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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Travel Tips: Long-Term Travelling

I'm gradually drawing the strands together. Over the past few months I've been lucky enough to meet a handful of travellers who have been on the road for a long time, and who have managed to cope with the return home; from these conversations I have managed to formulate a few theories about long-term travel.

The First Year

When our lone traveller actually embarks on his journey, the most common feelings are of disorientation and slow acclimatisation, which go on for a few weeks after leaving home. Symptoms of this stage include a propensity to pinch himself and get sudden thrills at the fact that he is abroad. Everything is refreshing, from money to food, and he will gradually get more comfortable with his surroundings, the most important aspect of which is the well-organised backpack. This is when he realises that those collapsing glasses and pack liners, which looked so useful in the shop, are practically useless, and slowly the crud gets discarded.

The Second Year

The next few months prove interesting, because our man has moved into the category of the 'long-term traveller'. He now becomes more of a centre of attention at traveller meets, is asked to recount stories to those still green on the trail, and begins to forget about home. Homesickness, which affects most people at some time during the first year, is but a past memory (unless illness strikes, when homesickness is just a symptom of the ailment), and by this stage the traveller is obsessed with lengthening his trip, trying to extend his reach for as long as possible: by now it's highly unlikely he will have a job to go back to, and going home isn't much of an attraction any more. He is probably forming opinions about people back home being stuck in the western rat race, is beginning to read books on philosophy and religion, and might even start to grow his hair a little. Travelling is becoming a way of life rather than a temporary break from society.

The Third Year

The first few months of the third year get tough. Travelling seems to lose a little of its sparkle because it takes a considerable amount to surprise our man, he's seen so much. By now the everyday aspects of travel – money, accommodation, finding places to eat, planning and so on – are just that, everyday aspects, and there's an ease with the environment and lifestyle that can only appear after a long time perfecting the method: the difference in attitude and maturity between the seasoned traveller and the eager backpacker is easy to spot.

Coming Home

Or will it? This is where the theorising breaks into a number of strands. Conventional travellers' wisdom says that home will be exactly the same as when you left it, but you will have changed, and this theory is certainly fine if you have been away for a year or so. But the long-termers I have talked to say that after three years, plenty has changed, even though it might not look like it on the surface. Marriages have been performed, children sired and houses bought; jobs have been changed, though the nine-to-five mentality still pervades all; and on top of this, after three years any traveller will be a totally different person, not just slightly altered. Integration is a challenge, probably the first real challenge for some time.