How I learned to deal with travel burnout

How I learned to deal with travel burnout.

I gotta be honest with you and admit that this post has been hard for me to write. It wasn’t hard to find the words to express my feelings, I mean I can always find words. The hard part was taking the very first step and admitting that I’ve fallen victim to today’s post topic: travel burnout. It left me feeling like a complete failure. Am I a bad traveller? Am I doing something wrong? Other people travel for years and don’t feel this way. It’s only been a few months! No one wants to admit to travel burnout, but many people have experienced it. 

We’ve been on the road since May. With only a brief two week stop at home, we’ve been in a new place for the last five months. We’ve been experiencing new cultures, new languages and new foods. I’ve had to make a new home for us in four different cities at this point. It’s been exhilarating and awe-inspiring and so, so hard.

I had been feeling pretty bummed out for the last month. I was sick with what felt like the flu, tired of mapping out yet another new route for our travels the rest of the year and feeling like I wasn’t getting any sort of nutrition from the crap diet I was eating. After spending hours trying to figure out how we were ever going to leave Romania and getting nowhere, I finally had a breakdown. I realized that I was feeling some serious travel burnout, and I needed to do something immediately before I threw my hands up and booked a ticket home.

I’m happy to say that I’m just on the other side. It’s not easy to power through burnout, but it’s comforting to know that I have an arsenal of tools to help me continue to fight it.

So, what tips and tricks are hiding in my arsenal??

I’ve learned to use my “optimal” time wisely.

I’m a morning person. Come lunch time time I’m pretty useless. I get cranky and hate doing anything that doesn’t involve cat memes. When it’s time to make dinner I somehow find the energy to make it through the rest of the evening. It could be the glass of wine that usually accompanies dinner prep, but it could also just be my natural rhythm.

Because I’m a morning person, and Ryan is by extension, we found that it was best to get our touristy stuff done before lunch. After lunch, I allowed myself to wallow in my travel burnout. I sat on the couch and watched my favorite Youtube videos or read books. I refused to feel bad about sitting inside in a foreign destination for a hours every day. It was time to take care of myself, and that meant giving myself some space to just be.

By planning on doing most of the fun stuff I had dreamt of doing for months in the morning, I knew I would be my most charming and engaging self. I was getting far more out of a few hours in the morning than trying to trudge my way through entire days worth of activities.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
We went to Fort Lovrijenac one morning, after realizing mornings were our most productive time. It was a great way to get us pumped for work in the afternoon!

Creating some fantastic lists helps to find perspective.

I’m a list-maker by nature. They’re all over our apartment: lists for chores, places I want to visit, Christmas present ideas. They help me remember things by giving me something tangible. The lists I’ve started creating are tangible proof that I’m getting a lot out of this travel experience, no matter how I feel about it. 

I’ve created lists for every place we’ve been: what I’ve loved and what I’ve hated. My favorite foods. The current fashion trends. When I’m feeling particularly down about a place all I have to do is go back to my list of reasons why I love it and I’m instantly energized.

My favorite list is the one that is ongoing and includes everything we want to take back with us to Pittsburgh next year. They’ll help us shape a life that we fully want to live, incorporating everything we’ve learned to love while abroad.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
One of my favorite things about Croatia? Eating every single meal outside. Our future home has to have a great outdoor space!

It’s vital to take some time to reflect on the negative.

If my lists are a way to collect memories about the things I love and hate, my journal is a place for deeper reflection into every other aspect of life on the road.

Not every aspect of travel is rainbows and butterflies, and I can be honest and raw when I’m writing in my journal. It’s my safe space where I know there won’t be any judgement, and I can get all of my feelings out. When I can give voice to the problems that are bothering me I’m able to move past them. Plus it helps me put into concise words what I’m feeling, which leads to less word vomit for Ryan to deal with.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
Following a super long ferry ride up the coast (which is a negative if you suffer from motion sickness like I do), I was rewarded by the powers that be with this sunset (which is a positive if there ever was one).

