How to Commit to Long Term Travel
To choose to leave your home and head off for long term travel on adventures never-ending takes commitment and it takes effort. Suggesting otherwise, that it is somehow easy, is simply not true. Frequently, you will feel like you are taking two steps forward, then one back. There are, however, a few tricks to help you stay the course, keep you motivated, and stick to your goal.
Here, I will talk of my own journey, my own departure, and share some of the things which helped me leave my homeland of Scotland, nearly six years ago — and I haven’t lived in an English-speaking nation since. If you want to skip the parts about my own journey (they do contain some tips and ideas too, along with photos from my first trip beyond Europe, which cemented my decision to head off for more adventures) and get straight to my thoughts on how to commit to long term travel, head here.
Table of Contents:
- A Birthday Dawn Above Burma
- Long Term Travel Is Not An Easy Choice
- You Cannot Waste Time in Advance
- Long Term Travel Deserves Notetaking
- A Start, or Several?
- Two Big Choices: One
- To Learn, You Read, Listen, and Ask Questions
- Long Term Travel Leaves Footsteps
- Two Big Choices: Two
- Your Long Term Travel Goal
- Manifesting and How my Approach Differs
- Record and Edit Your Dream
- Follow Those Dreams
A Birthday Dawn Above Burma
I was tired. I was very tired. The sky to my right was inky-blue-dark but to my left the sun was swiftly rising. I was somewhere high above the jungles of Burma, those first rays of the day bouncing off the wing of the Norwegian Air plane straight into red-rimmed, dry eyes. They gave me new energy: a tingle of excitement, a frisson of dopamine, and a hit of fizzing adrenaline.
This was the dawn of a new year of my being alive, of a new decade, even a new life — that morning I turned 40 and I was heading off to explore our world, indefinitely.
But how had I reached that point? This is what this post is about — with a few tips and tricks for how you can also commit to long term travel, long before you set off on a physical journey
As I write this, I am now approaching 46 and have still not gone ‘home’ (whatever that is meant to mean, I feel I have many homes). Although Scotland is certainly my home nation, and I love her — I actually can’t go back, apart from for brief visits. I am a Brexit refugee, married to a French woman and, according to the rules set by the UK government, neither of us earn enough for my family to move with me, even if we wanted to. And I’m not leaving my wife and daughter, thank you, Westminster.
Long term travel
is not an easy choice.
It is a terrible travel blogger cliché, to say that every journey begins with a single step and, in many ways, it is simply not true. For those of us who decided to live a different sort of life and head off on adventures never-ending, there is usually a sequence of events which leads to that point. That was certainly the case for me and, below, you can see at which points I think my journey began (hint: it is never just the one step!).
If you are sitting at home, or in the office, or perhaps on a long commute to or from work, and you are reading this, knowing that something is missing in your life and you have a tiny inkling that it might be extended travel, then arguably you have already made the first step on your journey. Or have you?
Perhaps you need to commit, choose a date at some point in the future and work towards that deadline. Stick to it. That is what it took for me, personally. I needed focus, I needed the push, and I needed to give myself a stern talking to, in order to ensure I stuck to my plan.
Some people think making that choice to leave is the easy part — I disagree. I think that, if you find making the choice simple, then perhaps you have not truly committed to the process — it should not be easy. Deciding to leave your home, to pack your possessions in a bag or two and hit the proverbial road should, in my opinion, require extensive consideration and thought.
And what, exactly, long term or extended travel means will be discussed in another post — it is different things to different people, and there are many ways to see our world.
You Cannot Waste Time in Advance
The night before I left Scotland I went to see Kishi Bashi and label mate, Tall Tall Trees, in Edinburgh, the city I was flying out from.
At that time, my sister Lydia (I have five sisters, all younger than me) lived in Auld Reekie with her (and my) good friend, Heather, and we thought the show a fitting send off. The violin, the looping, the lights and twang of the banjo, the small venue, and the intimate nature of the gig felt just like a private send-off and, in many ways, I think it was. I inhaled that performance, and it has stayed with me since.
