Life looks a whole lot better once the shadows of jet lag have lifted to reveal the surfers we can see from the living room of our oceanfront San Sebastian apartment. Now that we’re all mostly functional again, the giddiness of long-term travel has set in. We have 81 days ahead of us, and really no place we need to be.
The world is, as they say, our oyster. Which is why, based on a passing recommendation from a Frenchman-turned-Nashvillian (thanks, Florent!), we’re headed next to Arcachon, France, largely because he said the oysters there are known to be among the best in the world.
And that, right there, is the beauty of long-term travel. Because we never know what the next day—or week or month!—will bring, we’re free to follow our whims. If we love a place, we can choose to prolong our stay. If we don’t, we can leave.
This delicious freedom is not a new feeling for Derek and me. We traveled around the world for a year on our honeymoon, and now, on our eighth anniversary (that’s today!), we’re doing it again. We learned a few lessons on that trip—and on the many international trips we’ve taken with the kids since they were born—that we know will be helpful now that we’re back on the globe. While these are particularly relevant for long-term travel, we use them pretty much every time we leave for more than a day.
- If you’re staying for more than two nights, rent a house or apartment: With the advent of Airbnb and Homeaway, a washing machine, a fridge and a dishwasher are never more than a click away. Now that we’re in larger lodgings with more amenities, we don’t need to worry about packing enough clothes to last the whole trip, we can have breakfast and snacks (if not more!) at home and we always have clean sippy cups. And these places generally cost about the same as—or sometimes less than—hotels.
- Don’t worry about hitting everything in the guidebook: We enjoy places we visit far more when we hit one or two (at most!) tourist attractions a day and spend the rest of the time just doing what we love to do—taking long walks, wandering through markets and eating as much good food as possible.
- Travel with the weather: Every place we’re visiting on this trip has predicted weather between 70 and 90 degrees. Not only is this more comfortable (we’re Southerners, after all, and we don’t love the cold), leaving the bulky jackets at home saves valuable suitcase space.
- Focus on the shoulder: We save money and, often, our sanity by trying to visit places in the “shoulder” season—that is, after the expensive, crowded peak season but before the monsoons, terrible winters or biblical droughts begin. Most of the key attractions and restaurants are still open in the shoulder season, but the lines aren’t nearly as long—and the locals are much more cheerful.
- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: Once we’ve selected the general area of the world in which we want to be, we do a bit of research (here, we almost always start with the Lonely Planet and then hone in using any variety of online resources—The New York Times “36 Hours” series is a favorite) and then pull the trigger. Trying to reach the end of the Internet in pursuit of the ideal city or place to stay has proved less fruitful than making an informed choice and then moving on.
- Remember that travel disasters usually make the best stories: We’ve laughed for years about the time in Borneo when Derek got leeches in his belly button. My dental disaster in Nepal makes for great fodder when I’m in the (clean, relatively pain-free!) safety of the dentist’s chair in Nashville. And being locked out of our apartment late on a rainy San Sebastian evening earlier this week is about to make it onto our roster of good dinner-party stories.