You want to know the dirty little secret backpacking blogs and Insta influencers don’t want you to know? Sometimes, travel SUCKS. Like, it truly and utterly absolutely sucks…
Does that mean it isn’t an amazing opportunity for unrestricted personal growth and development. Hell no! In fact, pushing through the suckiness can land you right in that growth.
But push too hard and you may just end up smack-bang in travel burnout instead: the bane of any backpacker. Travel burnout is the goblin sitting on your shoulder, ready to whisper in your ear… ready to detract from your experience…
It could be the Moody Blues, travel fatigue, homesickness, heartbreak, or just a good ol’ fashioned case of the Hershey squirts. But pushing too hard through these – the latter in particular – well, that’s a road that rarely ends well. (Cue PTSD flashbacks of trekking across northern Myanmar with crippling dysentery.)
Today, amigo, I’m going to teach you about the exhaustion of travelling too much and what to do when you hit that wall. Because the wall is real, and it’ll knock you flat.
I’ve hit travel burnout wayyy too many times and it constantly surprises me how few baby backpackers take it seriously. Well, the cat’s outta the bag.
The dirty little secret is here: travel isn’t immune to suckiness. Sometimes travelling SUCKS.
And I’m going to break down when it happens, what the signs of travel burnout are, and what to do when your 10,000 kilometres away from the nearest Mum-cuddle. So you can smash that wall flat.
Chin up, amigo. There are still mountains to climb.
Why You Should Care about Travel Burnout
It almost seems like a ridiculous notion that travelling could burn you out.
How many people quit their jobs every year and START to travel as a result of normal-life burnout? Travelling is pure bliss, right? Crystal clear waters, tropical islands of paradise, sunsets on mountain tops, and free drugs from suspiciously sexy strangers?
Wrong! (Well, except about the free drugs and sexy strangers.)
While backpacking is all of these things, it’s also (sometimes) misery:
- It’s hitchhiking in the rain for six hours straight without a pickup.
- It’s embracing the hostel toilet bowl after last night’s street tacos come back for revenge.
- It’s trying to wrestle your wallet back from a capricious monkey.
- It’s having crappy days where you really just don’t wanna leave the guesthouse for lunch only to be harrassed by overzealous locals selling crappy souveneir shirts with crappier thread counts.
Travelling can be luxurious and easy – if you like it that way. But REAL travel gets stressful and tough. It really depends on how you travel:
- Budget backpacking can be exhausting.
- Adventure travel can break you – that’s the point.
- Long-term travel stacks up the longer you’re away from home.
- And the solitude of solo travel can leave you adrift.
In all these cases, traveller’s fatigue has a way of seeping in. And travel burnout has been a very real and very tricky problem throughout the history of travellers. It sneaks up on you when you’re travelling too much or too hardcore, and it can make it real fucking hard to find the steam to keep going.
It’s one thing to pop a flat tyre in the suburbs back home with roadside assistance and a mate with a couch just around the corner. It’s another thing when your engine starts spewing black smoke in the middle of the Sahara.
Getting moody, sick, or – dare I say it – depressed on the road is much like the latter. You’re never really alone in this world, but you sure as hell feel it. You’re tired from travelling, wanting to go home, and just can’t. And it can be a real confronting realisation when you understand that the only person that can bring yourself back from the brink is YOU.
I don’t say any of this to scare you. Travelling through the exhaustion, stress, and numerous challenges is how you grow. It’s crucial to your journey to willingly fling yourself from your comfort zone AND to persevere when it really gets uncomfortable.
Just don’t underestimate travel burnout. It hits you low and hard – right below the belt.
Even if you’re not yet experiencing travel fatigue, there are many sneaky little things about life on the road that can push you over the edge. Homesickness, boredom, and break-ups all hit you when you least expect it like a world-class boxer’s duck-and-uppercut. Burnout leaves you discombobulated and, ultimately, just kinda disconnected from the experience of travel.
If you don’t acknowledge that you’re getting tired from travelling early enough, you are headed for a rut. And that sucks. Big time.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! You just have to know the signs.