Allowing myself to take a break did wonders to combat travel burnout.

This was more retrospective for me, but I know it’ll be important going forward. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a fellow blogging friend was that I don’t have to post when I don’t want to. I control my life, and I control when I want to write. Looking back, I needed to take a break from writing.

I had to get my groove back. Blogging is still so new to me, and I was under the impression that as a newbie I had to write multiple posts a week. Gotta get that content working for me! But I found that I was struggling to write good posts. It took me a solid three weeks to write roughly 400 words on the Notre Dame de Paris, and I have to admit about 375 of those were complete crap. So, I stopped.

I learned that I can’t write quality blog posts when I’m suffering from burnout. I needed to start taking care of me if I wanted the words to come back to me. And there’s no shame in that.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
We found this little piece of heaven near Salona, one a day where we decided we weren’t doing any work at all.

Reading a good book (or three) is great way to unwind.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gone through four James Patterson novels and a Jodi Picoult book. I barely moved from the couch most afternoons, and it was glorious.

For me, reading is relaxation and a way to get out of my head for a time.  It’s also something that I just plain love doing. I can’t possibly spend 24 hours of my day writing and planning life, because when I do I go cuh-razy.  Reading was an outlet I needed to allow myself to use.

Reading isn’t for everyone, I know. But find your outlet, find your place to relax. Maybe it’s meditating or doing yoga. Perhaps it’s baking. Whatever helps you unwind, do it. And do it as much as you want, because life is too short to be stressed out for days.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
A little light reading, anyone?

The enemy of travel burnout is slowing down.

We were going, going, gone most days. Sea kayaking in the morning, following by drinks and cliff diving? Yes, please! Then we’d have to finish the night with a dinner out and a romantic walk. Only it wasn’t so romantic because I was exhausted. After only a few days of living like this, I realized it wasn’t sustainable for the next four months.

I think as soon as we left Edinburgh, a switch flipped. We no longer had months in a place, we were down to mere days, a couple weeks if we were lucky. So we had to fit everything in at one time. But the thing is, we didn’t have to. I think one of my favorite moments from our time in Dubrovnik was the evening we went to get some bread and cheese and a bottle of Plavac and sat on the front terrace and played cards for hours. We didn’t feel like we had anywhere to be, we chatted in between hands and just generally had a fabulous evening.

You’re the master of your own schedule, and you have to do what works for you. Don’t let everyone else tell you that you shouldn’t sit by the beach for four hours with a fizzy drink and watch the sun sweep across the sky. It’s OK if you want to sit and sketch the fruit seller at the market, even if it takes you a few hours. I had to let myself be OK with slowing down.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
We sat on this beach for hours, and it was one of the best afternoons we had.

Understand that it’s OK to not see everything in one trip.

This came along with slowing down, because obviously when I started listening to my body and not everyone else, I learned that I probably won’t see everything in any given city. It’s definitely something I struggle with. I have to keep reminding myself that the world is a mighty big place, and I’m not going to see every nook and cranny, no matter how hard I try. So it’s important to appreciate what I’m able to see in any given trip. After all, I can always come back.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
But… I’m pretty sure I can see everything from here.

Reaching out to friends and family helped me feel rooted and connected.

At my lowest point Ryan turned to me and said, “Suz, you need to talk to a friend. You’re not you.” He was so right. As soon as I talked to a friend on Skype and had some quality (virtual) face-to-face time I felt instantly more connected. It’s easy to feel extremely overwhelmed with life when you’re travelling, like it’s you vs. the world. But that’s not true. You have a whole cheerleading squad at home that you just need to tap into. They all want to see you happy and healthy.

My mom and I have an ongoing text thread where she shares pictures of my dog being silly at home. I talk to my sister-in-law constantly about Harry Potter and HGTV shows. My best friend from high school makes me laugh with inappropriate memes. Once I started reaching out to other people on a regular basis I felt so much better and so much more connected. I wasn’t just floating in travel limbo, I was having an adventure before going home.

