Travel exhaustion is a genuine thing, and if anyone tells you it isn’t, they are either lying or haven’t traveled enough. While the whole concept of travel burnout can be greeted with eye-rolls from those who consider it a very “lucky” problem, the fact of the matter is that it can be a significant obstacle for life on the road. Throughout the eight years I have been traveling, I have experienced it many times. While my desire to explore never really decreases, I do often find myself exhausted. My body aches from continuously moving my belongings around, my head feels foggy from an unpredictable sleep schedule, and I am less enthusiastic about explaining my life to new people daily. Over the past year and a half, as I have begun to work while full-time traveling, a new element has been added to the mix. In other words, despite what people may think, I am not on a permanent vacation. And, as a result, I go through up and down phases and mood swings just like anyone. If you find yourself feeling frequently exhausted, getting sick, or merely losing interest in your destination – you probably have a case of travel exhaustion.
Every traveler is different which means that the how, when, and why of travel burnout will be varying for each person. I thrive during long-term travel and need minimal familiarity to be comfortable. My problem is that I am an all-or-nothing person who tends to burn the candle at both ends and is overly eager to experience everything that the world has to offer — a combination that ensures I regularly tire myself out. I love traveling, especially many of the challenging aspects; but, usually every two months, I develop a case of travel exhaustion. This isn’t to say that it can only materialize during long-term travel. Some people may hit the wall on their 14th day, or the 1st if they encounter a particularly bad experience. And while it is no indication of how “good” or “experienced” of a traveler you are, over time I have found ways to decrease the frequency of it occurring and methods for coping when it inevitably does strike. Here is how I deal with travel exhaustion and some tips to help you out should you experience it.
Understand That It Is Part Of The Journey
For many first-time travelers, the feelings of burnout that creep up can come as quite a shock. After all, you have been dreaming of travel for what feels like an eternity, yet here you are not quite as enthusiastic as when you set off. This, in turn, brings feelings of guilt. How can you not be approaching each day with a zealous exuberance? Why are you no longer blown away by everything you see? What is making you feel a little less happy? Is there something wrong with you? Trust me, I understand. For a very long time when these feelings of tiredness would arise, I would berate myself for not being grateful for the experiences, for wasting my time in places I had dreamed about seeing, for being a lousy traveler. However, when travel is a lifestyle, you have to accept that it doesn’t make it any different from “regular life.” Do you get tired at home? Yes. Do you have days when you are feeling a little under the weather? Of course. Are there times when you don’t want to hang out with people and spend a quiet evening at home? Absolutely. So why would you think it was any different while on the road?
It is impossible to maintain a schedule crammed with sightseeing, movement, new people, and unfamiliar experiences for months and months on end. It took a very, very long time, but I have finally accepted that I can’t see, do, eat, experience everything in a city, a region, or a country. In the past, when I believed I could, I would not only get worn out promptly, but I also would have a constant feeling of disappointment. Now I choose a few things that make a place particularly unique, and that also interests me and I focus on seeing or experiencing them. I don’t need to see every church in Europe, and (more importantly) I don’t want to see every church in Europe.
Once I have recognized that travel exhaustion has placed itself upon me, I go into the “recalibration phase.” Again, how you need to recalibrate will vary from person to person, but here is what I do. First, I stop moving. Ideally, I will either settle in a smaller place for a week where there isn’t too much to do, or I will return to a locale I have previously visited and feel comfortable just hanging out in — free from the inner pressure to see a lot of things. I refrain from making too many plans for what to do each day and instead choose a new neighborhood to explore with no unrealistic expectations. I find that staying in an Airbnb during this time works better than staying in a hostel or Couchsurfing because it means I have more personal space, long stretches of quiet time, no need to inform people of my whereabouts or plans, and less of an opportunity to socialize. Usually, after a couple of days of this, I am more than eager to be meeting new people again.
