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Travel Burnout: Is it Real? Will I Get It?

So you have never traveled long term before, huh? When researching this whole RTW trip thing, you may have stumbled across the term travel burnout. You have heard the stories about these RTW travelers who actually get sick and tired of travel. You have heard people talk about what to do when it happens to you. As you sit and read these stories, you probably just shake your head, saying to yourself, “I will never get sick of traveling, and travel burnout won’t happen to me!”

You, my friend, are wrong!

What is Travel Burnout?

I know I’m probably not going to convince you right away that travel burnout is going to happen to you, but let’s take a quick step back and talk about what travel burnout actually is.

If you do something too much, regardless of what that something is, you will ultimately get tired of it. Playing a sport, doing yoga, eating pizza, watching television, having sex – if you do any of those things constantly day after day after day, you will tire eventually (OK, maybe not the last one). No matter how much you love to travel, if you do it for long enough, you will get sick of it. I promise.

While jetting off to exotic lands – taking buses and trains and taxis and tuk-tuks, staying in fun hostels and meeting other travelers and locals, eating new and amazing food, and seeing famous site after famous site after famous site all sounds amazing – and it is – eventually all people hit their breaking point.

Travel is all fun and new and great at the beginning, but after a while, those buses become uncomfortable instead of a cool new mode of transport. That tuk-tuk driver’s constant talk of great tours at “special price for you” becomes annoying instead of funny. The same backpacker’s story about getting wasted becomes old instead of amusing. After being on the road for a while, things tend to start getting on your nerves.

How to Notice the Signs of Travel Burnout

There are several signs of travel burnout, and many times, especially if you’ve never dealt with it before, you won’t even notice it. The biggest sign of travel burnout is a simple one. If you notice that you just don’t have that same sense of excitement anymore, it may be hitting you.

You may notice you’re in a bit of a funk, and for some reason no matter what you do, it’s just not that fun anymore. You stay in bed longer each morning, you decline nightly drink invitations more often than you did at the beginning of your trip, you find yourself wanting to hang out in the hostel reading a book or watching a movie rather than exploring a city. You stay in one city longer because you just don’t feel like messing with another train or bus station. You find yourself calling home more often, eating familiar foods, and finding anything that reminds you of home.

It’s OK! You’re Allowed to Feel this Way

The first time a traveler deals with travel burnout, the first thought is to beat themselves up over it. You’re on the trip of a lifetime, so what right do you have to feel this way? With so many others dreaming of living this type of lifestyle, you may feel guilty for not being excited anymore.

STOP! Just allow yourself to feel this way for a bit. It will happen at some point over the course of your trip. It happens to everyone! No matter how well traveled a person is or no matter how many times they have been on an extended trip, it will still happen. It’s just part of long term travel.

Accepting that you will feel this way is only going to help you get over that feeling quicker. Even if you are in an amazing place that you have really been looking forward to, and you are simply not having fun, that’s all right. It’s allowable. Recognizing that you may be a bit sick of the travel lifestyle and feeling homesick is just part of the deal when it comes to RTW travel.

A Personal Story of Travel Burnout

My wife and I took a RTW trip in 2008-2009. Before our trip, our longest time away from home was a 3 week trip to Western Europe in 2005. We knew about travel burnout, and like most first time, RTW travelers, we swore it would never happen to us. We loved travel too much to allow it to happen, we told ourselves.

When we had our first bout of travel burnout, we were in Laos, a country we were really, really looking forward to visiting. We had heard nothing but great things about it, yet there we were, 2 weeks into what was supposed to be at least 4 weeks in Laos, and not really having a great time. We weren’t having a bad time, but it wasn’t living up to our expectations.

Nothing was really exciting to us. We couldn’t figure out what to do on a daily basis. We were arguing more often, and our decision-making abilities were suddenly terrible. We had the dreaded, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” conversation multiple times a day. We simply weren’t having fun anymore.

So despite the fact that we planned on spending at least a month in this country we were extremely excited about visiting, we decided to cut our ties with Laos. We knew it wasn’t about the country, just our state at the time. Laos can be a difficult and uncomfortable place to travel, so that didn’t help matters either. So we decided to head back to Bangkok, which was quickly becoming our home away from home on the trip, and we decided to high tail it down to a Thai island for a little R&R.

How to Combat Travel Burnout

After acceptance, it all comes down to each, individual person and what their preferences are. For us, it took us a few weeks to even accept what was going on. Our travel burnout started creeping in before we even crossed over into Laos, we just didn’t notice it yet. After a couple weeks in Laos, it had boiled over in Vientiane, and we knew we needed a change.

So we thought of what would be best for our psyches, which is what everyone should do. Some can just go out on a long run to clear their heads. Some can schedule a skype call home with Mom or Dad or some nieces and nephews, with a few friendly faces and a smiling kid or two to cheer them up and get them back on track. Some decide to head out into the wilderness, hiking and getting back in touch with nature to combat that crummy feeling.

We decided to hit up a Thai island, figuring a nice week on a beach while staying in a nicer place would get us going again. And we were right. Once we crossed back into Thailand and back to Bangkok, a city we were extremely comfortable in, we started feeling better. Once we arrived on the island a few days later, we felt great. A week later, we were ready to tackle a new country in Vietnam with a renewed vigor and excitement.

If you are suffering from a little travel burnout, do whatever you think is going to make you happy. Heading somewhere a little more familiar, a little easier to travel in is always a good idea. Splurging on a nice hotel room and getting out of the hostel scene for a few is always good. Head to the beach, the mountains, or a big, bustling city, whatever your antidote to make you feel better. Hell, go into McDonald’s for a Big Mac if that will help. Familiarity and ease of travel are the two biggest ways to get over travel burnout and homesickness.

If you are planning your first extended trip, then read up on travel burnout. It’s sometime that happens to all travelers at some point, and the best way to get out of your funk is to accept that it will happen. Knowing beforehand that this is something you’re going to have to deal with will just make it that much easier when it does come along.

And when you do start getting that feeling – be prepared, head to the beach, hike a mountain, call a friend – do whatever is best for you!

Next: The Benefits of Slowing Down »

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