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How I Was Totally Wrong About RTW Travel

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I always knew I wanted to travel, and amazingly I never really wavered in that belief. It took me two years to save up and plan what I thought at the time was going to be a year-long round-the-world adventure. I thought I had it all figured out but I was so so wrong.

Lately I’ve been looking back at some of the old posts that I wrote before I quit my job in 2010. Back then long-term travel was just a dream, a golden goal. It’s pretty amazing to see how WRONG I was about my own way of traveling.

Here are some of the major things I mistakenly believed:

That I Would Stick to my Itinerary

This trip I planned only vaguely resembles the trip that actually happened. I never made it to New Zealand, or Egypt or Eastern Europe. I never hiked Hadrian’s Wall with my Dad. I’d still love to do all of those things at some point. I actually never even made it all the way around the world, so my entire trip was totally mis-named.

I also never anticipated that I’d spend 3 months living in China of all places, or that I’d end up backpacking through South America. These things were nowhere on my radar when I wrote up that post 3 years ago. It’s kind of amazing.

This is a big part of why I now always tell people to be as flexible as possible with your big trip plans. I could never have anticipated 75% of the things that have happened in the past few years and I’m so grateful that my plans were loose enough to be changed (and that I didn’t buy a RTW ticket).

That I Would Travel Alone Forever

I put my foot in my mouth on this one: in the year before I left I made a pretty big deal about traveling the world ALONE. I wasn’t waiting around for any guy to show up! Solo travel forever!

Well, I still love solo travel and I’ll never really give it up completely, but like I said above, the plan changed. In my case fate rather dramatically slapped me in the face when just two months before I was set to leave I met a terrific, travel-loving guy. The resulting relationship totally scrambled my itinerary, my travel style, everything. It was the start of an adventure that’s ongoing to this day.

When you’re traveling for a long time and totally uprooting your life, you have to be ready to adapt to the curve balls life will almost certainly throw at you. I’m just glad I didn’t pass up on one of the most terrific things in my life because I was too rigid in my thinking.

That I Would Get Rid of all my Stuff

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When you read a lot of travel blogs, you start to recognize the same patterns and process everyone goes through when gearing up to travel. The money-saving, plane-ticket buying, life re-ordering stuff. One of the big components that comes up again and again is the idea of selling all, or at least most of your possessions. In addition to raising money for your trip I think it’s supposed to be a life cleansing process or something.

I bought way into that. I was so ready to sell all my crap and travel the world with a clean slate, I even wrote an article about it. Well, guess what, it didn’t happen. I donated a huge truckload of clothes to goodwill, I sold my car, but that was it. Selling stuff was too time consuming both physically and emotionally. I left behind three bookcases of books, a closet of clothing, a tiny stuffed animal collection and more.

You know what else, I’m glad I did, because I’m back now and that winter clothing came in handy after all. Your free to pick and choose which advice you want to take, and you don’t have to fit your trip into anyone else’s mold. Just do what makes sense.

That I am an Organized Person

My intentions were good. When I was planning my trip I had spreadsheets and word documents, all meticulously researched. I had budgets mapped out and timetables. Everything was planned and perfect.

Of course, once I got on the road I ignored it all. Never looked at any of it. I estimated my budget based on the amount in my bank account and frantically wikitravel searched each new city when I arrived. Because that is just the way that I work. It was fine.

What I failed to realize is that traveling was not going to somehow magically transform me into this awesome Type A person. All my bad habits from home were still my bad habits on the road. I wish I had realized that earlier and planned a system that would actually work for me.

That I Would Take my Malaria Pills

I carried around 300 capsules of doxycycline for months, just waiting til I got to Laos to crack those bad boys open. I took them for a week before I had to stop. They made me so nauseous all the time! I decided to make do with extra strength bug spray instead.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take your malaria pills. Getting malaria would suck. It’s just that once I was on the ground in SE Asia I was able to assess the situation more carefully than I could from 1000 miles away and make the best decision for myself.

That I Knew Anything At All

Don’t feed the deer? Nobody told me that!

I look back on myself three years ago and I think wow, what business did she have starting a travel blog, giving other people advice on how to travel? Bless you people who have been reading since then and sorry for some of those crappy older posts.

So many things didn’t work out the way I planned them at all, but I don’t feel bad about a second of it. I couldn’t have known how the reality of the road would match up to my expectations, and neither can you, because everyone is as unique as the trips they plan.. That’s part of the adventure I guess.

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29 Responses to How I Was Totally Wrong About RTW Travel

  1. Marco Fiori January 13, 2013 at 11:23 AM #

    It’s always interesting to read expectations vs what actually happens. I’ve got Larium for 6 months because there are various places I’m interested in, but in reality it’s probably overkill. The good thing is I did a trial run of three weeks on the advice of my nurse to see if I got any bad effects and aside from some odd dreams, I was OK.

