When I told my Slovak teacher, Julia, that I was not returning to the U.S. after the 3-week immersion course in Bratislava, but rather I was heading with Peter to Hungary to continue our one-year round-the-world trip, she asked “How did you prepare for it?” Of course, I thought she meant financially, so I launched into our well-rehearsed speech involving involving a house sale, a cheap apartment, and a budget lifestyle. She stopped me. “No, I mean psychologically. I would find it difficult to prepare mentally for such a trip.”
Mental preparation for long-term travel resembles preparing for any big life change. The difference: unlike most life-altering events such as marriage, children, a new home, or a new job, it’s more temporary. I find preparing myself psychologically to have children one day to be much more daunting than psyching myself up for our trip.
A year is a long time to be away from your typical life, to not see friends and family, to not earn an income, to not understand the local language and customs, to eat unfamiliar food and live in unfamiliar surroundings. This is what Julia meant: How do you prepare yourself for one year of a drastically different life?
We’ve been preparing for this trip since 2006. In that time, we’ve suffered several times the disappointment of having to postpone our trip, even thinking a few times that we had to give up our dream altogether, and changed the departure date six times in three years. The best preparation was making the trip happen despite the universe trying to convince us it wouldn’t happen.
We’ve found helpful a few additional steps to prepare for long-term travel.
Control your expectations
It was essential for us to curb the idea that every moment of travel will be mind-blowing, existential bliss. In Portland we were bored with our jobs and ready to focus on personal projects. It was easy to let our minds drift to the exciting, purposeful lives we would soon lead. We were so eager for our trip that we had to focus on being present in Portland rather than drinking cappuccinos in a Buenos Aires cafe. It was difficult to admit that while the trip would be extraordinary, it would also be just like life, filled with both positive and negative experiences.
Plan to travel slowly
One year is a long time to travel like backpackers, moving every few days to a new town and scrambling to see all the sights. When we tell people about our trip, I get the impression they assume this is how we’re traveling. “How exhausting!” they say. “Won’t you get tired of it?” It’s why we’ve planned to travel slowly and spending longer periods of time in each location. It was much easier to prepare mentally for our trip knowing we would live in an apartment in Greece, where we could cook meals, write our blog, and not be tourists, if we choose, rather than having to rush to fit in activities and eat at restaurants for every meal.
Develop a portable routine
When I was a teenager, I hated routines. I wanted every day to be different and to live spontaneously. Now I see routines as rituals, a way to feel acquainted with life in the midst of chaos. Living life arbitrarily makes me feel unproductive, nervous, and depressed. We decided to develop a daily routine that would provide some familiarity as well as ensure we work productively on our writing. Seeing our travel life as not too different from our normal life (minus the job plus the exciting new homes) helped us feel comfortable with the crazy new life we were embarking on.
Do your research
Much of mental preparation involves overcoming fears about travel. While we’re both comfortable traveling in Europe, neither of us has visited Asia or South America. What are we to expect and how do we deal with the differences? We did a lot of research, not only on specific countries and regions and what to see and do there, but also on other traveler’s experiences. To curb fear and apprehension about long-term travel, we read personal blogs such as The World is Not Flat, So Many Places, and Legal Nomads to see how others fared on their RTW journeys.
Are there any steps you’ve taken to prepare mentally for travel or any other major life change?