No One Talks About the Bravery Required for Long-Term Travel

Gillian May

Photo by Michael Barón on Unsplash

I write this sitting in an Airbnb in el Rodadero, Colombia. Moving here was a plan that took many years for my wife and I to execute. Still, it will take us many months, maybe even a year, before we get settled.

My wife is from Colombia, but she’s lived in Canada longer than she lived in Colombia. I was born and lived in Canada for my whole life. This is absolutely spanking new to me, but it’s also a significant change for her as well.

We’ve invested a lot of time and money into this new adventure. But what I really want to talk about is bravery. In fact, bravery may be one of the most important things we needed to be able to pull this off at all.

Bravery is not a finite resource, meaning that you don’t just have it, and that’s it. It’s something you have to continually nurture and pull out of yourself every single moment that you advance forward in your path.

People talk about long-term travel all the time. We see so many people posting pretty photos and talking about how awesome life is now that they are in “paradise,” or whatever they aim to be.

And travel is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. I, too, will be posting my photos and videos of the amazing places and experiences we will have. But I’m surprised by how little people talk about the absolute terror, the “holy shit, what am I doing?” when it comes to uprooting their lives for long-term travel.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Sometimes I think we omit the terror and insecurity we feel because we want to give the impression that everything is groovy. Like, how dare we complain now that we’ve somehow left our old lives and gone off to exciting new places, right?

I’d like to break that mold a little now. Because the reality is that every adventure, whether it be a new job, new baby, new home, or whatever your desired goal is, requires immense bravery. And you will need to conjure bravery through the everyday slog that it takes to complete your objective.

Long-term travel is no different. It’s a big decision like any other and not everyone wants to do it. Just like many don’t wish to have children or change jobs or take on some other big transition. We don’t often talk about the hard parts and the bravery that is tested around every corner.

In the last 6 months before we finally got here, I had several freak-outs where I almost wanted to give up on the whole thing. And since we’ve arrived, I’ve had a few moments where I felt really culture-shocked, exhausted, and uncertain about our decisions.

These feelings come and go, sometimes frequently in one day. But in the end, I don’t doubt that this was still the right decision. And the good moments definitely outweigh the challenging ones.

Photo by Michael Barón on Unsplash

Here are five areas about travel — specifically travel where you uproot your life to live in a different country for a long while — that require a constant conjuring and renewal of bravery. They also require an examination of your mindset if you are to find the bravery you need in each moment.

1. Not everyone in your life will care about your new adventure.

Who knows why your friends and family seem to drop you like a hot potato as soon as you leave. It could be as simple as they have their own lives and don’t have time to check in with you. Or they might figure you’re having a great time and they don’t want to bother you.

Also, maybe we don’t tell people enough that we are struggling with such a big change and still need support, even though we’re having fun as well.

It could also be that some people wish they could make big changes too, but can’t figure out how to do it. So maybe watching your adventure unfold could be too painful for them. Also, unless they’ve done their own long-term travel experience, they may never understand the challenges taking place behind the fabulous pictures of sunsets.

Lastly, long-term relationships are hard. It takes a lot of energy to maintain them from afar, and when life takes over, most people just don’t have it in them. This doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means the energy isn’t there.

2. Having the ability to move countries when you come from a privileged country is the epitome of privilege.

This is a seriously important issue, and for me, I don’t want to forget this. But if I use some emotional intelligence here, I can actually learn things that will make me a better human. I can also become more versed in how privilege actually works.

It can take considerable energy to keep this at the forefront of our minds while we’re balancing everything else it takes to pull off long-term travel. However, putting this on the back burner isn’t really an option. Those who do will inevitably put themselves and others in unsafe and unethical positions.

3. The cycles of ups and downs will be frequent and more tumultuous.

As with any big transition or new endeavor, life can feel like a constant roller-coaster. Your comfort level will be tested around every corner, and sometimes it feels like you can’t get a break.

The very definition of adventure is to go outside your comfort zone again and again. If you become impatient with this and expect things to be more smooth, then you may be forgetting point #2 above.

4. Everything will be uncertain and unknown.

This is similar to point #3 because things that are uncertain or unknown will always test your comfort zone. However, when it comes to transitions like long-term travel, you’ve got to prepare yourself never to know what’s around the corner.

This is both the most exciting part of travel and also the scariest. These things will never be separated into neat piles. One of the most valuable things about travel is that it teaches you to stop automatically forfeiting learning experiences for the bubble you’ve come to know well.

If you think about it, most undesirable situations come true because we try to hold on too much to certainty. Likewise, the most rewarding learning experiences happen because we accept the discomfort of the unknown. But yes, the bravery this requires is monumental, and you’ll need to breathe, dig in, and manifest all the courage you can find.

5. You’ll be drained of all your energy and yet you’ll still have to dig deep and find more.

It takes a lot to haul your belongings around and figure out where you’ve put everything. It’s also time-consuming to find where to get particular food, medicine, and supplies. You’ll likely forget to bring something you need. And if you don’t know the language, it will cripple your brain as you try hard to remember that one word that will help you finish a sentence.

When the batteries get low, travel can be a bit frightening. This is especially true if you’re in your middle years, like me. There are times when I wonder if I’ll ever get back in the green again. This is when bravery really comes in handy.

Everyone has different needs when it comes to recharging your energy, and whatever that is for you, make it a priority. There’s nothing worse than a crash and burn during transitions like long-term travel that require you to have your brains and body intact.

Photo by Flavia Carpio on Unsplash

Long-term travel is as hard as it is rewarding. Our bravery will be tested every step of the way. Many of us leave out the hard parts because it isn’t fun or glamorous and definitely not instagrammable. But in reality, if we talked about it more, I think it would help others be better prepared and more responsible.

Pretending that it’s all fun and fabulous does nothing for our health and well-being. It also doesn’t help us make the right decisions about whether uprooting ourselves is even something we want to do in the first place.

Also, if we don’t know about the bravery it takes to travel and live in other countries, we may not consider how to ethically participate in different cultures.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.


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