Travel burnout - Sascha
One of the many photos my mom sends me. Seeing Sascha’s face definitely helps me feel connected to home!

Properly nourishing my body helped ease travel burnout.

So for the last four-five weeks, we’ve been eating out a lot. Meals have been heavy on breakfast rolls and fish and chips, pasta and pizza. There haven’t been a lot of vegetables, and after a few weeks I was really feeling it.

I couldn’t expect to feel good when I was fueling my body with nothing but garbage. Delicious garbage, it’s true. Carbs and dairy do not a healthy diet make (no matter how many times I wish it were true).

It started with a carrot. The carrots at the market at Split looks absolutely delectable, you see. So I got out of my comfort zone and asked the vendor in my broken Croglish how much they cost. Through a series of hand gestures and a lot of “Hvalas!” I had me some carrots. That spiraled and I eventually was in the possession of some real fruits and veggies.

It’s amazing how fast my body bounced back after those first few veggies. When I started to listen to my body and feed it what it deserved my mood shifted and I started to feel better within days!

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
Look at all those yummy, nutritious fruits!

I had to learn to appreciate each moment for what it is.

Not every moment is going to be perfect, and I had to learn to accept that. I can try and try to create and curate a fabulous life, but that’s not reality. But life is amazing and it happens the way it’s supposed to, you know? The experiences we’re having right now on this trip are pretty amazing. Who knows when we’re going to have the chance to be in exactly the same place and same frame of mind again.

Don’t let others make you feel bad for what you’re experiencing. The best part about any trip you take is that it’s yours. Yours to make what you want.

How I learned to deal with travel burnout
Can you tell how sick I am in this photo? I couldn’t hear out of one ear or breath through my nose! But I learned to appreciate the moment for all the good – and not dwell on the negative.

So now tell me, what do you do?

I always thought I was so good at listening to my body. But it turns out that I still have work to do. My mind and body have been telling me for weeks to slow down, take a breath and be. But because I felt pressured to experience life in the way everyone else does, I didn’t realize that I was slowly turning to mush from the inside out. Has that ever happened to you? When you give in to peer pressure and realize it is turning you into a zombie?

So friends, I’d love to hear what you do! Burnout is a real, even for people who aren’t travelling. Maybe you’ve experienced it in your career or at school. Perhaps you feel a general sense of burnout after the holidays. I’d love to know how other people deal with it!

Suz

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47 Comments

  1. Taking the time to slow down and truly enjoy a trip is a great way to plan travel. I have in past had travel burnout. Right now, though, I can’t wait for the next opportunity to travel. With three kids four and under, we don’t get to travel as much as we would like.

  2. Very good tips. I think I vote for slowing down the best. Burnout usually means going faster than you should be. Just doing nothing all day is a way to decompress and recharge and slow that clock down.

  3. I really enjoyed your post! It is so difficult to tell people I’m not ok in this place (in my case wasn’t travelling but as an expat) that is so “wonderful” well, it is not for me. I need something else, I need to take care of myself, to feel comfortable and back to my being myself. Some people will still not understand it but who cares! Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks for visiting, Sara! I agree, sometimes your loved ones (or just random acquaintances on Facebook) just don’t get that it isn’t always so perfect and wonderful. It’s always good to be able to brush them off and worry about yourself.

  4. Yes, I used to rush trying to see everything and I have had to learn to stop take a moment to enjoy more and you cannot do it all. I create a small list of my must see and be happy with see my must see sites

  5. Well done for being so open about the topic one that gets left behind as you focus on the Adventures itself, but fail to mention the amount of energy, effort and sometimes intensity when travelling around. As you said we are the Masters of our own schedules and shouldn’t feel the need to you do everything in the short amount of time we have. The balance of sightseeing and space for ourselves and relaxation is the key to balancing many days or months travelling.

