Hi guys! Today, I’m excited to be sharing this guest post from Matt Kepnes, who you probably know as Nomadic Matt. Matt is a friend of mine and I’m excited to share that he’s just released a travel memoir, called Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home. I devoured the book within a day of receiving it and absolutely loved the read. I recommend picking up a copy if you’re looking for a fun book about what it’s like to spend 10 years exploring the world.
And now on to Matt’s post about travel burnout!
There’s this perception — among both travelers and non-travelers alike — that travel is all fun, all the time. Before I first set off, I’d even indulged that perception myself. It’s only natural.
Think back to some of the highlights from your past: how many of them include waiting in line at the grocery store, holding a pole on the bus, or filing your taxes?
Not many, I bet.
We edit the boring parts of our life out of our highlight reel.
And we do the same with travel.
We treat anticipated travel like a highlight reel that plays in advance. You don’t imagine that there will be a downside.
That’s why no one expects to be burned out by travel.
Burnout can seem like the ultimate in ingratitude. What’s there to be tired of? You have complete freedom. You’re on an adventure that most people only dream of doing. You are seeing famous attractions, meeting people from all over the world, trying new cuisines, learning new languages. You have no responsibilities.
You get to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
When you’re creating your highlight reel, you don’t think about the long, boring hours you’re going to spend on tiny buses. You skip over the delays at airports or the train strikes that leave you stranded. You don’t consider snorers in hostel dorms, food poisoning, and dirty accommodations. You imagine making friends with locals, not fending off touts and scammers, or losing your wallet.
And you forget that travel can settle into a routine just as easily as office life can: get up, eat a terrible hostel breakfast (burnt toast and cornflakes, usually, and if you’ve found some peanut butter left in the jar, you’re winning!), sightsee, meet some other travelers, go out at night, sleep off your hangover, pack up, find your bus, and head to the next town to do some variation of it over and over again, for who knows how long. Those beautiful places you set out to see are still there — but they’ve become the backdrop to the same old cycle.
You get sick of constantly trying to find your bus or hostel in countries whose language you don’t speak. You’re tired of making plans from scratch each day. You’re worn out by seeing new friends take the bus out of town, never to be heard from again. The quotidian parts of life that you take for granted at home — finding food that won’t make you sick, figuring out where to clean your laundry, communicating about bus schedules or menus — become tedious chores.
Suddenly, you find this travel thing is a tiresome routine.
And when that happens, the fun of being able to do whatever you want wears off. You don’t want to see one more temple or waterfall. You don’t want to invest time in getting to know someone who is just going to disappear. You don’t care about other travelers, where they are from, or where they are going. You don’t want to pretend to sleep through two drunk people having sex in the bunk above you.
I didn’t think burnout was possible until the end of my first trip around the world. It was in early 2008, and I had been on the road close to eighteen months. I was in Brisbane, Australia, and just tired. Tired of restarting my life every day. Tiring of partying. Tired of 18-year-old partiers.
I was in a bar talking to my friend Scott. Scott and I had met in Thailand about a year before, and he was now living in Brisbane.
“If you don’t like traveling, don’t do it.” Scott said. “You don’t need to prove anything. You’ve been gone close to eighteen months. Go relax back at home, and come back when you’re ready. The world will always be here.”
So I did. And it solved my burnout for a while.
But the longer I’ve traveled, the more I’ve found that I still get burned out at times.
It’s happened over and over again.
But here’s the thing: Burnout isn’t a problem you can solve, but rather a state you must learn to deal with, because the conditions that cause it in the first place never go away.
Burnout is a natural part of travel.
Because, like all routines, eventually you get frustrated and tired by them, and you need something different to mix things up. You need a break to realize how much you actually love what you’re doing.
That’s why people take vacations. They are a break from the routine of working. Even if you love your job, eventually it becomes a routine that drains you. You need a break to recharge your batteries.
Travel is the same way.
So what do you do when you feel burned out?
Do you run away and go home like I did — only to regret it later on?
No, you need to take a vacation from your life.
And, since traveling is your life, you need to do the opposite of traveling: you need to “stay home” — home being wherever you are in the world.
When you feel burned out from travel, you don’t have to run away — you just need to stop, relax, and stay still.
Desire is not an unlimited wellspring, but a battery that needs to be recharged.
Constant travel drains that battery.
So when it happens to you — and it will — listen to your heart.
Stop and relax.
