Long-term travel is really rewarding, but it definitely poses certain challenges. (Packing isn’t one of them. As far as I’m concerned, packing is the same regardless of whether the trip is a week or a month.) However, trips longer than a few weeks require a bit more planning (but again, are totally worth it!). Below is a list of a few of the challenges of long-term travel and how we tackle them:
- Bills: Companies tend to come after their money regardless of where in the world you are. Fortunately, we live in the Electronic Age, and no longer have to receive bills and send checks through Snail Mail. (I know some people who are hesitant to make the switch to online banking, but paying bills online has many benefits, as it is more secure, saves consumers money, and has fewer environmental costs.)The first step is to set up your account for online banking so that you can pay bills electronically and transfer money between accounts. Next, enter in the information for your various bills into your account. Some bills, like our mortgage, cell phones, and credit cards, can be set up to pay in full automatically every month. Other bills, like our electrical company, requires us to log into their site every month. And a few bills, such as our septic system and oil delivery, appear sporadically. So to make sure we don’t return to crashed credit scores because of an overdue bill we didn’t know about, we’ve created a spreadsheet with all of our bills and approximately when they’re due. (We spent up to six months making sure all of our bills made it onto the spreadsheet.)(Note: We have heard that online tools like Mint are useful for organizing all of this information. We’ll give your our thoughts on it once we’ve used it.)
- Medicines: Congrats if you are one the lucky few not on any pharmaceuticals. Your only concern is over-the-counter medications.I, however, am one of the many Americans on prescription medications (for example, I suffer from chronic and debilitating migraines). Luckily, my insurance company allows me to receive three-month supplies of nearly every medication I use. For some medicines, or for longer trips, I have to call my insurance company in advance to obtain a sufficient supply.For longer trips there are two options.
First, many medications that require a prescription in the United States are available over the counter abroad. Second, for medications that require a prescription, a doctor’s visit is often easy and inexpensive, even without insurance. I’ve visited general practitioners for routine care in New Zealand and Germany, had emergency care in Uganda and Costa Rica, and even seen a specialist in Korea. I have always been able to get appointments within a day or two, and have found every time that paying out of pocket (even without insurance) is cheaper than going to the doctor with insurance in the States. Ditto for the cost of medicines.
- House and Pets: Our house and cats are probably are biggest concerns when we travel long-term. We live in New England, so the yard needs to be mowed in the summer, leaves raked in the fall, and snow shoveled in the winter. And when it rains a lot the basement gets water. Oh, the joys of homeownership. Plus my cats are my babies, and one of them has diabetes, so he requires daily medication and regular vet visits.I know people who rent out their homes when they travel (on Airbnb, for example), but we’ve never tried it. Our solution thus far has been to allow people to use the house in exchange for home and pet care. We’ve had a range of people stay at our house, from friends using it as a mini-vacation to get out of the city, to college students home for the summer who didn’t want to live with mom and dad, to former students who literally had no other place to stay. And sometimes people stayed as a favor.Honestly, as long as the house is still standing and my “kids” are still alive and happy when we return, I’m good.
- Hair Care: It may seem silly to include hair care on a list that includes such important items as prescription medications and mortgage payments. But it’s the simple things like hair maintenance that highlights the challenges of long-term travel. It’s crazy how attached we can get to our stylists, and change is scary, especially when there’s a language barrier.First, I must state the obvious. My husband is black and I’m white. Therefore, there are certain places in the world where one of us is just not going to be able to get our hair done. (For example, Hubby in Lithuania or Ireland and me in East Africa.) In which case, it is what it is. But in general, we’re able to travel for months at a time and still keep our hair looking amazing-sauce.Hubby’s hair: We can maintain the shape of Hubby’s hair for five to six weeks by using a trimmer. Anything beyond that taxes my mad hair-cutting skills (ha!), at which time he needs to visit a professional.
A great tip: Bring photos of your hair when it was first cut. Even in countries where we don’t speak the language and/or there isn’t a significant black population, this trick has always worked. Yes, sometimes the process has been painful. And scary. But it works out. And if not? It’ll grow back.
