This is how you know if full-time travel is right for you

Full-time travel sounds like “living the dream” to those who don’t. Although it can be a dream life, it’s not always easy. It’s definitely not an endless vacation.

In 2017 I quit my job to travel the world. So far I have been to six continents and over 25 countries. For those of you considering traveling full-time, or even part-time, here are some ways to help you determine if this life is right for you.

Fish at a market in Vietnam

Credit: Heather Markel

1. You love trying new and strange foods

I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been adventurous with new foods.

From the age of 16 I lived with a French host family. One day my host brother offered me a sample of the sheep’s brain he was eating. I backed away in horror. Fortunately, I realized I wasn’t entitled to an opinion until I tasted it. So I did. I can now say from experience that I don’t care about sheep brains. The important part is that I tried them.

On your journey around the world you will constantly come across strange foods, be it meat, fish, fruits or vegetables. More importantly, you will find it difficult to find foods you are used to. For example, peanut butter is often not readily available. Potato chips in other countries are seasoned with bacon, barbecue, spices, and flavor combinations you never considered. Trying to travel the world on a very specific diet can be frustrating because the more you limit your food choices, the harder it becomes to find them. Insects can be on the menu as well as offal. If you are staying with a family for any part of your travels, it might be considered offensive if you do not eat what they serve you. Being open to new foods is an essential part of traveling full-time.

2. You can deal with different beds every night

Have you ever gone on vacation and on the way home said, “I loved my vacation, but I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed!” You’ve no doubt bought a mattress that you love, broken it in and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. If you travel all the time, you won’t be able to come home to this bed anymore. You’ll have to get used to a new mattress, different pillows (sometimes made by stuffing clothes into a pillowcase), and different bedding (a top sheet isn’t part of many cultures) in every place you go. While this may seem mundane, full-time travel can make you miss the comforts of home; from your bed to street noise and more, you’ll constantly adapt to new places when you lay your head down at night.

Two bags with the author's luggage.

The author’s overflowing baggage

Credit: Heather Markel

3. You can live out of your suitcase

Depending on where you are staying and how long you are there, you may have space or interest to unpack. Every time you change locations, your life becomes a series of packing and unpacking. I find that if I’m in one place for a week or more, or if there are drawers and a closet with hangers, I unpack happily. Often, however, I’m in a guest room without the above luxuries, so I’ll get things out of my suitcase and try my best not to make a mess. Whenever it’s time to pack, I’m amazed that I can never pack as many things in my bags as I did on my first trip!

4. You are ready to pack lightly and carry your luggage

Unless you are traveling first class or in a campervan, carry your luggage. This can be from trains or bus stops to hostels, and it can also be up the stairs to your room in a budget hotel.

Being able to afford full-time travel for more than a few months means staying in places that don’t offer luxury services. You’ll learn very quickly that you don’t want to travel with more than you have to. I’ve donated clothes and more to charity or gifted items that were too heavy to new friends while I traveled. Unless it’s extremely hot, I wear the same shirt two days in a row. If I’m tired of a shirt after months on the road, or it’s seen its last wash, I’ll donate it or trade it in for a newer one.

It’s important to note that full-time travel isn’t glamorous. You won’t have much use for makeup, and you won’t have room for fancy clothes or your dancing shoes.

5. You are bold when it comes to personal development

One of the things that surprised me in my first year of travel was how much I learned about myself. My journey felt like an adult vision quest. It wasn’t always fun.

On your travels you will be confronted with new situations, challenged and pushed out of your comfort zone. These are the experiences that will help you grow and become the person you want to be. Sometimes you won’t like what you learn. Other times, you’ll be pleased to see just how imaginative you can be. It’s important to realize that when you travel full-time, you no longer have the daily distractions of an office or friends and family that keep you from discovering yourself. It takes a certain amount of courage and perseverance to do this work. Make sure you’re up to the challenge before embarking on a full-time journey.

6. You are willing to plan a lot

When you go on vacation, you’ll be happy to choose a place that excites you, book your trip, reserve your hotel and tours, and get started! When you travel full-time, planning becomes a full-time job in itself. Every time you want to move to a new place, you need to figure out how to get there, where to stay, and what to do. The more often you move, the more planning you need to do.

I’ve learned to let go of planning at any moment and instead focus on transportation and accommodation. As for touring and sightseeing, I’ll let that unfold as soon as I arrive. This takes a lot of stress out of the process.

7. You won’t give up just because you don’t have access to Wi-Fi

If you plan on traveling for work or blogging, you’ll quickly find that Wi-Fi is the bane of your existence. The signal can be weak, non-existent, or shared with so many people that uploading a photo is either impossible or takes hours. Try making a video call and after numerous dropped calls turn off the video and curse the network gods.

Consider bringing a WiFi hotspot or a phone that allows you to tether and buy a local SIM card. Local SIM cards offer significantly cheaper data plans than roaming with your US provider.

A view from the author's hotel window in Posadas, Argentina.

A view from the author’s hotel window in Posadas, Argentina, where she spent two weeks recovering from travel burnout

Credit: Heather Markel

8. You accept that boredom and burnout are the order of the day

The same way you get burned out working works applies to full-time travel. As mentioned, this is not a full-time vacation. Once you start living the travel lifestyle, you will experience moments of boredom, disappointment and burnout.

Here’s an interesting resource: When I first started traveling, I moved about every three days. After a few months I found myself in a small town in Argentina with no tourism. I booked a three night stay and asked to add three more. I then added a few more days and ended up staying for two weeks. The joy of being able to avoid the packing and planning and having the feeling of having a home base for an extended period of time was just what I needed. If it happens to you, know it’s normal. Go with the flow and plan to relax until the burnout wears off.

9. You are prepared to be seen as an ambassador from your home country

Even if it is not an official date, on your travels you will meet people who have never left their own country. For some, you become their view of your country. Your behavior will be the basis for judging other people from your country. I was lucky enough to live with a host family as a teenager. She taught me to be fluent in French, and in my travels I’ve learned that Americans who travel and expect everyone to speak English aren’t always well respected. This led to my obsession with learning the local language of every place I traveled.

It is important to respect local cultures and adapt to how people live, do business and speak to one another. In American culture, we often insist on exemplary customer service and complain when we don’t get it. Outside America, I’ve found that many cultures move much more slowly and tend to be much less demanding. It’s important to understand the layers of formality and politeness. You will have much deeper experiences with locals if you respect their way of life instead of arguing or trying to change it.

In my opinion, full-time travel is an experience that everyone should have, even if only for a few months. It will transform you in extraordinary ways. However, it’s not for everyone. Make sure you set your expectations before you board.

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