Travel Burnout as a Couple

Dealing with travel fatigue mis-match

On a recent trip, I experienced an all-too common side effect of long-term travel: Travel burnout.

I recently returned from a Southeast Asia adventure with my long-term boyfriend. We’ve traveled together for as long as six months before, so I was familiar with the ups and downs of long stretches on the road with a partner.

About a month into what we planned to be an approximately three-month trip, I found myself feeling like a total failure. Everything seemed to get to me: The heat, the humidity, fatigue, bugs, and feeling overwhelmed with all the planning needed for each step of the way.

Burnout had reared its ugly head in all its glory.

What was wrong with me?

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We were in mainstream Southeast Asia countries – Indonesia and Malaysia. Nothing was that hard to figure out. We have stayed in plenty of random places with scorching heat, humidity, weird food, an unfamiliar language, or massive bugs — or all of the above. I found myself easily irritated, snapping at little things and also worrying immensely about every little part of our journey.

Trying to lighten the mood, my boyfriend joked maybe I was having hot flashes. I should point out at this point, we are often older than other long-term or backpacker travelers we encounter; our ages both start with a ‘4’. This did not lighten the mood. I wasn’t having a temporary burst of flushing; I was breaking down, devastated if the A/C wasn’t cool enough, or if the power went out.

I felt like I was failing, not capable of rolling with the punches and trying to find the humor in various situations. It wasn’t an adventure at that point; it wasn’t fun. Eventually, overwhelmed with my feelings of inadequacy, I had a complete breakdown.

I felt like I was failing, not capable of rolling with the punches and trying to find the humor in various situations.

I found myself sobbing uncontrollably and felt like such a loser that I wasn’t more carefree, and I was letting every little thing get the better of me. My poor boyfriend — he didn’t know what to do or how to help me. I was so overwhelmed, I felt my only solution was to pack it in and book a ticket back to San Diego.

I felt defeated. I wanted to see more of Indonesia, I wanted to go to Myanmar, and wanted to see more of Japan. I couldn’t do all those things if I just went home.

But as one who loves to travel and loves to experience new cultures and things, it’s hard not to get down on yourself when this happens.

Long-term travelers will tell you there comes a point, maybe several points, where you just aren’t “feeling it.” You’re sick of the road, sick of things that just don’t quite work like home, and sick of being physically uncomfortable. But as one who loves to travel and loves to experience new cultures and things, it’s hard not to get down on yourself when this happens.

Travel burnout is even more difficult when you’re traveling with someone

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Dealing with travel burnout can be doubly difficult when you are in such close proximity with someone you care for and that person just isn’t feeling the same way you are.

Adding to my emotions were the fact that we were in some of my boyfriend’s favorite places in the world. I couldn’t help feeling that my issues were a reflection on one of his best memories. I didn’t want that. I fought hard to just “get over it” and try and have a positive attitude, but in reality, I was bottling up my feelings to unhealthy levels.

I fought hard to just “get over it” and try and have a positive attitude, but in reality, I was bottling up my feelings to unhealthy levels.

I finally relented, letting my feelings flow, and after a good release, I felt a lot better about my own limitations as a traveler, and what it takes to have a happy experience. I went outside to get some fresh air, and as if a sign, the storm from earlier in the afternoon had cleared and a beautiful rainbow appeared in the light of the setting sun.

I finally realized it was okay

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You know what? I realized that I don’t have to be super-happy and smiley every step of the way. I don’t have to be the same gung-ho girl from even just a few years ago, happily trudging through blinding sun to our little bungalow with a dinky fan to cool us. It’s OK to realize now, at age 42, I want A/C that works. I want a decent bed and bathroom.

What can you do if you find yourself in a similar experience, with mis-matched levels of travel burnout?

A few suggestions to keep in mind:

  1. Go easy on yourself and your travel partner: Remember that each of you has your own idea about what is “fun.”
  2. Communicate! If you are starting to feel burned out, speak up and talk about your feelings, what issues you are struggling with and what’s at the heart of the matter — Are you homesick? Tired of a specific city? Struggling with cuisine? Unhappy with climate? The better you pinpoint your issue, the better you can resolve it.
  3. Think about what would make you happy in your journey and how to best accomplish that based on where you currently are and budget limitations. For example, if you are burned out on city time and really overwhelmed by noise, etc., look at the options for the nearest possible remote or quieter location you are both interested in.
  4. Make a timeline: Take a look at your overall travel plans (at whatever level of detail they are currently at) and figure out when/where you will be able to change your situation. If you have pre-booked or pre-paid transportation and/or accommodation, look at how you can either fit in a quick detour before your next committed event or how you can work those stops into a re-vamped travel itinerary.
  5. Give each other a little space: This might seem counter-intuitive as you are trying to collectively figure out what to do next, but it’s often helpful for you to each think on your own about what you want to do next, then discuss it together (versus talking it out directly where you might be tempted to give in or not speak up if you are truly burned out).
  6. Consider solo travel time: If one of you is really not feeling a certain place/culture/climate, and the other one is loving it and wants to explore more, consider a solo detour for each of you where you spend some time doing different things in different places, with firm plans as to when and where you will rendezvous. It’s okay to go your separate ways from time to time when traveling as a couple – in fact, it’s encouraged! This approach gives each of you something to look forward to as well as anticipation of reuniting and sharing your stories!

Remember, no matter how much each of you may love traveling and adventuring into the unknown together, sometimes either one of you can have a completely different level of burnout that can come with it…and that’s OK.

To read more from and about author Aimee Cebulski, check out her author bio page.

Have you dealt with travel burnout before? Did it impact the person you were traveling with? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Read more about travel burnout and how to deal with it:

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