Holy mother of passing time! We’ve officially been traveling for 3 years now, and it’s honestly gone so much smoother and better than I could have ever imagined, or ever planned. This year in particular has included lots of moving around, from leaving Maui to an extended vacation in Texas, as well as moving to Bali and planning an upcoming move to Australia, and I am stoked to see what adventures our 4th year of travel will bring.
Every year, it’s important that we look back and figure out what the hell we’ve learned along this weird, spontaneous, unbelievably sweaty journey we call life – you can read our lessons after 1 year and 2 years of traveling for reference – not only for our sake, but also to convince anyone thinking of moving that it can be done, and be done with a relatively intact sense of humor.
After more than 1,000 days of livin’ the slow travelin’ life, here’s what we’ve learned…
Lessons After 3 Years of Traveling
It Doesn’t Get Easier, You Just Get Better
Every time we move, I’m certain that some part of the process is going to be less stressful, less difficult or less confusing than the last time, and so far, that has absolutely not been the case. I don’t say this to discourage you; I say it to be honest. Each place comes with its own distinct set of challenges, from visa regulations to available housing, employment restrictions, transportation options, language barriers, high costs of living, making friends, and so on and so on.
It’s like taking a test where you’ve only been given 10% of the reading materials, and have to use the rest of your general knowledge for the remaining 90%. Sometimes that 90% kicks you in the balls, and sometimes it glides on smooth as butter, and there’s no way of telling which way it’ll turn out until you actually do it.
But even though it doesn’t get any easier, you will learn one, very important lesson – how you and your travel partner handle stress, unfamiliarity and adapt to the unknown. While you may not know what to expect from the next town, state or country, you will learn what to expect from yourselves (including how to be a better travel companion), and that is some valuable ass knowledge.
Make Quick Decisions
Once you’ve decided to move, time starts to move very quickly, and several important decisions have to be made without ample thought or consideration. Take five, pour yourself another glass of wine, and don’t panic. I’ve said it before, but over-planning is the devil, and even the smallest of decisions can seem overwhelming when you’re presented with too much information, particularly in the bottomless pit of contradictions that is the internet.
We are moving to Australia in 3 1/2 weeks and still haven’t bought our plane tickets, booked anywhere to stay or live, set up our bank accounts, figured out public transportation, or anything else in a long list of to do’s. I could easily freak out, but instead I’m drinking a Bali Apple Cider in my pajamas at 4pm on a weekday. Since I’m typically the researcher and planner of the two of us, I give Peter my two cents on what I consider to be the best options so he can make the majority of the final, informed decisions (with a quickness). I prefer it this way, and it seems to work for us, though it is important to speak up when it’s something you’re particularly passionate about, whether it be living an acceptably minimal distance from an ostrich farm (because they’re terrifying and unnatural) or close proximity to a surf spot (because Peter is obsessed).
Without a doubt, the most effective way to make quick decisions it to be super broke, which eliminates a ton of options in the first place. When you’re only left with the cheapest choice, all the decisions suddenly become very straightforward. Works like a charm!
Get a Routine
If you allow it, moving can be an immensely lonely experience. You’re suddenly faced with a whole lot of down time to trigger that existential crisis you’ve been waiting on, and it can be a bummer just sitting around contemplating your existence while accidentally watching two dogs hump each other in the sand.
I highly recommend settling into some kind of routine as soon as you have the opportunity, no matter how trivial it may seem. It can be small things, like finding a place to get coffee every morning, or a favorite beach path to walk during sunset, or a cool old man to chat with every other Thursday at the bookshop. Having a routine is an essential part of making any new place feel like home, and also an excellent way to meet people and make friends.
A wise man once told me that making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got, and taking a break from your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name (and they’re always glad you came)… Alright, so those aren’t actually words from a wise man – rather, the lyrics from the Cheers theme song – but hey, they still apply. All I’m saying is, it’s nice to feel like you belong, so don’t let the beginning stages of moving get you in a funk.
Learn the Laws & Customs, and Don’t Make Enemies
I’ve never been much of a strict rule-follower, but you can bet your ass I’m all caught up with which laws are in the no-break-zone wherever I’m currently living, especially when where I’m currently living is in Southeast Asia. Y’all have seen Locked Up Abroad, right?! Asia don’t play! If going to jail in a foreign country isn’t already prominently featured near (or at) the top of your ‘List of Life Nopes’, it’s time to update your list.
While I’m going to assume you’re not foolish enough to smuggle drugs in or out of Southeast Asia (where you can get the death penalty for such charges), also remember that simply making enemies with the wrong crowd of locals in a foreign country – effectively a place where you’re nearly always assumed to be the guilty party, and may or may not know enough of the language to prove otherwise – is not advisable. Choose your crowd wisely, and don’t put yourself in situations that attract negative attention, from police officers or otherwise.
On that same note, it’s also considerate to learn the basic cultural no-no’s of wherever you’re moving. In Bali, for example, it’s rude to point with your index finger (use your right thumb or whole hand instead), eat or pass anything with your left hand (apparently that’s your wiping hand, so it’s gross), point your feet directly at someone, touch someone’s head, or enter a temple with an open wound or (for girls) while on your period. All in all, a little preparation goes a long way.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
Our savings accounts, if you can even call them that, have fluctuated wildly since we first moved away from Texas three years ago. I do think it’s important to note, however, that at any given point throughout our travels, Peter and I likely have somewhere between $1,500 – $5,500 each. For people like ourselves, who simply want to live in cool places and fund themselves along the way, I think this is a reasonable and realistic amount to be able to save (though you’re welcome to disagree). Since we move places rather than visit them, we save money by not buying plane tickets very often, and we don’t pay to stay in hotels, condos or hostels (barring any special occasions, side trips or visitors in town), and can’t buy much of anything else, simply because we can’t take it with us when we move to the next place.
I’m disheartened when I read articles or meet other travelers who have $20,000 to $50,000 in the bank and pride themselves on finding a way to go ‘budget backpacking’. I don’t think that is an attainable amount of money to save up before traveling, at least for 85% of the people I know. Would it be nice? Shitchyeah. Is it necessary? Big fat nope.
We absolutely still stress about our finances (or lack thereof), especially when moving from somewhere cheap to somewhere expensive (what up, Gold Coast), but at the end of the day, we’ve still got everything we need and are doing just fine.
P.S. Boyfriend Peter Rimkus, who took all of the gorgeous photos above, is currently having a print sale on his updated photography website, Two Tank Photo. Order a metal, mounted or wood print or an iPhone case (U.S. orders only, all with free shipping) and help us save up for our next year of travel! Orders over $100 get 15% off with code “OZ16” till the end of the month. Thanks, everyone! And cheers to lesson learnin’ the fun way.