Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Ask Kate: I’m Not Enjoying My Travels

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What happens when the trip of your dreams isn’t turning out as planned? This reader wants to know.

Hi Kate,

I’m currently farming with WWOOF in Spain, and I’ve spent about two months here so far. In between farms I have visited various cities, but this being my first trip out of the country and my first time traveling alone, it’s not what I thought.

Could you tell me more about what it actually means to Travel? I always hear about people loving Travel, and being addicted and having fabulous vacations. I don’t really know what it means to Travel beyond eating and sight-seeing. I’m not exactly swanning around European cities with the typical backpackers my age, but this whole thing feels a little empty. I’m hoping there’s more to it than this!

Thanks!

This happens more often than you’d think. You’re on the trip of the lifetime, a trip you thought you’d adore, but it just isn’t turning out the way you thought it would.

To be honest, I was surprised to hear that you were spending your first trip primarily WWOOFing. (WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms — generally speaking, you get free accommodation in exchange for half a day of work on an organic farm, six days a week. It’s available all over the world.) WWOOFing is a great way to see the world close to the ground while keeping up a healthy lifestyle as you travel.

But in my experience, most of the people I know who have WWOOFed have done so short-term with a goal in mind: either to save money or take a break from moving for awhile. My friend Candice did it for a month in Lesvos, Greece; my friends Beth and Randy have done it on and off, mostly in Italy.

By contrast, the only people I know who have made WWOOFing the core of their trip are hardcore farmers. They adore being outside and getting their hands dirty. They go crazy if they go too long without getting out of the city. They aren’t the ones who go to the farmer’s market — they are the ones selling to you in the farmer’s market.

Maybe you’ve hit your WWOOFing limit, and even the brief city visits in between don’t excite you anymore. Maybe you’re just in a rut, which happens to us all.

So what should you do?

It’s time to shake things up, girl.

Here are ways to change your travels:

Buy a ticket on a budget flight to anywhere in Europe that catches your fancy. Use Skyscanner and select “everywhere” as your destination — that will tell you how cheap you can fly to certain places! Spain is a super-popular holiday destination for Europeans, so you’ll be able to find cheap flights everywhere.

Stay in a cool social/party hostel. Meet guests, hang out, join a pub crawl, make out with some hot Australians (I mean, what?). One brand I love is Europe’s Famous Hostels — they are generally really fun hostels with a social atmosphere. Also check out the Luxury Hostels of Europe ebook (free for download with one click) — these are some of the best hostels on the continent!

Take organized day trips and add some activities to your schedule. Try out free city tours (though remember to tip your guide). Do something physical like whitewater rafting or hiking. Explore catacombs or sewers or bone churches. Do a food tour. Hostels are crammed with brochures for activities like these.

Join Couchsurfing and find a local meetup. Many European cities have weekly meetups for the Couchsurfing community. You don’t need to stay on someone’s couch — all are welcome. Locals, expats, travelers, people just passing through like you! Everyone is welcome. Join the group for the city you’re visiting and you’ll find an event calendar. You can also post on the message board saying you’re looking to meet new people — this is how I did my first solo trip ever (to Buenos Aires in 2008) and I made so many friends that way!

Take a break and splurge on nice private accommodation. Head to a beach town and get yourself a nice Airbnb rental for a few days and chill out by yourself. (If you’re using Airbnb for the first time, you can get $25 off your first stay here.) Lie on the beach. Read your Kindle. Drink cocktails. Repeat.

Go to a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting. Not where you think you should go or people say you should go — where you want to go. Maybe somewhere like Venice. Or Paris. Or Prague. Or Dubrovnik.

If you’re still feeling melancholy after trying the items on this list, head home. It’s not a state of failure — far from it. You’ve had an amazing first trip on your own, and you’ll continue to have amazing trips around the world. Maybe they won’t be long-term trips, or solo trips, but that’s okay.

Sometimes, it’s just time to go home. And there is nothing wrong with that. It even happens to travel bloggers!

Best of luck to you, dear reader, and I’m really proud of you for doing such an ambitious trip for your first time abroad. You should be proud of yourself as well.

Comments

44 Responses to “Ask Kate: I’m Not Enjoying My Travels”
  1. Not all types of travel experiences are for everyone. WWOOFing sounds like something I’d never want to do, for example! I think with travel it’s all about trial and error – the more you do it, the more you figure out what you actually enjoy and what you don’t.

    Great advice, Kate. I particularly love the Airbnb idea. Reading and drinking cocktails for a week recharges even the most disillusioned of us!

