Confession: I'm Burnt Out from Traveling
I remember in the first few weeks of my trip, I'd be in a hostel dorm room, tying up my tennis shoes and armed with a list of places to explore for the day. I'd always been perplexed when I would see other backpackers nestled deep in the corner of their dorm beds, headphones in, laptops open, gazing at a TV show as the world outside rushed by them. At the time, I didn't get it.
Six months later, I get it.
Traveling is exhausting. I'm exhausted. I've spent the last few days nestled in my dorm bed, headphones in, iPhone propped up, as I binge-watched This Is Us. I have no regrets.
Besides, I had already self-diagnosed myself: I was suffering from travel burnout.
Alright, suffering is a strong word. But I was definitely burnt out.
(This feeling was further highlighted by the cheerful, chipper guy who just bounded into my hostel dorm room seconds ago. "Hiii!! My name's Zack. How are your travels going?!" This guy was oozing energy.
"Oh wow, six months! I'm only on my second day! I've never traveled alone before! I'm from Canada. Where are you from?!"
And Zack reminded me of myself six months ago. I had to get back to that cheerful, chipper version of myself who had the world at her feet!)
But any new country I planned to encounter came with a host of Google questions: "Myanmar daily backpacker budget" "Which countries do I need a visa for" "How to treat food poisoning" "Is there internet in Myanmar" "What currency do I need for Cambodia" "Is crossing the border by land safe"?
Then there was the actual traveling part, which is probably the least glamorous part of backpacking (or any kind of travel for that matter, unless you're flying first-class, in which case, gtfo).
I didn't want to wait in anymore airports, sitting on the floor as my flight was delayed again. Or spend eight hours on another bus with one bathroom stop. Or walk thirty minutes in the dark, lugging my heavy backpack up a hill to a hostel with one flip-flop on because the other flip-flop broke.
I was tired of spending 2-3 nights in one place, never really unpacking my bag so that I could just toss everything back in it the morning I had to take off for another flight or bus ride.
I was kind of tired of starting up the same conversation with backpackers -- Where are you from? Where are you going? Oh cool, what was Cambodia like? Yeah, the Philippines is pretty cool. And then they're gone the next day -- or I am.
And then there was the good ol' bank account. The funny thing is that the longer you travel, the lower that cash money number dips. Who would have thought?! At $40 a day for the remaining of my trip, I will just squeak by. Granted, $40 a day is super generous for Southeast Asia, but I'm also spending a lot of money on scuba diving and my flight home is going to be about $800. So, there's that.
Everything is also magnified when you're traveling; the good and the bad. Getting over a cold while abroad seems a million times worse when you're not in your own bed with a cup of tea, but instead in a $8 dorm room with the aircon blasting as you try to find medication written in Thai and you can't sleep because drunk people keep stumbling in at 2AM. And that's just a cold - I haven't even endured food poisoning while abroad yet (but I've resigned myself to the fact that this is probably going to happen).
I think my travel burnout also stems from the fact that I'm nervous for the rest of my travels. My first six months of traveling have been in countries that are pretty developed and Westernized (I'm looking at you, Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia). They have been pretty easy to travel through, with lots of English speakers, decent transportation, and good accommodation.
The next leg of my trip includes Myanmar (which was only opened to tourists less than a decade ago), Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia. These countries are well-trodden and loved by backpackers, but they are also considerably less developed and more rural. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous to backpack them alone.
Please don't take this the wrong way -- I don't mean to complain. I definitely know that traveling is a privilege. But that doesn't mean I can't be exhausted by it, either by the sheer act of traveling or the overwhelming feelings that come with it.
I do know that I'm not ready to go home yet. I wouldn't say I'm homesick; I don't have that pit in my stomach gnawing at me telling me, Hey, maybe it's just time you go home. It's okay. I just need to make a few changes.
So here's my at-home remedy for combatting travel burnout:
- Go back to someplace familiar and easy. In Koh Tao, I didn't have to re-orient myself, spend too much time finding a hostel, or look around for cheap food. I know this island. I also decided to spend at least a week here so I could recoup, slow down, scuba dive, and get plenty of sleep.
- Visit fewer countries. I was waaayyy overly ambitious with my original travel plans. Maybe some people can travel non-stop, but I've realized that I can't without feeling totally burnt out. So I decided not to go back to Australia and not to backpack New Zealand or Sri Lanka. Besides, I didn't really want to go to Sri Lanka - I was only going to go because it was there and it would be one more country. That's not how I want to travel.
- Spend more time in fewer places. I've decided I would rather spend more time (4-7 nights) in a place I really like than try to canvass the entire country in an effort to see it all. That's what I did in Australia and it seemed to work out well for me.
- Strike a balance. I went from being surrounded by fellow backpackers constantly in Langkawi, Phuket, and Koh Phi Phi, then went totally incognito when I got to Koh Tao. After spending a few days alone, I switched to a more social hostel. Even though those backpacker conversations may start to sound like a broken record, talking to other people about the places they've been gets me excited to see those places, too.
- Decrease commitments. This could be work projects, blog updates, or anything that is keeping you in your hostel / hotel room. For me, this is grad school. My classes end this week, which means I no longer have to keep track of assignment due dates across multiple time zones, check into hostels that only have reliable wifi, or skip nights out to write a paper. Freedom would be an appropriate word here.
One thing that did help me get my travel mojo back, though? Diving with whale sharks in Koh Tao. I emerged from that experience rejuvenated, ready to take on the world, and grateful. The experience reminded me that traveling is going to come with lows, but also extraordinary highs. You've got to take them as they come.
I've got four months left and a lot of ground still left to cover, but I'm ready for it. Right after I finish this episode of This Is Us.
(Main photo credit to Marta Rzepecka)