The first time I heard the term “mental budgeting” was from Dakar riders. Several racers told me they knew a rally was a mental game as much as it was a physical competition, and that they would mentally budget for low days to avoid getting sucked into a black hole of despair when things go wrong. Only after competing in a multi-day rally myself, I finally understood what they meant: rally racing is a mental rollercoaster.
But so is adventure travel. While everybody reacts differently to challenges on the road, we all face them, and sometimes, it can get overwhelming. So here’s how to prepare for a trip mentally to avoid the most common pitfalls.
Some bloggers and social media stars may have you believe that adventure riding is always sunshine and rainbows, and that it’s all about doing cool power slides against stunning backdrops of snow-capped mountain ranges or deserts. Sometimes, that’s true. But sometimes it rains, you get a flat tire, encounter grumpy border officials, gas station hot dogs are disgusting, and there’s no central heating so you have to dry your gear by sleeping in it.
Long-term adventure travel is a lot like life – with plenty of ups and downs with lots and lots of mundane, everyday stuff like wet socks and unpaid taxes in between. And that’s OK. Learning to manage expectations and not demanding every day on the road to be perfect can do wonders for morale.
Be Honest with Yourself
It took me a while to admit it, but here goes: I don’t like riding long distances (my ideal day is no more than 200 miles), I don’t like staying in hostels, and I don’t care for photos of “trophy” destinations. I refuse to do long hauls, sleep in dorms, and don’t have photos of the Fin del Mundo sign or the Tropic of Cancer – and that’s fine by me. We all like different things, and that’s totally cool – being honest about what brings you joy and what doesn’t can make your journey much, much easier. If everyone just has to ride to Ushuaia whereas you’re content to explore Torres del Paine and head back, do that. It’s your trip and you don’t need to prove anything to anybody.
Embrace the Zen
It’s easy to get stressed out on the road. Where are you going to sleep tonight, is the border crossing going to be sketchy, what if you get a flat in the middle of nowhere? Unexpected, annoying, bad, weird, ridiculous, and silly stuff will happen on your journey, that’s fact. How you react to it will determine the outcome. Getting angry or frustrated, especially at locals, especially at the local police or border officials, is fruitless and may even harm your chances of getting through smoothly. Embrace your inner zen, realize that you’re a guest in a foreign country, and go with the flow.
Adapt to Change
Halfway through your journey, you might realize you won’t make it to your destination and back in time – or that you don’t really care for that destination any longer. That’s totally OK. Rest, regroup, and change course: there’s nothing wrong with changing your plans mid-way. Sure, you may need to skip some of the “must-see” places, but again, this is your trip, and you decide what you truly must see and what’s irrelevant. Take all the “must-see” spots as mere suggestions or guidelines, and mix and match your route in any way you like. Weather changes, bike troubles, changes in your mindset or mood – all are valid reasons to change your plans and improvise on the go. Being flexible is always a better policy that trying to fulfill your original plan no matter what.
People in different countries will have different cultures, worldviews, traditions, and ways of life. As a foreigner, it’s not your place to judge or criticize – the Western way of doing things is just that, one way of doing things. There are plenty of others, and as travelers, we need to accept and respect that. Be curious, be observant, but never show frustration with a different culture, even if you don’t understand it.
Long-term adventure travel is stressful in and of itself. Living off your bike, constantly moving, adapting to new cultures every week or month, not having a stable daily routine – all of this can take a toll on you. Make sure you’re eating and sleeping as well as you can, have rest days, talk to your loved ones at home. Adventure travel is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to preserve your energy, mental focus, and curiosity for months to come.
What are your tips on how to prepare for a trip mentally? let me know in the comments below.