What I Learned From My Round the World Trip
I’ve been back from my round the world trip for almost six months. It was a dream I held onto for years, and I’m so glad I was able to make it happen. But it didn’t look like what I imagined it would. I traveled through 13 countries in 136 days, and that taught me a thing or two about myself and about travel.
Travel slowly. I heard people saying it and read it on tons of blogs before I left. But I thought spending four or five days in one place was slow since my normal way of travel was to spend two or three days in one place. If you’re traveling long term, constantly moving around gets really stressful. It’s probably better to aim for at least a week in each place, sometimes more depending on where you are. I figured this out eventually and spent 10 days in Melbourne.
The act of traveling can be both exciting and exhausting. I was on 31 planes, 20 boats, 11 trains, and countless buses and minivans. The short flight from Siem Reap to Pakse was interesting because there was only one other passenger besides me. We still swap emails occasionally. The train from Wellington to Auckland was 12 hours of gorgeous New Zealand scenery. The Milford Sound overnight cruise was a fun look at another end of New Zealand’s landscape. But my 43 hour travel day to Melbourne had me in tears, and the whole time I was on the bus to Luang Prabang I thought we might fall off a cliff.
I don’t want to travel without Andy. Maybe a week or two tops if there’s a good reason for it, but I kinda like having him around. Despite the first year of our relationship being long distance, I really missed him when I was traveling and it was tough. Solo travel is an amazing thing, and I’m so glad I’ve done it several times. But now that I have a travel partner, I’d rather hit the road with him.
Don’t plan so much. I really love the planning aspect of travel, so even if I don’t book everything, I still usually have a rough idea of where I’m going and when. But sometimes that backfires. I used miles to book a round the world ticket, so I was locked in to a handful of flights. As happy as I am that I saved so much money on those flights, it kept me from being as spontaneous as I could’ve been.
Pack light. I packed carry-on only, and I loved it. But I still had to check a bag on a few flights because of strict weight limits for carry-on bags. I’ll keep striving towards less weight in my bag to try to avoid this problem in the future.
It’s ok to take a day off here and there to relax. Sometimes it’s good to push yourself, but there are also times when it’s better to just take a day off from sightseeing. If I’m feeling burned out and tired, I know I won’t enjoy running around a city, so sitting at a cafe with a book is time well spent. This goes for short trips as well as longer trips.
Travel for the right reasons. I held onto this long term, round the world trip dream for years, but it turns out I might’ve been trying to prove something to myself, or to everyone else. I couldn’t have figured that out without actually going on the trip, so I have no regrets. I do love to travel and I have no intentions of stopping. But long term travel isn’t for me. Don’t travel to impress other people. Travel because you love it and you couldn’t imagine NOT traveling.
Travel how you want to travel. Many people like to brag about their experiences with roughing it, the 24 hour bus rides they’ve endured, that somehow you’re not really traveling unless you’re doing it their way. Don’t listen. Everyone is different, everyone has different limits and comfort zones, and everyone has different goals when they travel.
Take lots of pictures.
August 16, 2012 @ 8:19 AM
so cool! one day I hope to do this too!
August 16, 2012 @ 1:46 PM
August 16, 2012 @ 10:22 AM
Love this post. I love that travel really does teach us more about ourselves then anything else. I’d have to agree with you that many of the things you have learned are things I have learned my self as well. I mean really I love to travel slow… a week in place is fine, taking a day or two or hell even 3 off is okay… yes take lots of pictures and THANK YOU for “Travel how you want to travel.” I wish more people realized that TRAVEL is TRAVEL no matter how it’s done. Can’t believe it’s been 6 months since it ended. Ahh your SEAsia photos make me very excited about being there soon.
August 16, 2012 @ 1:58 PM
Thanks Jaime! I don’t think I even realized how much I learned from this trip until I got home, possibly because it was kind of short. The temptation to travel quickly in order to see more is always there for me, but I think I’m getting better at ignoring it in favor of slower travel. Especially since Andy prefers to go slower. I’m excited for you to get to SEA, looking forward to hearing what you think about it!
August 16, 2012 @ 11:13 AM
I really loved reading this article as it’s full of sage advice.
Having Fibromyalgia forces me to slow down quite a bit in what I do on a day to day basis and rules certain things like trekking and extreme sports out entirely.
That said I am a massive fan of the concept of traveling slowly. Travel should be as unique as the individual and because we are all unique individuals we should approach travel like we should all other aspects of life – that is that we should let it all unfold as it wants to unfold, according to our own agenda if any agenda at all, never seeking to prove anything to anyone as we are sufficient in ourselves as human beings because we are human beings, allowing our own natural radiance and beauty to shine forth.
