A flexible itinerary or “test” trip can benefit first-time vagabonders

I remember reading a blog post before I left for my trip recommending that first-time travelers take a 5- to 7-week test trip to determine if long-term travel was right for them.

I disregarded this advice, as I didn’t really question whether I’d like traveling – I’d dreamed of it my whole life, and the pull to do it was strong enough that I was willing to quit a job I loved for it.

Three months later, here I am recommending a test trip – but for different reasons.

It’s not so much about figuring out if it’s right for you, but figuring out how it’s right for you. There are many styles of vagabonding – you could get a RTW ticket, you could work and live in one place abroad for a longer period, you could simply wander. If you haven’t traveled for more than a few weeks (which is likely the case for many career breakers from the U.S. like me) there’s no way of knowing your own travel style and what will work best for you.

I knew I couldn’t know the answers to these things before leaving, so I knew I had to just go and would figure it out from there. I didn’t specifically view every little thing as a test, but I found myself constantly learning what I liked and what type of travel could work for me. Now, I’m home on a pit stop (slightly unexpectedly but in a good way), planning the next phase of my journey, using all that I’ve learned to inform my decisions.

I don’t think a test trip necessarily means you need to leave, come home and then leave again; you can learn and adjust along the way without coming home, as long as you keep your trip flexible. That means holding off on buying the 1-year RTW ticket or taking the job teaching English abroad, if possible, until you know that style of travel is right for you.

Below are some of the things I’ve gained insight on in my first three months of travel, and while I still have a lot to learn, I know that I couldn’t have had answers to any of these things without first simply going and testing it out.

Fast vs. slow – I met a traveler whose style was go to as fast as possible, seeing all the main sites and then quickly moving to the next place, with plans to return in the future for longer periods in the places he really liked. While this format works for him, I learned that I would rather spend time in a place, understanding it as much as possible beyond the key sites. Other travelers fall somewhere in the middle. But either way, it’s hard to know without doing it, and this is a big dictator of how to set your itinerary so it’s important to know before setting out.

Tourism vs. immersion – After spending six weeks in a small town in Guatemala that sees few tourists, going to a big city full of “sites to see” was a bit of a culture shock that quickly taught me that I preferred the former. Of course, a big part of travel is seeing the sites – the natural wonders and historical buildings that only exist in that place – and I absolutely want to see them, but I have learned that I also enjoy immersing myself in smaller towns and cultural experiences for longer periods whenever possible. Again, knowing this can dictate where to go and how much time to estimate for each location for future trips.

Work and travel vs. work to travel – This remains one of the biggest questions, but after meeting so many different travelers and expats (including staying a few days in a suburb of Santiago, Chile, in an expat community) I now have perspective on the various options. It always sounds so dreamy to think about teaching English abroad or being a “digital nomad,” but seeing it in action can help you understand if it’s really for you, or if you prefer to have a “home” life and job that allows flexibility for travel. If you’ve quit your job to embrace the vagabonding lifestyle, knowing this before jumping in is essential.

Live abroad vs. travel abroad – Similar to above, traveling for a few months can give you insight as to whether you’d like to live in one place for a long period, or if you prefer to keep moving. Although I enjoy spending time in places, I also always get an itch for change and to see new things after a while – something I wouldn’t have known without traveling for a bit. Similarly, traveling for an extended period can help you know how long you like to be on the road for – some people can go for years, while others prefer a few months at a time.

Taking on a traveling lifestyle a big life decision, and just like we often test other life decisions – we get internships before jobs, rent before buying, date before getting engaged – it makes sense to learn how you like to travel before committing to a format. That doesn’t mean to go into your first trip timidly and strictly, assessing everything, it means quite the opposite – just let go and keep an open mind, and you’ll figure out the rest later.

Travelers, what do you think about staying flexible on the first trip?

Posted by | Comments (1)  | May 23, 2012
Category: Lifestyle Design, Vagabonding Advice

One Response to “A flexible itinerary or “test” trip can benefit first-time vagabonders”

  1. Aaron Says:

    The best advice is to see what the cost of buying a one-way ticket home from your destination vs the cost of changing your itinerary. If you change your return ticket a couple weeks out, you’ll probably end up paying $200 plus extra costs. It might be cheaper to just by a one-way two weeks before you want to fly home. It also helps so you don’t end up 500 miles from where your return ticket is from and have to buy a second plane ticket just to catch your plane home.

    My first big trip started as a 6 week trip, but slowly turned into 2 months, then three months then over a year. In this time, I purchased or changed my ticket home 3 times and was only on the last one.

    I’ve found the fast path is best for cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam where the main goal is just to see places you already know of and where you want to be able to just “check off” the fact you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. But after seeing three or four cities like that, I usually end up in a smaller place where I spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months just living.