  2. Naomi says:

    It’s all about finding your style of travelling, some people love budget travel, for others only luxury will do. It definitely took me a while to find mine and I’m pretty sure there are still things I’d like to tweak about it. It’s just a case of trial and error and that’s the beauty of travel in a way – you find out more about yourself and your personal preferences every time you go!

  3. melissa says:

    I traveled with a girl for about 11 days who dubbed herself a flashpacker. While she wasn’t paying out the wazoo on accommodation, she didn’t exactly like roughing it in dorms either. She was willing to pay more to get from point A to point B for the convenience and ease. She figured all this out very early on in her trip and enjoyed herself more because of it.

    • That’s what I’m doing nowadays, Melissa! Tonight, I’m staying in a $72 hotel in the city center because there was no way in hell I was in the mood for a crappy hostel dorm.

  4. Alouise says:

    Great suggestions Kate. Shaking up travels can definitely help get you out of a travel funk. I was burnt out and feeling pretty meh when I was in Ottawa last year, so I took the train to Montreal and got just the boost I needed to keep traveling and enjoy it. As well traveling alone, as much as I love it, won’t be for everyone. Maybe seeing if a friend or family member can join up with you somewhere in Europe will help boost your travel spirit, and if not the suggestions of meeting people in hostels or at couchsurfing meetups is a great idea.

    • People can be instant game changers, Alouise! While it’s often tough for people to do an impromptu trip from North America, the Couchsurfing/hostel option can fill that gap.

  5. I completely agree with everything you said, Kate, but especially the last 2 on the list. Part of what makes travel so addictive is getting to see things you know you’ll love. It’s great to be spontaneous and roll the dice on a random trip. And it’s OK if that doesn’t work out. But if you’ve always been dying to go somewhere, go for it!

    And when I was studying abroad in Russia, I had all this marvelous plans for backpacking through Scandinavia and northern Europe afterwards. I even bought a one way ticket to St. Petersburg at the beginning of the summer and brought only the bare essentials with me. But by the time my semester was over, I was so fatigued and homesick, I just went straight back to the States. There’s little point in going on a trip if you’re not in the right mindset to enjoy it.

  6. I would have cried had I started out WOOFing first! I have friends who have done it and say it’s actually quite hard and can get lonely. Love your tips! I find that sometimes traveling alone is best for me, but when starting out having a friend was really great.

  7. Julia says:

    Great Advice. This has happened to me a few times while traveling – I remember once being in Paris and feeling miserable and writing in my journal “HOW CAN I BE MISERABLE??! I’M IN FREAKIN’ PARIS??!”. Sometimes solitude doesn’t always feel so great. Sometimes its rainy or cold or you feel a disconnect from everything around you, and not the poetic kind of disconnect that might inspire you to write or wander alone through mysterious unknown streets – the kind that makes you want to hide in your room and watch a movie in bed ,except you are staying a hostel dorm full of people who already seem to know one another and you feel left out and with NO privacy. Moments like these, I definitely second the advice to SHAKE IT UP and go somewhere else , splurge on a private hotel room, meet up with someone from couchsurfing – I have always had great luck with meet ups from that site, even if I dont choose to ‘couchsurf’ – its a great way to make friends! Try to keep perspective and remember tomorrow is a new day! Also: put AWAY your phone and computer, as its really easy to just use technology as a crutch if we feel lonely or unhappy. Strike up a conversation even if it makes you nervous…ask for directions even if you dont need it. You might just meet someone interesting and your whole day could be changed!

  8. Leah says:

    On my first big international trip (Paris!), I didn’t really know what it meant to travel either, and I went around to the sites in a bit of a daze, like–“I’m in the most glamorous city I’ve ever seen, and I’m bored out of my skull…what’s going on here??”

    It wasn’t until after I got home that I sort of realized what I wanted to get out of travel.

    I wanted to meet people, to eat local food, and to enjoy the culture.

    Now, I try to plan activities that build in those things. How can I meet people? What time of year are the events I want to experience? What’s the local dish? Where can I get it?

    Oftentimes, it takes a lot of planning to “serendipitously” come across travel experiences worth talking about. What’s more, it’s harder to build them in AFTER you’ve arrived at a destination.

    Take some time to re-group and decide what you want out of a travel experience. Then, plan the places and events that will let you experience those things.

