mental health travel backpacker

Looks Perfect…But It’s Not Always The Case…

Throughout my travels I’ve been pretty open to sharing details of my travel budget in my “Monthly Summaries” and “A Month In…” series to help you guys plan you’re own backpacker adventures around the world.

But there’s a hidden cost of travel, especially when it comes to long term travel, that many bloggers and travellers simply never mention.

Travel is very sugar coated – people are quick to think you live in a postcard perfect world where everyday begins late in the morning and finishes with a gorgeous sunset on the beach – where your whole life is one big happy holiday.

And to be blunt as bloggers and backpackers we’re happy to reinforce the stereotype and glass over the hidden costs of travel. Lately I’ve been doing some serious thinking about my lifestyle (don’t worry I can’t see myself stopping quite yet!) but it’s brought me face to face with some of the darker areas of long term travel which I’ve tried to ignore for sometime…

 

Time

One of the most obvious things travelling has cost me is time. I’ve literally woken up and I’m suddenly nearly 27, a quarter of this year has already passed and I’ve been on the road for over 2 years. When you travel you loose all concept of time!

It’s easy to ignore it, but it can also be a huge oversight – suddenly its time to leave a place and you’ve put everything off until the last minute, you’ve overstayed a visa or simply don’t have any onward plans – all of which aren’t the ideal situations to be in!

The worse thing with time though is sometimes feeling like as a traveller you’re loosing track of ‘real life’ – people get married, buy houses, have kids…as a traveller you’re on a completely different scale of time where milestones are numbers of countries, visa runs and road trips.

I’ll admit that sometimes I question whether I’m doing the right thing when it comes to missing out on ‘real life’ milestones – it’s short lived though when I look at how much I’ve done on the road, without sounding heaps cliche I now measure my achievements in moments not things and on that scale I’m pretty life rich!

…but if you’re constantly comparing yourself to those outside the backpacker bubble you’ll find long term travel finds you feeling like you’re being left behind.

 

Relationships

travel romance relationships

Loved And Lost

By far my biggest non financial cost through travel is relationships. In fact it’s the whole reason I’ve really addressed any of the things in this list and realised that maybe I’m overlooking exactly what this lifestyle has entailed.

Travel has cost me 3 long term relationships.

The first of 4 years was due to me following my dream and heading to Australia to work and live there for a year. The second over over 2 years was for me chasing my dream of becoming a surf coach.

That’s 6 years of my life thrown away – but I can justify that as it was on my terms and I made the decisions to follow my dreams.

The latest one of 2 years though wasn’t on my terms, it was far from what I wanted and it cut deep. I found myself single because my lifestyle was stopping me from making the one person I cared about happy. What’s even worse is I was so in my backpacker bubble I didn’t even see it coming. What had started as an attractive part of my character suddenly became the main reason not to be with me.

Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be – but it’s not something I had thought was an issue and ultimately my blind faith in my travels cost me more than I ever wanted it to.

 

Friendships

surfing taghazout morocco gopro

Some Of The Few People I’m Still In Contact With!

But it’s not just girlfriends that I’ve lost due to my passion for travel. It’s friends too. These days I can literally count on my hands the amount of people I consider ‘real’ friends. People that I make the effort to keep in contact with and that make the effort to keep in contact with me.

People I’ve know since childhood, who I studied with at uni, or grew up with – nothing more than a faded memory who occasionally pop up in my Facebook feed.

Travel does a good job of alienating you from the ‘real world’ like that. Much like with relationships what starts out as something fun and exciting for them to chat to you about soon turns to jealousy and resentment once you pass the 6 month mark.

In fact these days the people I really chat to on a daily basis, those who are always on hand to listen, offer advice or simply ask what I’m up to are those I’ve met on the road. People I met for less than 2 weeks in Byron are now far more reliable and there for me than people I’ve know over 10 years.

It’s a weird situation to explain to anyone who hasn’t travelled!

 

Emotional

backpacker travel fearsAnd that all has a huge emotional cost. When you travel you’re life becomes full of goodbyes. Friendships and relationships become very short and intense, you aren’t afforded the time for small talk and you open up very quickly.