    1. Thank you! I was worried about posting something so “negative” but I had to get it out there. It is a lot of energy, both mental and emotional, and a lot of people don’t realize that. They just see the happy, pretty photos on Instagram and Facebook and think it’s all easy. It’s so important to find a balance to enjoy your travels.

  6. In times like this, what I do is just unwind. Take a break from what’s keeping me stressed. I don’t run away from it but I pause once in a while most especially if it isn’t giving me good at all. I didn’t know that travel burnout can happen. But anyhow, I admire how you fight it. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Zwitsy. Silly as it sounds, I didn’t realize that taking a break to unwind was “allowed”. I thought since we were out and travelling we had to do it all and see it all. But we definitely don’t.

  7. I think the need to cram as much possible into a trip leads to travel burnout. This is something we experienced. it is always good to plan for that extra day and slow down on the activities, so that one can literally relish each moment.

    1. I agree completely! We’ve started leaving ourselves at least one day to just relax and “be”, no matter the place we’re in.

  8. I totally agree that you need to understand that you will not see everything. Especially when travelling long term and on a budget, it gets difficult and tiring. You need days to rest, to just chill out and get some nice food. That’s what we do when we are feeling a bit down!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Laura! I have learned to LOVE taking as long as I can over a good meal. It makes for such a great break during the day and I always feel so recharged after.

  9. Great post. I feel people often forget that the burnout is okay. Sometimes when we look at other travel photos you think they are ‘better’ travellers and that they don’t look tired. It’s hard to accept being tired whilst travelling. We have not been home in almost two years. We are starting to really feel the burnout and home sickness. This makes it hard to keep planning new adventures. At the end of the day, life is what you make it. Love each day, whether that is exploring the city or drinking tea at a cafe. Just embrace. We hope you are feeling better!

    1. Two years is so intense! That is so amazing. I love your advice for loving each day, no matter what you’re doing. And I definitely feel you on thinking that others are ‘better’ travellers. I often have to remind myself that I’m the best traveller I can be, and that’s what matters.

  10. Commendable that you’ve spoken about it here, to be honest this happens in everyone’s life whether they’re doing a desk job or traveling. And at moments like this, you just need the comforting feeling of home and break from everything to focus on yourself and health. You’re doing good, don’t worry 🙂

  11. This post on travel burnout is amazing ! You’ve really analyzed the problem well and I love your honesty about finding solutions. I had a somewhat travel burnout a couple of times, including during the last trip – 82 days of backpacking/honeymoon in the States. In the middle of our trip it was as you said, just a couple days in each city, and I started to feel it. I totally agree that slowing down helps a lot, and I’m glad you pointed out nutrition, which I think can be a big part of it.

    1. Thanks, Alice!! I can imagine feeling burnout especially in the States. Depending on where you’re going the distance can be SO long and SO tiring! But it’s always worth it!

  12. Thank you for sharing this. Very well written and full of different perspective. Hasn’t happened to me yet but now I do know what to do if it does <3

  13. My most recent trip wasn’t a long one (4.5 days) but I was starting to feel tired by the end of it! I found that spending the evening staying in instead of forcing myself out to “have fun” was way more fun and I felt more refreshed in the morning!

    1. We’ve started spending more evenings in, because just as you said it’s more fun and we feel much more refreshed in the morning. And bonus – it’s so much cheaper!

  14. Very interesting!My hubby and I sometimes move through our holidays at a brisk rate and then we find somewhere we really like and we put our feet up and do nothing. I think this really helps to deal with the fast pace of life on the road (or on the sea).

    1. I love the idea of taking the time when you need or want it. You might not feel like a certain place requires an extra day or two to relax but others might.

  15. This is such a great post, because I feel that I get into the same place. Not everything is wonderful all the time and most people don’t understand the trials you go through.

