Let’s Talk About Long Term Travel Burnout
What is it, and how do we deal with it?
If you believe the hype on Instagram, the life of a long term traveler or digital nomad must be nothing but beautiful sunsets, poolside drinks and dreamy cafes in gorgeous locations all day long.
How could anyone get tired of that?
But the truth is, while a life of constant travel is truly exciting – it can also be draining.
The term travel burnout describes a certain malaise caused by traveling too long – a melancholy exhaustion with life on the road.
Sooner or later, the excitement fades and a long stint of travel can become difficult to endure. As Emily Luxton writes, travel burnout might seem like the ultimate first-world problem – but it is actually quite a major issue for long term travelers.
The symptoms of travel burnout might be different for your particular situation, but here are some of the symptoms I often associate with it:
- I start to miss people and feel a little homesick and nostalgic for a life lived in one place.
- Instead of being excited to go to the next location, I dread packing up my backpack and getting on a bus. It’s just so much hassle and I can’t be bothered.
- I feel tired, listless and melancholy, or even anxious and stressed.
- I could be in the most beautiful location in the world, but I am not as excited about it as I would expect.
Now, you might be thinking, “But long term travel is my dream lifestyle! I’ll never get tired!”
However, suffering from travel burnout is different for everyone. I think it’s different than the homesickness you might feel when you are on a two-week long trip. It’s not about missing the comforts from home, it’s something that happens when you are on the road for months or years. If you are traveling for a long time – there is a good chance that it will affect you at some point. Travel isn’t always easy and it brings with it a unique set of challenges.
Causes of Travel Burnout – And How to Manage Them
How does travel burnout happen? Let’s look at some of the reasons why long term travelers start to feel exhausted on the road – and what we can do to manage these issues.
Traveling Too Fast
I’ve written before about what a mistake it is to try to squeeze too much into your trip. The list of things you can see and do will always be infinite, but your time, money and energy are not. If you have an itinerary that requires you to take a bus or a train every other day and you are trying to visit 8 countries in one month – you’re going to experience travel burnout sooner rather than later. You’ll just be freakin’ exhausted.
I have learned that I enjoy it a lot more if I slow down and experience fewer destinations in a longer time. I no longer worry about how many places I’ve ticked off the list (I stopped counting) – I just focus on enjoying where I am now.
Not Including Days Where You Do Nothing
If you are planning a long term trip, this is a really important post to read. I find that it’s essential for me to have some travel days where I relax, chill out and put no pressure on myself to “see” or “do” anything.
No matter where I am in the world, I need to have rest days and downtime to combat travel burnout. I like to curl up in a hammock with a good book and recharge my batteries. It’s essential, and I try not to feel too guilty about it.
Visiting Destinations That Are Too Similar
I also find that when you visit too many places in a row that are very similar, I start to experience travel burnout. So, it helps to mix it up a little and visit different destinations. For example, if we have been spending a lot of time in little seaside towns we might head to the big city to experience something different… or vice versa.
For example, when we were in Southeast Asia we ended up visiting temple after temple… as there are so many impressive ones to see. They were incredibly beautiful, but after a while they start looking the same.
So, we wanted to do something different to mix things up and keep it interesting – even something weird like trying archery at 2am in Penang, Malaysia. There are tons of interesting places to go and things to do when you look beyond the obvious.
Drinking Too Much
I find that long term travel, especially if you are staying in hostels, creates an environment where it would be easy to fall into a habit of drinking too much.
In my article “Don’t Fall Into the Party Hostel Trap” I write about how you can get sucked into a rhythm of perpetual partying at some hostels. There’s always something happening every night – Thirsty Thursdays, Pub Crawl Fridays, etc. It’s always someone’s first or last night in the hostel. Before you know it, you’ve been going out every night for a week straight and you haven’t seen any of the sights.
