Balancing Travel + Life: Avoiding The Dreaded Travel Burnout

May 28, 2015

There’s definitely a balance and rhythm to travel that takes a long time to figure out – if you ever do! One day, travel is so awesome that you feel like you’ve got the absolute best life imaginable…and the next, you’re ready to pack it all in and go home (except for us there isn’t really “home” to go back to anymore!).

What do you do when you want nothing to do with being a tourist for a while?

First, you acknowledge that it’s perfectly okay and even normal to feel that way sometimes – like anything else you do in excess, even travel can start to feel too routine at times. Second, you find a way to change things up for a while so travel becomes novel and fun again.

No one can mentally or physically keep up a non-stop, vacation-paced sightseeing schedule for long periods of time, and that applies even more to those of us with jobs to juggle with our travel. Doing the tourist thing all the time becomes old, no matter how exciting the things are that you’re doing or if the location changes frequently. Sometimes we just long for the familiarity that comes with being a local somewhere and not having to work so hard to find things we want or need. Other times, constant change is the best thing for keeping us enthusiastic about life and avoiding complacency.

Occasional-to-regular time off is crucial to keeping perspective on why you’re traveling in the first place and to avoid becoming jaded by it. Just like when we used to escape “normal” life to take exotic vacations, we have to press the “pause” button on our wandering lifestyle sometimes to soak up some “normal” for a while – it’s a nomad’s version of a vacation. When travel bloggers disappear online for a bit and we wonder why they aren’t providing us with all the details of their amazing, “non-stop” adventures, we have to give them some space, and respect that they’re probably laying low for a bit to recover. We quite often forget about others needing that downtime, even being full-time travelers ourselves!

We personally don’t blog about our mental health breaks when they happen because they seem so boring by comparison! It really is quite mundane – even to us – which is why it’s also so necessary. We enjoy a well-deserved time out from our adventures to live a “normal” life for a bit and regroup – catch up on work, personal projects, binge on Netflix, take care of domestic chores, pay a visit to friends and family or have them visit us, and just decompress and rest after a lot of miles traveled and things seen. Playing tourist in too many places in a row can cause travel burnout, and fast!

For the first year or so that we traveled full-time, we felt like failures if we weren’t packing every minute of our time with something awesome and new. We were finally living our dream of being perpetual travelers – we didn’t want to waste that rare opportunity by watching tv, reading, taking a nap, or doing other “normal life” things, did we??

A sign at the awe-inspiring Tinkertown Museum outside Albuquerque – miniature wood carvings in elaborate diorama scenes and recycled materials repurposed into art, all created by one man over the entire course of his life.

 

We’d worked so hard toward our goal of location independence that it seemed like a waste to live similarly to how we did in a house…except on the road. There’s also the ever-present FOMO: fear of missing out, which we experience any time we get on social media and see all the exciting things other people are doing while we’re not. It’s hard not to filter our lives online in a way that makes every day seem exciting and chock full of awesomeness. It makes those of us doing less exciting things feel like we’re not as cool by comparison, and the next thing we know, we’re trying to keep up appearances to be a cool kid too – while stretching ourselves too thin and not really enjoying it.

Ever had one of those vacations where you felt like you saw a lot of things, but experienced none of them deeply? We make an effort now to either allow ourselves more time to take it in, or make peace with living in the moment and doing just a couple of things we really want to do, instead of trying to do it all in a short timeframe. Seeing everything is so different than truly experiencing it.

It took us a long time to give ourselves permission to slow down, miss some things (gasp!), enjoy the journey for what it is, and live at a more sustainable pace that keeps the travel enjoyable. Even now, this is something we have often trouble with – particularly in a “new to us” area that gets us falling all over ourselves to explore. It’s important to keep an actual zest for sightseeing, and not just go through the motions because you’re there and feel like you should do it all.

Overall impressions of a place can vary wildly too, based largely on the state of travel burnout you feel when you arrive there. We’ve gotten to places that we thought we’d love and found no enjoyment in them, just because we were too worn out before ever doing anything there. We’ve returned to places we loved the first time and found we didn’t so much the second time and vice versa. We all know too well that a lot of your perception of a place is from your state of mind at the time. Plus of course there’s factors like the weather, who you’re with, your other responsibilities at the moment, the time of year, etc. Being burnt out makes any other unfavorable condition seem that much worse!

