Perhaps this is the most important consideration to assure the success of your journey.
Begin by asking yourself this question: does long-term travel really suit you and your traveling partner? Will you be happy, easily bending and flexing with the new situations you will be meeting regularly? Will homesickness spoil your journey? Will you and your traveling companion enjoy this time together? Or will you find it just too much togetherness? And there’s one key question that might just answer all the others for you: can you really afford to go?
In considering those questions keep in mind that there are many other options. It isn’t necessary to travel around the world or to stay for many months. You are the designer of your journey. Create the trip that fits you! You can go somewhere for a few weeks instead of a few months. Instead of visiting many places you can apply many of the tips in this blog to finding one place to stay for several weeks.
It’s very important to be honest with yourself and your partner about what you want, what you can reasonably expect, and about whether this sort of travel really suits you. First consider the question that may actually define your trip for you.
Financial considerations: can you really afford to go?
Anyone considering traveling for an extended period must look carefully at his/her own budget before making final decisions. Some of your normal living expenses can be eliminated, or even turned into income-producers. Other costs such as health insurance, loan payments and taxes will continue no matter where you are. Finally, any new costs at home such as the cost of a security system or storing furniture need to be considered.
It is also necessary to be very realistic in estimating what your costs will be when you travel. These will vary widely, determined both by the places you choose to visit and the lifestyle you want for your trip. Estimating the total cost with as much accuracy as possible is critical to both enjoying your journey and having your nest egg intact when your trip is finished.
Begin a spreadsheet that lists everyplace you plan to visit. Use the Internet to discover the cost of places you wish to stay and visit. Find prices for flights, trains and rented cars. List the costs of accommodations, transportation, meals, sight-seeing, and add something for simply having a good time. Investigate travel insurance options. In a separate column or page, list your income and the amount of additional money you’re willing to spend. Subtotal this on a monthly basis then subtract the costs you will incur at home while you travel. This will give you a budget you can use to develop your plans.
Emotional considerations: long-term travel is not for everyone
Are you like my cousin who, upon hearing of our plans, immediately said, “I could never stand to be away from my home for that long”? Can you handle living in a different place every week or two or even every night for an extended period? Does that seem like fun to you, or torture?
Are you comfortable with change? Or do you like for your world be remain predictably the same? Since this site is written with retirees in mind, it seems fair to point out that we aren’t quite as flexible as we were at 21. The familiar seems more important now than it did then. And we tire more easily.
Do you have grandchildren? If so, are they cute little people who live nearby and are in your life on a frequent and regular basis? Or are they older kids who don’t need you quite as much as they once did? Perhaps you rarely see them because they live a long distance away from you. Are you willing to miss a year or so of their growing-up years? Can their parents get along without your occasional baby-sitting services? There are many questions relating to your children and grandchildren that need to be considered before you take yourself away for a long time. Skype and Facetime make it easy to stay in touch with your family.
Similarly, if your parents are living, can you leave them for an extended period without guilt or worry? Are there other people who really depend on you? If so, you may need to wait a while before beginning your trip, but you can still make the most of the ever-so-enjoyable planning process while you wait.
Are you still working? Are you involved in your community through volunteer work, church or other activities? How much will you miss your friends and activities when you are traveling? Will you feel guilty about shifting your responsibilities?
Do you like to travel? Probably you will answer yes, or you would not be reading this. But have you thought about the stresses of traveling for an extended period, to places where you may not speak the language and where you will encounter many unfamiliar practices, foods, and cultures? I must say that I was pretty nervous about the idea of spending weeks in Spain and Italy where I didn’t know the language, but I enjoyed our time there enormously. Most Europeans you will encounter will speak at least a little English. There are great translator apps for your smart phone or iPad. You really can communicate quite well with a phrase book and a lot of pointing. Just keep smiling!
When you get really tired do you become emotional and need to spend time alone? When things don’t quickly go your way, how do you react? What aspects of your proposed trip frighten you? Do you thrive on change and adventure? Do you cope well in emergencies? Do you enjoy experiencing unfamiliar people and situations?