    And sometimes, you don’t realize how impactful a travel experience has been until you look backward 😉

  9. “No Plans = No Expectations = No Regrets”. That’s the equation I live by. Maybe it’s time to let go of what you imagined your trip to be and just letting things happen. My most enjoyable and memorable moments were actually “misadventures”. Go somewhere without an itinerary. Connect with the locals, connect with other travellers. Somehow, all these people and little events will change your perspective in a way just as long as you keep an open mind. That’s how travelling makes you grow. I hope you’ll continue to travel.

  10. Ele says:

    I cried when I was in Berlin. Loneliness just kicked in and I was sulking in the dorm bed at night.

    • Aww. I cried when I was in Prague. I’d done plenty of solo flying before, but that was my first ever trip where I was staying all alone. I got back to the hotel after my first day of exploring and cried and stuffed a Milka bar in my face.

  11. Cyra says:

    Great advice Kate, and I also agree that WWOOFing is probably not the best choice for first time traveller, but these mistakes happen. Live and learn!

    I worked for awhile as an Aupair in Rome and I ended up not enjoying it. So I left, took the first train to Florence and stayed in a hostel and hung out there for a bit while I worked out what to do next. If something is not working – try something new!

    I also think (as much as I don’t want to believe it!) that travel simply isn’t for everyone. All you can do is try new things and then decide if it is for you or not. But the right thing is to give it a go before you decide it’s not your thing.

  12. Richelle says:

    This is such a great post! It’s so important to figure out your travel style, otherwise you’ll be miserable and irritable. I’ve learned through trial and error that I like spending longer amounts of time in each city, not rushing to check every place off my bucket list. Last summer I traveled for a month and thought it was too long, but this summer I traveled for a month and thought it was too short. The difference was that last summer I went to way too many places and didn’t spend enough time in each one. This summer I took things more slowly and spent at least a couple days in each place.

  13. Victoria says:

    Your tips are great Kate. WWOOFing isn’t something you should do unless you’re really into the outdoors. However, we live and learn and these things happen to us all at some point, so the reader shouldn’t feel too bad. One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that!

    I’d say that you were spot on Kate in suggesting that the reader fly to another destination. Easyjet or RyanAir (Yikes!) is good for that I-just-wanna-get-out-of-here moment and meeting random, fun people. And after a few drinks, and a couple of hugs, she’ll feel so much better and alive, knowing that she wasn’t to blame. It’s just the way it is. 🙂

  14. Your ‘Ask Kate’ posts are always so spot-on! I think your advice is really solid and is applicable to anyone in a bit of a rut. I think if I would have started traveling by WWOOFing, I would have gone home after the first week 🙂

  15. Great advice, Kate. I will never forget how lonely I once felt while on my solo trip to Australia. I was spending a few days at a surf camp and sadness and loneliness just came over me. I sat in my hostel room contemplating hopping on the next flight home. Instead, I forced myself to stop sulking, get out of the room and mingle with other surfers. After a few boxes of goon and a few new friends (read: make outs with an English guy), I was back loving the travel experience! 😉

  16. Great Advice – I love all your options for shaking it up. I think I will I will have to try the ‘everywhere’ option in flight searches at some point. It sounds too cool. 🙂

  17. Cynthia says:

    I personally LOVE work-staying and would prefer to travel this way, but I know it’s not for everyone. And if it’s not something you love when you try it then it’s definitely time to follow the tips you’ve outlined.
    But also, travel is not for everyone, especially solo travel… that definitely could be the issue here.

  18. Clay says:

    Sweet tips Kate! I think you nailed it on the head with this one. Feeling that “emptiness” is one of my fears as well. I think we all go through a period like that every now and then, completely natural!

  19. Solid advice. Thankfully I’ve never been completely disappointed by a trip although there have certainly been days and experiences that were disappointing. I definitely agree that there is no “shame” in defeat as in going home early. The fact that the poster did 2 months already, I tip my hat off to her! I could never do it. But I agree that she needs to do something fun, different in the meantime.

  20. Gabriel says:

    For me it’s just about doing a little bit of everything until you find what best suits your style of travel. Like a couple people said, wwoofing isn’t for everyone and definitely not something to do on all of your travels as well. Great tips though =D

  21. Amanda says:

    Really good tips, Kate! (And thanks for the link!) I agree that WWOOFING might not be the best bet for your very first solo trip. But hopefully the experience won’t turn this reader completely off traveling! Everyone needs to find the travel style that works best for them.

