Travel Burnout is Real. Here’s How to Deal with It.

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Imagine that you’re finally on the long-awaited trip of your dreams. You planned everything perfectly — the carefully spaced itinerary, the comfortable and ideally located accommodation, the highly recommended restaurants, the Instagram shots that will make your friends jealous.

You go on the trip, and it’s wonderful. Then somewhere around the third or fourth day, things change.

You suddenly lose the desire to explore.

You’re tired, irritable, and cranky.

You find yourself annoyed and frustrated by local peculiarities that you once found charming.

You’re struck by an urge to stay in your room all day.

You spend more time browsing your phone in Starbucks than exploring your destination.

That, my friends, is travel burnout. It happens to me all the time — most recently, in Kyoto.

The narrow non-sidewalks annoyed me. The tourist crowds annoyed me. I found myself standing in front of the gate to Yasaka Shrine, one of my favorite temples from my 2013 trip to Japan, and I couldn’t even muster the energy to walk inside.

Plus, it was a gloomy winter afternoon and I knew I wouldn’t get photos as good as the ones I got in 2013. How amazing is that light?!

Myths About Travel Burnout

There is a lot of misinformation out there about travel burnout. Let’s start by evaluating the myths.

1. You can’t get travel burnout on a short trip.

Think burnout only happens to backpackers on months-long trips? Nope, not at all. Even if you’re only traveling for a few days, you can easily get burned out if you pack too much into your time frame or you have a bad mindset or have a difficult experience.

2. You can’t get burnout in an “easy” destination or somewhere that’s within your culture.

Not true at all. Even traveling across the country — to Seattle if you’re from Boston, or to Bristol if you’re from Leeds — can be overwhelming. It doesn’t matter where you go; it can happen anywhere.

3. Travel experts don’t burn out.

Hi. Raises hand. It happens to me and pretty much every professional travel blogger I know. Google around and it won’t take you long to find posts with bloggers complaining about working too much, being tired, and needed to make a change because their travels aren’t fun anymore.

4. Burning out is the sign of being a bad traveler.

Absolutely, completely false. Be kind to yourself. Having a cheat meal doesn’t make you bad at fitness, losing your temper doesn’t make you a bad parent, and getting burned out doesn’t make you a bad traveler.

5. With careful planning, you can avoid travel burnout.

Sure, carefully planning your travel is a way to ensure the best trip possible. And while you might be able to reduce the chance of burnout, unfortunately there’s no way to guarantee it won’t hit anyway.

When I was in high school I had to take a life skills class that covered topics like alcohol abuse. I can still remember all the factors that affect how intoxicated a person can get: How much they drink. How fast they drink. Their past drinking experience. How much they’re eating. Their moods and feelings. Whether or not they’re taking other drugs or medications.

Well, let’s translate that over to the travel world. What affects how burned out a traveler can get? How long they’re traveling. How fast they’re traveling. The ease of travel in this destination. The financial stress of this destination. Whether they’re working while traveling. Whether any disasters happen during their trip. What they’re missing at home.

And while you can attempt to plan, there are too many factors in the air. What if you get to Colombia and realize that you vastly underestimated the language barrier? What if a relative at home gets some bad news while you’re away and you wish you were there? What if you take every precaution but get pickpocketed on the subway anyway? You can’t plan for everything.

How to Deal with Travel Burnout

If you start feeling burned out, the chief way to survive is to reduce stress

Let go of the idea of perfection. You’re never going to do everything that you want to do. Make peace with that.

Spend a day at home. Spend a morning or even a full day in your hotel room. Order room service. Have a Bruno Mars dance party. Sing “One Sweet Day” at the top of your lungs in the shower. Or, you know, watch some Netflix like you would at home.

Go dwell in a familiar space. My go-to? Starbucks. Nope, it isn’t an indie cafe with artisanal pour-overs, but you know what? It’s familiar. It’s easy. They have wifi.

Create a routine. If you have a few more days in your destination, become a “regular” at a place, whether it’s a restaurant or coffee shop. Have your own order.

Work out. If you’ve got a gym or pool at your disposal, get yourself a workout. If not, try a 7-minute workout or do some yoga or a boot camp over YouTube. If you’d rather care for your mind, do some guided meditation using an app or YouTube.

Connect with loved ones. Just talking to someone you really enjoy could lift your spirits. It might be a good time for a chat or Skype call with those you hold dearest.