    1. It’s also so hard to try to explain it to others. When I’m talking to people who don’t travel as much they just don’t understand where I’m coming from, which often leads me to feeling even worse. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone!

  16. Some of my favorite travel memories involve just sitting in a park and people watching. Like you, I have a tendency to feel like I need to try and see everything when visiting a new city–impossible! Loved the post and pinned it!

  17. A refreshingly different perspective to travelling… I agree, it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. You do feel a sense of obligation sometimes to see this, go do that but as you’re quite right, it’s your trip and your experience. Do with it what you will. Well done for speaking out, Sharleen ♡

  18. It’s ok to feel this way or to feel any way you want. It’s human nature to do so but you did a good job combating it, and in the end that is what matters. I’m on the other side of this spectrum where I’m not getting enough traveling done and stuck here in this city for weeks on end.

    1. Oh man, that’s always the worst, isn’t it?? When you just can’t give in to your wanderlust! I’m sure I’ll be in your shoes once we get back home.

  19. Thank you for being brave enough to open up about this topic. Whilst I’ve never experienced, I definitely learned a lot from your post. I agree that it is very important to talk about the negatives to travel. Most people always talk about the positives but not every trip is what we expect. Beautifully written.

    Stephanie
    Adventures in Aussieland

    1. I’m glad I could be helpful! I was trying to find resources for myself and couldn’t find many. Which is how this post was born!

  20. Such a well written and honest post about the other side of travel.
    Glad you found ways to combat it all. I hope you are feeling much better.I do believe lists ,reflections and reading are good for the soul. And yes you do not have to do everything on this trip.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Veruska! I know that I’ll look back on my reflections and they will invoke some great memories.

  21. … wow. I’m applauding your courage to open up this genuinely. Not only for sharing with others, but also because I know this reflection and awareness is something many people don’t really have.

    I can relate a lot to that. This guilty conscience, at first, when not taking enough pictures, not writing everything down, not using every precious moment to discover the place you know you might never see again. But it’s important to sometimes do so.
    When I was on a peak of desperation and felt I had to run, I spontaneously got a rental car and drove 2000 km for one (and my first) day in Venice. I threw away the map, walked where my feet took me and took just one single picture. It was my inner traveling, my contemplating, that made this trip much more valueable to me, even though I love photography or getting in touch with locals.

    The moments you describe and the ways you dealt with your emotions, sounds as if they came just right out of my mind. Listening to my body is still a big challenge. “Take a breath and be”, yes. Your post really moves me, Suz. Keep these spirits high, because they’re truly wonderful!

    1. Christina you are so, so kind! I’m glad it’s relatable to other people; when I was searching for answers as to how I could make myself feel better, I wasn’t finding much. Which made me feel even worse about the way I was feeling! It’s so nice to hear that I’m not alone.

      PS: I’m a bit obsessed with your blog. I’ve been sharing it with everyone!

      1. Now that made me shriek happily haha – it feels so good to hear that!! 🙂

        Well, we’re unfortunately really professional – or, in other words, really human – in talking ourselves into how lonely we are and how black our future looks… been noticing it myself repeatedly, and even if conscious about it, it’s hard to overcome. It’s so much easier to drown a little longer in pity and watching series and simply hoping for time to pass… we gotta find those that understand and hold together, ay!

        1. YES. It’s so hard to overcome, but it’s really wonderful to create relationships with other people who get it. It’s a lifesaver of sorts.

  22. Interestingly, I was writing the same thing about the travel burnout on my blog, and yours offer different tricks and some of them are very useful. I agree slow down and enjoy the moment is the best way to deal with travel burnout. It is trying to cram everything and always on the go cause the exhaustion. We do not have to see everything in one trip, and knowing we can always come back to the same place if we really want to. Thanks for the great article!

    1. You’ll have to share with me when you finish, Julie! I’d love to hear more. I just had a long conversation with my husband today about burnout and exhaustion, it’s definitely an ongoing conversation.

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