Don’t get me wrong – I love to go out for a drink and have a good time! However, when I am traveling long term, I find it’s important to remember that while many other people around me are on “vacation mode” – I’m not. These backpackers who are staying up until dawn and enjoying the nightlife every night will be heading home in a week or two – back into a routine of drinking plenty of water and keeping a sensible bedtime. The party lifestyle is not sustainable long term – so you have to learn to take a night off (your liver will thank you.)
Our solution in the past has been to stay in a private room in a quiet and chilled out hostel that is located close to a party hostel. (For example, in Leon, Nicaragua we stayed across the street from the infamous Bigfoot.) Our accomodation was quiet and peaceful so we could always retreat there to rest and get work done. If we felt the urge to have some fun banter and drinks, we could go across the street for a bit (but leave whenever we wanted to.)
Eating Too Much Unhealthy Food
The curse and temptation of “vacation mode” can also creep in when it comes to your diet. You’re surrounded by new and exciting food and you know you won’t be in the destination forever, so the urge is to eat everything!
This is a constant struggle – I’ve been traveling since 2011 and it still happens to me.
Right now, we are traveling down the coast of Croatia and all around me I see heaping platters of gorgeous seafood, mouth-watering wood-oven baked pizzas, warm cheesy freshly baked burek and decadent scoops of gelato in a dazzling array of flavours.
When Lee and I go out for a walk, I am constantly thinking, “Mmm… that looks amazing. I want to eat that.”
A few weeks ago we were in Belgium and I was drooling over fries, waffles, chocolate and beer.
Before that, we were in Paris and I was obsessing about macarons and staring in the windows of cheese shops.
What can I say… I love food.
But Lee always has to remind me, we can’t eat out in restaurants every night or stuff ourselves with every delicious thing we see.
When we are traveling long term, we have to balance the indulgences with healthy, home-cooked meals. That’s why we stay in Airbnbs – so we have a fridge and a kitchen and can prepare our own food.
Not Sleeping and Exercising Enough
I put these two together, because they are similar – and I think they both come down to a lack of healthy routines. When you’re on the road traveling from place to place, it can be more difficult to find the time to exercise and get a good night’s sleep.
However, I find that if I’m not getting physical activity in my day and I’m not sleeping well – I find myself much more prone to travel burnout (and just feeling like crap in general.)
Neil Bennion wrote a fantastic guest post called 11 Ways the Digital Nomad Lifestyle Affects Your Sleep – And What to Do About It. In there, he offers some great tips about how you can make sure you get a good sleep when you are on the road – even if the travel lifestyle can make it difficult.
Sleep and exercise are linked. If you get more exercise, you will sleep better. If you sleep better, you’ll have more energy to exercise. I’ve found that going for an early morning run helps me balance out all of the extra calories I’m tempted to eat, gives me lots of energy for the day and helps me sleep better at night.
Not Keeping Up With Your Hobbies
I think this point is so important that I wrote a full post about it: How to Keep Up With Your Hobbies During Long Term Travel – And Why You Should. Enjoying a familiar hobby while you are on the road can really be grounding and can give you energy and fulfillment.
When you are traveling long term, you aren’t just on a temporary vacation – you are taking your life on the road. If you are going to be traveling for months or years, don’t leave your hobbies and interests behind. They are part of who you are, they bring you happiness and they will help sustain you when you are on the road.
More Tips for Preventing Travel Burnout
- I find that it helps not to put too much pressure on yourself, or have high expectations of what the travel experience is going to be like. (Often I like to arrive somewhere with almost NO expectations of what it will be like – so if I end up loving it that’s a bonus.)
- If possible, travel with a friend or a partner. You can take care of each other when you get tired and take turns inspiring each other when your enthusiasm starts to wane. Lee and I have helped each other many times in this way over the years.
- Sometimes it really helps to indulge in some home comforts. Watch your favourite show on Netflix, cook yourself your favourite meal, go do something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and relaxed. For me, it really makes me feel at home when we stay in an accomodation with a kitchen and Lee cooks dinner.
