Sunday, May 25, 2014

Every-day-is-Friday five: 400 days later, new ideas for avoiding travel burnout.

There are a lot of blog posts offering advice on how to avoid travel burnout. Many of these posts give the same tips - the main one being to stop for a while.  Other less dramatic tips include having your laundry done instead of washing it in the sink, enjoying some familiar comfort food, and (my personal favorite) petting the goat.

Now that we've hit 400 days on the road, we'd like to propose five new ideas for avoiding travel burnout. We've tried these with varying levels of effort and when employed regularly, they work pretty well. We're not religious about them and when we're not employing them, we're left a little jaded, tired, and cynical.  So we're going to keep employing them.

In no particular order, they are...

5. Plan for "weekends". All the other blog posts recommend finding a place you like and parking there for a few weeks, a month, six months - whatever it takes to recharge. We suggest taking the "parking" thing even further. At least every other week, plan two consecutive days of nothing. No 8-hour bus rides, no 40km bike adventures, no enduring 100•F heat for 12 straight hours so that you can visit every temple in Luang Prabang, or every mosque in Istanbul, or every cathedral in [insert name of any Western European city].

Instead, sleep in. Have a beer at lunch. Take a nap, read a book. Write those lingering blog posts.  Sit in a coffee shop until the sun sets. Lather, rinse, repeat.

parks are good too

All the cool sights will still be there tomorrow or the day after and this way, you'll actually have energy to enjoy them. (You'd take a two-day break now and then if you were working a 9-to-5 job, wouldn't you? And isn't long-term travel scarily like a 9-to-5 job sometimes?)

4. Indulge! But don't just drown your travel blues in beer or ice cream. Indulge in something you've always wanted to try. No matter where you are in the world, chances are pretty good that there's a cooking class, a weaving or pottery or music or traditional handicraft-making lesson, a local homestay trek, or an eco-friendly wildlife opportunity nearby. Do it!

For us indulgence tends to fall into the nature category (OK, and sometimes food... but mostly nature). Visiting Europe's oldest primeval forest, camping in the Moroccan desert, and hiking the Cares Gorge in Spain were some of our more expensive excursions to date - but we have absolutely no regrets.

absolutely ...
(Bialowieza National Park, Poland)

... no ...
(Merzouga, Morocco)

... regrets
(Cares Gorge, Picos de Europa, Spain)

This is also a great opportunity to look your fears in the eye - and then conquer them through a little indulgence! Afraid of heights? Sign up for a zipline or paragliding! Afraid of falling? Try bungee jumping, hot air ballooning, or parachuting! Afraid of sharks? Take surfing lessons or learn to dive! Chances are high that you're in a country with absolutely NO safety regulations, so your added bonus will be rubbing it in all your friends' faces when you live to tell your tale.

3. Skip the western stuff. Lots of people think that pizza and American TV and spending time with other travelers commiserating about travel woes will pull you out of your travel slump. We disagree. Maybe it's just us but we've done all of these at one point or another... and honestly, it just makes it harder for us to get back into the travel mindset.

the "all Friends all the time" bar in Vang Vieng
(we did NOT do this)

There's no denying that distractions are good sometimes, but instead of always going back to the familiar, try distracting yourself within your current local culture. Watch a local soap opera or music videos on TV. See whatever movie is playing at the local cinema. Grab a snack at a popular neighborhood food cart. Play ball with the kids on the street. Sit on a bench and watch life go by. It can be hard when all you want to do is to hide out, but stay connected. Stay present.

2. Don't skimp on toiletries! This sounds really shallow and dumb, but before you brush it off think about the last time you showered with a crappy bar of $0.20 soap or shampooed with generic shampoo purchased on sale at the local market. (Or used the WORST FLOSS ON THE PLANET that kept breaking and getting stuck in your teeth, but you refused to throw it away on general principal.) It kinda sucked, right? I'm not just talking to the ladies either - after going over a year without a haircut, Patrick can vouch for the benefits of good shampoo!

So stock up whenever you can on the Pantene, the Camay, the Pond's face scrub, the pumice stones, the Nivea cream. A few extra dollars here and there won't kill your budget and you'll feel that much better.

don't forget the Glide!
(thanks, Kim)

1. Get a little perspective. At some point or another we all get tired of constantly having to figure out our next move, washing clothes in the sink, haggling over four lousy bananas, discerning between the internal organ soup and the tofu soup at the local night market (and eating out all the time in general), going on tour after tour of uber-important must-see local attractions...

What else would you rather be doing, though?

Sometimes I look through updates on LinkedIn and can't believe that was my life 14 months ago. I can't say with certainty that it won't be my life again someday, but I can say that I am so glad I escaped that life for a while. LinkedIn is my perspective.

A little kid screaming "HELLO!!" on a dirt road is our perspective. A gorgeous mountain range or waterfall like nothing we've ever seen is our perspective. Talking with locals for whom internal and/or external travel is not an option is our perspective.

what's your perspective?

Above all, if you're really and truly burned out, please just go home! Cranky foreigners are really no fun for anyone. Trust us, the world will thank you. You can always hit the road again once you've adequately recharged and decided you are ready for more adventure. And you can always decide that you're happy staying put, too.

So that's our five cents... six cents, if you count the closing paragraph. Got a lesser-known long-term travel survival tip? Leave a comment - we have many days of travel ahead of us so we'd love to hear how you do it!


  1. I hear having a friend join you for three weeks or so can be a tremendous boost!

    1. It's worked great for me - twice, in fact! :)

  2. the handle of the Little Dipper points to the North Star