Travel burnout is something that usually hits after you’ve been on the road for a while, though that ‘while’ is very elastic. Some people suffer from burnout within weeks of leaving home, and for others, it may take years.
However long it takes, chances are it will strike you at some point, especially if you’re traveling solo for any length of time.
The excitement of being on the road begins to dim, along with your curiosity and enchantment.
Don’t fret – this happens to nearly all of us!
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE REALLY TIRED OF TRAVELING?
It’s different for everyone but here are a few of the more common symptoms:
- You miss your friends and family more than usual and you live for Skype or FaceTime.
- The food begins tasting strange rather than new and exciting.
- The idea of packing and checking out of your room is making you break out into a sweat. You’re immobilized. Or exhausted.
- Every market looks like the last market and if you see one more temple, you’ll scream.
- Your expectations – probably set too high – haven’t been met and you’re disappointed. It’s not the adventure you had imagined.
- You’ve waited all your life to visit Spain/Mexico/China but now that you’re here, all you want to do is find a bar or cafe and sit. By yourself. You are utter disinterested in your surroundings.
- Too many things are new and you’re suffering from sensory overload. Too much stimulus can lead to withdrawal and you’ll start looking around you through a negative prism.
- You’re moving around too much and it’s all starting to feel a bit automatic or contrived, like traveling with a checklist.
I’ve had travel burnout, or the travel blues, a number of times during my travels.
I once woke up in tears in a rural Kenyan hotel room – I still remember the peeling turquoise paint and the geckoes scurrying along with the ceiling – wondering where I was, and why. I felt sad, alone, adrift from everything I knew. I had been backpacking across Africa for about six months then and felt like giving up and going home.
I persevered. I decided then and there that I would fight this. I hadn’t left home to founder in a sea of self-pity. I was in Africa, for heaven’s sake!
I did what I usually do in these cases: I made a list, a list of all the ways I could pull myself out of the blues when they hit. Some of these worked for me in that dilapidated hotel room, others worked in magical cities or heartstopping landscapes when, almost inexplicably, the pain of loneliness or homesickness hit.
Something must have worked because rather than going home, I stayed on the road.
Nearly three more years.
18 FABULOUS STRATEGIES FOR CHASING AWAY THOSE TRAVEL BURNOUT BLUES
1. Slow down, take your time
Too often, travel becomes a question of miles traveled and sights ticked off a list. A good antidote is to slow down. If you’ve been hopping on a bus every second day, try it every third or fourth. Or travel one week, sit out the next. Throw out the itinerary.
2. Conversely, speed up and get moving
If on the other hand you’ve been dawdling in town for weeks and are climbing walls, get into gear. Grab a seat on a bus or train and leave town sooner than you’d planned. It’s time to up that travel pace.
3. Really stay put and get to know the neighborhood
Putting down roots is a great way of beating travel burnout. After more than a year in Africa, I was ready to settle down for a bit. I decided to call Bangkok home for two years and used it as a base for extensive travels in Southeast Asia. I became part of the city’s life, learned some Thai, found work, and settled down until the urge to travel struck again – of course, it did.
4. Set up a routine and create a few habits
Sometimes it’s the little differences that count. Something as simple as carrying a few familiar objects when you travel – mine were a small statuette, a photo triptych, and a tiny doll – and setting them up, in the same way, each day. Other routines can include the sequence in which your day unfolds (get up, write, eat breakfast, work out, or any routine that works for you). Having a routine is a way of building something familiar into an otherwise novelty-filled life and if your burnout level is low, this may be enough.
5. Go to the beach and swing in a hammock
And if it’s not the beach, head for some other relaxing place, somewhere you can swing in a hammock, read a book, and just chill. Find a way to relax, and do nothing. It’s a form of meditation, of clearing your mind to allow toxic thoughts to leave and new ones to come in. It’s basically a vacation from your vacation!
6. Change directions, go somewhere different
That’s right – if you’ve been heading East, head North. Get somewhere different. Change the scenery. Ditch the plan. Go for the unexpected.