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The Symptoms of Travel Fatigue to Watch Out For
Honestly, you probably know yourself pretty well. And if you don’t, you will soon once you hit the road…
The symptomatology of travel burnout isn’t much different to regular burnout – the same rules on watching your mood, health, and listening to yourself all still apply. The BIGGEST mistake travellers make is thinking that it can’t happen to them because they’re travelling and thus everything is hunky-dory.
But it can, it does, and these are the signs to watch out for:
- The Moody Blues – Yeah, you may well get depressed on the road, and it can exhibit in any number of ways: sadness, amotivation, irritability, anxiety… You’ll know it when you’ve swapped your Thailand Elephant Pants for a cranky pair.
- Overtiredness – There’s a good tired and there’s a bad tired. The former comes when you’ve just summitted a badass mountain; the latter comes when you didn’t even reach the trailhead cause you couldn’t get your ass out of the hostel hammock!
- Feeling Lonely or Homesick – I’ve said it before: when you spend a lot of time alone, sometimes it can be hard to recognise you’re lonely. It’s good to miss home sometimes, but it’s also important to acknowledge when maybe you’re not missing home so much as the comfort. That’s just travel fatigue 101.
- Getting Stuck in Bad Habits – Too much phone time, too many doobies, too much slothness: all the tried and true backpacker traps are self-fulfilling prophecies. The more tired of travelling you are, the more you indulge, but the more you indulge, the more tired you become.
Which is kinda the last point: most of the times you burn out on the road ARE self-fulfilling prophecies. You hit a bad phase, you don’t respect the signs or yourself, and you exacerbate the problem.
There are times you just need to cut yourself some slack on the road. Let yourself not be perfect for a day.
These moments are when to just be extra kind to your favourite human.
Knowing When to Quit:
The 8 Worst Travel Burnouts
While travel fatigue can strike anyone, anytime, there are a few common situations where you might find yourself calling it quits. I’ve fallen prey to these pitfalls TOO many times
Remember: there’s no shame in putting your feet up for a few days and saying, “I need a holiday… from my holiday!”
1. When You’re Burnt from the Budget Travel
Budget travel is a lifestyle. Nay – it is life unto itself. It’s flippin’ fantastic, and I firmly believe everyone should try budget backpacking at least once.
I do less broke backpacking these days as I keep busy directing other projects from my bamboo tower in Bali. But even though these days I can afford a better standard of life than a cup of roadside noodles and illegally camping somewhere in a city park, I still enjoy indulging in a spot of budget backpacking-lite. Only now, I look back at my younger more tenacious years and think:
How the bloody hell did I do this so much?
Budget travel is hardcore. Hitchhiking, sleeping rough, Couchsurfing, and even hostelling are all endurance sports in their own right. It’s can be stressful, sure, but it’s more that the weight of your choices takes its toll.
EVERY choice matters, and YOU are responsible for those choices. The pressure is always looming to keep moving while minimising your spending: it’s a constant state of hustle. One with minimal personal space and not much downtime.
I’ve messed up my health before living la vida loca. It’s a trial by fire learning how to travel without much money, and sometimes, I wish I could just go and slap some sense into the younger and much more hot-headed Will.
Or at the very least, gift him a new pair of undies. Protip: travel with more than three pairs of undies; they’re like 50 cents a pop across Southeast Asia.
How to Battle the Burnout
For your personal safety (and sanity), keep a fuck-it-fund in hand. That’s for the day when you wake in a bed bug-ridden bunk with a cockroach on your face and say, “Well… I’m booking a hotel!”.
Restore your batteries and come back bristling to better tackle budget travel later; there’s no shame in taking a break from the budget backpacking lifestyle when you’re getting tired of travelling. Hell, go home for a spell or pause somewhere, pick up a a bit of backpacker work, and save some cash!
The journey of a long-term traveller is a life-long marathon; it’s not a sprint to the finish.