  2. Sally (@unbravegirl) January 13, 2013 at 12:30 PM #

    I can totally relate to this post. Before I left Japan and took a year off to travel around SE Asia, I had all these rules I was going to follow — I was going to stay one month in each country, I was going volunteer or house sit or do basically anything so I could stay rent-free, I was going to keep track of all my expenses, I was going to have an epiphany and write a book and blah, blah, blah.
    Umm, none of that happened. Sure, I volunteered and I house sat, but I also paid to stay lots of places. I ended up spending most of my year in Thailand — never did get to Cambodia or all the other places I told myself I’d go. And about that book….
    But, the one thing I did do was get rid of pretty much all my belongings (both before the trip and after). That I totally regret. I’ve kind of (ahem) grown out of most of the clothes I had, so that’s not a problem, but I do miss some of the jewelry and books and other trinkets that I gave away.

  3. julie January 13, 2013 at 12:48 PM #

    I think the biggest point here is knowing you might not act how you think you’re gonna act, and things may not go as planned! Those are probably the main things you can count on with travel. ;-)

    I hadn’t thought hard about the keeping/selling stuff in relation to travel before, so that made me think. I am currently living overseas, and I have to admit, when I took a trip home and “visited” some of my stuff in storage, it was nice to see it. I definitely pared things down before leaving, but there are lots of things that are part of memories or are simply useful items that will be great to have when I return. And I think will sort of help me re-acclimate as well–just as bringing a handful of familiar items help me adjust to being here.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  4. Lucie January 13, 2013 at 1:02 PM #

    A really good post to read before leaving… I’m actually trying to keep all options and opportunities for my round the world tour. No itinerary or no timeframe. But I still think I will gonna travel the world and alone as well… we will see what has actually happened in a couple of years!

  5. kle January 13, 2013 at 1:16 PM #

    I’m 26 days away from my RTW trip, and it was really interesting to read about how things and perspective may change! I just wrote about my itinerary, an im really glad i did, as im curious to compare it with the real itinerary i has decided to take on the road in 1 year! regarding my stuff, i didnt sell everything, as i was able to cut down on clothes and books to just 3 medium boxes. And it will be nice to have all of this when i’m back. I’m just a little concerned about the time i will need to be back and re adjust to the normal life, but i’m sure i’ll figure it out when it’s time. Now i just want to freak out and be excited on my upcoming trip!

  6. Britany (@britseeingstars) January 13, 2013 at 2:51 PM #

    I actually just reread an older post of mine a couple days ago that talked all about how I was going to find a TESL position in South America and do that for a year. I had totally forgot that was a plan of mine at one point! Now the plan is to be in Colombia for three months and then Peru and/or Ecuador for three more… but that will likely change too! Its amazing how much things can change before you leave and then especially once you’re on the road. Flexibility is probably the most useful trait a traveler can have. If you knew exactly how a big trip was going to play out, you’d lose a lot of the excitement!

  7. 2 Digital Nomads January 13, 2013 at 4:15 PM #

    Seriously that was funny, I thought you quit traveling when I read the title but going through the details I smiled :)

    I enjoyed most “That I Would Get Rid of all my Stuff” as we on the opposite bought more stuff LOL

  8. John @ Travel Around Solo January 13, 2013 at 5:07 PM #

    I have been living abroad for 2 years and now getting ready to leave on a backpacking/working trip around Europe and Southeast Asia. I cant tell you the amount of times my plans have changed and i havent even left yet.

  9. Meg | Boheme Love January 13, 2013 at 8:14 PM #

    I feel like I am reading a post I just wrote. I am on the last stretch of my RTW trip with my partner and we are always talking about how crazy and different this trip was than what we planned. We had the Trans Siberian into Russia being our exit back into the states and we just booked our ticket home from Vietnam. Whenever people ask me for advice I just tell them to be open to major change. I realyl enjoyed reading this, would love to connect to hear more.

  10. Barbara January 13, 2013 at 11:26 PM #

    This is funny … but it’s all part of growing up.
    I left home in 2007 for a career break of “three months or so”. Six years later I’m still in Asia, on another career break and my travel entourage now includes a husband and our three-year-old daughter!
    Life changes and plans change, no matter whether you’re traveling or staying put.

    • kle January 14, 2013 at 3:55 AM #

      Ah Barbara! Amazing how things change right? it happened the same to me when i moved to London for 6 months and i ended up living there for 6 years! :) but this is what i love in life. You never know! And your life sounds pretty exciting :)

  11. Jessica January 14, 2013 at 5:24 AM #

    I think this sums up what I love about the unpredictableness of RTW travel – it has a mind of its own. It’s funny because you can’t really get off the ground without some planning and forethought, but then everyone seems to hit this point where they have to scrap about 90% of that original plan because nothing is how they expected it to be.

  12. Gerard ~ GQ trippin January 14, 2013 at 1:46 PM #

    Agreed. Now that Q & I look back, we probably didn’t need to bring Malaria pills for India. And we didn’t even plan on using any for SE Asia and were just fine.

