Photo Credit: TN
The Best Advice I Received And Live By As A Long-Term Traveler
It’s almost a year since I packed up my things, handed in my notice and set out to see what was waiting for me as a long-term traveler. It has been a full and unpredictable chapter brimming with lessons that surely only traveling can teach. From life in the mountains in Mexico, to switching off in Panama’s Bocas del Toro to exploring Costa Rica’s most Jamaican coast Puerto Viejo, my life has taken me to some extraordinary places and taught me some invaluable lessons.
In this piece, I share the most useful of those lessons that were passed on to me as a long-term traveler.
1. Ground yourself
I really like the word grounded but maybe I should use the word intentional instead. My good friend Nkem, has lived around the world in countries and continents I never really imagined could be welcoming or lovable for a solo Black woman making new homes in the world, as we both are. We first met in Puerto Escondido, Mexico and I tentatively hinted that I wanted some structure after over a month of going with the flow. The thing that stood out to me in this conversation was Nkem prompting me to think about my why. Why did I come to Mexico? What was it all for and how, in this constant uprooting and relocating, can I remember it?
Once you’re aware of your intention, things flow a whole lot better. Life on the road is overwhelming, guaranteed. You’ll be introduced to new people and ways of living daily, and that is the beauty and also the struggle. Maybe a stranger-turned friend will share their passions with you, maybe they move from the city and you go with them, maybe you move country even though you never planned to. The unpredictability is part of the process but anchoring yourself in what you actually want out of this experience will help make the direction a little more intentional and so a little more you.
2. Adjust, Adapt, Repeat
I don’t remember who offered me this advice, or whether it was life itself, but be able to adjust to new environments changed the way I travel. Things do not go to plan, quite often. In fact, I have had to surrender to any plans or expectations since being on this journey, it is all about being present enough to move with whatever the situation may be.
When I’m on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and the electricity falls for a few hours, interrupting my writing flow, I pick myself up and go further offline, to the sea or to the restaurant across the road to have a conversation. When I’m in a new city, struggling to find a restaurant because Google maps took me the long way, I turn in to another restaurant that has a good vibe and discover what that has to offer instead.
What I mean is, it’s best to lean in rather than be in constant resistance to what the land has to offer. Trying to impose your own idea rather than accepting it for what it is, will help you more than you realise.
3. Stick it out
To add confusion and fun to the nomadic journey, the next best advice I received was almost the opposite of adjustment: stick it out. I don’t mean to be rigid, but instead to let it settle, let the fear, the unknowns, the discomfort – all of it, allow it to run its course and stick it out. Don’t even try to manage or control it, or worse, dismiss it. Be honest about how strange you feel being new in this different country and allow yourself to see what is on the other side.
My friend George in England gifted me this advice at the start of my journey. I sat in my room in Oaxaca, giving him the rundown on what I had experienced during my first 3 weeks in Mexico. Some funny moments, some uncomfortable ones, all of them, he reminded me, normal when you’re planting yourself somewhere new.
Having lived in Egypt for a year, spent some time in Italy living in a remote village and then moving to London from his home city, he knew that sticking it out is always the better option. With time comes fluency in another language, comes a better understanding of the culture and more.
Even when it feels easy to skip to the fun part or retreat back to familiarity, sticking it out offers you a whole different, triumphant expat experience.
4. Community building wherever I find myself
In Panama I made a friend, Rash, who has been living there for a while. She invited me to lunch in her favorite spot, meeting me outside my Airbnb so we could walk together. The walkway is no more than 2 minutes, at a slow pace, and in that time Rash had greeted and had conversations with every person we met on the way.
“It’s good to say hello to everybody. Absolutely everybody.” This is advice that was passed on to her when she arrived and was now being passed on to me. Seeing how they embraced her, had their own nicknames and joked with her on this short walk made me smile. This felt like a true way to make community while becoming a part of a new community.
5. Finding a home
This is advice that I picked up from all expat friends. As you move from place to place, you discover what it is that feels nurturing for you in a home. Sometimes while at home, my priorities for the perfect home environment revolved around the area, my budget and closeness to my work. Traveling is different, of course. I must still think about budget and safety as a solo Black woman traveler, but mostly I can soften my list of must-haves, really hone in to what makes me feel good while living far from family and familiarity.
For instance, when long-term traveling I look for the following: being walking distance to the ocean in a coastal town/island, an outdoor space, a kitchen so I can feel at home and make home-cooked meals and being in an area that feels accessible for me to find community.
6. Your tribe will find you
This final piece of advice I picked up in Mexico, a country that gave me many lessons and many errors to learn from. One thing that came smoothly and in time, was attracting like-minded people. Having a support system of friends who truly see you changes the expat journey. Diana, a traveling Mexican discovering San Cristóbal at the same time as me, gifted me this lesson.
Sometimes it is as simple as choosing a city that aligns with your values. For instance being a creative and being based in Mexico City means you’re bound to cross paths with creatives and artists who understand your way of life. If wellness and health is your thing then being based in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica will bring you to like-minded souls.
But sometimes it is more of an intuitive process, finding your tribe is a natural way to keep you sane during holidays, birthdays and the highs and lows of being a human in a new land.