Spend time in nature. Even if it’s just a long walk on a beach or sitting in a public park for a few hours, being in nature could do a lot to rejuvenate your spirits.

Slow down your travels. Can you rebook anything? See if you can pare your trip down to the essentials, whether it’s axing day trips or cutting back on the sightseeing. Give yourself more time to explore without an agenda.

Jodi, Brenna and Kate in Chiang Mai in 2015 — via ThisBatteredSuitcase.com

 

Finally — Know When It’s Something Worse.

I had a breakdown in fall 2015 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and it was one of the lowest points of my travels. It couldn’t have been more ironically timed — I was in one of the most Western-friendly cities in Asia, I was surrounded by friends, I was making excellent money, and I had just finished what I now consider one of the happiest, more carefree periods of my life.

Yet I woke up one morning and suddenly felt paralyzed. Forget going out and exploring — the idea of walking to an unfamiliar coffee shop or restaurant suddenly filled me with fear. It felt like the world was pressing in on me.

Was there anything to fear? No. Nothing. But fears are seldom rational.

Everywhere I went, I felt like people were staring at me, laughing at me. I couldn’t muster the nerve to do anything remotely touristic and I stayed ensconced in the Nimmanhaeman neighborhood, not wanting to step beyond the limits of digital nomad land.

One of those nights my friends and I went to get Thai barbecue at an enormous gymnasium-like complex. I looked at the endless rows of buckets filled with vegetables and protein, of tables filled with do-it-yourself grills, and the enormity of the task made me want to sob.

So what did I do? I ate breakfast at The Larder every day, occasionally hung out with my friends, and spend a lot more time holed up in my room. I booked an expensive flight home early via Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. I turned my focus toward moving to New York.

I needed to go home then — it was the best thing for me, and it helped me regroup and focus on my new goal. Just going home alone brought my nerves from a 9 out of 10 to a 4 out of 10, and in time it continued to decrease.

To this day, I don’t know why that anxiety erupted at that time. It happened because it happened.

If you need to go home, go home.

Most of the time, you won’t need to go home. Having the travel blues is something that you can bounce out of within a few days, and if you cancel your trip before making an effort, you could end up regretting your decision.

But if you’ve tried the above suggestions, your mental health is still suffering, and you can’t stop thinking about going home, canceling a trip might be the right thing to do. There are some things more important than a trip. You’ve only got one life.

What’s your favorite way to deal with travel burnout?

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30 thoughts on “Travel Burnout is Real. Here’s How to Deal with It.”

  1. This is so true, Kate. Last year, I was on my another world trip, currently in South America. It was couple of days before the Christmas and I felt terribly homesick and burned out. I didn’t understand myself, bc I usually take 4-6 months trip away from my country, mostly during winter. Who likes winter, haha.

    After, let’s say of 4 days of depression, I booked the most expensive flight of my life, 2 days before departure. I flew back to Slovakia for Christmas, for 2 weeks. And after, I flew back to South America and everything went back to normal. Currently I’m in Mexico and yep, I didn’t regret paying that money.

    What I say here is, that yep, do what u feel.

  2. This is so great, and it’s so true that even “expert” travelers feel this way. Just today, as I enter month eight of my year abroad, I was feeling it — all because yesterday I got charged 1.50 Euros over what I was supposed to pay. It wasn’t the money but instead that feeling of — this wouldn’t happen if I weren’t a traveler combined with the feeling that at home I’d know how to deal with it.

    So I spent the day laying low, watching videos on YouTube and catching up on some logistics for spring.

    I think one of the things that helps me is the recognition and acceptance that my travels can look any way I want/need them to. And that my needs/wants can change. If I feel like holing up inside, that’s fine. If I want to go to a movie, that’s fine. If I want to go to another movie, that’s fine too! Often I think the expectation that travel should look a particular way is what leads to or intensifies the burnout!

  3. This was a wonderful post. Thanks, Kate, for being so honest and open about this very real experience. And thanks for de-bunking the myths! I’ve been burnt out from travel before, and it’s never fun. It’s nice to know I’m not alone!

  4. I think this may be one of the best posts you’ve written…and I’ve read a lot of them! 🙂

    One other piece of advice…if you hit a low while traveling and need to talk it through but don’t feel like calling family/friends you might try a remote counseling session. You can speak with a professional via video chat and maybe get the boost you need to keep going with your trip. Just having someone to bounce things off of can be a huge help. Some insurances even cover these sessions. Worth checking out?