- Remember, you don’t have to be on the road constantly. Sometimes it’s nice to base yourself somewhere for a while, yet still take trips. Whether you’re a full-time nomad or part-time nomad, you’re still living a travel lifestyle.
While a life of long term full time travel might sound like endless fun, it can also be tiring. I’ve learned that if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to sustain the travel pace for very long. Staying on the road for months and years requires balance, healthy habits and an understanding that it’s a marathon – not a race.
How do you take care of yourself when you are experiencing travel burnout? Let us know in the comments!
It was really cool on long time travel. Thanks a lot
I love your style of writing and how you share the not so glamourous part of travel. Thank you! I so agree about travel burn out being a big problem. I’m not traveling full time, but even on shorter trips, I still feel this. We just came back from Iceland and there was one night where instead of hunting for the Northern Lights, we ordered pizza and watched Netflix. At first, we felt guilty – which is such a shitty feeling to have on vacation! Like, who are we hurting by taking a night off? No one! The break was so needed and helped fuel us for some long driving days. Love this post!
Thank you Riana! There’s nothing wrong with a pizza and Netflix night, no matter where you are in the world. Sometimes you just need a break!
Very good article indeed! I have been reading blogs about travel burn out for a while, as I am experiencing it rght now 🙂 I have been on the road for four months now. Even tough I travel slow, four months and I am still in Mexico, I started to feel frustrated. I had travel for long term before, months even a year. Each time after a while I wanted to go back because I had to go back. Mostly because of money issues. Now I am living my dream life. I am in a much better economic situation, instead of hostels I stay in airbnb or even luxury hotels sometimes. For the first time I don’t have to go back any soon. I found a way to work online -not blogging- so I can keep going as long as I like. This was my dream for all those years that I was an intermittent traveler. Now I am living my dream and in just four months I am experiencing burn out!? That really makes me feel guilty and ungrateful. Reading about other long-term travelers similar experiences is a kind of relief.
My way to deal with it first accepting it as a fact and slowing down even more. I like doing things which are not touristic. If I am in a big city I look for a show, a movie. Being part of the local life, doing the things I like to do when I am at home. Spendin whole afternoon in a nice cafe with a book or even staying in. And cooking helps too.
I think we need to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be in action all the time because we are on the road. I don’t have to eat local food and get excited about it everyday. There is nothing wrong about craving for my usual mediterranean diet and not being happy anymore with exotic food. As you said; we are not just on a temporary vacation, we are taking our life on the road.
“Now I am living my dream and in just four months I am experiencing burn out!? That really makes me feel guilty and ungrateful.”
I can totally understand this feeling. If you are doing something that others envy, it feels strange to be burned out by it. However, even a dream lifestyle like digital nomadism can be tiring. Don’t beat yourself up about it – you’re doing the right thing by slowing down and taking care of yourself. 🙂
Thanks for the article. I’ve been here before by being on the road for 1,5 years. It was so amazing and adventurous but also it really burned me out. A thing I realised too when I came back in Holland, after following the sun for 2 years is that I need the seasons. I’ve been for 2 years in the amazing vibrant sunshine but what I need to cocoon is winter. I didn’t realise it until I came back and started to love the winter so much! I think this could be a really interesting thing too for people to forget where they come from. <3 thanks
I’ve experienced the same thing! We spent a winter in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2017/2018 and it was a wonderful time to “hibernate” for a while and restore ourselves. I worked on building my business, we made some great friendships and we enjoyed unpacking, putting our stuff in a closet and not having to pack it up for a few months. Winter was a great time to be in Tbilisi as it wasn’t so touristy and we got to enjoy the local culture. It was a great time for us.
I’m glad you are taking the time to balance your nomad lifestyle and I wish you all the best!
I can get overzealous in Europe and squeeze too many countries in! And I overplan. I always try to squeeze 1 DO NADA day/week of travel in though! Lifesaver. I know I must slow down, eat better, and rest more but I need reminding! So thanks!
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