in line”?). And we’re in an English-speaking country.

    On the good days, the difference feels expanding, but on the tired days, it’s just one more factor of exhaustion. Add in the stress of constant decision-making, which we don’t have day-to-day, and I can easily imagine roadblocks.

    I mean, roadblocks seem like an expected part of the travel experience, the same way (maybe) that sleep regressions during infancy are. You don’t have a baby to embrace sleep regressions, but you don’t dismiss the joys of infancy just because parts of it suck.

    I don’t mean to compare a sabbatical to round-the-world travel, by the way. Just planning our weekend getaways, I have a healthy respect for how very different a year’s travel would be.

Leave a Reply