Even the most nomadic of wanderers can get it.
It can come when you least expect – whether it be after a spat you have with your traveling partner after barely a week on the road, or after months of going hard, sightseeing, energetic mountain biking and hiking, canopy tours, bungee jumping, and meeting new people every day.
Maybe you just split up from a great guy you were hooking up with since Panama City. Maybe you conquered your fear of scuba diving or did an insanely difficult hike, but now are left feeling like something is missing.
It’s called the travel slump. Symptoms include depression, a sense of wandering without purpose, feeling listless and bored, but not wanting to leave the comfort of the hostel bar.
It can happen to the most mobile vagrants, especially (but not limited to) those traveling for longer amounts of time. After a while, you’ve seen so many museums that they are all starting to look the same. You feel bad about yourself for salivating over the occilated turkeys at the Copan Ruins because you skipped breakfast. You aren’t in the mood to meet new people or go out, and want to assault the next smiling American who comes up to you with a “Where ya from?” like that merits a conversation.
This isn’t like you.
You are always up for going out, constantly rousing people or yourself to see what’s out there, to get lost in the town and not care, to find the best street food, and to out-drink the largest local. You’ve got a while left to travel still. Continuing with this attitude is not an option.
How do you shake yourself out of the slump and get back to the wide eyed, active adventurer self that you once were?
Allow yourself to have a bad day. Don’t put so much pressure on the trip that every day or event has to be mind-blowing. Take it easy.
Search through the hostel book or game shelf. One hungover and rainy morning in Flores, Guatemala, I found “Cute Animal Memory.” We had a few heated games, with a lot of shouting. I played with a few other people in the same situation as I was.
After that, I found the last Narnia book, the only one of the series I hadn’t read as a kid. A guy poured me a Bloody Mary from a jug he had been mixing in the kitchen, and just like that, I felt revamped and happy to be traveling.
>> Find out why you need a vacation
2. Go Local
Go to the local gym and see how people work out on this side of the world. Play basketball? Try joining a pickup game.
Ask someone on the street where he usually goes to eat lunch. After a night or two of going out, some people may even invite you home for a dinner at their house, or to a family birthday party or gathering. They also can let you know about festivals nearby or university events going on that you would never read about in a guidebook.
Playing with the local kids is also a fun way to pass the time. Depending of course on where you are, people are usually happy to talk when foreigners show interest. Especially if you make an effort to speak even just a few words of their language. Which brings me to…
3. Learn the Language
Even if you learn just a few words in the local language, it can make a big difference in how people react to you. Alternatively, you can also learn the lingo of fellow travelers.
When I was in Guatemala a few weeks ago, I ended up learning as much Australian slang as Spanish. Some crowd pleasers were “goonbag” (a bag of wine found in boxes), “blind” (drunk, pronounced bloind) and “pinching a dart” (bumming a cigarette).
Guidebooks often have language sections, and hostels also usually have dictionaries lying around. Download some phrases and vocab onto your iPhone or iTouch, if you have one. Study these while you’re traveling in between destinations, or during your morning coffee.
>> Check out new ways to learn a language
4. Reassess Your Travel Goals
Or make new ones.
Visit every country in Central America. Bike the World’s Most Dangerous Road. Visit as many famous gravestones as you can. Do something active in every city. Go for the 7-7, the Holy Grail of hookup bragging rights (hooking up with one person from every continent, on that continent).
I met someone in Guatemala who had gone swimming in the ocean every day for a month, and another person who was biking from Alaska to the southern tip of Chile. Travel goals give you the motivation to live out your journey with purpose, and with an eye for what your accomplishments may grant you in the future.
5. Conquer a Fear
Getting out of your comfort zone can be a liberating thing.
Go bungee jumping or cliff diving. Some bars offer dancing lessons before they open for the night. When you next go out, tell your friends to choose the hottest girl or guy in the bar, and walk up and start up a conversation (here’s where your language skills may come in handy).
Find a karaoke bar and embarrass yourself in front of strangers (there are usually a good amount of English songs to choose from). Try the local delicacies, like the cuy (roasted guinea pig) in Cusco, Colombian morcilla (pig’s blood sausage), or rotten shark meat in Iceland.
Whatever it is, push yourself to do something you normally would not, and see where it takes you.
>> Learn how to get over a fear of flying
6. Fall in with a New Group of People
Seek out the people in your hostel you didn’t think about talking to.
Start talking to the least interesting looking person in the hostel and see where it leads. Often they surprise you. I did this once in Barcelona and ended up meeting a guy who had helped in creating one of my favorite computer games (Sid Meier’s Civilization).
The hostel workers are also usually pretty interesting. Some actually don’t get to know or party with that many travelers who come through. Ask them what their plans are for the night, as they often know of the best live music or bars to visit.
Another option is to get in touch with an expat and find out what it’s like to live there. You can usually find local expats online and browse through their blogs to get an idea of people to contact.
>> Find out how to make friends without hosteling
7. Learn a New Skill
Go to a martial arts class, like taekwondo or capoeira (a mix between break-dancing and martial arts that often has live music). Have someone teach you a song on the guitar or how to fold paper cranes.
Ask if another traveler in the hostel kitchen needs help cooking and learn a new recipe. If you buy a few bracelets off someone in the market, they’ll usually be happy to teach you how to make one on your own.
Community centers in large cities often have a variety of classes you can take, and gyms also offer a good selection of classes you may never have heard of before. Some of these skills may come in handy in the future.
>> Learn about taking a cooking class on your trip
Get Back to Being Yourself
The bottom line is this – rest, recharge your batteries, and remember that you are doing what you love. Once you’re home, you will probably find yourself wishing you were back where you are today.
- 12 Ways to Combat the Solo Travel Blues
- How to Know if Long Term Travel is Right for You
- 7 Signs Your Just Want to Stay Put
all photos by Maria Anderson and may not be used without permission