How To Survive Your First Week on the Road

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Today is my eleventh day into a seven-month journey through Asia.  It’s also my first long-term backpacking adventure.  Despite the fact that I’ve traveled quite a bit, including solo trips and a semester in Florence, long-term travel is a whole new beast.

It’s overwhelming, and it’s wild, and nothing can prepare you for it until you actually get out there.

Here is some advice for surviving your first week of long-term travel:

Find a Community

On my first night, I met Backpacking Matt and Pam from Spunky Girl Monologues.  From then on, I had an awesome time with them.  Having friends from the beginning made it so easy and SO much fun.  Now that I’m in Chiang Mai, I’ve met a great group of travelers and expats who have made the city their home.

Loneliness will always happen when you’re on the road alone, but finding friends makes it easier.  And you don’t have to be a travel blogger to meet people.  When I travel solo, I like to check into a social hostel with a great bar.  You’ll meet so many people!

If not, check out the local Couchsurfing community.  I did that on my solo trip to Buenos Aires, and it was the highlight of my time there.  Couchsurfers are always welcoming to travelers, and you don’t have to stay over with them to hang out with them!

Also: get a phoneYou need one.

Survive Insomnia

Before this trip, I had never crossed more than six time zones at a time.  This time, I crossed thirteen.  As a result, I had to deal with insomnia that was nothing short of crippling.

I’d be falling asleep while out with my friends, then I’d go home and be unable to sleep a wink all night.  In the afternoon, I might get a three-hour nap in, then I’d be up all night long again.  Sleeping pills did nothing.  And because I get sick when I’m sleep-deprived, I developed a nasty cold.

I never knew that jet lag could be this bad.  My advice?  Get your body on the local time before you arrive in your destination, or get as close as you can.  Bring melatonin – I couldn’t find it in Bangkok.  Or prescription-strength sleeping pills. (But not Ambien.  Blacking out and solo travel don’t mix!)

For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend planning a trip to the other side of the world lasting less than ten days.

Watch Your Funds

Arriving in a new destination, you don’t know how to get around and how much things should cost.  Inevitably, you’ll be overpaying for a lot of things.

In Bangkok, transportation was a shockingly large expense of mine, mostly because I was staying in Banglamphu, far from the BTS, and traveling all over the city.  And I couldn’t get enough of tuk tuks.  (Yeah, I’m over them now.)

Before you arrive, read up on local scamsAsk your guesthouse staff how much things should cost.  If transportation costs are bargained, pick up a cab far from tourist destinations.

But don’t freak out about going overboard on spending at first.  As time goes on, you’ll be better at budgeting and have more realistic expectations about yourself – like that you’d skip a meal in the name of having a cocktail.  (Not that that sounds like anyone I know.)

If you’re a week in and still massively overspending, it’s time to reevaluate your budget.

Keep Your Emotions In Check

After the first few days of studying abroad in Florence, I emailed my family, lamenting at how I felt like an outsider in my apartment and how I wish I had made closer friends.  My dad was succinct in his reply: “Kate, you’ve been there two days.”

But it’s true.  I would go to summer camp for a week each August, and that week always felt like a month.  Whenever you change your routine, time seems to stretch into eons at first.

That goes for emotions, too.  The highs are so high, and the lows are bitter and awful.  I’m a wallower by nature – when I’m sad, I like to fully ride it out before trying to cheer myself up.  That means lots of journaling and listening to Badly Drawn Boy and crying behind my sunglasses in public.

While it may be difficult to recover from a particular bout of sadness, for whatever reason, remind yourself that you’re living your dream.  You’re traveling!  This is what you’ve wanted for so long!  And though it seems like you’re at the bottom of a pit, IT WILL GET BETTER!  Amazing, even!

Then go out and do something that makes you smile.Tips for surviving your first week on the road from long-term solo traveler Adventurous Kate

Seasoned long-term travelers, how do you survive on the road?

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36 thoughts on “How To Survive Your First Week on the Road”

  1. We really struggled with the time zone change as well in China, like you say we would be out finding it hard to stay a wake but then sit in the room all night wide awake, it took us about two weeks to adjust.

    Great post and sounds like you’ve had a great start to your trip!

    1. Thanks, Poi! Two weeks, huh? I guess I’ve got some time to go. I slept four hours last night, three the night before…the one night that I actually woke up wanting to still sleep was after an emotionally and physically exhausting day. So there’s hope!

  2. great stuff Kate – it is those first few weeks which are the hardest – after that you get into the rhythm of things, and uncertainty becomes the new certain – looks like your having a great time!

  3. Earl Squirrelson

    Hi Kate, glad the trip is going well. Have you tried the duck tounge yet? or the chicken feet?

    I tend to find if I have quite a few things that I wanna do then it forces me to get out and do it when I arrive after a long flight, which helps me sleep better. It also lessens the lonelyness. I am also naturally a chatty person so I talk to everyone, hehe

    Keep up with the posts, I am enjoying living vicariously through your tavels while I wait to go on my trip.

  4. I’ve always thought that traveling or living abroad magnifies your good and bad days by about a million times. You have a good day at home and it was just a good day. You have a bad day and you don’t give up hope — you just figure it will get better tomorrow. But, while in a foreign country, it seems like your good days are AWESOME and your bad days are the-worst-days-of-your-life-why-am-I-doing-this-to-myself-???. You get used to the emotional highs and lows, though… plus, I’ve found, margaritas help a lot for the bad days.

