The Travel Burnout Survival Guide

Travel burnout, the thing you don’t know you have until you have it. About 3.5 months into my travels I reached Venice at the height of summer and Biennale.  The sinking city is a fascinating and unique place that leans into your ear and screams “Yes, you are a tourist.  This city is for you my lovely tourist.  Tourist please indulge in some fine artisan chocolates, a hand-painted mask or a romantic gondola ride.”  If there is a city that gorges your tourist fancy it would be Venice.

A gondolier navigating the narrow waterways of Venice.  A city that thrives on tourism and can ware on your senses.
Venice Traffic

I felt drained. I knew I needed a break, I had no idea it was travel burnout, a phrase or idea I had never heard of before. When I met Anya on the bus she was also facing similar struggles. It didn’t take much persuasion when I told her I was heading to Croatia for a travel detox if she wanted to join. Croatia at the time was out of the Schengen and I was over the pasta, potatoes and starches I glutted on in Italy. I need veggies and the password to my mom’s Netflix account.  We hopped on a bus, got our passports stamped, found an Airbnb in Pula and binged the first season of the “Handmaid’s Tale”, speaking only a few revered words, “next episode?”

Travel burnout is not always easy to identify, until you are completly fried. You are over figuring out what to see, where to go, how to get there, what to eat, where to sleep, talking to travelers, talking to locals, in short, making decisions.  There is also this lingering guilt that accompanies it.  You are in some of the most epic, scenic places in the world and all you want to do is lie in bed with a good book or a binge-worthy show.  You see the Acropolis from your hotel window and that’s good enough. 

After 3 months of traveling and feeling irritable a common sign of travel burnout, Uwe is taking some time in the hammock in Sagres, Portugal.

how to identify travel burnout

Travel burnout can show both physical and mental symptoms similar to clinical depression. As beneficial as travel can be for your mental health, traveling for long-term can also negatively effect you for a period of time.

mental & emotional symptoms

  • Irritability.
  • Indecisiveness.
  • Frustration.
  • Despair.
  • Fatigue.
  • Homesickness.
  • Stress.
  • Negative perspective.
  • Anger.
  • Lonliness.
  • Irrational decisions.

Physical Symptoms

  • Lack of motivation.
  • Excessive sleeping.
  • Comfort eating.
  • Excessive drinking.
  • Lowered immune system and falling sick.

causes for travel burnout

Traveling too fast. ‘

Backpackers make the most of their 3 month Visa, spending 1 or 2 nights in a city then on a plane, train or bus to the next place, jumping from country to country; the lure of a cheap flight or a $6 bus ride can push and pull you all over the continent.  Every day your itinerary is chock-full with the offerings of that destination and your health and well-being come second.

Poor sleep. 

Partying ‘til 5 am, a hot dorm, a snoring or coughing roommate, a loud plastic compression bag getting packed at 4 am, jet lag, planning your nightly sleep on a train or bus, all of these can add up.  A few weeks like this and you are bound to wake up cranky and unmotivated.

Eating out. 

After a while you are over choosing a restaurant, perusing menus, eating out every meal whether it’s a baguette sandwich from the corner cafe or a Michelin star rated restaurant or not. You are over dropping cash on mediocre food and are craving a green salad and no more shwarma.

Culture shock. 

In a foreign country where street signs, menus, directions, conversations are all in a language unknown to you, it’s easy to get flustered and exhausted from trying to figure out ways to communicate, what you need or where you need to go, especially in countries with languages not recognized by Google Translate.

Floating. 

No more decisions, I can’t even decide on what to have for lunch.  Uncertainty looms with every choice.  Taking the time to travel gives you the freedom of only answering to yourself and your travel companions, but with too many options available it is less of a fear of making a wrong decision and more the wretched suffering of having to make a decision in the first place. 

Money stress.

Sometimes it is difficult to know when to quit. Negotiating, dirtbagging, pinching pennies, walking the extra 9km to avoid paying for a taxi. When you are constantly compromising your needs to stretch your dollar, it can wear heavily on your psyche.

Overstimulated.

Sensory overload. Your itinerary is full, blaring noises, bright city lights, traffic, strong smells, too many sites, partying, having conversations. It all wares on your senses.

How to overcome travel burnout

Acknowledging and succumbing to the burnout is the best way to get back on the road. 

Slow down.

Spend a few extra days at a nice campsite with some bonus amenities.  Plan for fewer places or make shorter travel distances.  When overlanding we usually won’t drive more than 100 km in a day and if we do 200 km we plan to spend an extra day or two in one place. 

Rest up. 

Book yourself a private Airbnb, homestay or bed if you are camping.  Get something private and settle down for a week.  Sleep for 2 days straight, do some yoga, hike the same path day after day, but get into a place where you feel at home.  If you don’t want to do your bag full of laundry.  Don’t. 

Time to cook. 

A Fresh Breakfast at home with several Ibuprofens for achy bones

Stock up on fruit and veg at the market or grocery store.  Get your 2-minute noodles or search out that over-priced grocery store that sells hummus if that brings you comfort.  Eating out can leave you feeling bloated and irregular.  Get your vitamins and fiber and treat yourself to some healthy living.   

Stop talking. 

Read, watch movies, play online chess, but ditch the communications for a few days.  Emails, WhatsApp and FB messages can wait.  Take time for yourself.

Refocus. 

After a few days of being sheltered up you’ll be itching to move.  Pull up the map make a decent plan for the upcoming days and include a rest day to avoid a longer recovery period. 

Be gentle with yourself.

Recognize that travel can be as much work as it is play and buy into the notion that sometimes you need a health and wellness day.

Connect with nature.

Sometimes it is a simple as getting out of the cities and back into nature. Finding a beach town or a mountain hut where you can recenter and ground yourself again.

Still struggling with travel burnout? I’ve been there, feel free to book a coaching call to help you out of your funk and back on your feet. If you need clinical help, please make sure to contact a local doctor or your doctor at home.

* This article was written while holed up in a self-catering flat in Kasane, Botswana after camping for 5 months.

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