Edinburgh remains my favourite UK city, and one of my favourites in the world. I will no doubt return to talk about this remarkable place in further articles.
When we got back after the gig, on a school night (Monday, I think), I had an email from my Mum, with the following quote:
And that said it all.
I hope you see the wisdom in this too — with hard work, planning, and a little luck, we can begin again, take a new path whenever we want. If you are reading this, then maybe you have decided to do just that? This does not mean, however, that committing to long term travel is an easy path to take.
Long term travel
My journals and notes from those hours are full of those tiny details which can so easily escape the memory and slip into the mists of time if they are not written down (I will keep talking of this, recording the details!).
- How scared I was.
- How I failed to sleep at all in Oslo on the layover before the flight to Bangkok.
- The cold.
- How the middle-aged Thai woman next to me in the cramped aisle introduced me to the Thai habit of always carrying a snack with you — or a large bag of snacks — sharing them as often as not. How she did not stop talking and was delighted to have an opportunity to practice her English — her husband was Norwegian and she spent time between Bangkok and Oslo. The man on the other side of me was an older UK expat, condescending about the very people he had chosen to live amongst: married to a Thai, but sneering at them nevertheless. I learnt a lot from that flight.
- How I almost lost my passport in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi as I had been sitting on it, then left to find a toilet and some water. Thankfully, it was exactly where I’d been when I got back and, with a wry smile, it instigated a conversation with the couple opposite me.
- How I stayed in aircon isolation from Edinburgh airport all the way to Koh Samui, and how strange that felt — Edinburgh weather in May (or at any other time!) is not the same as that in the Gulf of Thailand.
- The airport on Koh Samui, how you come down over the beach and walk out of the plane, how it made me think of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and their even more tiny airports.
- The scent of places. How each airport smelled different and how Samui was full of scents I could not always place, flowers and food, incense and two-stroke engines.
- How utterly tired I felt.
These small memories come directly from my notes at the time. I remember much of it, but the memory is not as sharp as the writing. Keep scribbling and you will be rewarded.
A Start, or Several?
That journey, from Edinburgh to Koh Samui, was a start to my globally feral, slow travelling life, but it was not necessarily THE start. Like any adventure, there are other threads to pull, other paths to follow to get back to the point where it all REALLY began.
Maybe it was when my parents made a bold and brave decision to up and leave the corner of England I had been born within, the corner where they had also been born, and their parents and grandparents before them. I remember the trip up to the far northern islands of Orkney well, seeing things with the eyes of an eight year old, the bright orange-red of an oystercatcher’s bill and legs, dead on the road, inhaling and sampling the scent of the ocean, the smell of the ferry, listening to birds I had not yet met. That trip north, broken into two days, certainly planted the travel seed within me. Orkney inspires, and I suspect growing up there, in a place people travelled to, also had a lot to do with my own love of finding new-to-me locations. Those who lived on the islands also have a very long and strong tradition of setting off on journeys around the globe and this must have heavily influenced a young me.
Perhaps my journey began in the late 1990s, when a close friend and I talked about relocating to Berlin, to find whatever work we could, live hand-to-mouth but do it in a more interesting place, an update on Orwell: Down and Out in Berlin and Derby. We never left.
Or maybe it was when I first met seasoned travellers of my own age and listened to their stories, talked to those who had already seen many countries and other continents. At that time, I’d only ever flown once and never abroad. I was twenty-three.
Or perhaps it began when I did finally fly abroad, to Spain, to take part in some fieldwork as part of my Archaeology and Prehistory degree. Taking photographs on an old, very-much-non-digital SLR, recording notes of how the high Sierra felt in the scorching day and near-freezing night, the howl of the wolves, the vast and terrifying pack of dogs in the night, the taste of fresh bread with olive oil, a rub of garlic, and a slice of sun warm tomato, sprinkled with a little salt. Over fifteen years later, the boots I wore still have the faint scent of the wild mountain thyme I walked through, day after day. My tan lasted four years and looked mildly ridiculous: browned calves with a shock of white boot-shielded skin below.