2. When Your Mental Health Starts to Wobble
Look, here’s the inconvenient truth of travel: you still get depressed. And anxious. And if you’re prone to ritualistically checking six times that you turned your headlights off, you’ll probably still do that too. None of that goes away.
Managing your mental health on the road is crazy important – and crazy difficult. You can only push through that shit for so long.
Talking to friends and family back home helps, but it’s only a temporary Hello Kitty band-aid precariously placed over the deep, gnawing existential void that consumes your soul. If you just keep slam-dunking the negative feelings down, soon they’ll be so deep that you need a spelunking team to unearth them again. And then you burn out.
That’s not a rule of travel: it’s a rule of life. Suddenly, one day, you’re chasing a rabid stray dog down a beach in Goa and screaming bloody murder because it stole your felafel kebab.
That right there is a bonafide travel burnout.
It’s very common to get mentally burned out when travelling, even if you’ve never had any serious mental health issues. There’s a lot of moving, a lot of disrupted sleep patterns, and a lot of pooping in exotic locations.
And if you have had battles with the black dog in the past, those bastard demons will find you on the road too. There will be times travelling seems to cure the blues, and there will be times that it doubles it down, but travel is also the ULTIMATE opportunity to learn to manage your mental health better.
But you have to learn to listen to yourself first. Which really, is the core principle of this article as a whole.
How to Battle the Burnout
Your mind is your strongest weapon and the best travel gear you can take, but if you don’t take good care of it, it will fall apart at the seams like a no-frills backpack. Gathering up all the spilled stuff afterwards isn’t any fun either.
Managing your mental health on the road is a whole other deep-dive, but I have a triple-threat of strategies I ALWAYS employ when I start slipping:
- Journal like a mothertrucker: Particularly, gratitude journalling – there’s so much to be grateful for.
- EXCERCISE: Healthy body, healthy mind. The daily dose of excercise endorphins helps a lot. Hiking is incredible: it’s excercise, timeout, and a chance to catch up with yourself.
- Start a regular routine: A consistent sleep schedule helps as much as consistent excercise. If your routine includes the above two plus a dash of meditation, you’ll be smiling again within the week!
And you may have noticed that to establish those things above, it’s better to pause the travels for a week or two and be still. Take a break: have a KitKat… and a hot choccie.
3. When You’re Homesick
Mental health is one thing; it affects everyone in different ways at different times. But EVERYONE gets homesick. And it sucks.
I’ve done plenty of backpacking around Asia in my time, and I’ve fallen the tragic victim to Asia burnout (which is 100% a thing) on more than one occasion. Every day it’s just temples, tuk-tuks, noodles, and monkeys… It’s the bee’s bloody knees!
But after a while, something else starts to feature in the foreground of your mind. A feeling of disconnection or even resentment for the surrounding culture, an insecurity with locals and their customs, and even an overwhelming craving for a Big Mac (which is strange because you never even liked Big Macs).
Suddenly, you just miss home.
Homesickness is a real bitch, and so is culture shock. Culture shock is universal too.
Asia burnout is one thing – a unique spin on the game brought on by being asked for a selfie-shoot by one too many eager beaver Indians – but culture shock is outright global. It can happen to anyone anywhere. It can even happen on the re-entry back home: that’s reverse culture shock baby! (And that sucks too… maybe even more.)
Culture shock and homesickness are both intrinsically linked and causally connected: they influence each other. That doesn’t mean one can’t happen without the other, but does mean that you need to recognise the symptoms of both. Listen to yourself, know when something’s coming up, and do what’s right for you.
How to Battle the Burnout
Usually, when the homesickness and culture shock starts seeping in, I travel to somewhere with people I know and a place that feels like home.
HOWEVER, I’m dead-fudge-packing-serious about recognising the signs: the best antidote to homesickness and culture shock is to simply understand the process and recognise that it is indeed happening to you.
Read about how culture shock works, don’t be thinking you’re immune, and just let it play out. Sometimes, and particularly for all things travel burnout, it’s good to just understand that every now and then, it’s totally 100% ok to feel crappy. Even Batman needs a brood from time to time.