Some things we’ve found that really help with balance and burnout:

  • Connect regularly with friends and family who re-energize you. Maybe they’re friends and family from before you traveled, or maybe they’re friends (and sometimes people who now feel like family!) you’ve met in your travels. Travel can be very isolating if you don’t get out there and meet new people, even if you frequently travel with others, and a social network is super important in feeling like you’re part of a greater community while you move around geographically.

 

  • Don’t connect too regularly with others. There are infinite opportunities to socialize while you travel – more than we ever dreamed of before setting out on what we expected to be an often-lonely journey. Sometimes we’ll go to a pub to have a drink or grab a bite to eat somewhere and end up making a bunch of new friends completely by chance. It’s great to make those connections spontaneously, but know your limits, be willing to say no, take the time you need for yourself, get responsibilities out of the way first, and you’ll enjoy meeting up with people far more. We’ve also learned that taking the dogs anywhere with us is a recipe for attracting lots of attention and conversations, so on nights we really need some time to be alone together (or not turn on our extrovert sides) we leave them at home.

 

  • If you’re only in an area for a short time and feel compelled to get out and see it everyday, at least change up your experiences from day to day. The first day, do the tourist thing to see the famous landmarks, then the next become a local and go to some places recommended by people who live in the area: a farmer’s market, community arts or sports event, non-touristy local restaurants, shops, and bars. Connect yourself to a community and you’ll feel more grounded in no time, plus you’ll learn lots of great things about the area from locals that you wouldn’t from fellow tourists.

 

  • Change up your living situation for a bit to gain a fresh outlook. Just a few weeks ago we rented a house for a week in a city we’d really wanted to visit, while our RV was being tuned up and some repairs made, and it was a nice change from the RV that we didn’t know we needed until we did it. A week with unlimited high-speed internet, big comfy furniture to curl up in, a hot tub, fenced yard for the pups, and a massive kitchen was a great “vacation” for us. We cooked, relaxed, and really recharged ourselves (though we could have easily stayed another couple weeks!) to hit the road with a happier outlook on our next adventure – a really long drive up to Alaska! We’re hoping to do even more of this next year and break up our travels with some month to two-month house or apartment rentals in places we’ve really enjoyed visiting and want to live in for a longer stretch, more like we’re locals.

 

  • Remember to actually keep travel an adventure and it will continue to feel like one. We were, and still are, guilty of over-planning at times, when we usually would have had a lot more fun winging it and letting the journey lead us where it may. Road serendipity, as our friends Technomadia like to call it, is very powerful and has a way of making everything work out better than you could have planned in the end. Trust it, take risks, and enjoy the ride. That’s how we’re doing our upcoming Alaska trip – we have a general route mapped and a date we want to be in one particular place in Alaska for an event, but that’s it. No reservations, no clearly outlined plans. We’ll let the road guide us, and the plans evolve as we go!
Chloe's not-so-subtle way of telling me that I don't need to plan much of our Alaska trip

Chloe’s not-so-subtle way of telling me that I don’t need to plan much of our Alaska trip

We hope this helps some fellow travelers feel like they’re not alone in experiencing burnout, fear of missing out, guilt over how they travel, and feelings of just wanting to lay low and not do anything for a bit. It happens to us all, and it’s completely okay. Know your limits, take care of yourself, and rest assured that your wanderlust will still be there, ready and waiting for you when you’re ready for it!

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27 comments

  1. Comment by Sharon Kreps

    Sharon Kreps Reply May 28, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Nicely written… thanks for sharing the reality of “on vacation, all the time.” I’ve experienced all those things on RV trips, car trips, even busy periods at home. Happy recharging!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 28, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks, Sharon! We tend to forget that everyone needs a break from whatever their type of “normal” is, even if our normal is everyone else’s idea of a break and our break is their idea of normal! 😉

  2. Comment by Chris Hughes

    Chris Hughes Reply May 28, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Hi Snowmads! Thanks for such a helpful article. I love the idea that you are renting a house in communities that you want to explore deeper. Truly a nice, and necessary break. We all need vacations, no matter where we live. -Chris, http://www.cuontheroad.net

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 28, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      Thanks, Chris! We discovered in our last couple years of living in a mix of RV parks and boondocking that it’s typically hard to feel like part of the local community in an RV – you’re almost always staying outside of the city, living with other travelers who don’t know the area well. We fell in love with some of the little neighborhoods and towns we found in our travels and want to be part of that for longer periods of time occasionally, especially to be able to walk or bike everywhere and have more of an involvement and sense of what’s going on in the area. We’ll see how it goes! As always, life is just one big experiment for any of us to dabble with as we choose! 😀

  3. Comment by dahkota

    dahkota Reply May 29, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Excellent article! We are just now getting over our ‘honeymoon’ phase of full timing and slowing down a bit. It is hard to get over the feeling that we should be doing something more than watching tv or washing the bus. Enjoy Alaska!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks, Dahkota! Agreed – there were days we felt guilty for doing laundry and then had to stop ourselves and remember that this is still real life! Things still need to get done, and nobody can sightsee all the time. Enjoy your travels too and hope to cross paths sometime!

