Last year, 24-year-old Mckenzie Toyne decided to leave the comforts of home to pursue her dream of long-term travel. Based in Calgary, Alberta, with a steady job in digital marketing, she was eager to switch up her routine. Since then, she and her boyfriend have spent the last five months traveling throughout Central and South America and recently made the jump across the Pacific to Taiwan. Her goal is to experience more of the world’s cultures and natural beauty, while inspiring others to get a little lost.
Here are her lessons from the road — so far.
You aren’t going to be amazed by everything
I used to think traveling was about being constantly impressed by jaw-dropping cityscapes and breathtaking landscapes. But I’ve learned something; Traveling is more about paying attention to the ordinary and enjoying it as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
There have been times I’ve searched for a landmark or city I saw pictures of, and, upon arrival, felt a sense of disappointment. This impacted my ability to fully appreciate it for what it was. Recognize that not all places are going to give you the same feeling as standing at the top of Machu Picchu. But you can find excitement in turning down an interesting street, encountering a kind stranger, or even just drinking a good hot chocolate. Be mindful of your expectations and allow yourself to find joy in small, everyday things — it will enrich your travels in ways you never imagined.
Photos and words will never do justice — and that’s okay
I’m sure most of us have struggled with the feeling of failure when trying to accurately capture an exceptional place or experience through photographs or words. It can be overwhelming, but I realized that no photos or words can convey how special a place is when compared to physically being there. Now, I realize it’s actually a good thing that these mediums can rarely do a place justice, because it gives us a reason to see them with our own eyes.
Plan ahead, but not too far in advance
Whether it’s for the next day or the next month, planning is a major part of traveling long-term. I’ve learned that anxiety creeps up when I don’t have a general idea of where we’re going over the course of the next month, but — on the other hand — my boyfriend is content with only knowing what’s in store for the next few days.
The key to planning is a balance between a little and too much — easier said than done, I know. But, if you have your entire five months booked solid, what happens if you decide you want to stay in Chile for an extra few days to continue indulging in cheese empanadas? If you’ve barely planned anything, what will you do when you learn that the hike you plan to do next week requires booking months in advance? Plan so that you can form some sort of answer when someone asks you “where to next?” but be flexible enough that you can adjust your plans as you go (even if it’s just for some empanadas).
There are times when you’ll feel like everyone is ripping you off, when you can’t find food that you actually want to eat, or when all those new Spanish words you thought you knew have suddenly escaped your mind. It’s in these moments that you have to remember to be patient.
Languages, food, schedules, and attitudes vary greatly across the globe, and learning how to stay calm and collected in difficult situations is all part of the experience of engaging with other cultures. And who knows — you might even end up laughing about that time you got stuck in a less-than-desirable town for four days because of food poisoning.
Spend time doing absolutely nothing
This might seem crazy, but days of Netflix and a blank itinerary are an important part of long-term travel. Consistently venturing from place to place can be exhausting and it’s important to make time for experiences that remind you of a lazy Sunday back home when you barely left your house. Down-time is necessary, even when you’re a world away from home.
Allow yourself to get a little lost
Let’s face it — it’s pretty common for someone to assume that, as a long-term traveler, you’re going out into the world to “find yourself.” I’m not a big fan of cliches, but the reality is that as you’re circumnavigating the globe, or simply taking a short trip to a new country, you’re going to feel lost at times, both physically and mentally. That’s a good thing.
Travel is a gift, so take time to notice your surroundings, stay off your phone as much as possible, be compassionate toward others, and allow yourself to get a little lost.
You can follow along with Mckenzie’s adventures on Instagram.