But opening up also leaves you vulnerable. 

After a while though you kind of numb yourself to a large range of emotions, I’ve found myself in situations where I simply couldn’t grasp how I was meant to react (especially when dealing with people outside of the backpacker bubble) and to be honest my go to responses these days when facing anything like that is to simply ignore it, turn off my phone, find a hammock or go for a surf!

It’s too easy to emotionally detach yourself from the world when you’re thousands of miles away but ultimately it’s a ticking time bomb and lately I’ve gone from being totally oblivious to totally aware of how I’m feeling.

It’s a life that can suddenly go from high highs to low lows. You can easily find yourself going from having the time of your life to feeling utterly empty and alone. It’s not always the case but when it happens it totally sucks.

 

Financial Security

backpacker budget ecuador south americaWhen I decided to travel long term and use my skills to earn a living on the road I entered a world of limbo, where financial security is pretty much non existent. I’m pretty good with money and therefore make very little plans outside of money I actually have – but still you never know what can happen.

I’ve set myself a bottom line – when my bank balance reaches that point, no matter where I am I have to move to New Zealand and start to find some solid work.

I also have a total bottom line – when my funds hit that point I have enough to get home, cut my losses and restart from the UK

I’ve been lucky enough to prolong my travels and enjoy them longer than I ever imagined – but my income is like a yo yo. Some months I’ll make well over £1,000 – other less than £500. And as much as we all hate to admit it although money isn’t everything it’s a pretty big factor whilst travelling the world.

 

Stability

And all of that leads me onto stability!

With a lack of physical friendships, relationships and money where the hell is the stability in my life?!

As a traveller stability isn’t a word you even look at. If you do you suddenly realise the tight rope you’re walking.

The only real stability it’s gained me is the fact I wiped all my over drafts and debts before leaving, so I’m only living off what I earn not what I have access too.

But that’s also a massive thing – it means I have no real base. I was chatting to my friend about this last week and he summed it up rather bluntly – “one of the downsides of having all these beautiful places as your home is the fact you don’t actually have one anymore”.

There isn’t anywhere I really “belong” as such now – which on one hand is totally liberating but on the other it’s actually pretty terrifying.

The more you look at the stability aspect the more you realise travel is pretty freaking reckless!

 

But is it all worth the sacrifice? 

…bluntly put – YES!

 

There are times when I really question what I’m doing (especially given the last few month of my travels – and this post wasn’t written when I was feeling on top of the world as you may have guessed!) but despite all the underlying costs and implications this lifestyle is something that gives me more joy than issues.

I know deep down that behind a desk in England I’ve be heaps more miserable and despite the fact this post may sound really negative or seem like I’m moaning I’m totally grateful for everywhere I’ve been, what I’ve done and how the large part of my life since 2009 and has been enriched since I started travelling.

I just think it’s important to give a balanced argument, to let you know what you could be letting yourself in for and to help you prepare.

Don’t let this put you off jumping on a plane to somewhere new and exciting!

It’ll be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make – but with every lifestyle comes a compromise, and these are some of the ones travel entails.

 

Have you travelled long term – any other ‘costs’ you’ve encountered?

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34 Responses

  1. Julia

    Can relate to all of this – especially the time/friends/money elements. I was on the road two years and it was only after that point did I start to realise that, as much as I love travel, it seemed as though life was going on without me and I didn’t really know what to do about it.

    But, as they say: “It’s always alright in the end. If it isn’t alright, it isn’t the end.” :)
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    • Chris

      Glad it’s not just me thinking along those lines Julia!
      To be honest I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d totally be out of place in a normal job in the UK now, I just couldn’t handle it – and no lifestyle is perfect hey?

      …love those wise words!

      Reply
    • Chris

      oh it’s totally still worth it – it’s just good to evaluate and make sure you’re still doing the right thing for the right reasons hey?!

      Reply
  2. Caz Makepeace

    I just finished submitting a guest post where I said, “The only time I feel at home is when the wind gently guides me down the winding path.” And that the white-picket-fence life with kids also has its fair share of difficulties and problems. You’ve just got to choose the life that gives you the greatest buzz in the good moments.