  5. I see a lot of posts about travel burnout on the solotravel subreddit, and man it can be an exercise in empathy trying to reassure people who are struggling and wanting to go home. Self-care and acknowledging your feelings, people! Thanks for this post, Kate. I’ll probably point people this way when the occasion suits.

  6. I totally get you Kate – it feels totally irrational and stupid at the time, but it really is your mind trying to tell you something. I had a similar thing happen last year when I camped overnight in South Lake Tahoe with my boyfriend and some close family friends of this. I’d just finished my study abroad in Canada, spent 3 weeks backpacking in British Columbia then flew to LA and drove 8 hours up to Tahoe with my boyfriend and mentally I was just done.

    It was awful because I’d been so looking forward to it but I was miserable all day, and that night just completely broke down and lost it in the middle of the casino (timing has never been my strong suit). Fortunately no one batted an eyelid so I can only assume people thought I’d lost $1000 on a roulette table or something! It was a good lesson though about knowing what your limits are and when you need to take some time out; it’s so easy to convince yourself to do more because that is what ‘good’ travelers do. The answer: good travelers know when to cut themselves some slack and lay low for a bit!

  7. Whenever I sense that I might be getting burned out, I do two things – book an incredible spa treatment and then hole up in my hotel room with some local snacks, watching local music videos on TV. #heaven!

  8. Hear ! Hear ! Well said ! You dont hear many would say this ! Kate, dont give up your travelling as your freelance business… We all want to hear that freedom of business especially in solo…l know it is not easy as being freelance. I travel less but more time on research because l have the experience – the real life. Many people are unaware of real life experience is not 5 minute education, it is about either short or long time education.

  9. Thanks for sharing your “low point.” It sounds like a panic attack and acute anxiety, something I’ve also experienced out of the blue, and something that strikes a lot of thirtysomethings. I feel like it was linked, in my case, to a need for stability all of a sudden, stability that I didn’t care so much about in my carefree, freelancing twenties. Good for you for taking care of yourself. When you share posts like this, they reach others who may be going through the same thing, and that’s a great help.

  10. Yes! Giving up on ‘trip perfection’ is such a great tip. Accepting that not every day is going to be a fantastic adventure is okay! Sometimes being a lazy slug in a new and gorgeous place is just what you need.

  11. As someone who hasn’t traveled much, this post was so surprising to me. I can completely understand it though and it makes a lot of sense. Burnout can happen in many situations and circumstance in life. It’s the last thing you think would happen when you are supposed to be on vacation and “getting away from it all”. All of the tips in the post and in the comment section are very helpful. I hope this doesn’t happen to me right away so I can get my travel “sea legs” however if it does at least I can know what to look out for and what to help myself if it were to happen. Thank you!

  12. Thank you for writing this! I’m currently on week 13 of straight travel. 5 weeks in Asia and the rest have been living out of a van on a road trip across Australia. And I find myself feeling guilty when I’m not excited about everything, I mean this is what I’ve wanted to do for years so I need to be happy ALL the time, right?! Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way! Haha

    Also your point about letting go of the of perfection and keeping your expectations in check is so true. We went to at a highly anticipated location in WA today – a pink lake! And it was not even the slightest tinge of pink. I was really disappointed but you can’t change Mother Nature, just means I’ll just have to check out another one!

  13. Omg this was literally just what I needed to read right now! I’ve always wondered why at some points in my trip, all I wanted to do is stay in bed and watch Netflix all day. Thanks for giving me some insight on what is travel burnout and how to deal with it when it does happen.

  14. So completely true. Our minds are often so far ahead of our bodies that sometimes we don’t understand why or how something flares up, but it’s important that we listen and act on it. Seems like you did just that! xx

  15. Love this so much! I’m having a patch of this myself at the moment every recent travel decision I’ve made seems to be the wrong or most expensive one. I’m on the wrong beach on the wrong Thai island ( I know, cry me a river right?) And it all just feels blah and too much.

