Best Advice for Surviving a Long Trip? Don’t Rev It Up or Tone It Down. And Pack Light!
Dear Savvy Traveller: What are some tips for preparing for long-term trips? —Pete
I wish I knew a bit more about you before answering this question. I don’t need to know your personality so I can tell you what to pack or what plans to make—I think what people should pack and plan are somewhat universal, regardless of personality and regardless of what people think they need—but I’d love to have a better sense of what you consider long-term. If you’re from Sweden and you are accustomed to 30+ guaranteed personal days each year, you likely plan holidays that are at least two weeks long, and you might now be considering a month-long holiday. But if you’re from the US, where you’re not guaranteed any days off in a year, you might be more used to a five-day holiday and could now be planning a two-week trip.
Or maybe you’ve taken a gap year from school or a sabbatical from work and you’re going to spend six months or even a year on the road! The point is, I just don’t know how long you’re going to be away, but the good news is that my replies rarely depend on unique information because even though most of us think we’re special individuals, the most useful answers are big-picture considerations.
Success in travel, and elsewhere in life, is less about whether you pack the right number of tops and more about how important you think the right number of tops is! In other words, it’s not what you physically bring that counts, but what you mentally bring.
1. Pack light. I know you’re going on a long trip, so I bet you think you need to pack a lot more than you would for a short trip—but you’re mostly wrong. Mostly. Of course, you should bring some more than you would bring for a weekend getaway, but it’s not 10 more shirts and 10 more pairs of underwear you need. The extra things you pack should be things like more medications and minor first-aid supplies, and considerations for weather changes since you may change seasons or even climates on this long journey of yours.
Clothes can be washed, entertainment should rarely be dragged along on a trip (hello, you’re travelling—your world is your entertainment!), and most of your “what if I need X?!” disaster hypotheticals can be resolved with a quick trip to a convenience store wherever you are. For more on this, check out my reply to the question of how to pack light (for any trip)
1.5 Depending just how long this trip is, one way you may want to pack differently (rather than more), is to consider more durable garments. This is a great time to consider spending a little more on higher quality, better-made items that will serve you faithfully throughout the duration of your travels. Don’t waste space on several throwaway versions of the same thing when you can pack just one quality item.
2. Plan more for your home than for your trip. How fun and rewarding your trip is depends on your attitude, but how smoothly your home, kids, pets, plants, mail and basketball team fare without you depend on your planning and communication.
A great attitude won’t keep your plants watered, so spend less time worrying about what shoes you’ll need on this trip and more convincing your mom to take care of your dog and bribing your neighbour to bring in your newspaper. Once gone you want to be sure everything back home is taken care of, and not let worries about “real life” bog you down on the road.
3. Tell people you’re leaving. I’m not suggesting you tell everyone how awesome you are because you’re going away for 319 days, or that you advertise your home will be empty and your car easily stolen—but you need to communicate your plans with people who expect to hear from your regularly. Anyone whose daily or weekly life you are an active part of should be informed you’re going to be absent, and do your best to encourage most of them not to contact you much while you’re away.
This includes your close family and friends, any doctors you see regularly, clubs you’re a member of, and especially your professional contacts. You may think you’re going to be well-connected and want to be in touch with lots of people, but you can’t count on service or WiFi, even in the most developed places, and you’ll hopefully find after some time that you don’t want to be nearly as wired as you currently crave.
4. Remember it will end. If this trip is longer than you’re accustomed to (and it probably is, or you wouldn’t have asked how to prepare for it), then you’re likely to feel one (or both) of two overwhelming sensations somewhere along your way: you’ll either feel weak and tired (emotionally and/or physically) and long for home and familiarity, or you’ll feel the high of having the time of your life and never wanting the ride to end.
In either condition, you’re more likely to make decisions that aren’t the wisest or the healthiest in either the short or long terms, so it’s important to remember that this is a temporary experience.
Neither despair nor get carried away. Always remember the life you’re heading back to, and consider how to incorporate this adventure into that life. There’s no reason to panic, and there’s no reason to ride the YOLO train into foolishness either—so remember that this trip will end in due course, and savour your moments wisely. Don’t waste them.