I never thought I would get here. Standing in a hotel room in Myanmar, feeling completely numb to the new city outside my window. Tired of eating the same breakfast of powdered eggs and some grains. Tired of my 24-hour friendships. Tired of wearing the same worn out clothes. Tired of seeing my hair in such a grim state with no other solution but to twirl it up in a bun.
I looked in the mirror. The natural circles under my eyes–a natural byproduct of my biracial features–were more pronounced than ever since I began wearing less makeup due to the humidity. My curly hair made a crunchy sound as I tried to pat down the frizz. Burnt by the sun and withering from neglect–strands of broken hair still managed to dart out.
My pale stomach protruded out roundly and awkwardly against my long skinny dark arms. The months of white rice, greasy-fried-everything, and plenty of salt and sugar, coupled with the lack of proper exercise hadn’t helped my health nor my physique.
I tilted my head analytically gazing at the stranger in the mirror. I never imagined that I could feel this way. Tired of exploring and considering an earlier flight back to Brooklyn to recharge. I’d been planning this round-the-world trip for years and years. It’d been a life dream. I worked hard, saved every penny, made a list, and checked it twice (or a hundred times). So what happened?
Underrated but Extremely Common
Travel burn-out seems to be an underrated but extremely common occurrence among many long-term travelers. From various conversations and observations, it seems to most commonly occur around the 4-month mark of travel throughout developing countries. Anyone would feel tired after leaving behind all the daily comforts they are accustomed to and constantly moving around the world without much respite in between. But the exhaustion didn’t come on gradually, it just sort of hit me. Suddenly, I went from energetically exploring everything to waking up completely depleted in the middle of my Myanmar trip with a stomach bug. I absolutely cherished Myanmar. It had quickly become one of my favorite destinations in the world. But suddenly, I needed a vacation from my vacation, and I felt like an ungrateful brat for feeling this way.
One morning in Bagan, I woke up to see my bunkmate staring furiously at her computer. “I’m going home. I’m just done with travel,” she sighed out loud in relief as she scrolled through flight prices back to Alberta. I was confused, I had just asked her the day before if she wanted to join me to Mrauk-U and she’d nodded positively. Where did this decision come from?
Coincidentally, the night before, our other dorm roommate had just been expressing conflicting feelings about continuing to travel. Three out of four of us in the dorm room felt an overall exhaustion. Was it Myanmar? Was it us? Were we getting old and losing stamina? Were we traveling too much too fast? Was it stimulation overload? Or this is just a normal, almost obvious, but very underlooked continuous long-term travel effect?
In the weeks to come, I would continue meeting other long-term travelers who expressed the same thing: travel burnout.
Why Don’t Travel Bloggers Talk About This?
If it’s so common, why had travel exhaustion hit me as such a big surprise?
1) Very few people can travel around the world for months at a time. So there aren’t that many people who can warn you in the first place.
2) Complaining about too much travel is like complaining that you have too much privilege. So even if someone has felt it, they may feel guilty about it. Like I did.
3) It’s deemed unseemly to talk about the negative qualities of the personal endeavors in your life, which can include travel. So rarely anyone posts about negative things in their lives.
4) Influencers and social media have made travel seem like a purely luxurious and all wonderful experience, omitting the blunders and mishaps that can come with any travel adventure (especially rugged). The increase of travel on social media with beach captions like “Spent the day on this beautiful beach. I never want to go back home!” has pushed this idea that travel is nothing but an escape to pure bliss, relaxation, stimulating adventure, and positive self-discovery. Rarely do bloggers or influencers cast any light on the hardships, realities, and negative qualities of travel. But they are a part of travel and a part of the growth we endure as travelers (and overall in life).
So when the travel burnout hit me, I felt confused and a little ashamed. I had worked very hard to be able to go on my dream adventure–feeling tired or wanting to stop felt like failing.
Overcoming and Dealing with Travel Burnout
I knew it was time to control my fleeting heart and slow down
So how do you avoid or overcome this travel burnout? Should you go home? Do you find a way to get over it? What if going home isn’t an option at the moment? (In my case I had contracts with subletters).
In four months, I’d visited 5 countries and dozens of cities. I saw, experienced, and tasted some of the best things in my life. I learned to ride horses, bicycles, motorcycles, and scuba dive. I saw pagodas and sunsets so beautiful I softly cried. I laughed, I sobbed; I climbed and I fell. I learned so much about my strengths, limits, and desires. It had been a mini-pilgrimage, an adventure, and a personal temporal renaissance.