  22. Rebekah says:

    I really want to try WWOOFing… but I’m a fairly dirty hippie girl and I think I’d enjoy it…. for a short while anyways. I love the advice to just go for a change, I think we all get so attached to our plans sometimes that we forget we’re allowed to change them. Also making out with hot australians always helps things too

  23. Rachel says:

    Great ideas- I’ve already emailed this post to myself to remind me of these tips while traveling. I’ve definitely been lonely while living abroad before. Another recommendation: Stay off social media and try to live in the moment. Stop worrying about what all your friends are doing back home. Or maybe that’s just a problem I have? I’d love to try WWOOFING in the short-term and based on those links you provided, Greece and Italy look like awesome places to do it.

  24. Great advice, Kate! The biggest reason I chose Workaway over WWOOF was because, to be frank, I don’t give a crap about farming. With Workaway I could do shorter projects (2-3 weeks) and they could be things I had a genuine interest in. My first 2 weeks were spent building a website documenting Irish heritage & after that I led stand up paddle boarding tours in the Greek islands. Limiting yourself to farming or gardening when it isn’t your passion is a sure way to fizzle out fast.

    I started the 2nd part of my trip determined to be a hardcore backpacker. I found out quickly that I was not. I’m no longer a party girl, and dirty, noisy hostels are simply not fun for me. The best advice is to experiment and find YOUR travel style – everyone has their own, and as long as you’re not hurting the environment or the local culture, there’s no right or wrong way to travel.

  25. Ken Stanphill says:

    I’ve been traveling for 60 years and the thought of having to get up and work on a farm sounds like a nightmare. I’ve always lived in a big city in Ca. and now Las Vegas so farming wouldn’t be something I would like to do. Your right try something else and if she still doesn’t like traveling go home, travel isn’t for everyone. I’m lucky I fly free and get big discounts on Hotels,but the down side is you don;t know where you are going til the last minute. A few weeks ago I was headed to Madrid and I was #5 with 10 seats available at the last minute I was # 25 with 10 seats so I new I wasn’t going to make the flight.I start looking for a place to go and the only thing I could find was Tokyo with 40 seats. 14 hours later I was in Tokyo then from there I went to Bangkok back to Hong Kong and back to SFO. Toyko is great Bangkok is better and Hong Kong I could get a nonstop back to the US. I love to travel to anywhere so flying with short notice I love some people couldn’t deal with it but I love it.

  26. I would have cried had I started out WOOFing. Love your tips! I find that sometimes traveling alone is best for me, but when starting out having a friend was really great.

  27. Holly says:

    Hi Kate, your blog is very inspiring and has some great advice for travellers…I’m going to be startiing my own travel adventure in the next month or so, starting in Lagos, Portugal…from there who knows where I will go but I’m very excited. Any tips from anyone, greatly appreciated 🙂

  28. Tiffany says:

    The first time I traveled out of the U.S. on my own, I went to Spain and loved every minute! I participated in a program called Vaughn Town. Essentially, you spend six days at this rustic Spanish village, Valdelavilla, which is located a couple of hours outside of Madrid. The company pays for your room and board, and you agree to talk to Spaniards (mostly execs) so that they practice conversational English. It was a lot of work (who knew talking was so hard!) but it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I wasn’t completely on my own during my first time in a foreign country alone and I was able to make lots of new friends along the way. I believe that they expanded the program to Italy at one point, but I’m not sure if they’re still running programs there.

  29. Shaz Lake says:

    My first big trip started out WWOOFing in Hawaii for 3 months and it’s actually some of the best memories I have from all of my travels! It’s definitely not something I’d be up for today, but as a first time trip it was exactly what I needed.

    I’m not the farming type at all, I was a fashion designer before leaving to travel, so it really opened me up to a side of travel that I never knew. We would go snorkelling, cliff jumping, waterfall trekking, or hiking in the afternoons, and further trips on weekends. We got to know locals and their secret spots, we hitch hiked around the island, we did beach yoga at sunset, we had “family” dinners once a week. It was great and I hardly spent any money.

    I can see why it wouldn’t be for everybody, after three months I was pretty sick of farm work. The farms can also differ greatly in the experience you’ll have depending on the people/location/work/accommodation, so it’s worth it to ask a lot of questions before committing.

    Perhaps Europe isn’t a great place for it, or maybe the farm just wasn’t right, but I’d definitely recommend it in Hawaii!

  30. Beanie says:

    It’s so brilliant reading this post – I’ve just come back from travelling 10 days early. It may not seem like much, but when you’re only out there 4 months and travelling at the pace I was that’s like missing the opportunity to explore a whole country!

    I wrote a few weeks back about the travelling lows and the response I got was insane – I think it’s so so hard to put your hands up and go “yup, I want to come home” especially and most people think of travelling like one giant, extended holiday.

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