    I understand all too well what you have written here Chris. Travel comes at great sacrifice and there are many challenging moments. I’ve got a post of my own mulling over for the blog. It gets even harder when you travel with kids as the their sacrifices are even more real.

    Life can never be the same again after you travel- you’ll always have itchy feet, but the memories and the better person you are for it, makes the journey worth doing over and over again.

    I love how you have a back up plan and then a worst case scenario back up plan. My years of travel have told me you’ll always be supported and things will work out.

    I do believe you will find a woman who loves you for you and wants to travel with you. In fact, my younger sister suffers from the same problem with feeling like she can’t find a man who wants to travel with her.

    Should I play matchmaker perhaps? :)
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    Reply
    • Chris

      Wise words Caz – it’s always good to know your not alone in thinking these things hey?

      To be honest I’ve realised that the white picket fence life would come at the cost of FAR more sacrifices than travel now, and I totally agree on the fact once you start bouncing around the world things will never be the same and you have a different perspective on life.

      I can imagine it being even more of a juggle being a parent on the road too – you seem to be doing a great job though and I know you’re kids will thank you for it, they’ll have an amazing outlook on the world and the people in it.

      …and yup always best to have a backup for your backup. Life tests you so it’s always good to have a few options hey?!

      hahaha yeah I know I’ll eventually find someone who will be nuts enough to join my adventures and I very much look forward to the day I meet her – I have a feeling it’ll be an instant connection and rather chaotic!

      …might have to meet your sister at some point then, could be interesting ;)

      Reply
  3. Frances

    Brilliant post Chris, very true. I’m 6 months in to ‘normal’ life after a year in Melbourne, and two years of backpacking trips before that. I’m a similar age to you and feel the same – I’m ‘late’ if you like, with getting my life in the UK on track (not that I want kids or a mortgage juuuust yet!)

    Reply
    • Chris

      I can’t even imagine settling back into UK life now Frances – I hope it provides everything you need. I think in the long run you’ll catch up no worries and then you’ll have the experience of the road that will mean you ‘overtake’ others!

      Reply
  4. Shane

    I hear you on much of this. Fortunately I’m with someone who loves travel as much as I do (and I’m sure you will find someone who does too) but otherwise this post could easily have been entitled ‘How to Die Poor, Childless and Alone’ – though I would add ‘and have a great time up until then’ as a sub title.
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  5. Val

    Ugh. I understand. I’ve been back home working the last few months to pay off a credit card bill (Sorry I didn’t get to meet up again! We will soon! This work opportunity was too good to pass up for now). While home I’ve lived a mile from my best friend for months and saw her once, I have no hopes for a relationship, and am pretty sure no one will ever hire me again. Sigh. But even though I could take this job full time, I don’t want to because I am not ready to stop traveling!
    I’m sorry about your relationship ending :( Make some bad decisions! (Are you going to Athens? I have a ticket but am not sure yet if I’ll make it.)
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    • Chris

      awwww we’ll meet again soon Val – don’t you worry!
      You’ll get everything you want from life Val, I’m sure of it – you’re pretty damn awesome!
      No worries on the relationship – I’m already causing chaos and making my fair share of bad decisions!hahaha!

      Reply
  6. Peter

    Each and every word in this post is correct. I went through this phase after my college. Now it’s over. I love this post.

    Reply
  7. Jodie Louise

    Totally agree with what you’ve written Chris. I think friendships are the hardest when you don’t live where your friends are based. People who don’t travel don’t get keeping long distance friendships.

    There certainly are some negatives to travel, and they are certainly more obvious when you are back home. Once you are back on the road I’m sure things will start to click in to place. You’ll find the right girl one day :)
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    • Chris

      Indeed – I guess the long distance friendship thing is more a traveller mindset. I’m stoked to get back on the road now and I’m sure everything will iron itself out…and indeed hopefully the right girl will backpack her way into my life!haha!

      Reply
  8. Lauren

    I think that a lot of the situations you’ve mentioned aren’t just the byproduct of a travelling lifestyle. All of the things you mentioned are so common in a non-travel lifestyle that you may not even realise.

