How to know if full-time travel is right for you

Traveling full-time sounds like “living the dream” to those who don’t. Although it can be a dream life, it is not always easy. Of course, they are not an endless vacation.

In 2017, I quit my job to travel the world. So far, I have been to six continents and over 25 countries. For those of you considering full-time or even part-time travel, here are some ways to determine if this life is right for you.

Fish in a market in Vietnam

Photo: Heather Markel

1. You like to try new and strange foods

I’m lucky to have always been adventurous with new foods.

From the time I was 16, I lived with a French host family. My host brother, one day, offered me a taste of the sheep brains he was eating. He recoiled in horror. Fortunately, I realized I wasn’t entitled to an opinion until I tasted them. So, I did. Now I can say from experience that I don’t care for sheep brains. The important part is that I tried them.

As you travel the world, you will constantly come across strange foods whether it is meat, fish, fruit or vegetables. More importantly, you will have a hard time finding foods that you are used to. For example, peanut butter is often not available. French fries in other countries are flavored with bacon, barbecue, spices and flavor combinations you’ve never thought of. Trying to travel the world on a very specific diet can add frustration to travel because the more you limit your food choices, the harder it will be to find them. Insects can be on the menu, as can offal. If you are hosted by a family for any part of your travels, it may be considered offensive if you do not eat what they serve you. Being open to new foods is an essential part of full-time travel.

2. You can treat different beds every night

Have you ever gone on vacation and on your way home said, “I loved my vacation, but I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed!” No doubt you’ve bought a mattress you love, broken it in, and enjoyed a good night’s rest. When you travel full-time, you can never come home to that bed. You have to adjust to a new mattress, different pillows (sometimes made by stuffing clothes into a pillow case) and different bedding (a top sheet is not part of many cultures) wherever you go. While this may seem commonplace, traveling full-time can leave you missing the comforts of home; from your bed to street noise and more, you’ll be constantly adapting to new places as you lay your head down at night.

Two bags with the author's luggage.

The overflowing baggage of the author

Photo: Heather Markel

3. You can live out of your suitcase

Depending on where you’re staying and how long you’re there, you may or may not have the space or interest in unpacking. Your life becomes a series of packing and unpacking every time you change locations. I find that if I’m in a place for a week or more, or if there are drawers and a closet with hangers, I happily unpack. Often, however, I’m in a spare room with none of the aforementioned luxuries, so I take things out of my suitcase and try not to make a mess. Whenever it’s time to pack again, it amazes me that I can never fit the same amount of stuff in my bags as I did on my first trip!

4. Be prepared to pack light and carry your luggage

Unless you are traveling in first class, or in an RV, you will carry your own bags. This can be from train or bus stations to youth hostels, and it can also be up the stairs to your room in a budget hotel.

Being able to afford full-time travel for more than a few months means staying in places that don’t offer luxury amenities. You will learn, very quickly, that you do not want to travel with more than necessary. I have donated clothing and more to charity, or donated items that were too heavy for new friends while I traveled. If it’s not too hot, I wear the same shirt two days in a row. After a few months down the road, if I get tired of a shirt, or it looks like its last wash, I’ll donate it or throw it away in exchange for a newer shirt.

It’s important to note that full-time travel is not glamorous. You won’t have much use for makeup and you won’t have room for fancy clothes or your dancing shoes.

5. You are brave when it comes to personal development

One of the things that surprised me during my first year of travel was how much I learned about myself. My journey felt like a quest to increase vision. It wasn’t always fun.

During your travels, you will be faced with new situations, challenged and pushed out of your comfort zone. These are the experiences that help you grow and become the person you want to be. Sometimes, you won’t be satisfied with what you learn. Other times, you’ll be delighted to discover just how resourceful you can be. The important thing to understand is that when you travel full time, you no longer have the daily distractions of an office or friends and family to keep you from discovering yourself. It takes a degree of courage and persistence to do this work. Make sure you’re up to the challenge before embarking on a full-time travel journey.

6. You are prepared to do a lot of planning

When you go on vacation, you can feel good about choosing a place that excites you, book your trip, book your hotel and tours, and go! When you travel full-time, planning itself becomes a full-time job. Whenever you want to move to a new place, you will have to choose how to get there, where to stay and what to do. The more often you move, the more planning you’ll need to do.

I’ve learned to let go of planning every moment and focus on transportation and accommodation. As for tours and visits, I let it unfold the moment I arrived. This takes a lot of stress out of the process.

7. You won’t give up just because you can’t use Wi-Fi

If you’re planning to work or blog while traveling, you’ll quickly discover that Wi-Fi is the bane of your existence. The signal can be weak, non-existent or shared with so many people that uploading a photo is either impossible or takes hours. Try making a video call and after multiple dropped calls, you’ll turn off the video and curse the network gods.

Consider bringing a Wi-Fi hotspot or a phone that allows you to connect and purchase a local SIM card. Local SIM cards offer data rates that are significantly less expensive than roaming with your US carrier.

A view from the window of the author's hotel in Posadas, Argentina.

A view from the author’s hotel window in Posadas, Argentina, where she spent 2 weeks recovering from travel burn

Photo: Heather Markel

8. You accept that boredom and burnout are par for the course

The same way you burn out from work also applies to full-time travel. As mentioned before, this is not a full-time vacation. Once you’re living the travel lifestyle, you’ll have moments of boredom, frustration, and burnout.

Here’s an interesting remedy: When I started my travels, I moved about every three days. After a few months, I found myself in a small town in Argentina without tourism. I booked a three night stay and asked to add three more. Then I added a few more days, and finally, I ended up staying for two weeks. The joy of being able to avoid packing, planning and being able to feel like I had a home base for an extended period was just what I needed. If it happens to you, know that it’s normal. Go with the flow and plan to relax until the burn subsides.

9. You are prepared to be seen as an ambassador of your country

Although it is not an official meeting, during the travels you will meet people who have never left their country. For some, you will become their perspective on your country. Your behavior will become the basis for them to judge other people from your country. I was lucky enough to live with a host family as a teenager. Because of them I learned to speak French fluently and in my travels I learned that Americans who travel and expect everyone to speak English are not always well thought of. This fueled my obsession with learning the local language of every country I traveled to.

It is essential to respect local cultures and adapt to the way people live, do business and address each other. American culture often finds us insisting on exemplary customer service and complaining if we don’t get it. Outside of America, I have found that many cultures move at a much slower pace and tend to be much less demanding. Understanding the layers of formality and politeness is essential. You’ll have much deeper experiences with locals when you respect their ways, rather than arguing or trying to change them.

Full-time travel is, in my opinion, an experience that everyone should have, even for a few months. It will change you in extraordinary ways. However, it is not for everyone. Be sure to set your expectations before you go.

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