4. When You’re Actually Sick
Don’t be stupid. Getting sick on the road is EXACTLY when you take a break. The symptoms of travel fatigue and homesickness are one thing, but the symptoms of just being straight sick are another.
The following is a wee little anecdote that comes in from Ziggy, resident dirtbag turned professional dirtbag on the Broke Backpacker team. Ziggy says…
Here’s a story about a much younger and stupider Ziggy; a bonafide expert on not listening to himself and pushing himself right into travel burnout.
A day before embarking on a hitchhiking adventure 4000 kilometres across India, I thought it might be smart to bathe in the Ganges in Varanasi. Yes, that Ganges – the one full of rotting corpses and fecal matter.
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, I got cripplingly ill. Violently. From both ends. So did my friend, and so what did we decide to do?
We decided to hitch anyway. The very next day.
That particular journey didn’t end with that hitch. I then travelled overland from the south of India through Myanmar, Thailand, and into Malaysia, still periodically getting sick. Highlights include puking up my entire breakfast on the side of the road in Bagan (Myanmar) before then hitching another 1000 km south and sleeping on the side of the road. The next day, I climbed a mountain in the streaking noon sun before, FINALLY, passing out on the floor of the temple at the summit.
When I did eventually return home on a flight, I was still getting an unusual level of fatigue and illness more than three months after the initial onset. “I don’t understand why I’m so sick”, I bemoaned to my mum.
To which she replied, “Because you’re a fucking dickhead.”
She was right.
One trip to the doc later, and what this burnt-out broke backpacker discovered was that he was the proud momma bear of a Giardia parasite – one he’d backpacked halfway across the Southeast Asian subcontinent with and then back to Australia. And all he’d needed was some bloody antibiotics.
How to Battle the Burnout
What’s the moral of the Legend of Ziggy: The Giardia of Time. It’s twofold:
- SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. And when you’re not feeling on top of your A-game, take a break. Get an Airbnb, some solid snackos, and binge out on a week-long sesh of Rick and Morty.
- Get yourself insured so that when you are sick, you can afford to go see the doc and get the help you need.
Now, Zigglez travels with insurance. He also listens to himself and his body a whole lot closer these days. I’d also like to say that he probably wouldn’t bathe in the Ganges again, but, well… baby steps.
You don’t have to push yourself allll the time. Pushing through discomfort to personal growth is one thing, but morphing the quest for self-developent into a weird atonement-meets-self-flagellation arc is no good for your body.
You’re beautful, so be kind to your beautiful self, and don’t expect perfection. You have nothing to prove and all the time in the world to prove it.
So when you’re feeling under the weather, it’s time to slow down, see a doc, and make use of that travel insurance. You have nothing to prove and all the time in the world to prove it. And then, once you’re back on your A-game…
That’s when you keep hitching. 😉
And What’s the Insurance for You?
I recommend World Nomads. It’s the travel insurance company that’s been covering my ass and all the stupid shit I do for yonks!
Ultimately, the decision to purchase travel insurance falls with you, however, it is something I strongly suggest you consider. Things go wrong on the road. All the damn time.
And the stress of too much travel without any sort of security net to catch you? That’s a surefire way to burn out HARD on the road.
So read our review on World Nomads insurance or get clicky just below to get a quote. Either way, consider the need to cover yourself very carefully: $15,000 medical bills on the road are another surefire spiral into travel burnout territory.
It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.
There’s one travel insurance provider The Broke Backpacker trusts for all his wildest shenanigans… World Nomads!
Click the button below to get a quote on your insurance or read our in-depth review of World Nomads’ coverage. And then… let the shenanigans begin. 😉
5. Leaving Behind a Travel Partner
It’s never easy to tell someone that you’re sick of staring at their face. It’s even harder when you’re stranded in a Peruvian jungle, leeches up to the kneecaps, and three day’s hike away from civilisation.
Finding a friend on the road to tour the world with can be a grand ol’ time or a full-blown disaster. As a seasoned solo traveller, it’s exciting to mix it up and have someone to share all the epic experiences with you.