    I’ve never travelled but I aspire to in the future and I know how easy it is to loose friends and feel like people are moving on with their life without you. I’ve had quite the opposite of travelling actually. I’ve been pretty much locked in my house due to my dysfunctioning body not being able to cope with the strenuous activity of being “normal”. Yet we have such similar experiences and nearly everything you have said I know exactly how that feels.

    Stay strong, Be happy and Stay healthy. You will be okay in life. I have a feeling that you will.

    Reply
    • Chris

      An interesting perspective Lauren – I guess I’d never really considered the stress of ‘real life’ to be comparable with travel but I can imagine it not being a great situation!
      Sorry to hear about you being locked in your house – hopefully I can try and bring a slice of sunshine to it and hopefully you’ll get out and explore the world sometime soon, drop me an email if you need any help.
      Thanks for the kind words – and I wish you all the best too.

      Reply
      • Lauren

        Its weird because I’ve actually started reading your blog since I’ve read this post! You are definitely giving me something to aspire to.

        I was hoping to travel for a year but a year before I got ill which has pretty much left me housebound. Only recently have I been looking at travel again as my life is starting to improve and I’m getting stronger.
        Thank you for the slice of sunshine!

      • Chris

        Hey Lauren,
        Stoked I’m bringing you a slice of sunshine…hopefully I’ll keep you’re travel bug happy whilst you plan your next adventure – where you thinking? Sorry to hear about you being ill, sound like you’re on the mend though?

      • Lauren

        I am on the mend. Its slow but amazing! My trip is far from anytime soon so I’m not exactly planning but I’d love to go to Brazil. Especially for the Olympics. That’s where I would have likely went before if things had panned out properly, and a girl who had been on the program told me it was amazing.
        But for now I’m just looking~ its not the most ideal situation but its a lot better then most’s so that’s all that matters.

      • Chris

        well at least you have plenty of time to plan then and make it even more amazing! My buddy has been living in Brazil for a year teaching and he’s loving it! I hope you get to hit the road soon and have an epic time!

  9. Mary Beth

    And THIS is why I love your blog, Chris! You keep it more real than any other travel blog I read (and I read a lot, by the way) and it’s greatly appreciated!

    Everything you wrote is absolutely true.

    I believe that we’re all meant for different destinies, but it’s so hard to not compare yourself with others or be judged by others in this highly connected world we live in. Honestly, who said we have to keep old friendships going for forever? Or you should have a mortgage and car payment by the time you are 30? Or your retirement account should be $XX by the time you are 30? etc.

    These are silly things our “high/developed” society makes up, but the truth is, we don’t all have to live by those rules! Really what travelers and backpackers are doing is what tons of retirees do, just earlier in life. I think most of us will agree that the experiences you are having now are WAY better at a younger age than when you are in your 60’s…

    And in regards to your previous girlfriends, you are just dating the wrong girls!! You’ll find someone who loves travel just as much as you do. :) Make it more of a priority when dating!

    That will also really help with the emotional and stability side (once you find a girlfriend to share your troubles), since you will have someone to go to when you are feeling down. And you can “plan for the future” so to speak with this significant other so that you feel that you are kind of making progress through life instead of just drifting along.

    Ok, I’ve written a ton more than I intended. But I’ll just end this saying that honestly you are still SOOOO young and have so much life ahead!! These experiences that you are having are going to bring you so many riches and joy throughout your life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. :)
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    Reply
    • Chris

      awww thanks for the awesome words of advice and support Mary Beth – much appreciated!

      Indeed I’m feeling heaps better about life on the road once again – post break up and rather tipsy when writing that post! So no doubt I’ll find the right girl, the right life balance and the right frame of mind soon enough!

      Great to know I have such supportive readers and people who share my views on this lifestyle!

      And you’re right – don’t sweat the small stuff!

