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??
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!
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!