  5. I think the first week or so is always the hardest. It took at least a week or more for me to get adjusted in New Zealand — that was also crossing a ton of time zones! I wanted to go to bed at like 6 p.m. the first few nights.

    My second day in NZ, I had doubts. I’d gotten placed in a disgusting apartment with 4 questionable kiwi boys, and I was already missing home. But I decided, instead of whining, that I would ask for a room change, and stay out of the apartment as much as possible until that happened. It all worked out in the end.

    I also made 2 great friends essentially right off the bat, which helped with everything else. Connecting with people abroad I think is the best possible scenario. Without Jamie and Andrea, I probably would have wallowed a whole lot more, even though I loved living in Wellington. Sometimes, no matter how much you love a place, you can still feel lonely all by yourself.

    1. Agreed. And you can be lonely even when you’re with other people because you don’t feel like you’re connecting in the right way. It’s something to take in stride — it does get better!

  6. Kate,

    I wish I’d had your blog post before I did my study abroad in Brazil a few years back. The thing on transport is so spot on. I was in Sao Paulo which is massive and I was taking cabs all over the place and before I knew It I’d spend a small fortune. It’s really easy to get caught up in the “wow everything is so cheap here” mindset just because you’re working with dollars. But you quickly learn when you are on a 6 month trip that things add up and it’s not a 2 week vacation so you need to be budget conscious.

    1. Absolutely, Srinivas. And I spent SO much in Bangkok. Obscene amounts, and for very different things. But now I’ve calmed down. It’s nice that Chiang Mai is so cheap — I spent less than $13 yesterday!!

  7. Great post, Kate 🙂 I’ve always been scared of solo travel, but I never realized how large the travel community really is, and how welcoming. You can find fellow travel bloggers and tweeters everywhere! I love that you caught up with Backpacking Matt and Pam… I read their blogs, as well, so it’s fun to see you guys meet up.

  8. Scott Intagliata

    These posts are a pleasure to read, thanks.

    I have traveled extensively, and mostly on my own, for most of the last 20 years, spending significant amounts of time away from home, friends and family. I always enjoy my travel if I keep people i care about informed of my progress with (in the old days) post cards, FB posts, e-mail, etc. it makes them enjoy your trip and always makes one feel less alone. Safe travels and continue to have fun, you are living your dream, so enjoy it.

  9. Kate,
    What a great post, and very honest… I think most of us go through these peaks and valleys as Sally described, and the best buffer is (to me) both 1) learning to be comfortable with solitude, and 2) having real friendships (the community you mentioned). I think you’re doing this at the right time, and right place for you now.. =)
    Cheers, and have a wonderful journey!

    1. Thanks so much, Jack!

      I’m so happy to be spending time with you guys in Chiang Mai…such a wonderful group! It’s shocking how different the lifestyle is here — even the fact that people LINGER after lunch is a totally foreign concept to me! It’s nice to slow down.

  10. This is such sound advice!

    Shaun was absolutely destroyed when we went 14 hours ahead in Japan from Austin, Texas. Luckily for me it only take a few days to adjust.

    I can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

  11. Great advice Kate! I really miss those days of being a first-time long-term traveler. So many new things to learn and discover.
    Jet lag is a killer. Being Australian, you can’t fly to many places around the world without experiencing it. It can take a week or more to get over it. The worst thing you can ever do is arrive in your new country during the day and then go to bed. You have to tough it out and wait to the evening. There is nothing worse then the eyes shooting wide open at 3am and you are ready to play.
    Glad you are having fun. It’s exciting following you

  12. Coming back from Bali to the US was the worst jet lag of my life – I had insomnia for more than a week and was sleeping in the middle of the day, it was ridiculous!

    Great tips Kate and glad that you’re adjusting back into traveling mode 🙂

  13. Excellent post, Kate – full of practical and realistic advice. I’m really glad we met and shared our initial experiences in Bangkok together – I think we both helped each other in adapting to solo travel in ways we never would have expected.

    Good luck in CM and maybe we’ll see you down south! Safe travels!

  14. Coming from NZ jet lag is a fact of life – I try to arrive late in the day – and yes it can take me a week to adjust – but on the other hand I actually get to see the sunrise – never happens any other time!

    Don’t fall into the trap of always being with other tourists and expats – get out by yourself and meet the locals – its one of the joys of solo travel

  15. Insightful post Kate! It’s interesting to follow travelers at different stages. I haven’t traveled solo for long periods so I can’t fully relate, but i look forward to following your journey… 😉

  16. Really good tips! I think it’s important too to do things that make you comfortable and remind you of home like maybe going to the movies or having a drink at Starbucks. HAVE THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. I do 2 or 3 week trips and I still have the same issues you’re describing during the first few days. In your case, it probably doesn’t help that SE Asia is waaaaaaaaay different from home. 😉 And not to fast forward your trip but I’d love to see how you address jetlag when you’re back home seven months from now. I just got back from Vietnam 2 days ago and am BIG TIME struggling! In any case, have fun & enjoy Thailand!

  18. Kate, I love your post haha. I totally identify with all of these tips, and I wish someone had told a lot of them to be before my first trip.

    On top of that, I just started studying abroad a few months ago, and the unrealistic desire for closer friends on, like, the second day totally hit home. Lol.

    Can’t wait to read more of your posts! 🙂

  19. Wow! I knew there would be a jetlag, but I didn’t think it could las 10 days! Leaving for Thailand next may, it makes me worried, ’cause after all, I will only be there one month (unfortunately) ! Hope it will be bearable so I can enjoy the month I’m spending there! Thanks for the infos!

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