Or maybe it began when my ex and I talked of travelling the globe together on a Round The World trip. Making plans, looking at maps, reading Rough Guides and Lonely Planet, following the first proto-travel bloggers, getting some insight into what it means to up and leave the life you know and head off on a journey of a year. Sadly, that never happened either. (I suspect that, had it happened, then I would have started a travel blog back then.)
There are many beginnings to any journey.
Two Big Choices: One
However, I think there are two other choices which played a very important, out-sized, role in my finally leaving the UK for adventures. Each was something which made me think deeply about myself, and also my place in the world.
The first was my divorce, back in 2009, and how I reassessed everything about me and my relationships with others, whether those I knew, or those I had yet to meet. I knew I needed to do something, but I was unsure what. The point which pushed me to leave my comfort zone was when I reconnected with an old childhood friend, only for her to die suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after. This shook me, made time seem pinched and fragile so, in 2010, I left a stable, relatively well-paid civil service job to head off walking around the Scottish coast, alone. Better to experience something different to the inside of an office, better to place my feet on the path to adventure.
I spent from September through to December living among the oaks and birch — deciding not to move around the coast, but to stay in one wooded, coastal area. Feral. With deer, wildcat, seals, and eagles for company, testing my outdoor and bushcraft skills and thinking seriously about what I wanted with life. All the while taking many notes…
When your life revolves around gathering wood for your fire, collecting water to drink and cook with, finding food to eat, and making a cosy natural shelter to survive the storms within, you have lots of time to think. Just watch the show Alone and you see how this life affects the mind — and those contestants have regular, if restrained, human company in the form of medical check ups. By the end of my time there, I found myself hiding on the rare occasion I saw people hiking up my glen, and I knew I was returning to something of a wilder state myself.
All that time thinking distilled down to two main things. The first — I knew I wanted to ‘be a writer’. I already wrote, whether fiction, poetry, or blog posts, but I still did not feel like I could call myself a writer. The second — I knew beyond any doubt that I wanted to see more of the world.
Then, somehow, I stayed put. Living mostly in one place for several years, sharing a home with my parents and some of my sisters — grateful to get to know them as adults, rather than the little children they had been when I had left home years earlier. During this time, I built up my writing skills, learnt more about myself and what I wanted in life — and how to get there. I certainly made mistakes, which I will not dwell on but, by 2015, I knew I needed to leave the UK and see more of the planet — and soon. Or I never would. I set a deadline and somehow managed to stick to it.
To Learn, You Read, Listen, and Ask Questions
I have always enjoyed reading travel writing, whether often-now-problematic books from the adventurers of old, or those of more recent decades. In the 2000s, I began to learn of and seek out a new form of travel writing — the travel blog. I had folders of bookmarks, RSS feeds, handwritten post-it notes — all directing me to sites which shared amazing content, incredible tales and images of adventure (this was long before streaming video was readily available and, to be honest, there really were not that many travel blogs in those early days. At least, not as we now know them).
After I returned from the woods, I began to seek out further blogs, eagerly devouring new articles, hungry for more knowledge, more inspiration. I began to comment on posts more and more, then moved the conversation to social media, as that arrived and became an exciting new thing. (It is not lost on me that, had I kept posting to the same website, along with my habit of prolifically commenting on others, my Google SEO and rank would be sublime right now.)
Travel bloggers on the whole are a friendly bunch. Whenever I added a comment or sent a tweet, they’d nearly always respond, kindly and with encouragement. I learnt a lot by reading and talking to others in this time, several of whom I still follow and read now, a decade or more later.
If you had the time and were willing to make the rather strange effort, it is possible to still find my virtual footsteps around the world of travel blogs.
Long term travel
As I crafted this post, I thought it would be interesting to see if some of my comments — those virtual footsteps — actually are still out there in the world. They are. This says a lot about those blogs I used to (and still do) follow, that they are still available and active, even after all these years.