PLUS, if it’s a travelling bone-buddy… well… Sex in exotic locales certainly takes the edge off the fatigue of travelling too much!
However, travelling relationships – both of the smashing and non-smushing variety – are INTENSE. They go deep, and they go deeper faster: it’s a natural result of spending every day together for weeks to months at a time while sharing countless unforgettable experiences.
But solo travellers are creatures of habitual personal freedom. The lack of complete autonomy and personal space, the constant negotiations and compromises, the differences in values… These things add up over time.
And truthfully, it can be real hard to call it quits on a travel partnership, particularly when you’ve been together a long time. Saying goodbye is hard at the best of times, and it’s even harder when you know you’re going straight back to the life of a lone ranger.
But if you don’t call for that break, things can turn sour real quick. Arguments, resentments, and poor communication are going to send both you AND your travel buddy to Burnout City.
How to Battle the Burnout
When the call of the wild gets too strong, a smart adventurer knows to call for a timeout. If you hang on to a travel buddy or a romantic partner too long, you risk burning the whole thing down.
Life works in ebbs and flows: always quit before the crash. The best friends in life are only there for a season, and the seasons come around again. If they’re really your mate, they’ll get it, and likely when you do reconnect again, you’ll pick up the trail of conversation again like you were never apart.
BUT a word of warning: don’t drop the guillotine too quick. Sometimes it’s better to take inventory of your current situation before slamming the book shut. Sometimes you don’t want to break up; sometimes you’re just hungry, jet lagged, and haven’t pooped in three days. Smoke a joint on it first.
6. Quitting the Place You Love
With every rise comes the fall, and like the great empires of old, your favourite place in the world can crumble away if you stay too long. Figuratively.
Most travellers have a place or two that feels like a home-away-from-home. A place so epic and unbelievable that just makes you feel like your heart is bursting into song. As hard as it is, though, it’s better to leave these places while they still feel like that.
The best thing about being in a place you love is that you LOVE it, wholeheartedly. If that place was a beautiful stranger, you’d elope immediately. Except you wouldn’t elope: you’re already in paradise.
When you spend too much time in one place, however, the goodness can turn stale. The turning point always comes.
The magic disappears and suddenly you’re living life in a Petri dish. A small town, the same folks, and the same conversations every day.
Getting stuck in one place is a mistake if you’re a traveller. And while staying still may not make you tired from travelling too much, it will leave you burnt-out. It’s no fun when home stops feeling like home.
How to Battle the Burnout
Quite simply, you leave. You pack your pack and you leave. You’re a traveller – travel!
There’s always more to explore: more homes to discover and more places to fall in love with. You can never go everywhere, but you can definitely do better than just one beloved spot!
There is a great reward for leaving a place you love before it’s too late though. You get to go back one day, and the honeymoon phase resets. Old friends and old haunts will still be there to welcome you back with open arms.
After all, where do you go when you hit travel burnout: you go home.
7. Taking a Break from Hostels
Hostels are the backbone of all broke budgeteering. But as awesome as the hostel life is, it also comes with a lot of caveats. Even the quiet hostels are loud: you’re rarely guaranteed a 10/10 sleep when you’re sharing the dorm with eleven other people and their stanky-ass sleep-farts
When staying in hostels, you’re always ON:
- Charming your way into new friendships.
- Bouncing from excursion to excursion.
- Taking shots with some guy in floral harem pants called Greg that you’ve never met before.
- Getting asked to play cards all the goddamn time.
Sometimes, you just simply get sick of people.
Hostels and the shenanigans can and DO get in your head eventually. It’s a lot of extroverted and chaotic humans flipping between soul-splitting D&Ms and rounds of peacocking at the bar.
And it’s a different vibe for a lot of backpackers too. Gap year kiddos doing a six-week cocaine tour around the Americas have very different needs than long-term travellers who have made travel their lifestyle.
So respect that. They have their flow and you have yours. It’s good to take space.
