Too Much, Too Many, Top 5 Mistakes on Around-The-World and Gap Year Trips
Having spent 6 years continuously traveling I've met a number of people on around-the-world and gap year trip, and I’ve learned a lot from my own experiences about long term travel. But when I hear people planning the trips or meet people in the middle of their trips I find many of them missing out on what I find to be the most memorable and rewarding experiences of long term travel. I’m sure all of them enjoyed their trip, but I think often in trying “maximize” their time people miss out on the really unique experiences. Here are a couple of my observations and things to think about if you’re about to head off for a long trip. Hopefully you will avoid some of these often made mistakes on your trip.
#1 Too many destinations
Many people think when they are taking a year or 6 months to travel that it’s an eternity and they can check off every major site they’ve ever heard of. It may be possible to jet around the world visiting the tourist ghettos of each country you visit. There are people who are travel collectors and there reason for traveling is to check off sites, places, and countries, if that’s you, then to each their own, and enjoy your passport stamps. But the truth is 6 months a year or even 2 years is less time than you think and you will have to pick and choose. In my opinion, a more rewarding experience can be gained by taking advantage of the one thing you gain by a longer trip, time. Why go on a long trip if you are just going to turn it into a long series of two week vacations. Mix those high profile sights with time to explore more off the beaten track destinations, places which you may not have heard off before you started researching the area, or maybe even until you find yourself talking to people in the country, and that brings us to mistake #2.
#2 Too much planning
Its not that you shouldn’t plan, obviously some planning is required, but try to stay as flexible as possible. Again the greatest advantage of a longer trip is time, and the flexibility it provides; don’t loose that by booking every aspect of your trip months in advance. Certainly some activities, destinations, visas, as well as air travel require that plans are made in advance. Often flexibility can overcome the need for planning too. When I was in Uganda I was able to secure a discounted permit to see the Mountain Gorillas by going up to the area and asking around to various travel agents about unused permits. If I wanted to be 100% sure I would get a permit on a certain day I would have had to book it months in advance. When booking flights often you can wait longer to book and still get a reasonable fare if you don’t have to leave on or by a certain date. One of the great advantages of a longer trip is being able to take advantage of those unexpected opportunities that are sure to arise. In addition, your ability and desire to do various activities will change and evolve over the course of your trip. I can almost guarantee if you planed a week of activities for a given destination at the beginning of your trip vs. at the end at least some of those activities would be different. This may apply to destinations as well those places you were really excited to visit at the start of your trip may not be the same as those at the end, be able to change your destinations with your changing interests, stay longer in places you like and pass through those that don’t live up to expectations more quickly. During any long trip you will likely at some point need a vacation from your vacation. The problem is you won’t know until it happens when you need it. You can try to preempt the need by scheduling them into your trip but if you can a better option is to remain flexible enough to take them when you need them. And finally if you are still not convinced about the need to be flexible, travel enough and something will go wrong, you will get sick, or a bus will break down, at some point even if you do plan every last detail your plans will need to change. During my travels I typically have a rough long term plan, like I’d like to be in this region during this time of the year, or maybe if there was a festival or event I wanted to experience those would act as anchor points in my plans. Then for the next month I’d have places or countries I’d like to check out. Then finally the next week a specific cities or activities, and finally the day before or sometimes the day of I’d figure out what I felt like doing that day.
#3 Too much stuff
No matter where you are going if you really need it you can probably get it, for a price of course. Bring only what you need and what you will use throughout your trip. So what do you really need? A passport and money, that’s about it. Now obviously I’m not advocating taking off on your trip buck naked with an atm card in one hand and a passport in the other, just trying to get you thinking about the minimum of what is absolutely essential. When packing for a long trip try to pack based on things you will use routinely. Don’t get trapped into the, “I may need this” way thinking. Don’t pack what you may need pack what you will use almost every day. If you find you are missing something, more than likely there will be a place where you can buy it, or a place where you can go to buy it. There are things if you know for certain you will need it at some point it would make sense to bring with you. Usually because the quality and price is better where you are coming from, and/or you already have the item in question. These factors can out weigh the hassle of carrying it. I’d recommend erring on the side of less rather than more, make the barrier on acquiring stuff you need rather than getting rid of stuff you many not need (ie shipping it home giving it away), and you will end up with less stuff, and the stuff you do have will be the stuff you really need and use.
#4 Too much reliance on guidebooks
Guidebooks have there uses and are very handy when arriving in an unknown city and country, I use guide books as well. But too often people, especially those new to travel, fall into the Lonely Planet (LP) Bible Syndrome, where they go only places recommended by the LP, stay in guesthouses recommended by the LP and eat in restaurants recommended by the LP. It’s a comfortable way to travel for those starting out, but make an effort to slowly break free from the guidebook safety blanket. Visit a place that’s not in the guidebook, maybe a place recommended by someone you meet, or a recommendation from the internet.
#5 Too many excuses not to go
You want to do it, stop daydreaming about it and make it happen. It doesn’t take as much money as you think especially if you choose your countries with an eye towards extending your budget. I spent around $5000 a year while I was in Asia granted that was on a pretty low budget but it’s doable. Sure there are career implications, but life is too short, and the world is too big, so get out and experience it.