In Malawi I had my first battle with travel burnout. It wouldn't be my last.
It was over 10 years ago, but I'll never forget my worst day of travel burnout - a horrible combination of homesickness, culture shock, and sheer exhaustion. And pus. Lots of pus.
People often sneer when they hear the words 'travel burnout' and offer disparaging comments such as "Must be soooooo hard to be traveling all the time" or "Poor you, with your first world problems". But the truth is that anyone can experience burnout from any activity or circumstance.
No person is fully immune from feeling lonely, overwhelmed, frustrated, or isolated. And unlike burnout from work, family stress, or a stalled creative project, travel burnout comes with geographic, cultural, and linguistic isolation which even the most optimistic traveler would find difficult to cope with. You are separated from your support system, you lack control over your environment, and you may even face a serious conflict in your values and ethics.
I suspect that fast paced trips are even more susceptible to burnout than a slower style of travel. City hopping can be exhilarating but also overwhelming. The excitement of a new hotel each night doesn't always mask the loss of community; the sense of place that comes when you stay in the same neighbourhood for a few days. With more extremely fast paced travel planed, I'm trying to learn from the past and prepare for a balanced, healthy, happy trip. Here's are my top three tips for keeping sane on the road.
Shift the sand and shake the dead weight.
I find scrub out days to be hugely cathartic. Aside from the practical benefits of having all your clothing clean and supplies restocked, it can actually be soothing to do familiar, routine domestic tasks. Drop some dead weight from your pack, be it of the physical or emotional variety. Solve some lingering problems - fix that broken strap or vanquish that lingering stain. Enjoy a bottle of wine, put on your favourite music, and have some quiet time. Then reward yourself by reading Jones' book. No piece of travel writing has stayed with me longer.
We are preparing ahead by focusing on throw away packing (pretty much exactly as it sounds - ditching packed clothing as you go. Here's why we love it), planning ahead to stay at hostels with laundry facilities, and generally trying to build quiet time into our days.
Defeat the dreaded day 3.
I'm so predictable that we now automatically schedule in some downtime on Day 3 - a nicer hotel, some chill out time in a bookstore, some comfort food. Beating burnout doesn't necessarily have to involve a full on retreat from travel. You can simply slow down the pace and give yourself a bit of time to breathe. (And if you're inspired to do a scrub out day as seen above, why not combine the two?)
Give yourself a big upgrade - or downgrade.
On the other hand, if you've been spending a lot of time in private rooms in hotels, inns, and guest homes, spend a few nights in a hostel dorm. You'll save some major money and will enjoy days of new connections with upbeat travellers who are eager to join forces for meals, drinks, and excursions. Let someone else figure out the bus route or taxi negotiations and be content to let someone else choose the restaurant. Give your mind a break and your heart a boost.
Sometimes travel has ups and down. So what?
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PS - This post was published in the Stockholm central train station awaiting an overnight train to Lapland - no burnout on this trip yet!