    So I’m slowing down for a couple of days, holing up in my (overpriced) hotel room, allowing myself to watch Netflix all day and only venture out in the evening to grab some food and beer. A day of this and NO TRAVELLING PLANNING and I know I’ll feel better and more able to deal with what-to-do-next

  16. I flew home early from my Costa Rica trip just over a year ago due to feeling extremely homesick at Christmas. With the money I had left over from what was supposed to be a several month long journey, and the opportunity to work back home, I booked 4 more holidays to console myself! Going home is never the end!

  17. I love that you’ve written this, Kate, and I’ve been working on my own blog post about how it’s OK if you want to go home. Funnily enough, I’m experiencing burnout BAD right now, and I know what I need to do. I definitely have felt as a travel blogger that I have to keep going all the time and pretend like everything is THE BEST, when in reality sometimes I just want to go home. Hope you’re doing well x

  18. Finally someone understands travel burnout. I travel every 30 days for work and I get burnt out so often. This is a great post for those of us who travel by ourselves and travel often.

  19. Great article! It’s always so nice to know we are not alone, I am completely loving the travel community and learning that this lifestyle is not just crazy like the people back home say it is. Blogging is a regular job, but its freakin’ tough, especially when you aren’t making money yet. Thank you for being so real, you rock.

  20. What a wonderful post about an important topic! I love traveling but when I was sick and our flights during last week were in total delayed with over 10 hours it was hard, devastating and kind of made me feel sick with the whole concept of exploring the world. Having a full day for sleeping at the hotel helped, also getting some delicious cappuccino and reminding myself about upcoming good times helped as well. After all, there was a lot of sunshine and good moments but being stuck, sick and tired really sucks. Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips, this post is very good! 🙂

  21. Love this post. I dont know if I suffer from travel burnout often but I did get a taste of it when I was in Thailand. I diagnosed myself as being Wat-Weary! I swore if I went into another damn Wat I was going to lose my mind but part of me kept saying, “Get over it Eric, when are you ever going to see XYZ Wat ever again!!” But that battle in my mind made me crazy and I felt that I was disappointing the great adventurer persona that I created for myself.
    However, one of your tricks helped me…WORKING OUT! When I am back home in New Orleans, I train nearly every day not only to keep this sexy bod (stop laughing please) but to relieve stress. So when I was there, my hostel owner took me to a local gym where I trained, then after I sat by the rooftop pool and just chilled.
    Talk about a necessary recharge!

  22. I wish I had this post (or the self-awareness!) a couple years ago. I had moved to Spain for a year and between moving to a completely foreign country completely alone that operates in a different language, and the fact that I spent every single weekend traveling through the country, I made myself so mentally exhausted I got physically sick! The toilet and I were good friends for a couple days there. Now, even though I know I’m excited, I really need to be conscious of my limits.

  23. I had this in Vienna a few months ago. I felt totally guilty for spending so much time in my hotel room – I just wanted to go home! Nice to know that even “professional” travelers experience this.

  24. Janelsa Matthews

    I could not agree more! And it almost feels like you’re not being grateful for having the opportunity to travel while others either can’t afford it, have time etc. and yet you want to go home. Great article!

  25. This post is so true. My main problem when I travel is that I feel a desperate need to cram in absolutely everything that I want to see in my limited time whereas in reality I just need to stop, breathe and enjoy the moment. Running around like crazy and never switching off can definitely take its toll – it is so important to know when home is the right option.

  26. When I travel somewhere between day 5-7 I melt down. I try to ensure that I am kind and gently to myslef and know that it will all be ok.

  27. Hey Kate,

    can totally relate to it. Been there quite a few times. Probably not as bad as your case as I never felt the urge to go home and that was the only option.

    But yeah, the need to belong somewhere, the need to have a purpose are very important to our lives. And I imagine this is something that for many of us can be easier found back home. Whatever this “home” means, whether it is geographically defined or by people.

    Good read and hope all of you will find your way to cope with travel burnout when it happens.

    All the best

  28. I’ve literally hit a wall with being on my current vacation. We are in 2 weeks now camping in a trailer that’s getting smaller with each passing day. I’m so irritable towards everyone. I can’t stand my husband constantly hounding me to go to the lake with him and the kids. If I hear “mom, mommy or momma” I feel like I’m going to scream. I just want to be by myself and go home. I’m sitting in the car with tears streaming down my face behind some sunglasses. I knew this trip wasn’t a good idea even before we left. I just want to be by myself and stay at the campground all day…but bear I am, being dragged to the lake and all I want to do is cry.

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