I’ve been proverbially homeless for 10 years, travelling through and living in over 50 countries.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different styles—and paces—of travel. In 2010, embracing a “backpacker” moniker, I breezed through a dizzying number of countries. In that entire year, the longest I spent in one place was three weeks; on average I “moved house” every five nights.
After this fevered travel pace, I spent the first six months of 2011 in a near-comatose state of recovery. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite define what was wrong, but I had an unsettled feeling.
I was fundamentally tired, like I hadn’t slept well in months. On reflection, this was true; too many late nights, early mornings, unfamiliar beds, and communal living quarters had taken a toll.
I was dizzyingly confused; the whirlwind of travel in the previous year left me feeling like the world was spinning around me, as if I’d had too much to drink.
And I was apathetic about everything around me. A beautiful vista, you say? Not to be missed? Meh. I’ve seen lots of beautiful vistas. Here are a few hundred pictures; have a look. Why go out of my way for one more beautiful vista?
These, I eventually realized, were the cumulative effects of Travel Fatigue.
Years ago, I watched a documentary called A Map for Saturday, which follows the adventures of a few backpackers on long-term trips around the world. At a certain point, each backpacker felt similar to my description above. They suffered from information overload, and their emotional response was to shut down.
Although many world travellers on long trips fall prey to travel fatigue at some point, it doesn’t have to be a crippling experience. Here are some pointers to avoid this travel ailment.
Don’t Try to Conquer the World
….or even a country. My last traditional vacation (before I sold everything to travel full-time) was a month-long trip to South Africa. I’d never travelled for that long, and figured a month was long enough for me to “crack the code” of the country, see everything worth seeing, and depart satisfied that I could tick it off my list. Instead, after travelling everywhere at a furious pace, I departed with more questions than answers. (I consequently realized that in order to travel the way I really wanted to, a lifestyle change was necessary.)
Know Your Limits
Some people have higher energy levels than others. Even if you’re the Energizer Bunny, your batteries will eventually run out.
Solo Travellers: Be Mindful
I’m all for solo travel—it’s empowering and liberating. It’s easy to meet people along the way, so you’re rarely alone unless you wish to be. But I also found that travel fatigue hits harder and faster when travelling solo. Without a travel partner by your side, providing a contextual baseline for your constantly changing environments, travel dizziness (I call it “motion sickness”) takes hold quicker.
Work with Your Time Frame
Six months for a round-the-world trip actually isn’t that long. Build in rest periods to stabilize your energy levels, so you don’t need a vacation to recover from your vacation.
Flex with It
It’s an evolving process. Since 2010, I’ve done other stints of fast-paced travel. For example, in 2011 I travelled by train from Lisbon to Saigon (25,000 km) in 30 days. The following year, I did a sponsored trip through eight countries in three weeks. In 2015, I spent two months traipsing through five countries.
In all cases, I ensured that after a fast-paced period, I had somewhere to chill out and recover.
Given that my travels aren’t temporary but a lifestyle choice, I love slow travel. I usually stay somewhere for at least a month (often much longer) so I can discover the local pace and ways of life. With a location-independent writing career, slow travel also helps me strike a comfortable work-life balance.
Your travel pace and style will be totally unique, as it is for everybody. The trick is to recognize the signs of travel fatigue before they become a problem, and to know what to do about it.