When I took off on a 106-day trip around the world this February, my mind was like a New York City subway platform at rush hour — there were hundreds of thoughts all wanting to come along on the trip, all rushing forward at the same time. The poor little thought that got pushed right out of the fray and missed the train was the one of how much energy it would take to accomplish such a trip.
I’m not the only one — the guidebooks normally forget it too. I’ve never yet had one of them tell me: “Enjoy your cross-continental journey. But beware — after three months, you will have reached a DEFCON 4 level of crazy and will no longer be sure of the day, date, time zone or currency you’re currently using. In fact, if you can still spell your last name, you’re doing pretty well.”
Everyone will have different ways to keep their travels on track, but here are the five simplest methods I’ve relied on recently to keep on course and avoid an epic burnout:
Talk to friends or family at home every three or four days –– This tip requires finding a good balance: If you’re only concerned with keeping in touch with those at home, you’ll spend all your time searching for internet cafes or Wi-Fi, and your experience in the country you’re visiting will be severely diminished. But if you never touch base with your home crowd, you’ll forget that home is not actually a Thai beach or an Alpine ski slope. Having a brief call/text/e-mail chat with one person every few days works well to keep your morale up, but still keep you firmly rooted in your adventures.
Read, read, read! — The obvious impulse on a long trip is not to weigh your bags down with a hefty bunch of books. Resist this.
Constant reading while on the road keeps your brain turned on while you’re not doing any other work, and it keeps you speaking your native language in foreign lands. (Speak broken English to enough people in Asia and you’ll soon start forgetting what auxiliary verbs are.) A lot of hotels have a book exchange system where you can freely swap your book for one someone else has left there in the past, making it very easy to maintain a good level of literature on the road.
Eat yourself healthy — I was quite surprised at the amount of people I had to tell this to during my trip. When I’m drinking a “super anti-oxidant” smoothie and you’re chomping down on McDonald’s, why do you think you’re the one with the cold…? At a minimum, take a daily multivitamin. If you’d like to go all out, healthy traveling can sometimes feel like a diet. But when your body’s still running after three months on the road, you’ll be glad you gave the fast food a skip.
Walk somewhere once a day — Not only will you save money on cabs and buses, but walking your way around town might be just about your only travel exercise. There’s no need to be overly active, but try to get out and about once a day. Walking also gives you a much better travel experience — taking a bus through New York City’s Greenwich Village will whisk you right past the character of the neighborhood, and taking one through London will take you right past some excellent areas like Soho and Covent Garden before you’ve even noticed it. You never know what you’ll discover, ambling down a quirky side street!
Put a limit on your time at the bar– Sure, you want to get out and meet the slightly inebriated locals and experience a country by sampling their entire collection of beers, but this is obviously the quickest way to run yourself into the ground. Don’t not do it, because it’s great fun, just don’t do it every night if you’re traveling for a long time.
When you fill up your backpack and hit the road, you can quickly find yourself in a crazy world. But as long as you remember what pocket you packed your general intelligence and passport in, it’ll be a great adventure.