I was grateful for the experiences. But by the time I was in Mandalay, staring at myself in a mirror, depleted, I knew it was time to control my fleeting heart and slow down. An entirely new challenge in my ex-Bronx life: learning to slow down, stop, and say no. It was time to change course.
How to Overcome Travel Burnout
- Slow down. In our instant gratification society, we sometimes forget to slow down and savor a few things instead of seeing everything quickly. Instead of continually traveling through different destinations at a fast pace, slowly savor each destination. If you’re traveling long-term, spend at least one week per city, town, or village.
I spent an entire week in Yangon relaxing. While my travel mates left to discover 3 different towns in one week, I got to slowly know Yangon more deeply. I made local friends, went to local events, cozied up to a local café, read books, wrote, and I practice my photography during calm city strolls.
- Stop moving. If slowing down doesn’t work. Stop moving altogether. Take some time to stand still in one place for a few weeks and gain some routine. Go back to a favorite town or city, and settle there to grow some roots. Find a favorite café to frequent every morning. Go back to the gym, take care of yourself and rest up.
I did this in Bangkok (one of my favorite cities) and it was glorious. I became friends with my hostel owner. I met other travelers doing the exact same thing who would become very close friends of mine. I befriended local expats who took me under their wing. I worked on my photography, writing, and even found an art store where I got a ton of supplies. I spent days drawing, painting, reading, doing photography, writing, catching up on work, and getting massages. Eventually, I found my own routine there until I was recharged and ready to fly back out.
- Change Course. If you have been traveling with people, try moving around solo. If you have been solo for too long, try linking up with other people. Change up your accommodation style (cheap hostels for nicer private rooms). And if you have been in the same region or country for too long, it may be time to try a totally new environment.
After recharging in Bangkok, I realized Southeast Asia was a factor in my exhaustion. The humidity, pollution, traffic, and the struggle of finding autoimmune friendly food was taking a toll on me. I decided I would skip Laos and Indonesia and head up to Japan for a refreshing change of weather, food, ambiance, and culture.
- Touch Base. Skyping with friends and family can help you connect with your life at home. It can help you strengthen the support system you may be lacking as a nomadic wanderer.
I spent hours chatting on Skype with family and friends from home. I expressed both the great things I’d experienced and my doubts and concerns. Reconnecting with home was a nice mental recharge and helped me balance my perspective.
- Treat yourself. If you’re a rugged traveler like me, take some time to pamper yourself and maybe even a splurge or two. Get a massage, a facial, or a haircut. Dress up and go out to a nice dinner. Maybe even go on a Tinder date with a handsome local or a fellow traveler to a romantic local spot.
I took a break from the rugged life to finally get my hair and nails done. I put on a little black dress and went out with friends for a nice dinner and late night exploration of Bangkok’s nightlife. I felt refreshed.
- Self-Care. It’s so easy to forget to eat healthily, hydrate, work out, or take care of whatever needs your body and health may have. Neglecting your health or ignoring time for self-care can greatly contribute to exhaustion and burning out in any part of life. It also lowers your immune system so you are more susceptible to getting sick.
I hit up a local gym in Bangkok, ate tons of local fruits and greens, and cooked myself some meals, and bought some vitamins to help replenish my nutritional deficiencies while traveling.
7. Find Remnants of Home. If you’re feeling homesick, try doing the things you would normally do or experience at home. Get a cheeseburger with fries at a local Irish pub. Meet up with some expats and rekindle memories of home.
My personal favorites: going to the VIP movie theatres in Bangkok and watching an American movie with a giant bowl of popcorn and soda; and, dancing at Havana Social in Bangkok.
8. Go Home. If none of the above work out. Maybe it’s time to go home. Remember, home is always just a flight away. You can always go back out.
After recharging in Bangkok and altering my style of travel, I overcame my travel burnout. I learned that my newly preferred style of travel was to move slowly, valuing quality over quantity. I accepted that I couldn’t see everything and thus became more selective with the experiences I pursued which brought me more substance and joy.
Travel fatigue or travel burnout is real and can hit people at different times and in different ways. Constantly meeting new people and experiencing new food, cultures, and environments can overwhelm anyone. Especially if you’ve lived most of your life in a constant routine. It is natural and expected. And it is a luxurious problem! If you get hit with the travel blues, remember to give thanks, recognize that your feelings are valid, and take action/change.
Now as I excitedly plan my 2018 round-the-world-trip, I will know to travel deeply but slowly. I can’t wait!
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