How to Battle the Burnout
Just take a break from hostelling. What a hostel is – by defenition, really – is a meeting place for travellers. So when you find yourself getting ready to smack the next person that asks you for a lighter, it’s time to book somewhere a little more chill.
It could be an Airbnb, a hotel room, a family-run guesthouse, or even some volunteering somewhere far off the tourist trail, but just get out of the hostel before you slap that chainsmoker-that-never-has-a-lighter silly!
And if your beautiful social self hates the idea of being totally alone, well friendo, there are options. Many hostels also offer private rooms! It’s pricier, sure, but at least you’re getting to have your cake and eat it too – om nom nom.
8. When to Take a Break from Digital Nomadism
These days everyone and their mummas are becoming digital nomads. (As they should be – digital nomadism is DOPE!)
But what happens when you’re slaving away your travels and the big bucks just keep running away from you?
I see this happening a lot in Bali: the alleged El Dorado for digital hustlers and snake oil peddlers from all over the planet. Many new nomads come here with shiny dollar images in their eyes and without a proper business strategy set.
Competition in the world of online business is tough as balls unless you have a very specific skill set. The internet is swarming with social media marketers, ingratiating Influencers, 23-year-old life coaches, and self-appointed shamans. It’s not as simple as rocking up in a digital nomad-friendly country and start flexing them dolla dolla billz.
That usually ends one way…
This is not to say that success is impossible. It certainly is, and you should chase that dream right to its very apex. But you should also be realistic.
Becoming a digital nomad changes travel in many ways. You work more, you travel less, and success is a glory to be won in battle.
And if you’re tired of battling… If dragging your ass to the laptop every day isn’t filling you with the same passion for work… If you’re burning out on work AND travel…
Then maybe it’s time to take a break from the hustle. For just a bit.
How to Battle the Burnout
After a while, you gotta swallow your pride and recognise when your business venture is not panning out. It’s 100% ok. ALL successful entrepreneurs have failed numerous times: making mistakes and learning from them defines the game itself.
When I’m hitting a wall, I…
- Take a breather.
- Go on a digital detox.
- Or an epic trek.
- Speak to a mentor, or at least a wise human.
- Do some journalling.
- Or even write a manifesto to define my values and calling.
And then, when you’re missing the hustle once more – that’s when you come back for round two (or fifteen). That’s online entrepreneurship in a nutshell.
How to Avoid Travel Burnout 101
TAKE A FUCKING BREAK.
‘Quitting’ is such an erroneous word. So don’t use it, ’cause you’re not. You’re taking a break.
Even if your break takes you all the way home, the road is always still there waiting. And a break doesn’t even mean you have to go home! Often when I hit burnout and travel exhaustion, I simply stop somewhere for a week or two with ample personal space to build up a healthy routine.
And this routine ALWAYS involves at least a few of my top tricks for managing my mental health:
Travel burnout will get you, if you keep constantly pushing past too hard and too far past your breaking point. It’s good to persevere – there are great rewards for those who do – but there must be balance. Be mindful and listen to your internal world; spending enough time with ourselves as solo travellers gives us an incredibly self-attuned gut.
It can smell the burnout coming a light-year off.
If you really can’t shake the Moody Blues, then look into getting counselling remotely. A lot of veteran vagabonds have an allergic reaction to the idea of getting therapy. But then, a lot of veteran vagabonds have an allergic reaction to the idea of using condoms, and they sure as shit help keep the nasties at bay!
There’s nothing wrong with seeking external help, and there are heaps of ways to getting counselling online. I was a stubborn mule for years until I bit the bullet. Lo and behold, it HELPS
Past that, try returning to one of your blessed and sticky home-away-from-homes. Old friends and old sights can help a burnout backpacker recharge pretty damn lickety-split! Sometimes, all you needed was a long-overdue hug.
And if all of that fails, just go home. Fuck it – who cares? Nothing takes the edge off travel burnout like a bonafide Mum-cuddle. That shit’s the real deal.
And the road…?
Bye for now, but not forever!
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