Here’s one example, a piece which resonated with me on the site Uncornered Market. Entitled Are You a Stuff Junkie or an Experience Junkie?, it came out at just the point I was considering whether to keep all my furniture, washing machine, tumble dryer, etcetera, or to get rid of them, as I planned to leave my job and head off on adventures.
Although the date on the post says last updated December 2019, it was published before this, and I left my comment (it’s the first one) in January 2010 — that’s a long time on the internet. The first iPad had yet to be released, the Burj Khalifa had just opened, the Winter Olympics were to be held the following month in Whistler and Vancouver, and Barack Obama had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is good to be able to read that post and the comments which follow with the value of hindsight and experience. I still read Uncornered Market now, and this piece about sustainable, responsible travel is something I hold close to my heart.
Whenever you set off on a long journey you leave behind footprints. These are, of course, literal and metaphorical both: whether a trail in the sand along a deserted beach, or through sticky dark mud, or the footprints which are left in the minds of those you meet, the friendships you make on the way. These are just a few examples.
Looking back at your footsteps is a crucial part of going forward. If you make a mistake, taking the wrong path, it can be as useful — or more so — as the right way. Learning, always learning, always adapting, pushing ourselves, is the only way we can develop.
Our lives are a series of journeys, of crossroads and meetings, with luck, happenstance and planning all coming together to determine where we end up. Leaving comments on blogs can act as way markers, reminders of a time and place, as can your journal or notebook.
Two Big Choices: Two
The second of those two big choices, or events, which had a giant role on my leaving the UK took place in 2016. One of those bloggers I mentioned above became something more than an online friend and we decided to meet up in person. She had arranged a sponsored trip around part of Scotland, and I was to go along as a sort-of-photographer (for car hire and accommodation costs, I didn’t really add much) but, really, it was for us to see if we got along in person. And we did, sort of. Perhaps not enough for more, however. Without going into too much detail, it was only as we neared the end of our time together that I realised I had been holding back and not actually being 100% myself — and it was only then, when I let down all those barriers, that we began to gel properly. This taught me something valuable.
As we parted, she told me that, if I wanted another date, she’d be in South Africa for winter and I could come visit. Maybe that was the moment I thought, you know what? Why not? Why not head off and take a risk, see a bit more of the world? Needless to say, I left the continent of Europe for the first time. I was 39. I made mistakes doing this, hurting others — again, I won’t go into too many details but, overall, I still view that trip as a massive positive.
The Western Cape is a beautiful place, full of good food, good wine, nature, culture and, above all, good people. I was there for over two weeks, and after that I knew I was hungry — I wanted to see more of the world (and eat more of the world!), hear more voices talking in languages I did not know, see new birds, lizards, and mountains; I wanted to travel indefinitely. South Africa was the appetiser which made me desire the full meal.
While I was there I saw first-hand just how much work being a travel blogger actually involved — do not think it is easy, it is not. I also realised it could be rather lonely, if you do not take time out for yourself, building and maintaining relationships in person when you can, and from afar when you cannot.
Fast forward a few more months to the point I caught that flight to Thailand; I was going to stay with the same travel blogger, who was undertaking a divemaster course on Koh Tao. It seemed a good place for us to reconnect and see if we could make ‘us’ work [SPOILER: after we parted ways, some weeks later, we could not. I was heartbroken BUT it DID help in the long run. I also learnt I loved Koh Tao.]
Thailand was a wonderful place for me to start my own indefinite journey.
I have much to be grateful for — without her, I would not have gone to South Africa; without her, I perhaps would not have started in Thailand (Mexico, then down through Central America, was my alternative plan); without her, I would not have decided to join an online dating site when I moved to Chiang Mai, for the first time in my life, nor commit to being 100% me, totally open, totally honest with anyone I met.