These are just a few questions you should be asking yourself. Take time to consider the whole concept of long-term foreign travel. Really have an ongoing conversation with yourself and with your traveling companion about what your journey will be like and whether you really want to undertake it.
If the idea of a Long Journey still appeals to you after all these questions have been answered, how long do you think you’d like to be away? Does six months seem right, while a year seems too long? On our first trip we planned to travel for eight months, but circumstances made it almost a year. After six months I began to feel a bit homesick. During the last three months I was ready to go home although I continued to enjoy the many wonderful places we were visiting. For me eight months would have been about right. Do you have a sense of what’s right for you?
And remember, if you really want to do it, you can always fly home in a few hours. It might even be wise to include in your plans a flight home to see your grandchildren or aging parents in the middle of your trip!
Regardless of what you finally decide, you will be happiest if you design this trip to really suit you and your partner.
Too much togetherness?
The stresses of traveling can be very trying on any relationship. You and your travel partner are essentially going to be alone in small rooms and tiny cars for the duration of your trip. This has led me to conclude that one should make this trip only with someone who loves you no matter how difficult you are: your mother or your well-loved, well-tested, very well-known spouse or partner or best friend.
You surely know the old saw about losing friends by loaning them money (or borrowing from them). Traveling for months with someone is probably an even better way to wear out a relationship. Little ticks and foibles can become enormous when you are exposed to them several times a day. Struggles for control, which can be handled when they are part of a full and busy life at home, can become battles when every day is a new adventure. Differences of opinion about spending, eating, sightseeing can really spoil your day. And anything you feel about your companion is only half of it – he or she is going to be having the same feelings about you!
The good news is that if your relationship is solid, if you are best friends, patient with one another, used to the other’s habits and shortcomings, able to argue without inflicting lasting damage, your journey together will likely become the best time you have ever spent together. My husband and I sometimes became angry, frustrated, even tired of one another but we also grew much closer and we came to love each other more deeply than we ever had. We laughed our way across Europe and had an awful lot of fun.
My next journey will be a solo adventure. Now that I’m a widow there’s no one I can imagine wanting to travel with for more than a few days. I’ve planned the journey to include all the places I want to experience. Often people are shocked when they learn that I’m traveling alone but I’ve never had a bad experience as a solo traveler and I’ve had some very good and memorable experiences. You’ll be free to do only what pleases you!
Deciding whether to travel alone is a purely personal matter, a question that must be answered according to your own personality and desires. The dangers are probably not much (if any) greater for a person traveling alone than they are for a couple. Use your head, do your research, and you will do well. And if you begin to talk to yourself, just cup one hand over an ear — everyone will just assume you’re talking on a tiny phone!
What if you aren’t cut out to be a world traveler?
Don’t give up! You can do it! Break your dream trip into smaller pieces. This year go to one place you really long to experience for two weeks, a month or two. Pick another place next year and go again. The same methods for having an enjoyable, relaxing holiday apply. We tend not to think of Europe as a place we can reach in just a few hours, but that’s how our kids think of it, and many of them vacation there every year, sometimes several times a year. Young families go to Europe like we once went to Lake Whatchamacallit. Packing babies on their backs, some of them travel all over the world. If they can do that, so can we!
Don’t despair. Just do your research and think about ways to make foreign travel work for you. Search the Internet for bargains and ideas. Continue researching and reading the tips pages on this site and others. Use those sections that apply to your trip, and be sure to read the pages on vacation rentals. Having a home away from home is a great way to really enjoy your vacation.
Resources: There are some good suggestions from long-term travelers in this article. The blog, Senior Nomads in Europe, is written by a couple who have been traveling from one AirBnB rental to another for many months. There are many blogs written by women and men traveling alone. My favorite is HoleintheDonut.com by Barbara Weibel, a retired woman who has been on the road for several years. Each of these blogs is truthful about the joys and the difficulties travelers encounter.
TIP: If you and your traveling partner haven’t spent much time together on the road, consider a “test drive.” Take a short trip together to discover if you are compatible travelers.
TIP: People contemplating a solo journey in Europe may enjoy the book Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach. It is an account of the author’s experiences while traveling alone in Europe for a year. Potential solo travelers may be especially interested in the author’s process for deciding whether to travel alone.