During these days I pay more attention to the smaller habits that make me happy. I won’t skip my morning workout, will spend my evenings reading and writing and I spend time catching up with my old friends rather than meeting new people. I do my laundry, buy food from a supermarket, and perform “normal” errands as simple things fall by the wayside when you’re traveling. All of this works to slow down the pace and bring a feeling of “normality” and control to my life. For you, indulging in some home comforts might mean staying in a place for a month and unpacking your bags, your soul may be craving an entire weekend binge-watching Netflix, or cooking your favorite home recipe. I have heard many travelers say that going to the cinema is their chosen home comfort. Whatever it is, slowing down and focusing on something other than travel will help you refresh yourself.
Consider What Factors Brought It On
During this period, I have a look at what I think the roots of my exhaustion may be with the hopes that I can address the issues and do it slightly differently in the future. It might be due to partying for a week straight, or because of a series of long overnight bus rides, too many walking tours, or the like. Perhaps I have been in a massive metropolis and pushed myself too hard with sightseeing. Possibly my suitcase is too heavy, or I am feeling out of control because my laundry hasn’t been done for weeks. Or, maybe I have been working a lot. Once I have recognized the factors, I find it easier to know what my mind, body, and soul need moving forward. Whatever the cause(s) of your exhaustion is/are, learn from the experience and strive to decrease the chances of it repeatedly happening when traveling in the future.
Remember Why You Are Traveling
While it is a real thing, travel exhaustion is still a luxurious problem to have and so spending some time reflecting on the amazing things you have done on your trip is a surefire way of increasing your appreciation. There are so many reasons why I travel. Some of them are grandiose (like the priceless sensation of freedom), but many of them come packaged in brief moments. The sun shining on my face while walking down a beautiful street, a thought-provoking conversation with a stranger, witnessing people all around the world laughing. The ironic thing is that I am better equipped to observe and appreciate these moments when I slow down. Generally, during the recalibration phase, I very quickly remember why I travel which is an essential step for regaining the energy required to keep going. With everything in life, not just travel, if you don’t know the purpose of what you do, you are swiftly going to become fatigued. Centering myself, embracing small moments, and recalling why I choose to exist this way massively assists me in recovering.
Slowly, Edge Back Into Travel
After a couple of days, I usually am ready to get back into “traveling”. But, I know not to overdo it right away. Instead, I will spend 1-2 days slowly edging my way back. For example, in Cologne, after a few days of just bopping around, I decided to do a walking tour. It was the only thing I planned to do that day, and so it didn’t feel overwhelming. I ended up loving the activity and learned so much that I was elated that I had decided to do it — my travel exhaustion was over!
Find Your Routine
I know that every two months I get run down because I push myself too much. I also know that making a few simple tweaks to my routine gets me back on track. So now I try to maintain some aspects of the recalibration phase throughout my travels, to diminish the intensity of the burnout. My routine has yet to become flawless in execution, but it is getting better, and this works wonders for decreasing the likelihood of me becoming exhausted. In general, I now travel slower than I ever have before. When in a city, I try to stay for at least a week, as this gives me enough time to see the main sights, have time to Be, and also complete my work without having to sacrifice time to work-out and read (the two daily things I do just for me). One of the things I have started doing is mapping out my weeks and designating travel and work days. Accepting those particular days are working days means my brain doesn’t expect to be doing travel things and I don’t beat myself up for just sitting in a coffee shop and typing away. It allows me to get into a deep flow of writing and decreases the amount of time I waste stopping, starting, looking for wifi. I also won’t move to a new locale on these days. Being strict with myself regarding this schedule has significantly helped keep everything going smoothly.
Just because you have started feeling this way does not mean that you are never going to enjoy travel again or that you aren’t supposed to be a wanderer. I have never needed to end a trip or to return home. And while being irritated, exhausted, or anxious is never a fun time, usually, after a few days, I have bounced right back. In addition to accepting that travel exhaustion is inevitable, it is also necessary to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to travel. Your travels can look any way you need or want them to. If you expect that travel should look a particular way, it is only going to lead to or intensify your burnout. So, let go of the idea of perfect travel, slow down, create a little routine, speak with your loved ones, fill your days with other things that make you feel good, and you will be right back to your nomadic self before you know it.
Have you encountered travel exhaustion? How do you deal with it?
Let me know in the comments below!
Vintage pantsuit (from this haul) / Theory cream knit / Vintage bag /
Cap from Nordstrom Rack / Puma sneakers
Originally published on May 14th, 2018