South East Asia Travels

Beyond the Instagram Filter: Lessons from 4.5 Months on the Road

Long-term travel has become the cool thing to do!

It’s romanticised as this perpetual vacation of seeing beautiful sights, exotic food and wonder after wonder. 

Well, I dreamed that dream and lived it for four and half months travelling across four countries in SouthEast Asia. It was two of us on a not-too-tight-but-sort-of-tight budget. And it wasn’t a smooth ride. Sure, the road led to amazing destinations but it was bumpy and sometimes the vehicle broke down too! So, I wanted to share my lessons here, so maybe you can be better prepared or just know what to expect if you’re planning to hit the road for months together. 

1. It Becomes Life:

Initially, the excitement to constantly move and try new experiences was high. Over time though, the novelty faded. It wasn’t a loss of interest but I wasn’t excitedly vacationing either. At some point, we settled into a slower pace staying long enough for hotels to start feeling like home and bus rides became daily commutes. It became the new normal and started feeling like, well, life. 

What I would do next time: Nothing. Just accept this reality of long-term travel. 

Also read: The Angkor Wat Regret

A guy lounging on a recliner - Lessons from 4.5 Months on the Road

2. Decision Fatigue:

Choosing between Pad Thai or Pho for the umpteenth time shouldn’t be exhausting, right? Wrong.

The ‘where to go,’ ‘what to eat,’ and ‘how to spend your time’ questions started catching up to me by the third month! Constantly researching and making decisions was so tiring that it took me months to fully recover from the aftereffects of it. The after-effect? I made some bad decisions right after the trip because I simply couldn’t think. And those bad decisions (job and home) led to me being miserable for a few more months.

What I would do next time: Have some weeks in between planned out; down to the detail of where I’m going to eat in advance. This way I can get some much-needed brain breaks. It doesn’t have to be a complicated plan either. When we were in Luang Prabang, Laos, we decided to spend a week going to the three restaurants we knew and visiting only a few places instead of trying to cover it all. Worked beautifully! 

Food - rice with many side dishes - Lessons from 4.5 Months on the Road

3. Budget vs. Comfort:

Picture this: You’re on a tight budget but you also have to work. Since it’s long-term, you are torn between two options:

  • Picking a decent but slightly expensive stay for working comfortably and cutting back on a few experiences as a result, vs
  • Picking subpar accommodation to be able to afford all experiences and working in an uncomfortable setting. 

What would you pick? We ended up alternating between the two, but it kind of left us always questioning and second-guessing our choices. 

What I would do next time: Ideally make and save more beforehand so it’s not stressful. I have realised that travelling on a very tight budget is not my thing.

4. Fitness Struggle:

This came as a shock to me! In my head, when I travel, I move a lot so I’m fit. 

But since our pace was much slower on this trip and I love trying the local food and don’t really exercise until I have signed up for a class… it became a big problem. Towards the end of the trip, I was at my heaviest and had to skip a few activities like trekking and caving because I wasn’t fit enough. It made me miserable. 

If you are the ‘I can and will exercise at any time anywhere’ kind of person like my partner was, this might not be a problem for you. He did all those activities I missed and that didn’t help my misery at all! 

A woman standing in a entry to the temple - Lessons from 4.5 Months on the Road

What I would do next time: Carry a skipping rope since it’s the most no-brainer workout. Go jogging or walking to explore the locality. Check out local gyms to see if we can get short-term access and also get a peek into the workout culture in that place. Essentially, a mix and match of these kinds of activities so that I don’t experience the resistance of a strict workout to keep me fit on the go. 

5. It Gets a Little Boring:

Here’s the truth – after a time it gets boring, especially if you are travelling across similar countries with similar cultures and landscapes. At least it did for me.

Before the trip, I would have answered the question, ‘How many waterfalls are too many waterfalls?’ with a ‘There’s no such thing as too many waterfalls!’ Now, I’d say 10 or a maximum of 15. We decided to call it quits after four and half months while we could have gone for at least another month because we simply lost interest in a lot of things

What I would do next time: Try to switch things up with starkly different places if possible. Or just come back home when it gets boring like we did this time. It’s completely okay. 

Waterfalls - Lessons from 4.5 Months on the Road

6. Work – Life – Travel Guilt:

Achieving a work-life balance is hard enough, throw in travel with that… phew.

I found myself constantly battling guilt because I wasn’t able to give even 70% to anything let alone 100%. Freelancing from the beach might sound dreamy but when deadlines don’t take vacation and every single day of your vacation makes your pocket lighter, it gets frustrating. Imagine spending on food and hotels in a different country only to end up spending a major chunk of your time working on your laptop. I did become like 5x better at getting work done quicker and at odd gaps though. 

What I would do next time: Make peace with it and maybe make an active choice of allowing one aspect to take a backseat when needed instead of feeling guilty later on. 

I know this sounds like a ramble but this was my reality. Yes, I had many pinch-me moments and lots of new adventures. Then there were times around the beginning of the third month when I wanted to give up and just be back home. I had to remind myself that I was living the dream because on some days it seemed like a nightmare. But that’s life, isn’t it?

So, would I travel long-term again? Absolutely.

Will it be perfect the next time? Nah, I will just be making new mistakes and learning new lessons. 

Will I come back and write a rant like this about that also? Most definitely! 

Author

  • Nivetha Kannan

    Nivetha Kannan is a joyous soul who loves to follow the flow of life with a open and curious heart. With 5 years of writing experience and a useless law degree under her belt, she hopes to inspire and encourage people to live a life of simple curiosity. As a passionate writer, dancer and traveller, she loves to tell stories through her words, moves and journeys.

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Nivetha Kannan

Nivetha Kannan is a joyous soul who loves to follow the flow of life with a open and curious heart. With 5 years of writing experience and a useless law degree under her belt, she hopes to inspire and encourage people to live a life of simple curiosity. As a passionate writer, dancer and traveller, she loves to tell stories through her words, moves and journeys.

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