7. Take a hike
Literally. Go to the mountains, the river, the lake… find a haven of natural beauty and take a long walk. Enjoy your surroundings and get out of yourself. Get in touch with the natural world and things will begin to seem more bearable.
8. See people, make some friends
Sometimes managing travel loneliness is part of our travel burnout. We’re not burned out at all – we’re just lonely. At least this is something you can change. Is there a friend or loved one back home who might want to join you for a week along the way? Some of us aren’t made to be on our own, all of the time.
9. Banish the guilt
Missed some key sights? Feel you’re not traveling ‘as you should’? Forget it. You’re not doing anything wrong. I missed seeing Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Iguacu in Brazil. But I did make it to a whole bunch of places that weren’t in my guidebook at all.
10. Reevaluate your trip and find your original vision
How did you envision your journey when you first began dreaming about it? Try to go back to that original vision if you’ve strayed. Following the guidebook instead of your heart may be what’s bothering you and making you feel at cross-purposes with your heart and soul.
11. Pull out your journal
You can write down what you feel – getting it on the page of your travel journal takes it out of your mind. Acknowledging your travel burnout is a huge step towards getting rid of it. Write about or read back to how you felt when you started your trip, and why you’re even traveling in the first place. It may help put things into perspective.
12. Help someone else
Have you ever noticed how thinking of others helps us out of our own pain or self-indulgence? You won’t have time to think about your own problems when you’re busy helping someone else. There are plenty of opportunities for volunteer work overseas – or you can just walk into a local charity or school and ask if they need your help. In my experience, they nearly always do. Or simply look around you. Perhaps another traveler is sad and lonely and a few words from you could make all the difference.
13. Stop and learn something
Learning can help give your trip some purpose if you feel that’s lacking. You can sign up for a language course, or pull out that speed-reading book you’ve been meaning to get through. Travel is often sensual and emotional. Switch to an intellectual plane to shift gears.
14. Travel differently
Fly instead of taking the bus. It’s amazing what skipping a 24-hour trip with chickens on your lap can do for morale. Or take the train, especially if you’re in Europe. Cycle. Rent a car. Whatever it is, do it differently!
15. Not quite a Michelin star but – splurge
If you can afford it, this is one of the most effective burnout banishing strategies. Take yourself out to a nice restaurant. Concerned about eating out alone? These solo dining tips will turn that challenge into fun. When I was backpacking across Africa and staying in mud huts (or worse), I would spend one Saturday night in a luxury hotel every single month. Sometimes I’d wipe out my week’s budget in a single night. No matter. That pressurized hot shower and the Sunday breakfast buffet chased away every shred of misery I might have been carrying around. And you’ll be obsessed with dreams of pancakes and scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and maple syrup for days beforehand, especially if you’re traveling in rural places or where these aren’t readily available.
16. Pamper yourself
Get your hair done. Different countries have different approaches to hair washing – in Burma I had a one-hour head massage as part of the service. Believe me, I saw the world differently when I left. If you have access to a bathtub, have a bubble bath. You don’t? This may be a good time to try Couchsurfing if you never have – just make sure they have a tub!
17. Stay in the day
Your feelings may come from something other than travel. Maybe you’re worried about finding work when you get home, or how you’ll be welcomed by whomever you left behind. Try not to over-think. Stay in the moment and try to savor the details of your surroundings. The grain of that granite sculpture. The curve of that cherub’s wing. The texture of the tajine on your plate. Focus on where you’re at, not on where you want to be.
18. Throw in the towel and go home
This is the last resort and I wouldn’t recommend it because 9 times out of 10, you’ll be plagued by regret and wish you hadn’t cut your trip short. But sometimes, there’s no other way. If you’re truly unhappy and the thought of one more day of travel makes you tremble, this may be your only alternative. That said, the world isn’t going anywhere and will still be out there. Once you’ve figured out what ails you, or taken a rest back home, you can travel again and pick up where you left off.
And yes, tomorrow is always another day.
— Originally published on 31 July 2011