Without taking that risk I would not have stepped on the path which led to my meeting Aurélie, my first — and only — date from that site. A path which ultimately led to our marriage and the birth of our daughter, Ailsa. Definitely, much to be grateful for.
Life is like this — sometimes a risk, a gamble, a chance, doesn’t seem to pay off immediately but, in the long term, it takes you to a place where you are meant to be.
Choosing to commit to long term travel sits firmly in that category.
Your Long Term Travel Goal
The first thing to do is to make a decision, make a choice. However, saying ‘anyone can do this, if only they put their mind to it’ is both reductive and false. Anyone can’t. There are many reasons why not, too, including where you were born, your gender, your age, your level of education, your health, and more. However, if you are lucky enough that you could, if you worked incredibly hard (assuming you aren’t already rich, of course, in which case, just do it already), then the very first thing you need to do is make a choice, make that decision, a long term travel commitment.
Imagine your goal, imagine where you’d like to be. This could be a location, or a state of being.
Maybe you dream of waking to the sound of waves on a shore, the slow pull and lap, the hiss and drag of the water, wavelets breaking, salt in the air and on the skin, the cries of seabirds following the shoreline, a strand you walk before breakfast every day.
Or, instead, maybe you prefer the idea of opening curtains or pushing back creaking, wooden shutters to a mountain view, the scent of the cool night forest reaching in and transporting you back to something ancient, something primeval, ears catching the birdsong of the woodland, the call of the eagles soaring high overhead, and the bark of the startled deer amongst the trees.
Then there are those who wish to wake in a city full of culture, of ancient and modern history, people speaking a dozen different languages, the smell of tantalisingly tasty foods drifting along one street, or perhaps the scent of freshly-baked bread floating upward, reaching your apartment window every morning, snatches of those conversations from below joining it, with a dash of fresh coffee and the eternal murmur of the city, blended with the scolding of sparrows and cooing of pigeons.
These are just examples, and there is nothing wrong with thinking you’d perhaps like all three, with others thrown in too. This is your dream. Your goal, and your goals.
Concentrate on this, really think about it and then write it down, in as much detail as you can imagine. Notes and sketches are fine at first, but ideally you want something more solid, something with those little details which can mean so much.
Remember, this is your dream — ensure it is yours, and yours alone. That’s why the detail is important — to set a goal to simply travel is not enough, you need the smaller things, the flavour and the depth. A key point and helpful tip is not to compare yourself, or your dream, to that of others. You are unique, you are you, no one else. Harness that individuality and embrace it. Comparing yourself to anyone else never really does anything but harm. Your own long term travel dream should look unique, not a cookie-cutter bucket list of destinations (I am not a fan of the ‘bucket list’, for reasons I will explain in another post). Find your own story and write it.
and how my approach differs.
As I write this, the term ‘manifesting’ is exceedingly popular among influencers (hi, TikTok, I’m looking at you #Manifesting) and bloggers at large, gaining exceptional traction during the pandemic and lockdowns and growing in popularity since. In short, in popular culture, manifesting is thinking your personal goals into becoming realities. It’s not quite that simple, of course, but that is the short version.
Visualising our goals is certainly something which works. Imagining how it will feel to achieve such a goal definitely has merits and can make a big difference — positive mindset is not to be underestimated. However, it is unhelpful for people to suggest that simply thinking hard about something, wishing it into existence, will be enough. It won’t. There are many reasons why not too — depending on where you were born, when you were born, what colour or gender you were born, to whom you were born, etcetera, all these things have a big effect on achieving your goals. That’s not to say it is impossible, but that it is important we recognise the deck is stacked against certain members of our global community.
Then there is the problem of what happens if you don’t see yourself making progress, despite all that visualisation? How do you react to that, especially when it probably has to do with external factors?