I’ve recently been thinking within myself of planning a trip to New Zealand as my first ever journey outside of Australia. Just like you have advised, my intention is to arrive in Auckland with the first week’s accommodation already booked just so I have a been to sleep in for the first night that I am already there but apart from that I am just going to allow myself to be in the moment and follow my heart’s desires. The only stipulation that I have that I must obey is that I need to be back in Australia within 60 days of departing as it’s one of the conditions that I have to fulfill in order to keep my disability support pension, little as it is. Apart from that I want to head by land south from Auckland, taking the train like you did between Auckland and Wellington and doing the ferry crossing from the North to the South Island and when I have reached the airport at the bottom of the South Island, I will fly back to Auckland and then back home to Australia. At the moment these are only just thoughts in my mind. I still need to come up with the money to do all this but it seems a much better idea for a first trip abroad considering my health situation and seeing that Auckland is only 3 hours flying time from Melbourne. And as an Australian I believe my passport on its own should be enough to get me through New Zealand customs but I will check that out as part of my planning as well.
August 16, 2012 @ 2:07 PM
Thank you so much Matthew! I didn’t realize you have never been out of Australia! New Zealand seems like the perfect place for your first trip outside the country, I really hope you find a way to make it happen. The train between Auckland and Wellington was really great, although you’ll end up skipping a lot of stuff in between like Rotorua. You could take the train from Auckland to Wellington, the ferry across to the south island, and work your way down. I think there are 2 other scenic trains on the south island. But at the end, you could fly from the bottom tip to Wellington and take a bus to Rotorua and another back to Auckland. Just a thought. And you can fly in or out of several cities if it works out better for some reason. I flew from Melbourne to Wellington. Anyway, let me know if you want any help when you get to planning, though New Zealand is a great place to leave your plans open and be spontaneous. And I’m 99.9% sure you don’t need to do anything ahead of time to get into NZ since you’re Australian. I didn’t, and I’m American. I think the line in the passport check is for Australian and NZ citizens, and then the rest of us in another line.
August 16, 2012 @ 2:26 PM
Absolutely right on all accounts, Ali! I can’t even pick my fave piece of wisdom as they’re spot on. I already believed in packing lightly, but traveling slowly is definitely something I’ve come to learn over the years and appreciate now more than at the start.
August 16, 2012 @ 9:25 PM
Thanks Heather! We’re trying to be better about slow travel, though it doesn’t always work out that way. As for packing light, it’s just so much easier to deal with not having a lot of stuff.
August 16, 2012 @ 6:02 PM
Great article Ali! Really hit a chord with me in many ways and I echo everything you said, however the longer I’m out there on the road, the longer I stay in a place. These days, I sometimes stay a month! Funny how that happens.
August 16, 2012 @ 9:27 PM
Thanks Barbara! It’s still hard to travel slow when we have limited vacation, even if it is more than we’d have in the US, but hopefully we can get things worked out differently soon. We’d love to be able to go somewhere and rent an apartment for a month or two and explore from there.
fotoeins | Henry
August 17, 2012 @ 4:03 AM
Hi, Ali. Well said, and I recognize where I am, too, in the things you said and reflected upon in your post. I just spent two weeks in Sydney, and I did very little. Fortunately, I’ve visited Sydney a number of times previously. However, I hadn’t realized that by the time I had reached Sydney this time around on my RTW, I’d hit “the wall”, and suffered a bit of burnout. I needed the down-time, so it was great to go to the local Asian shops for food, cooked my own meals (mmm, my wok-fried noodles is still awesome halfway around the world), and took care of my friends’ pets while they were away Stateside. Thanks again for your post!
August 18, 2012 @ 7:43 PM
Down time is important, whether you’re traveling for a week or a year. I’m glad you gave yourself that time in Sydney. Also, how did I not realize you had already left for your trip?! I hope you’re having a great time, I’m so far behind on your blog!
August 17, 2012 @ 4:18 AM
Great post Ali! Such awesome advice, and a lot of it hits a chord with me in light of some of my past travels. Going slowly is almost always the hardest advice to follow – but so important!
August 18, 2012 @ 7:44 PM
Thanks Lindsey! It is hard to go slowly when you really want to keep seeing things, but it’s important to realize where your limit is and that you won’t necessarily enjoy it all if you don’t give yourself a break now and then.
August 17, 2012 @ 7:37 AM
I can completely relate about wanting to travel with your partner. I’m going on quite a few trips without Scott in the next few months and luckily they are just short trips because I really do miss having him around.
I have to agree with you about long term travel being exhausting, especially at the pace Scott and I usually travel. One week in each place would even start to sound too short. Scott must be rubbing off on me. 😉
August 18, 2012 @ 7:47 PM
Thanks Christy! I don’t mind a few days in a place if the trip is only a week or two, but longer than that, it needs to be slower. And really, we would love to be able to rent an apartment in one place for a month or two and just take a few side trips from there. And yeah, I got used to being around Andy all the time really quickly, so traveling without him isn’t something I want to do a lot of anymore. Good luck on your trips without Scott!
