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Why RTW Travel Must NOT be Seen as Vacation


Valencia, Spain
One of many festivals in Valencia, Spain!

Tomorrow, volcano permitting, I fly home to Boston! And thus we can begin zillions of reflective posts. Let’s start with the following realization:

A months-long Around the World voyage is not a vacation. Want to know why? Because it it were, you would die. On vacation, by definition, you indulge in anything and everything and you laze around like a jellyfish. So let’s be real here: if you did that every day for a multi-month Around the World trip, you would become both obese and bored. Let us examine both indulgence and indolence in detail to understand why.

Valencia, Spain

Valencia's buildings look like frosting!

1.) Indulgence: Long-term travel is a master class in resisting temptation.

I self-identify as a gal who is unable to say no to any luscious food that is placed in front of me, no matter how full I am. I’m infamous among my former Boston Public Schools coworkers for over-the-top gorging myself at Free Food Opportunities (or FFOs, as my friend dubs them), because food is delicious, and letting it go to waste is bad!

When you are traveling, however, for the most part you are awash in liberty. You could eat solely potato chips for weeks straight if you desired, because who would know? And truthfully, at the outset of the trip, you will likely do something similar: go all-out on something ridiculous and unhealthy. For me, one such early indulgence was non-stop Thai iced coffee…. ooh that creamy, lard-filled condensed milk layer!

La Lonja, Valencia

La Lonja, Valencia's famous silk market

But sooner or later, you will begin to feel like trash and your body will suffer. Soon, you will slap yourself in the face and scream: “Snap out of it, man (or woman)! This is your life, now, not a vacation. So you need to take care of your body or you are going to do damage.”

It took me MONTHS of this nine-month trip to get to this point of wisdom. I slowly started to exercise again around month three, then re-got into fitness for real around month seven. Embarrassingly, it took eight months for me to actually develop self control in my goat-like gluttony, but what finally did it was the week I spent in non-stop five-star, delicious eight-course meals thanks to the Valencia Ministry of Tourism. Somewhere around eight-course meal number seven, I did something I’ve hardly done in my life: I refused the chocolate dessert that was offered and begged the waitress to bring me fruit instead. WHAT?! Madness! But my body literally rebelled and forced me to change.

La Lonja, Valencia, Spain

Gargoyle atop La Lonja in Valencia

The sexy world of temptation during travel holds millions of other lures, of course, all of which you must learn to moderate or refuse, or else. The best people to explain this to you are the countless 20 year old British boys I met in Southeast Asia with broken legs and arms from repeated drunk-as-skunk lapses of judgment.

And then there’s the temptation to do absolutely nothing with yourself for weeks or months on end. You’re on vacation, right? Wrong! Read on.

2.) Indolence: Long-term travel forces you to invent your own “job” and responsibilities in order to feel worthwhile… and stay sane.

I just spent a week with a wonderful solo female traveler who decided to cut her Around the World trip short on month five and return home, perhaps to re-start her former job. Why? Because her voyage had lost its point. It had lost its soul, and it wasn’t making her happy anymore because she didn’t feel like she was contributing or learning anymore.

Valencia, Spain

Valencia's buildings making you hungry yet?

Oh, how I understood what she meant! It is guaranteed when you are in the midst of a RTW trip that you will have moments (if not weeks) when you moan: “What have I done with my life?! Everyone thinks I’m on this amazing vacation, but I don’t really even know what I’m doing! I feel like a waste of space!”

Listen: humans are meant to work. We NEED to feel like we are contributing something to the world, or we get depressed. We NEED to feel like we aren’t just sitting around or swirling in self-indulgent circles. And therefore, when traveling long-term, you always must be creating jobs and responsibilities and helping opportunities.

Valencia, Spain street

A lovely Valencia street scene

Examples of indolence-fighters include, but are not limited to: volunteering for at least one month out of every four, playing music or creating art, taking short courses, getting mini jobs in each new place, living with and helping local families, participating in language exchanges, and… writing a blog.

As trivial as the world of blogs seems to some, I cannot express to you how important this website has been in keeping me sane and happy these nine months abroad; it’s given me focus and structure… not to mention invaluable support from all of you great readers.

Ultimately, the perfect “job” or combination of responsibilities during long term travel is different for each person. What does matter is that those pursuits you pursue whilst abroad make you feel occupied, purposeful, and like you are using your potential.

In the end, it’s not a bad thing that Around the World, long-term travel is “not a vacation.” Things that aren’t vacations are still amazing! What it boils down to is this: we are precious beings, we humans, and thus we must resist the indulgence and indolence of vacation attitudes so we can stay healthy and happy all those months on the road!

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