My hair: My hair is WAY more complicated. It’s long, layered, and highlighted. I normally go about eight weeks between salon visits, but we often travel for months at a time. My stylist was kind enough to write out exactly what she does to my hair, including the highlight and lowlight colors and how she foils. And so far it’s worked like a charm. To be fair, I’ve been careful and only visited salons in English-speaking countries with significant numbers of blondes. I’d rather have a few roots than risk it.
- Laundry: Because we travel so light, any trip longer than five or six days requires washing clothes.
I’m a big fan of sink laundry for basics like underwear and socks. Most hotels abroad almost expect it, and have a line dryer in the bathroom. We used to pack travel-sized detergent, but because most hotels provide bath gels and shampoos we no longer bother. If we’re gone long enough we eventually need a washing machine, so in more expensive countries we do our own at a laundromat, and in developing countries we use a laundry service. (We just had a bag of laundry washed in Columbia for $5).
- Family: Unfortunately, Hubby and I don’t live near our families, and we only see them a couple of times a year. It’s hard, to be sure, but jobs sent us across the country. Point being, it doesn’t make a difference to my mom if we’re abroad or in our house. The good news is that maintaining connections from a distance is easier than ever. Just ten years ago when we were in Germany for a semester the only way to contact her was email or the pay phone in the lobby.Today, since everyone in my family has an iPhone, as long as we have Wi-Fi we can easily connect with each other. (My in-laws are luddites and have yet to get iPhones, or use Facebook, or even Skype, so it’s more difficult to stay connected with them.) I can call my mom any time on FaceTime and show her my new hotel room, or the new earrings I just bought her, or get her opinion on what to wear, or just hear how her day was. The shared photo folders are a handy way to share large number of photos with my brother and his family.Another thing that helps out immensely is our international cell phone plan with T-Mobile. We have unlimited texting and (2G) data in every country we’ve visited. Useful hack: Placing traditional calls can be expensive, but we use Wi-Fi to call the States on FaceTime, Skype, or even Facebook Messenger. T-Mobile even has a service called Wi-Fi Calling, which allows us to make calls to any U.S. number for free.I also regularly post photos and videos on FaceBook and Instagram, allowing us to share our travels with our extended families and friends.
- Jobs: Okay, the elephant in the room. We as Americans work too much! Some of it isn’t our fault (the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t require paid time off ), and some of it is (we don’t take the vacation days we have ). Hubby and I are lucky, because we are educators with summers “off”. We’re even eligible for sabbaticals every few years. That being said, of ALL the educators we know, NONE of them use their summers to travel, or take sabbaticals. How sad. I learn everywhere I go, and use it in my classrooms to help my students learn.
If you have the luxury of time, you owe it to yourself to take advantage of it.
- Money: I thought about not including money in this post at all, because honestly it’s not that big of an issue (and not because we’re independently wealthy). Long-term travel can be quite inexpensive, and it’s certainly cheaper than shorter trips. We’ve seen the Americans who’ve saved all year to go on “vacation” for a couple of weeks, and they blow their entire budget on fancy hotels, ritzy restaurants, and lots of booze. Plus they don’t really experience the destination.Long-term travel is slower, and much cheaper. Think about it… the biggest expense when traveling is the air fare, so it doesn’t really matter if your trip is one week or one month. You’ve already paid for it. The next biggest cost is lodging, but with Airbnb and even some hotels, long-term lodging isn’t that expensive.
Another big cost-saver is traveling to inexpensive locales (think Columbia, not Norway). We’ve stayed in nice hotels in Taipei and Bogota for around $50 a night. (We’ve previously calculated that, except for the world’s most expensive countries, if we didn’t have a mortgage, it’s cheaper to live nomadically.) And finally, there’s food. For goodness, sake, cook! Shop at grocery stores! Why should food cost more than it does at home?
The moral of the story? Long-term travel has certain challenges, but don’t let that stop you. If you have the ability to take the time, then just go! None of the challenges are insurmountable, and the benefits are worth it!
What do you think? What are the challenges you face when you travel for a long time, and what solutions have you come up with? Leave your ideas in the comments below!