  13. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown January 14, 2013 at 1:53 PM #

    I never took my malaria pills either :) and now I live in a country where people are supposed to take them, and so far so good but I should probably knock on wood!

  14. Adventurous Andrea January 14, 2013 at 2:10 PM #

    It appears that you’ve learned lots in the past few years! I’ve enjoyed keeping up with your adventures.

    Reading this made me realize that many of the tendencies I’ve had for years likely won’t change simply because of traveling.

    Great post!

  15. danielle January 14, 2013 at 2:43 PM #

    When I left to go travelling I got rid of everything but I made a rule to keep only the things “that couldn’t be replaced.”

    The result worked quite well for me in that I know I haven’t lost my most precious memories but I believe that it is better to be free of all that stuff. It kinds of lifts my mind a bit.

    Good advice about not sticking to your plans too much though..I never thought I wanted to go to South America and yet somehow here I am!

  16. Sab January 14, 2013 at 4:40 PM #

    “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, and the only time is now.” I try to live exactly to this theory.

    When I started my round the world trip 4 years ago, I thought I will stay 6 months in Australia and work. The truth is, I didn’t like it After 48 hours I had already bought a ticket back to Kuala Lumpur. And the ticket to KL was cheaper than the taxi to the airport. How ironic.

    During my trip I totally fell in love with the Philippines, which made me to return to this country after my not so great experience with Australia. I never thought about going to Japan. But Cebu Pacific Air had Tickets from Manila to Osaka for US$ 15. And suddenly I found myself in Tokyo.

    And then I got another cheap fare to Chile. I remember I had to look up in Google earth where Chile is and prepared within 30 minutes an itinerary from South America to Mexico. In my darkest dreams I never thought I would ever go to Colombia and it was one of the best places I have ever been.

    Life is full of surprises. Traveling the world is one of the best decisions you can make. So don’t screw this up by buying a round-the-world-ticket. Never Never Never! Cheers from Istanbul… (where I’m stuck now since last summer… So you, I never really got home)

  17. Hannah @ Getting Stamped January 14, 2013 at 7:42 PM #

    We can so relate to this! We are planning our RTW trip now we leave in June. We already learned selling stuff on EBAY was tooooo time consuming and sometimes we lost money on shipping. We have donated a lot of clothing, but we plan on keeping a lot of stuff so that when we come home we don’t have to go repurchase it all! We have been stock piling malaria pills, but we have taken them before while in Costa Rica and we didn’t have any sickness issues….We are planning a route and everyone says not too but we will see how it goes. We are not buying a RTW ticket so we are open! Great article!

  18. eemusings January 15, 2013 at 2:24 AM #

    <3! I'll be embarking on my RTW trip this year – look forward to learning some things about myself.

  19. Frank January 15, 2013 at 1:39 PM #

    I’m typically a planner, in fact I’ve already got a pretty hefty spreadsheet tracking itinerary, temperatures, avg hostel costs, you name it! I feel like it’s better to be over prepared in advance than scrambling at the last minute, that being said one of the main goals of my RTW trip is to be flexible so as to be able to experience whatever the road throws my way.

    I think one of the greatest things about this type of trip is the sheer control you have over your decisions (whether or not your destinations cooperate is another thing, but anyway…) and actual ability to turn your life into a choose your own adventure book.

    Best of luck, keep traveling!

  20. Susan @ Travel Junkette January 15, 2013 at 6:37 PM #

    Ha! Malaria pills. I hear you there! Great post, and happy travels!

  21. Rebecca January 15, 2013 at 7:09 PM #

    But don’t you just love going back to look at those earlier posts? They are a record of where you planned to go. I personally love it, looking back at others as well as myself. Never apologize for something like that. It’s just part of life.

  22. Alana - Paper Planes January 16, 2013 at 1:35 AM #

    I wish I had written during the time that I was ‘planning’ my departure from home and during the early days of my extended ‘trip’ (that is now indefinite…) to look back and what I was thinking then.

    I don’t think I could ever buy a RTW ticket – the planning and choosing of where to go when would be too much.

    And true on the malaria pills…I haven’t needed them since I left home…

  23. The CounterIntuitive January 19, 2013 at 1:07 AM #

    I love posts like this – where people recognise the differences in their dreams and realities and wholeheartedly accept them as they are. great advise for any budding travellers too.

  24. Adam January 21, 2013 at 11:23 AM #

    Nice to see an honest post about this because more often than not, travel blogs dole out advice which they don’t actually take. Great to read!

  25. OCDemon June 13, 2013 at 4:02 AM #

    Those damn malaria pills and their nightmare-inducing nonsense. Damn you, doxycycline! You are literally the stuff of nightmares!

  26. Jade H July 24, 2013 at 1:38 PM #

    It’s so true, with travel as with everything else in life, you look back and realize that what you thought was going to happen was so NOT what happened. As Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

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