How to treat travel burnout

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Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece on how to avoid travel burnout. The steps described therein really helped us make the most of our time on the road. Step three was particularly effective (i.e. don’t plan more than 60% of your schedule). Between planning, travelling, writing, filming, photographing and filing external commissions, we would have fast run ragged had we not built in pockets of downtime. This worked well until we got to Bolivia.

Ahh, Bolivia. In Visiting Salar de Uyuni, I admitted that Bolivia was the first country in which I genuinely wanted to go home. The feeling was fleeting but it was a surefire sign that all was not well. I felt this way partly because of reasons inherent to Bolivia (freezing showers, uninspiring meals, exhaustingly high altitude) but also because we had started to move faster than before. Up until then, we had covered 10 countries in nine months, spending almost a month in each place. Now we had to get to Patagonia before winter hit and so were racing south, rarely spending more than two nights in any one hostel. By the time we got to Argentina, we were both frazzled. This gave us an insight into the travel burnout that affects many long-timers. If you find yourself yearning for home, here’s how to get ready to get back on the road.

1. Stop!

The first thing to do is stop travelling if you can. Take a week or two (or four if you can afford it) to just stop and refresh. The reason we stayed happy and excited for a nine-month stretch is because we stopped and spent Christmas in Tahiti allowing us to hit reset.

Use Airbnb to find a comfortable home or, if you’re strapped for cash, have a look at HelpX to see if you can volunteer in exchange for food and board. With HelpX, you won’t have 100% of your time to relax but just staying in one place for a while will act as a balm. You may feel this is at the sacrifice of seeing one more place at the end of your trip but it’s better to see eight countries and really enjoy them than 10 countries while feeling drained. When you hit the road again, go slowly and don’t plan more than 60% of your schedule.

2. Compare it to life back home

It was Anna in Peru who said “sometimes I just want to cry” when describing the logistical challenges of overland travel in South America. I was struck by her candour but unsurprised by the sentiment. I had certainly felt like crying on a few occasions (namely when camping). The question to ask on these occasions is: are the stresses of travel worse than the stresses of home? For me, the answer was always an unequivocal no. It’s true I don’t like camping but is waking up in a tent on a FIjian beach worse than fighting my way onto the central line for my long commute to work every morning? Of course not. This recognition goes a long way in readying you for the road again.

If your answer to the question above is yes, then pay extra attention to the last step below.

3. Splash out

Whether it’s booking a better class of accommodation for a few nights, paying over the odds for some custard creams, or going out for a nice dinner, treat yourself to something nice.

In Buenos Aires, we booked an apartment for four nights and had ice cream more often than was necessary but it was a great way to de-stress after a hectic month of travel. A holiday within a holiday sounds overly indulgent but it’s certainly effective particularly if you’ve been roughing it.

4. Get healthy

It’s hard to maintain an exercise routine on the road given that you have no set schedule, but getting active really will make you feel better. I rather optimistically downloaded a ‘7-Minute Workout’ app and completed it all of two times in our Argentine apartment before giving up. If you find it hard to motivate yourself, build activity into your travel style instead: hike, trek, walk, cycle and swim where possible.

In addition, try not to relinquish yourself to cheesy pizzas, sugary drinks and the like. In South America, it was hard to eat healthily but I made small changes (e.g. water instead of coke) to help where possible. Getting and staying healthy will put you in a better frame of mind.

5. Let go of YOLO and FOMO

The phenomena of YOLO (You Only Live Once) and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) encourage us to say yes to everything. You’re travelling, they say. Go out! Drink! Dance! Have fun!

Saying no is not only important in avoiding travel burnout but in treating it too. You can’t and won’t see everything. You have a finite amount of time and a finite amount of energy so sometimes you’ll have to miss out – not just on parties and events but sights and attractions too.

In Peru, we spent time in Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes (for Machu Picchu), Nazca and Puno but we missed out on Colca Canyon. In Argentina, we’ve seen Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, El Calafate (for Perito Moreno), El Chalten and Buenos Aires but we’re missing Salta, Cordoba and Mendoza. Don’t try to do everything.

6. Seek out the same

Loneliness can play a big part in travel burnout. In this case, seek out expats from your home country. Look for meetups in relevant expats groups on Facebook, ask the tourist office about expat hangouts, have a look at WAYN to find likeminded people. No traveller wants to spend all their time with people from back home but a taste of the familiar will be a definite comfort.

7. Have an end in sight

We met Australian backpacker Tanya in Cotopaxi, Ecuador. She had been on the road for 14 months after selling her property and was planning to keep going with no specific deadline in mind.

A month later, we happened to bump into her on our way to Atacama in Chile. She told us she had booked tickets and was flying home in a few days. This was a big surprise (to us and her). She said that, in theory, an open-ended journey sounded great but in practice, became quite overwhelming.

If you’re lucky enough to have as much travel time as you want, it may be useful to set an end date anyway. This way, you know your time on the road is finite and you’ll be more likely to make an effort to enjoy it.

8. Seriously assess if you want to go back

When we bid our farewell at London Heathrow last year, Peter’s father leaned forward and (presumably familiar with Peter’s many ‘quirks’) said to me: “If you find you want to come home early, come home. There is absolutely no shame in that.”

He’s right. If you’ve genuinely had enough of being on the road and you’re sure it’s not just homesickness and none of the above has helped, then seriously consider going home.

Takeout on tap and endless hot showers? Seriously. We’ll all understand.


Lead image: Atlas & Boots

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