Life on the Road – How to Avoid Travel Burnout
Contrary to what many people (i.e. people who have never extensively traveled) will tell you, travel burnout is a very real thing that every long-term world traveler needs to watch out for.
I have met several people who I would describe as being ‘burnt out’ during my travels. Many of them had almost completely lost their enthusiasm for traveling and simple wandered from one city to the next, visiting each of the ‘sights’ – not because they wanted to experience the wonder of them, but because they wanted to tick them off their mental checklist (as if doing so would somehow leave them feeling happy and fulfilled).
Everywhere they went, they were always dreaming of being in the next place. When they were in Bangkok they were dreaming of being in Hanoi, and when they were in Hanoi they were dreaming of being in Saigon (and so on).
So how does travel burnout occur?
Spending a sweaty 15 hour bus journey wedged between two large boxes of rice or lugging a heavy backpack up and down a hill looking for a place to stay can be draining, and doing it too much can dwindle your enthusiasm for traveling and leave you feeling burnt out.
In addition to this, doing the same thing every day (i.e. sightseeing and constantly traveling from one place to the next) will eventually lead to burnout, and you’ll eventually wonder what is so wrong with you that they very thing you’ve been looking forward to for so long (i.e. traveling) has become tiresome and a chore.
“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” – Epictetus
Of course, there is nothing wrong with you at all, and travel burnout can happen to everyone. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help you re-energize yourself and recover from burnout and to prevent travel burnout from ever happening in the first place.
1. Be Creative
The best way to avoid travel burnout and to keep things interesting is to be creative in the way you travel.
When traveling, it’s easy to fall into a routine that sees you doing the same things every day. Although routines are generally good things (as they help you to become more efficient with your time), when you’re too set in a routine and the days become too similar and start blurring together, it’s time to start mixing things up and get creative.
Of course, how you go about mixing things up largely depends on how you’ve been traveling, For example, if you’ve been spending most of your time visiting the major cities, why not spend some time out in the countryside? Or if you’ve been traveling solo, why not find a travel companion or two to accompany you?
“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions.”
If all you’ve done is visit museums and sightsee, why not go mountain biking or snorkeling? If you’ve stuck to a regimented itinerary of planned activities each day, why not spend a day wondering around with no particular goal in mind?
If you’ve been scrimping and saving and staying in the cheapest hostels you can find and eating cheap meals, why not splash out and stay in a hotel for a couple of nights and treat yourself to a three course meal?
Another great way to get creative and to keep travel interesting is to try out new forms of transport. When you’re traveling the world, chances are you’ll spend countless hours in airplanes, buses and taxi cabs.
Why not buy a used motorcycle and drive up the Hoi Van Pass in Vietnam (then sell the bike at the other end)? Why not ride a camel across Egypt, cycle across Ireland or take the slow boat down the Mekong River into Laos?
2. Stay in One Area for a While
When traveling, most people will only experience each place for a few days (given the length of time most people travel for and the amount of amazing places there are to see), but just because you’re ‘traveling’ doesn’t mean you have to be perpetually in motion.
With this in mind, why not pick one place and stay there for a couple of weeks (or months)?
“You’ll often find that your decision to linger someplace is a simple flowering of your ongoing explorations” – Rolf Potts
Once you’ve decided upon an area to stay in, you can take some time to rest while you catch up on your reading, or you can set off exploring your new-found home and figure you how the people live and the gentle nuances of the local culture.
Doing the latter can help you to make local friends, which can lead to a whole new world of opportunities and learning experiences.
Should you prefer a more structured method of cultural exploration, why not take a class in one of the local disciplines (such as Vietnamese cooking, Thai massage, Irish Hurling, Indian yoga, Argentinean tango dancing or Japanese martial arts), as these are great ways to immerse yourself in another culture whilst learning something valuable.
Renting an Apartment
Renting a furnished apartment for at least a week in your chosen destination and taking a few days off from doing the ‘usual’ traveler things will leave you feeling refreshed and re-energized.
Living in a real apartment will make a nice change from living in hostels, and you’ll really appreciate having your own space/kitchen/toilet/refrigerator.
Obviously some places (such as London) may be too expensive for you to rent a place in, but there are plenty of countries (particularly in South-East Asia) where you can rent a great place for a bargain price.
For more information (and for a guide on how to go about finding/renting an apartment), check out this post on short term apartment rentals.
3. Avoid Media/Technology
While technology can be a great thing, and smart phones and laptop computers can now make traveling easier than ever, it’s sometimes a good idea to ‘unplug’ and spend some time away from TV, computers, smart phones, etc. (and in particular Facebook and emails).
This is surprisingly not as easy as it seems, as most of us have grown into the habit of using this technology and incorporating it into seamlessly our lives.
During my time traveling through America last year I spent a few days staying in a log cabin an hour away from Yosemite National Park. We’d get up early, spend the entire day in the park hiking, swimming and admiring the scenery before returning back to the lodge for dinner at around 7 o’clock.
Where we were staying was deep in the heart of the woods, and there were no televisions, computers or anything of that kind. We spent the evenings playing board games and chatting about the day.
During those few short days I realized how much we rely on technology, how much of a bad thing it can be at times and how much more I enjoyed my time in Yosemite because there were no computers/televisions/etc.
4. Return to Your Favorite Places
As you travel around the world, you’ll naturally take a liking to some places more than others, and some places you may grow so fond of that they’ll feel like a ‘home away from home’.
For example, when traveling around South-East Asia I went from Thailand up through Laos, across to Vietnam, down to Cambodia and back into Thailand. Upon returning to Thailand (after spending time in the other countries) I had an odd feeling come over me – I was glad to be back, and it felt like I was returning home after an arduous journey.
Returning to these places that you love allows you to relax, recharge your batteries and indulge yourself.
5. Get a Taste of Home
Every now and then you may feel like you’ve had enough of local culture/food and you want a little taste of home.
Alternatively, if you have friends and family dotted around the globe (and you happen to be traveling near them), stopping in and saying ‘hi’ for a few days is a great idea. You can tell them all about your travels so far (and show them your pictures) and spending some time with people who aren’t total strangers makes a nice change to traveling solo.
At the end of the day, travel burnout often occurs when you end up doing the same thing every day. This will always (eventually) become dull after enough time, so varying the things you do is the best way to keep things exciting and fresh.
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