  4. Comment by Karen

    Karen Reply May 29, 2015 at 11:12 am

    As always, another great post! Our thoughts so closely coincide with yours in how we travel, even though we’re not full-times, let alone RVers. As we continue to vacillate between getting a small RV, sticking with our current method of renting places, or a combination of the two, we watch you guys and the pups closely, to gather more knowledge. Thanks for continuing to share through your learning/growing process!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 29, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks, Karen! There’s definitely no “right” way to travel, and we can’t wait to see what you guys end up doing. We’re still toying with the idea of foregoing an RV completely at some point too and just renting places, but with the dogs it would be easier for now to have even a little home on wheels for them, and to let us see more of what’s in between rentals at a leisurely pace. There are so many scenic little roads we wanted to drive down so badly and boondock on, but couldn’t with either our Airstream or Trek being so big. We’ll see – it’s a fun experiment to see what works and what doesn’t, and we never know until we try. 😀

  5. Comment by btp419

    btp419 Reply May 29, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Great post! Some good thoughts and ideas as we are planning our winter on the road.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Thanks, guys! Travel burnout always catches us by surprise, even when we anticipate having it. We definitely had it a bit before Alaska, after hitting too many major cities in a row and being overwhelmed by the pressure to do a lot of things in them all, but are doing our best to relax now and keep a very loose itinerary so we’re excited for everything we do. Some wilderness should be a great change of pace for us. 🙂

      • Comment by btp419

        btp419 Reply May 29, 2015 at 11:42 am

        It’s alway nice being on “Alaska Time”!

        • Comment by Kristin

          Kristin Reply May 29, 2015 at 11:57 am

          Can’t wait to experience it! It’s going to be hard to remember to sleep at first, though. 😉

  6. Comment by Jon and Mary

    Jon and Mary Reply May 30, 2015 at 2:04 am

    Man, good timing on this post.

    Mary and I have just settled in for a reasonable stint in Sacramento waiting for my mother’s hip replacement surgery in August.

    While that means that we’re going to be in Sacramento for the traditionally hot summer, and it means being in California for far longer than either of us wanted to be…it also means that we’re not worried about where home is going to be in a few days, and our daily housing cost has dropped from the $30-60/day that we were paying when we were short timers in a park moving day to day from Florida to California…to…$15/day…and we still have the ability to go “wheels up” and explore anyplace within 4-5 hours of here on the weekends super easily. Feels great!

    Miss you guys!

    -Jon
    =)

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 30, 2015 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks, Jon! It’s definitely not a bad thing to lay low for a bit in one place, save some money for future adventures, and of course be there for your mom when she needs you. I hope you find some fun things to do in Sacramento and escape to some cooler places. We had a blast during our week in Bend, Oregon if you get a chance to take a drive up there and if you want recommendations for places to go just holler!

      Miss you guys too – have a great summer and we’ll catch up again this fall I hope! Give our love to the kitties. 🙂

  7. Comment by RVenture

    RVenture Reply Jun 15, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Great article guys. We agree with you on all accounts. In fact we’re currently in rest mode. The timing of this post is perfect for us. Sometimes travel gets exhausting. That means it’s time to settle in for some needed R&R. Once we’re rested up and excited to get going again we’ll pull in the slides and fire up the GPS. Thanks for the post!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jun 15, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks! Travel is pretty miserable when you aren’t excited about it. The constant change and unfamiliarity can be downright aggravating if you’re in the mood to just stay put and rest. Took us a while, but we finally figured out that we should listen to that inner voice telling us when it is/isn’t time to be moving around and we’re definitely much happier for it, like you said! 🙂

