I’ve started to dig into the planning for our August Mekong adventure, and that process has gotten me thinking about long trips. While the Mekong won’t be the longest trip I’ve ever taken, it will involve the longest transit time (easily beating out both South Africa and Australia). Coping with long-haul flights is, I think, worth an entire post unto itself, and I may save that topic until after I’ve survived the 23 hours of flight time from Washington to Cambodia. But surviving long trips and returning home happy is something I have plenty of experience with already.
I can sum up my 5 Tips for Long Trips with a little alliteration: proper prior planning, pacing, and positivity.
1. Understand the principle of “Travel Motivation.” This is my own theory, and it works like this: Your degree of motivation and initiative will decrease in direct proportion to the amount of time you’ve been traveling. In other words, that day trip to watch migrating whales, which you listed as an absolute “must do” on your pre-departure itinerary, is going to sound a lot less intriguing on Travel Day 12. If there are cities, excursions, and day trips that are particularly important to you, especially if they involve long days or complicated transportation, schedule them on the front-end of your trip. Otherwise they may become a victim of the corollary of Travel Motivation, which is Travel Inertia – more commonly known as, “Eh, I’m tired, why don’t we just hang out by the pool?” Travel Inertia is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a little unpleasant if it catches you by surprise. As travel weariness takes hold, you may also struggle a bit to fully appreciate where you are. If your bucket list item is at the end of your trip, you may sadly find yourself a bit underwhelmed by it. Travel Inertia is to blame for this. “Save the best for last” does not apply to travel.
2. Pack well. And by “pack well,” I don’t mean “pack heavy.” With longer trips, having the essentials becomes more important, and extraneous items in your suitcase become more annoying. You might be able to live without your glasses for a weekend, but not for two weeks. And you will eventually despise that extra pair of shoes you brought “just in case,” which are taking up so much space in your luggage. This would probably be a good time to revisit my post about packing light, which includes my approach for “Evidence-Based Packing” (a phrase that gives a policy wonk like me a chuckle).
3. Pace yourself. Just because travel is fun doesn’t mean it’s not also exhausting. If you charge ahead at time-warp speed, you’re going to burn out fast. Give yourself permission to take time off from going, going, going. Even early in the trip, while your Travel Motivation is high, you should build some time into your itinerary to take it easy; a half-day without any planned activities can be enough to recharge your batteries.
4. Take care of yourself. Related to “pace yourself,” this has less to do with your itinerary and more to do with you. If a cold is mildly annoying on a short trip, it’s a massive irritation on a long one. During the trip, do what you can to stay healthy for the duration: get enough sleep, take vitamins, and avoid things that will make you ill (for example, excessive amounts of alcohol). Also, while your normal daily routine is going to be upended during your travels, if there are things you need to do to maintain your mental well being, don’t deprive yourself of them completely; maybe you can make do with 10 minutes of stretching instead of an hour of yoga. Finally, bring along a few (small) creature comforts to keep you happy. For example, I always travel with chocolate – just in case.
5. Relax, baby. I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: attitude really is everything in travel. If you approach your travels the same way you approach your job, complete with high standards and rigid schedules, you’re going to be stressed out and miserable for the entirety of your vacation. Travel is work only if you make it so. Be flexible, go with the flow, do away with expectations, and (this is something I have to be vigilant about) stop thinking ahead to where you’re going next. Focus on where you are, right now, in every minute. Some people call this “being present,” others call it “living in the moment.” Whatever you call it, it makes travel a whole lot more fun. And fun generates energy, and energy keeps you going, right up to the last stop of your journey.