Yoyu: how to avoid traveller burnout

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On the road, I’ll be writing posts for Atlas & Boots, filing travel features for Asian Bride magazine, and doing the odd commission to keep our travel funds topped up. As such, I’ll be lugging around a laptop throughout the course of the trip.

This is largely fine because it means we can stock up on films and TV programmes for quiet nights in and we’ll also have a way to keep in touch with family and friends. Of course, with this convenience comes the danger that being glued to a screen at home will become being glued to a screen on the road.

Like many of my peers, I spend a scary amount of time in front of a screen, be it a desktop at work, a laptop at home or a smartphone in between – and I want to avoid that on the road. This fear reminded me of a concept I learnt from the founder of Gotomedia, Kelly Goto: the concept of Yoyu.

Yoyu is of Japanese origin and while it has no equivalent in the English language it roughly translates as ‘the space between things’. Kelly, who frequently rushes from one meeting to another – sometimes on different continents – was once told by her mother that she didn’t have enough Yoyu; she didn’t leave enough space between things. It’s something that really resonated with me.

So, to remind myself and other travellers to be mindful of screen time versus real time, I put together a 5-point plan for maintaining Yoyu on the road to help avoid traveller burnout.

1. Don’t fill up all your waiting time

One hundred and fifty. This number has been floating around for a couple of years ever since Nokia found that the average mobile user checks their phone 150 times a day. Tech guru Tomi Ahonen attempted to validate this finding last year, coming up with a set of not-unfeasible numbers.

Four-minute wait for the train? Out comes the phone.
Long line at lunch? Let’s check Twitter.
Friend late for dinner? Open up Facebook.

Even in our daily lives, so many of us relinquish every spare moment to our phones. We feel a desire to destroy quiet, still moments by scrolling, swiping and typing our way into a haze of activity where everything and therefore nothing is really, very important.

On the road, waiting time expands and so this desire intensifies. It’s easy to watch film after film on a long-haul flight and stock our Kindles full of books without really enjoying the downtime. I’m not saying there’s anything noble or enriching about staring at an airplane wing for four hours, or watching 80 miles of grey tarmac on a coach journey, but filling every moment with activity saps the space between things.

I’ll be making a conscious effort to put my phone, laptop and Kindle somewhere difficult to reach for at least partway of long journeys so I can enjoy just having some time.

2. Batch any housekeeping

In my daily life, I have an almost compulsive aversion to idleness. If I have a spare 10 minutes, I’ll do a level of language app Duolingo or delete a few emails or pay a bill. On the road, this can easily translate to researching a visa, searching for a flight or scanning reviews about a potential abode.

For some people, researching and planning is part of the fun but doing it in fits and starts will sap Yoyu. Instead, plan to set aside some time each week – perhaps each day if need be – to batch any housekeeping.

Yes, it will feel like you’re dedicating a bigger chunk of your time to these tasks but it will also make you feel less harried and allow you to enjoy the gaps in all the other days.

3. Don’t plan more than 60% of your schedule

So many of us plan our days for 100% capacity. If all the trains run without delay and all our meetings finish on time and the gods smile down upon us, then we can get A, B, C… Z done today. We tend to carry this over to our vacation time which might be fine for a 2-week break to Sharm el-Sheikh, but it will leave you exhausted on a long-term trip.

Instead of booking every stop along the way, leave your schedule as loose as possible. This way, when things go inevitably awry, you won’t feel stressed about things falling off your jampacked schedule.

4. Treat problems at source

Most travel experts advocate a relaxed attitude on the road. So what if your padlock needs to be jammed up and twisted to 71.0007 degree angle and then pushed open every time you need to do it? That’s fine, they’ll say. Chill. And so what if your SD card doesn’t quite work the first two times you stick it in your laptop? It’s cool.

And you’ve got another bout of Delhi Belly? Ride it out.

Taking a laissez-faire attitude to annoyances may be in keeping with the traveller’s philosophy but dealing with the same issue again and again takes up more time in the long run. Get a new lock or an SD card, buy some decent medicine or go see a doctor – treating problems at source will free up your time and eliminate all the ‘mini stresses’ that can wear you down.

5. Say no

The idealised picture of a traveller is one that embraces every opportunity that comes his way. Dutchies at dawn? Yes! Cocktails before noon? Yes! Cliff diving at night? Yes! Having an open attitude is intrinsic to having a good time on the road, but that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty about saying no once in a while.

If you would prefer to relax by the pool instead of trekking to Nevis Peak on a Sunday morning, do that. And if you want to stay in and read a book instead of going to a Full Moon party, that’s probably okay too. Don’t be peer pressured into doing things because people say you should.

Saying no applies equally to the people back at home. I’ve been asked to review a CV while in Egypt and to advise on insurance in Iceland among a whole host of other things that comes with being the family consigliere. It’s hard to say no but never doing so will sap the Yoyu right out of your trip.

It’s important to remember that unless you’re one of the very few, very lucky full-time travellers, you will go back to your life and back to the admin and screens and scrolling feeds. Travelling is the biggest space between things you’ll likely ever get. Don’t fill it with the same old shit you do at home.

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