Here’s my 1-2-3-4 prescription for dealing with travel burnout:
1. Book a week at an Airbnb / homestay. You need time to yourself. And being in a hostel won’t give you the personal time you need. Find a space where you can set up a routine. A place where people won’t wake you up coming in drunk at night, where you can lounge on a couch, watch tv, read a book, do laundry, and create a routine. Hostels and guesthouses where everything is in one room won’t cut it. You want to walk into a place and mentally know “this place is not for travel” so you can get into the right mindset.
2. Cook your own food. Go buy some groceries and cook your own food for a week. Develop a routine and some sense of your old life, so you can get out of the travel zone as much as possible. Going to a supermarket, stocking a fridge, and cooking your meal gives yourself a sense of routine that you can’t get when you’re on the run.
3. Do anything but travel. Watch Netflix. Read a book. Go to the movies. Find a gym. Go hike the same trail every day. Whatever you do, don’t let it be travel related. If you want to get over travel burnout, you need to take your mind off travel. Fill your days with activities that are non-travel related so you feel like you’re living a “normal” life. When travel becomes a routine, you need to do the opposite of travel, which is the stuff you do in your day-to-day life back home!
4. Get some rest. There’s nothing better for recharging your battery than getting a good night’s sleep — without worrying if people in your dorm are going to come in late, wake up early, be loud, or snore. Part of the reason we get burned out when we travel is because we’re always so damn tired. Getting a good night’s sleep will give you more energy, reduce your stress, and make your feel ready to hit the road again.
Need more time? Stay a second week. Or a third.
Eventually, you’ll have recharged your battery and be ready to keep going.
Because if you don’t — if you make my mistake and go home — you could end up sitting at a desk wondering if you’ll ever get back out there again.
And that is the worst feeling in the world for a nomad.
Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He’s also the author of the New York Times best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. His writings and advice have been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, BBC, Time, and Newsweek. His new travel memoir, Ten Years a Nomad, is a story of wanderlust, friendships, and the quest for home. It’s available now!
At the moment I am suffering the opposite of travel burn out. Starting a new business, having two young kids and getting married next year has really put a stop on visting any new destinations. Can’t wait to get some savings and free time, and show my kids the world.
I think like most things in life, if you do something too much eventually you are going to get sick of it. ‘Everything in moderation including moderation’
I definitely agree with you about moderation — when I was travelling continuously, my entire life revolved around travel and it kind of made me lose my mind in the end. Balance is always required :-)
I hope you get to set off on a trip soon! And how fun it will be to get to take your kids with you :-)
Really well written. I am actually reading this and laughing at myself for coming back home after traveling for 6 months and getting tired of it. I thought I needed to work, to go to the gym and to create a routine. But never though I could do this from anywhere in the world!!!
This reminds me my first trip. In October 2016 I started a bike trip from Istanbul to India. After 4 months I arrived in India and spent 5 months there. So many thing had happened that make me ask myself “What am I doing here?” But once, I had to use the train from Goa to Delhi. I bought a ticket for a train that takes 12 hours but when I arrived the station to take the train it turned out somehow my ticket was on the waiting list which means I don’t really have a ticket. (I didn’t know this waiting list thing because it was my first time buying a train ticket) Then I had to buy a ticket for a slower train that would like 35 hours and there was no sleeper class! For 35 hours, I had to sit, I barely slept, couldn’t eat anything. It was the real burnout for me. :) But I remember all these with a smiling face. :)
OMG I want a travel burn out!….No just kidding, but it does seem like luxury problem doesn’t it :)
Oh, it definitely is, but I think that’s part of the problem, too. You know you’re doing something incredible — something that many people spend their entire lives dreaming of doing — and you’re miserable. You’re sad and bored and lonely and want nothing more than to go home. It’s hard not to experience shame over feeling that way.
Agh so true! I have been travelling for 5 month since now and finish up in 6 weeks.
It’s been just my partner and I until 3 weeks ago when we joined up with his family to continue the rest of our trip. I thought seeing them would be the break I needed to revamp my mind. But I know that it’s the mundane things of regular life at home that have me burning out.
I never thought I could get that after just 5 months. I miss the boring stuff like going to the gym, cooking my own food and man I miss my overnight oats for breakfast!!
I know if I do this again that I’ll take Matt’s advice and take a week or two out for some down time. We tried to include down time like a day here and there – but it does t quite cut it does it!
Thanks for the sound advice!
I’ve always worked full time remote from the road, so I always did “slow travel”. Never thought of myself as a tourist or traveler, but someone simply living their life in different places. There’s a lot of wisdom here, but I am lucky to havelearned this earl. Slow suits me.