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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!