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Everything Your New Year’s Resolutions Will Do to Your Brain and Body: Traveling More

Most everybody thinks they want to travel more, but what sort of toll does that take in the long run?

Few things in life are as alluring as travel. For one thing, you’re actually leaving the ennui — not to mention all the responsibilities — of your current life behind! And of course, Instagram is full of wish-your-sucker-ass-was-here photos; culturally, too, more than a few writers have achieved immortality simply by portraying their itinerant lifestyle as an enlightening and hedonistic journey/big middle finger to conformist society. That sounds nice, you know?

Still, very few of us can get away for extended periods of time. Last year, we asked several people who’ve done it successfully how to do it — this year, we’re investigating what happens when you actually do drop everything and go for it. We turned, naturally, to a couple of experts: Rickey Gates, an athlete who ran across America last year and just finished his latest project, running literally every street in the city of San Francisco; and Steve Adcock, a blogger and YouTuber who retired from his day job, traded his house for an Airstream trailer and travels full-time with his wife around the U.S.

Happy trails, y’all…

What It Does to You After a Week

Not gonna lie: Traveling requires a huge immediate adjustment, whether you’re flying to the other side of the world, cruising the highways or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Gates says that physically and mentally, it’s hard to prepare yourself for such a dramatic change. “You’re turning your world completely upside-down,” he explains. “That’s a huge adjustment — you’re not going with any of your normal comforts, you’re getting rid of them. But that’s kind of the whole point of travel, isn’t it? To step outside your comfort zone.”

Obviously after just one week you don’t have a routine yet — that’s what you spend a lot of the first week or two figuring out, in fact. Depending on how ambitious your trip is, you’ll be hit by bouts of self-doubt in the first few days as your world is flipped and you have no real schedule.

But it’s also fun! You’ll experience the adrenaline spike from the feeling of GTFO-ing from your old life. Adcock calls the first week the honeymoon period for this reason — by the same token, it’s still too early to tell if this new lifestyle is right for you. Oh, and if you’re traveling with someone else, be prepared to get used to them. “You will be around your significant other a lot more!” Adcock says. “It hasn’t been a problem for us, but some couples might feel the tension more living in such close proximity.”

What It Does to You After a Month

Now you’re starting to figure things out. You’ve molted away your old lifestyle and are right in the thick of things. “I feel like being in it for a few weeks and going into a month is when you really start to get your groove,” Gates says. At this point, you begin to figure out your schedule, what you’re capable of on a daily basis, and that your body can adjust to a lot of different things. If you’re on a physically demanding trip, the daily mileage of it is no longer scary — it’s exciting. “You realize that with a lot of these big journeys that people do, so much of it is about waking up on time and going all day long and being efficient with your time,” says Gates

Adcock warns that this is still kinda the honeymoon period, however. Even though by now you’ve probably experienced the good and the bad, “You don’t yet have a lot of experience under your belt to give it context in the larger scheme of life,” he says.

What It Does to You After Six Months

By now, if you’re still at this, you’re in the flow, and are like a finely tuned machine, evolved for travel. You’ve tweaked what didn’t work, you’ve got a mental checklist of everything you have on you that you can probably rattle off in your sleep, your sleeping has adjusted and you’ve got your eating habits dialed. Gates believes that if you’re not tired of it by five months, at six months is when this travel thing becomes a lifestyle. “I feel like that four- to five-month range is when you’ve really left one life behind and you’re starting another life,” he says.

“At the end of my TransAmericana run [which lasted five months], I was looking forward to sleeping in a bed, washing my own dishes and not moving for a little bit,” says Gates. “But I definitely became a different person and was headed down that road. It’s kind of a choice at that point: Do you want to be that type of person? Do you want to return to the person you were? Do you want to explore other opportunities? It’s really great in that it helps shake that up a little bit.”

Physically, if you’re on a road trip or doing more conventional travel, it’s pretty easy to stay in shape unless you’re a gym guy, as Adcock is. “There are lots of cardio-type exercise activities available as travelers — hiking, walking around different cities,” he says. “Getting in 10,000 steps a day is relatively easy. I’m more of a gym-type person, though. We’ve since joined nationwide Planet Fitness, which has definitely helped.”  

By now too, you’ve probably gotta find a way to make this work — you either need a job, like being a traveling nurse, or one that’s 100 percent remote. Fortunately, lots of technology work allows this, and of course, there’s always the burgeoning #vanlife career path, involving daily rituals of blogging, vlogging and ’Gramming.

What It Does to You After a Year

This lifestyle is freeing like no other, but it does have its drawbacks. When you’re constantly on the move, it’s hard to be part of a community. “We meet a lot of different people, and we definitely consider them all to be friends of ours,” Adcock says. “But it’s not the same thing as building a relationship over time. We come and go. They do as well.”

Even navigating the aisles of yet another unfamiliar supermarket gets old. “You’re relearning things every single time you move,” he says (of course, that’s also part of the adventure). And shit breaks: Take it from Adcock that changing a flat tire in the middle of the Utah desert isn’t something he’d like to do again.

But oh, the places you’ll go. And the things you’ll do — which, Adcock says, eventually come to be things you never thought you’d do, like seeing his wife crawl into a cave. When you’re constantly out of your comfort zone, the more well-rounded and open minded you become.

Lastly, you’ll certainly become more broad-minded about your fellow humans as well. “Living in cities, we naturally become so accustomed to our way of life that we don’t recognize that people live very different lives, even here in our own country,” Adcock says. “We’ve seen areas that are like third-world countries right here in the U.S. Some people live out in the middle-of-nowhere and grow their own food. Others couldn’t go 30 minutes without city services. We definitely feel more open-minded about how people live their lives.”

So does travel make you a different person? Gates thinks so. He notices it in how he treats different kinds of people: “Having lived in a couple cities over the past eight years, there’s definitely a tendency to put up blinders as far as homelessness is concerned,” he says. “But when you’re living out of a backpack, you are truly homeless. So you start to pay attention to how people react toward you. When going back to my normal life, I try to take some empathy with me toward homeless people, or people that are different.”

There’s also the realization that, honestly, you don’t need a lot of the shit you thought you did. “Sure, we no longer have the big master bedroom, walk-in closets or huge dining rooms,” Adcock says. “But you know what? We don’t need that stuff. And more importantly, we don’t want to be paying for those things any longer. For us, the value we get isn’t worth the price paid.”