Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wandering Mystic Meditation On Travel Fatigue

I'm driven to eating bad imitation American food in Japan.
There is a sickness that many travel writers don’t want you to know about. Insidious, difficult to shake, and fully capable of destroying journeys…

I've had it, and you may have as well - travel fatigue. It’s that feeling that you’ve seen so many cool things, nothing impresses you. A desire to wear a new outfit: a clean outfit, an exciting outfit of non-wicking fabric or daring cultural insensitivity. A hunger for a f*#&!@^ burger instead of all the totally lame-o “authentic cuisine” you’re surrounded by. God, you just wanna watch some cartoons and wear PJs, but damn it, you have to ooh and ahh over another ancient temple. It really makes you feel like a jerk.

Travel fatigue makes me feel super ungrateful for the travel I'm doing and often results in grumpiness, homesickness, and in its most extreme state, trip cancellation: I actually chopped Cambodia off my itinerary a couple years ago, because I was wiped out and unable to appreciate what I was doing.

I still think that was the right decision, which a lot of travelers will think is nuts. If you’re in such a state that you won’t appreciate the food, the architecture, the people – or worse, if you’re so jaded that you think you already know a place because you’ve been to others “like” it … well, you might as well go recharge for a bit and try again later. (I’m still planning on seeing Cambodia, hopefully in the next year.)

But let’s say you want to fight the fatigue. You have a RTW ticket and can’t just go home, or you know that your trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and don’t want to miss out. Here are my tips for overcoming travel fatigue:

  • Give yourself a few days off. Time to waste, as it were. Don’t push yourself to go anywhere or meet anyone new, and stay close to your home base. Doing this helps me hit my “reset” button, as it were, so that when I do decide to rejoin the adventurers outside, it will feel new to me again.
  • Make it home. Really – I find it helpful to unpack everything, to “move into” my space a bit more, if possible. Set out some of your souvenirs to decorate, hang up your clothes, maybe treat yourself to a very homey accessory, like a candle or some take-out food to eat in peace. Do your laundry.
  • Then deal with your stuff. I have a really hard time packing light anyway, so when I’m feeling fatigued it helps me to go through everything – it’s a small thing, but feeling on top of my belongings helps me feel mentally organized and ready to face my day. Maybe you need to ship stuff home. Take some time and just deal with your things!
  • Treat yourself. This is particularly for backpackers, some of whom seem more hell-bent on saving a few bucks than truly relaxing and enjoying. Have a nice meal, do some chill shopping (no crazy/loud market bazaars), upgrade accommodation, call home, or do other such things that hardcore backpackers sneer at. The point is to stop feeling frazzled.
  • Journal. Sounds cheesy, but go with me. I journal like a madwoman when I travel. It’s just a chance for me to step into my own head and work things out, which I don’t always have the calm or awareness to do at home. Even just making lists (where on the itinerary I am excited to go, who to write postcards to, what books I want to read, whatever) is really relaxing and makes me feel like I have my stuff together.
  • Maybe you do need to chop something out of the itinerary. The cure for travel fatigue is usually slowing down, settling for a bit, to give yourself time to stop feeling like a traveler. That way, when you do go somewhere new, the feeling is fresh and exciting, not a slog.
  • Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s easy to feel like a giant ingrate when travel fatigue hits, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t wanna transfer that dark cloud onto your trip. It’s better to “lose” a few days and catch up with yourself than do more destinations that you don’t appreciate.

These are my tips for dealing with travel fatigue. Have you ever had it? How did you beat it? Feel free to comment and share your tips with other readers.

Julia Hudson is an epic adventurer writing on budget travel at www.theepicadventurer.com. Besides the nitty-gritty of travel how-tos, she is fascinated by the ways in which traveling shapes our sense of identity.  She finds being foreign can be an eye-opening experience and that our freedoms and responsibilities as we move around the planet are complex.


  1. I haven't had to deal with it too much, Julia. When I've travelled, I've generally taken my time going about.

    Good tips!

  2. I've been there, done that! On my last trip there were some mornings where I really felt I needed to stay in and regroup. I think I ended up taking one morning and instead of trying to do a thousand things I just went for a walk and got a simple bite to eat, no itinerary, no plans - that helped a lot.

    Love your suggestions, they all sound like they would really help.

  3. Thanks so much for the feedback! Yeah, I have learned that I am DEFINITELY not a RTW traveler or location-independent or any of those other long-term travel types. I can do a couple of months, but frankly I need to unwind and get my excitement back after a while. I just feel so guilty when I get to the point that I don't appreciate my trip any longer -- it's so important to stay grateful when you get to see amazing places!