      Reply
  10. Christine

    Hi Chris, really like this post and totally could identify with it. I wrote a post once when we were on the road talking about the realities of travel. My only downfall was letting homesickness take over and thinking home was something it really wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great life in Seattle but we left for a reason. Anyways, we have never really felt like we fit back in and it’s been 3 yrs. now. I always say, “travel ruined Us”. We just dream of travel and being on the road again. Like you said, travel might be challenging sometimes but a mundane life is even more challenging. And kids–awe, don’t get me started. At any rate, we are getting everything prepared for the next long term adventure (leaving next year) and I’m spending 2 months in Asia this summer. Hope it is everything I remember it to be. Can’t wait to jump on the plane and feel that anticipation of adventure. I’m glad you are going to continue on the road. Looking forward to reading more blog posts. Take care. Don’t worry–the right woman will come along–I waited 41 years to meet the man of my dreams and he is worth every minute I had to wait. Thankfully, he likes to travel. Enjoy Portugal.

    Reply
    • Chris

      love that saying Christine! Travel has certainly ruined me too – in the best possible way!
      Stoked to hear you’re planning the next adventure and you’re fitting in some great mini breaks too, where in Asia are you heading?
      Glad to know you found the right guy and he was worth the wait – bring on the kiwi or aussie surfers girls for me!hahaha!

      Reply
  11. Jessica Lee

    Thank you to you all who wrote your hearts out. I feel more normal now. I’m a 28 year old snowboarder/mountain biker… Chris, Unfortunatly, I’m not an Aussie, but I’d like to polish my surf skills.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Good bit of group therapy going on here hey?! Well Jessice I’m actually English – so there’s no excuse not to polish your surf skills up!hehehe!

      Reply
  12. Tyler

    Hey Chris, great, great, great post my friend. I’ve been grappling with this topic for the past few months.

    I truly believe it’s never too late and leaving to go experience life and this wonderful world is true living. I quit my job last year at 35 and hit the road for 8 months thru SE Asia. It was the first extended solo travel for me. SO I 100% agree with Christine’s statement, travel has definitely ruined me. I returned home only to rupture my achillies tendon and be shelfed for the last 8 months. The benefits for me are that the injury forced me to slow down and get back to my roots of entrenprenuership. It’s allowed me to head back to Bangkok, Phnom Penh and explore India with two new ventures (one has failed, other is tbd). My new ventures may work out and they may not but I’m no longer in a rush when I’m home (seattle) rather I’m letting things develop as they may. As for the female department, well some have worked and some haven’t but she’s out there for me as well as you so don’t get discouraged.

    As I contemplate all the pros and cons you’ve touched on it seems to me that some are heavier than others, probably just depends on the day and topic. For me I could stay stateside and make a lot more money but I’d be just “going through the motions” so instead I choose to live a simplistic lifestyle and spend my money on travel. Hopefully it includes meeting a lot more folks like yourself and your followers. Cheers to the next adventure.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Tyler,
      Sucks about your injury – but it does seem that everything happens for a reason…even if you didn’t see it quite that way when it happened hey?!
      I definitely prefer the simple life, it’s a much better lifestyle balance! And as for the girl front – stoked to say I’ve met someone who shares my passions and style of living, it’s early days but who knows?!

      Good luck with your new ventures – check out the book the 4 hour work week, totally changed my outlook on business – and if I can be of any help let me know!

      Safe travels – hopefully we’ll cross paths!

      Reply
      • Tyler

        Yea I would definitely agree with the everything happens for a reason tag. Best of luck on the lady front. I just recently ended mine but a 7,000 mile difference and life unknowns will do that. Who knows what happens tho.

        Yes, 4 Hour WW is always in the bag and loaded on the Kindle. Check out Resource Revolution, will shift your whole global business outlook.

        Will keep you posted on upcoming travels and I’ll keep in touch on these business ventures. Appreciate the offer.

      • Chris

        Indeed – I’m a firm believer in the everything happens for a reason motto!
        If you liked the 4HWW try ready the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – I’ve not finished yet and I already love it!

  13. Luke Harnell

    I start my travels in less than 2 months, I’m 25 and just want to say this website has been a massive help for my confidence of going solo. Bring on Sydney, and from all I have read, bring on Byron Bay!

    Reply
    • Chris

      Stoked to have helped you out Luke – I’m living in Byron Bay at the moment so drop me an email and we’ll grab a beer and I’ll show you around!

      Reply

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