  8. Comment by Debby Kasson

    Debby Kasson Reply Jun 16, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Awesome blog we were on the road for 4+ years and moved at lightening speed back and forth across this wonderful country of ours and not only were we broke from all the gas we were absolute exhausted. We knew we had to change things up a bit so last fall we sold our big motorhome and rented a little casita in BAJA on the beach and spent 8 months there with plans to go back in October. Upon reflection some of our best times were spent boondocking with The Roaming Pint and The Zenomads for extended periods of time. We’re still nomads-just changed things up a bit and loving it!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jun 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Thank you, Debby! I think we’re at the same point you reached after your 4 years. We still love traveling in an RV about half the time, especially boondocking, but we’re considering doing what you guys are and interspersing our camping with renting. We want to spend a couple months in San Diego this winter because we fell in love with it, and we’d rather be in a neighborhood (Ocean Beach, specifically) than at a campground that requires us to drive everywhere and have no privacy. We hope to get to Baja this winter too, so maybe we can meet you for drinks if we do! There’s definitely no right or wrong way to travel or be a nomad – that’s the beauty of it! 😀

  9. Comment by Lauren Martin

    Lauren Martin Reply Jun 17, 2015 at 9:30 am

    I haven’t really considered this until now, but this is definitely something to keep in mind! My boyfriend and I are in the process of buying and RV to live, work and travel for this next year before our tiny house is built and I love being able to visit great blogs like this to gain such valuable insight into what it’s really like! Thank you for your honesty and transparency! 😀
    xx
    Lauren Jade
    Lauren Jade Lately
    ‘Simplify Life, Maximize Happiness’

  10. Comment by Karen @ Sock Monkey Trekkers from NM

    Great post! We are still part timers counting down to full-timing. We grab weekends and vacations to get out in our camper. We do the hiking, tourist thing a lot. But, I love those weekends when we just sit in the campground, read and relax. Thank you for the excellent advice and reminders.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jul 10, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks, Karen! We checked out your blog and love your van! We’re really considering a van next; we’re tired of being as big as we have been in both our trailer and now a motorhome, and we’re more the type to want to get into cool off-the-beaten-path places and then relax a while. It’s been great for a big trip like Alaska where the extra living space helps us bring more supplies and stretch out on the long driving days, but we want to park on a beach in Baja, in the woods in Colorado, etc and enjoy the beauty of isolation and not being in a campground. I hope our paths cross out there sometime – we’d love to get to know you both! Happy travels! 🙂

  11. Comment by heathdellpadgett

    heathdellpadgett Reply Jul 20, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I definitely felt this a lot during our first year of being on the road. It was easy to get burned out with trying to do it all and see it all. Plus, I felt a ton of pressure to not be lame and binge watch The Walking Dead for hours on end… while that’s exactly what I wanted to do :).

    Thanks for writing this guys :).

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jul 21, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks, Heath! You should know as well or better than anyone how easy it is to hit travel overload! We’ve reached the point of wanting to just sit and binge on Netflix right now instead of making that loooong drive back to the lower 48 through Canada. Hmm..how much would it cost to pay someone to drive us back while we cuddle on the couch and watch tv? 😉

  12. Comment by SohCrates

    SohCrates Reply Jul 29, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Great article and it didn’t take us long to discover this either 🙂 Look forward to reading more!

  13. Comment by Retired2Travel

    Retired2Travel Reply Sep 26, 2015 at 5:50 am

    Hi guys, thank you for making sense of my feelings whilst travelling. Yes, I’ve felt isolated. Yes, I’ve been burnt out. Yes, yes, yes to everything that follows. It took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t enjoying myself – but I’ve got it now Glad I’m not alone! Enjoy the rest of your travels!

  14. Comment by Bellewether

    Bellewether Reply Jan 3, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Thanks for your post, as you would expect shortly after NYE, I’ve sat down and made a list of resolutions, and one of them is to go somewhere new every month, no matter how busy I am. Reading this helped me manage my expectations and have a better idea of what challenges I might be facing from the outset! Thanks 🙂

  15. Comment by jD

    jD Reply Nov 26, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Just discovered your blog! Very interesting and well written read! You are WRONG when you think that the downsides or like you say in this case “mental health breaks” are boring. I personally am very interested to hear about it, too. It is about getting the whole big picture and facets like these are often swept under the carpet. Too bad! I don’t think that anyone of your followers would think that makes you look weak or that it spreads negativity or whatever, these are only some possible reasons that come to my mind why a lot of bloggers/vloggers might decide to skip these topics.

    That is my personal opinion and now I go explore more of your blog 😀

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