Travel will change your life…

but not always for the better.

Sure, exploring the world will teach you so much, help you grow, yada-yada, no big deal.

The wonders awaiting anyone with a backpack are no secret.

But what does the lifestyle cost?

And I’m not talking dollars and dimes here.

Just what is the true emotional cost of travel?

What do you really sacrifice to travel long-term?

When the days on the road roll into months and years, how much do you exchange for that life of adventure?

 

Group of ESL teachers in front of sailing boat on a cloudy morning

 

Most people embark on their first travel experience in their early twenties.

Aside from family vacations or a foreign exchange program at college, the vast majority of people don’t flee the nest for a major adventure abroad until after they graduate or work for a few years.

For many, it’s the perfect time before adult responsibilities come crashing down.

If you’re thinking about traveling around the world, know that travel is not just sunshine and Instagram shots. Long-term travel is life in another country.

Once the vacation vibe wears off, it’s job interviews and house viewings, tax payments and gas bills, morning commutes and grocery shopping. Only you’re far from home.

Before long, that reality settles in and the emotional cost of travel becomes inescapable.

Once you’ve been on the road for a while there are a few hard truths you learn.

You feel left behind.

Scrolling through Facebook, you find happy faces in suits and dresses staring back at you.

Another wedding, another classmate down. If it’s not weddings, it’s engagements. If it’s not that, then it’s babies.

Oh my god, the babies. Do they ever stop?

Sure they’re cute and you’d like one some day, but for now you’re wondering is there anything to be said for a separate social media platform just for babies and newly-weds?

Are you going to be the last one?

Will anyone still remember you when you finally post your wedding invites?

They’re all getting careers, prams and washing machines while you decide between a night in the 4-bed dorm or else the deluxe shelf in that tree house.

Are you the crazy one?

 

Young man in suit and purple tie with proud parents on his graduation day.

 

You fear disappointing your parents.

This may be immaterial to some but if you’ve sank five figures of your parent’s money into student life, don’t kid yourself into believing that your brief amble across the stage to collect a scroll settled the balance.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve truly earned my parent’s beaming, bursting-from-their-chest-like-they-want-to-roar-it type of pride just yet.

As time ticks on and those video chats reveal white hairs and wrinkled faces, it takes true grit to persevere through the broke backpacker days and know that you will succeed your way. Fingers crossed they’ll be alive and well to witness it in all its glory.

Any aspiring digital nomad or travel junkie seeking the location-independent lifestyle will face this reality.

Until you make it and can afford to jet back and forth at will, the time apart in your parents’ golden years, missing big anniversaries, birthdays and retirement parties is a tough pill to swallow.

Man wearing fedora sitting on edge of temple looking across Bagan temple grounds in deep thought

You worry about professional growth.

Who needs a 9-to-5 job?

– every long-term traveler ever.

The problem is, the longer you travel, the higher your chances of ending up in a dead-end, unsatisfying job become.

If you’re smart, after ditching the “real world” for a travel lifestyle, you’ll still follow some semblance of a career path.

Maybe you’ll work as an ESL teacher, consistently teaching English around the world. Perhaps you’ll become a professional bar tender, learning flare skills, cocktail making, working huge clubs and cruise ships.

For many, chances are you’ll take whatever job keeps a roof above your head, sparing enough for happy hour and a bus ticket to the next stop.

As your 20s roll on, the more your resume begins to resemble somewhat of a patchwork quilt.

What is going to happen when you hang up the backpack? Will you be able to support a family?

Group of happy Korean students with their foreign teacher - a white man.

Long-term travel is not relaxing.

Ever returned from a vacation and felt like you need another break to recover?

Longer trips mean high-stress situations for months on end. All the language barriers, cultural confusion and daily frustrations like finding somewhere to sleep or eat begin to take their toll.

Feeling lost in a culture can weigh heavy, adding emotional pressure that grinds you down.

Travel is stressful, even in short doses.

Yes, it’s freakin’ awesome, but if you don’t figure how to make it work on the road, then the juice may not be worth the squeeze.

You’re always saying goodbye.

You move so much, changing homes and jobs so often that after a while anything else feels mundane.

You crave change. Your feet are always itchy and it has nothing to do with your socks.

Restless and unsettled, you struggle to find lasting happiness anywhere. No job satisfies you, nowhere is good enough to stay.

You are lost to wanderlust.

You are forever saying goodbye to people. If you aren’t leaving then someone else is, because like you, all your current friends love travel.

Those awesome new friendships and super BFF groups that come together on the road fade and fall apart as quickly as they rose.

It’s the nature of the beast.

You don’t get better at goodbyes, you just become numb to them. Swallowing the loss, you move on.

The end of an era is never far away. With it, comes that urge to pack your bag and move to the next promised land.

Onto the next chapter. Again and again.

Will there ever be a dream home? A perfect town?

Woman in blue at rocky coast looking out to sea

You feel disconnected from your family.

It’s not just old friends that are growing up without you. Your siblings are at it too. Your parents have become grandparents and the perpetual wanderer is missing the new era in your family.

You’ve been away so long that they’re all accustomed to your absence.

The cultures and traditions of your own country tug on your heartstrings but even when you’re home, you feel disconnected, on the outside.

This may be the worst part of wanderlust. The most jarring emotional cost of travel that leaves you feeling truly lost.

One thing worth knowing, if you want to travel in your 20s, is that when you come back home, nobody cares.

Sure, they’re glad to see you.

You’re the coolest thing since Sunny D for all of five minutes. After that, your stories are wearisome. Soon people’s eyes will glaze over as they stifle another yawn.

They don’t get it, anymore that you get all the cooing over baby photos.

It’s only the unconditional love of your family that stops them telling you to quit harping on as you start yet another sentence with the line,“When I was in….”

Is it even still home?

What do you consider the worst part of long-term travel? How do you deal with the disconnect?