The biggest problem as I see it, with manifestation, is that (again, in popular culture) it can too often be seen as a shortcut, as a way to get something with little more than thinking about it — the end goal is the destiny, the journey there redundant. Our modern western culture celebrates and promotes shortcuts, get-rich-quick schemes, or ways to lose that belly fat in four weeks. These are smoke in a bottle, fantasies, things that simply make someone else richer and you poorer, unfit, and miserable that you parted with your money. To leave your life and head out into the wider world for long term travel is not easy or quick — and it shouldn’t be those things either. The work makes the journey all the more worthwhile.
Never forget how many steps there are in any journey, and committing to long term travel, then actually achieving it, involves many, many such steps.
Record and Edit Your Dream
You may notice that I keep talking about writing things down, whether here, or in other posts — and with good reason. It is only too easy to forget the small things, to let them slip into the fog of time. In this case, writing down your goal is also essential for another purpose — you can return to it over and over, adding even more detail when you think of it, revising, amending, editing, and redrafting. A living document which can inspire, keep you focussed on that objective, and ensure you get to precisely where you need to be.
Take your written long term travel goal, whether those initial scribbles, or something more polished, and work backwards from that point. This process will take some time, it will take some research, and it will take effort. It will also likely be draining, overwhelming, and is best split into more than one session. Keep returning to it and refining your answers.
What would it take to achieve this imaginary moment? Or a series of moments — when you decide on your first destination/new home, when you buy your ticket, when you leave your job, when you step out the door of your current home… Brainstorm and outline each and every step. Whether it needs time, education, money, contacts, or a thousand other potential things, note them all down, then clarify this list, streamline it — can you take a shortcut? Can you combine two steps into one? Would a sideways move actually benefit you in both the short term and the long? Try not to be vague, but ensure you are recording ideas which are specific and actionable. ‘Make more money’ is fine to start with, for example, but realistically, you are far more likely to stick to that idea if you note down several ways to do so, breaking each entry into time and effort required. I’m sure by now you don’t need me to say it, but write all this down!
Then start ticking things off that list. Simple. (Not really simple, at all, is it?!)
That’s more or less what I did. It took time, it took planning, it took luck and it took willpower. Lots of it. But I got there, constantly reassessing the best way forward — but I never once lost sight of my goal, nor have I stopped looking forward, planning and thinking of other goals to reach.
To lock this in, to cement it in the real, tell people. Start to talk to those you trust and love, if you haven’t already — not in a vague ‘one day, I’m going to head off for long term travel, on adventures never-ending’ way, but in a manner which is thoughtful, kind, considered and takes full advantage of the work you have already put in. Read through your goals, your plan, then see where friendship and relationships can help — and how you can help others come to terms with your plans. What happens to the people you leave behind is a topic for another post, but it is wise to share your ideas — just be aware you may not always receive the response you hope for. It is difficult for some people to accept the idea of long term travel, of becoming globally feral, and careful balancing may be required on your part.
One final, related, thing you should also be aware of is luck or, more pertinently, making your own luck. If, or when, you get to the point where you are travelling long term, having made that commitment and seen it through, at some point you will be told just how lucky you are. Yet that is not entirely true, is it? You know just how much work you put into your goals, you made your own luck.
Follow Those Dreams
I think that is the big secret — if you want to travel long term, expect to be changed, even before you leave. Expect to constantly keep striving to be better, to be more, to fulfil the vast potential your life offers. This way of living is a good way. It makes you use your brief time on this planet wisely, it makes you think seriously about your future, your past, and your present, and it makes you engage with the world in a more open and hopeful way. Which can only be a good thing.
Long term travel and making a commitment to follow through with your dreams are not for the faint-hearted, but the goal is richly rewarding and renewing, building your character, skillset, mind, and emotions into something stronger, something wiser — and something to be shared with the world.
What stage are you at on your journey? Have you started ticking things off the list, or are you still at the quietly thinking things through point? Let me know below in the comments!
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by Alexander M Crow
Not a travel writer, but a writer who travels. A writer’s notebook of sorts: nature, culture, words and kindness. Stories crafted with a nomadic heart and wandering feet. Sometimes actually is a travel writer. Globally feral. A little bit Snufkin.
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