August 17, 2012 @ 12:33 PM
Very good advice, especially about traveling the way you are comfortable. So what if you like to travel on tours? At least you’re out seeing something! And great if you like to travel independently; more power to you for being able to figure things out in another country. The point being that travel, no matter how you do it, makes us all a little richer and wiser.
August 18, 2012 @ 7:49 PM
Thanks Jennifer! Exactly, if you want to do a tour or skip the most important site in the city, that’s your own decision. I would never have fun traveling in a way others thought I should if it didn’t match the way I want to travel.
August 17, 2012 @ 5:22 PM
“Don’t travel to impress people” – so true. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
August 18, 2012 @ 7:49 PM
Thanks Lindsay! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and my photos!
August 18, 2012 @ 11:22 AM
I completely agree with all our tips! I learned many of these early on in my travel experiences. I NEVER travel the way anyone expects me to. Sometimes I will go to a new city and not go to a single attraction at all. I prefer taking photos of old buildings, sitting in a cafe, writing in my journal and just feeling a new place. I also agree that you need to slow down. No one will give you an award for hitting up 20 countries in 20 days. And chances are, you won’t remember too much! And yes…always, always….a million photos! Great post!
August 18, 2012 @ 7:54 PM
Thanks Kristi! Right, you have to do what you want in order to enjoy the trip. Sometimes just sitting at a cafe and watching the world go by can be the most enjoyable trip ever. I do sometimes still travel too quickly, but I think I’m getting better about it. And the pictures…OMG I take sooo many pictures! Well over 7000 on my round the world trip.
August 18, 2012 @ 11:23 AM
Oops, I meant your tips! haha
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
August 19, 2012 @ 8:31 AM
Thank you so much for this post! I am only 10 days into my year-long trip and I already see the wisdom in what you have said… I too thought spending 2 – 3 days in a city would be more than enough, but it really is stressful having to pack your bag every other day and schlep it somewhere else (even if it is carry-on size!). Once we hit places that are not as expensive as Japan (and Hong Kong), I think we’ll drop our pace dramatically… much better to see fewer things but enjoy ourselves, than feel constantly burnt out as we try to cram everything in.
And I am trying to get over my feelings of guilt when I find myself just wanting to laze about and write/blog/read rather than running around seeing the sights. It feels like doing anything other than sightseeing is a waste of my time, but really, I can’t spend a whole year playing tourist, so I need to learn to take my down-time when I need it so that I can really just enjoy living this life I have chosen!
August 20, 2012 @ 11:12 AM
Yeah, it can get really tiring! Definitely give yourself a break now and then. Just plan to stay in one place long enough to do what you want and rest. You really can’t keep up that pace for a year, you’ll burn out and want to go home 2 or 3 months in. It’s life, not a 10 day vacation. Have fun though!
August 19, 2012 @ 5:17 PM
Every trip I take I tell myself I am going to set aside a day or two along the trip just to relax so I don’t come home as fried as usual, but since I usually only have a month, I can never quite justify not using every minute.
August 20, 2012 @ 11:16 AM
I know, I still struggle with it. I want to see and do so much, but I keep reminding myself I’ll burn out easily. I can understand pushing yourself to keep going though.
August 24, 2012 @ 1:40 PM
As I grow nearer and nearer to my own RTW adventure this makes me wonder if my wife and I planned enough time and if we will be able to keep up with the pace. I know we will pack too much, we already have our backpacker bags and with more room we’ll likely try to fill it. As for you and the idea of long term travel, I don’t think I could do it forever either, and in fact just wrote about it, but it’s hard to say when we haven’t even left yet. Thanks for sharing.
August 24, 2012 @ 4:15 PM
I think as long as you leave yourself open to the possibility of changing plans on the road, you’ll be fine. I sort of caged myself in by getting a round the world ticket with miles. Even a normal round the world ticket would’ve been better because they’re more flexible to use as you go. As far as packing goes, just remember you will be doing laundry so there’s no need to pack several weeks’ worth of clothes. I had about one week’s worth (though more underwear) and that seemed to work pretty well. Don’t pack too many things that are “just in case” because the chances of you needing it are miniscule, and if something does come up, you can improvise or buy on the road. Carrying around a heavy bag gets old quickly. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your trip, exciting!!
Mary - Green Global Travel
October 15, 2012 @ 10:01 PM
Great travel lessons. I think you could add, “you don’t really know who you’re dating until you travel with them”. Glad you and Andy are such a good match!
October 16, 2012 @ 3:51 PM
Ha! Very true, Mary! Thanks!