Real Talk: I Have Travel Burn Out

“You know the saying, “Too much of a good thing?” I’m tired of traveling. I know. I cringe even saying it, too.

I’ve heard other travel bloggers hint at it and thought, “Travel burn out is just for digital nomads on the road 24/7. Of course, it’s taxing to not have a home base. I could never get tired of traveling.” But it hit me like a ton of bricks. It went from excitement about discovering each new place to feeling like I was traveling to a job. Being impressed by each new hotel and city to comparing it to the last. It feels like some serious first world problems and kills me to think about.

Something similar happened last year when I thought I had something physically wrong with me. I was exhausted all the time and freaking out at how dismal my energy levels were. I did every test under the sun for mono or thyroid conditions, only to be given some bs diagnosis of post-viral stress fatigue. Basically, it was a fancy smancy name for I was getting sick and wasn’t giving myself proper recovery time. I wasn’t taking care of myself and it was wearing down my immune system. Duh.

The same way I swore I would never be one of those 30-somethings who couldn’t go out and hang like I did in my twenties, as much as we fight it, getting older is hard on our bodies. Frequent travel is actually terrible for your health. Flying from east coast to west coast and back again, I never know what time zone I’m in. I don’t sleep well in hotels. I often take redeyes or am running to the airport at 3 am to catch the first flight out. The physical act of traveling is stressful. And when you’re just running through places to check them off a list, it stops being enjoyable.

This year was different though. It was mental fatigue more than physical. I was walking around in a daze and my to-do list felt overwhelming. With nothing super pressing, urgent or higher priority than anything else, I felt unmotivated to do anything beyond binge on Netflix and Hulu (seriously, how good is a Handmaid’s Tale?). It felt like a migraine when all you can do is sit in a cold, dark room and hope it passes. 

As someone who functions best with a million balls in the air and who thrives on chaos and social interactions, my disinterest legitimately terrified me. They say do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, but that can be a double edged sword if your passion starts to feel like work. I was starting to seriously question if I had made the right choice going down this path. I felt depressed at the thought of potentially being depressed for the first time in my life. I needed a vacation, but the thought of planning a vacation felt exhausting too. And the scariest part was I didn’t know how to snap myself out of it.

Recognizing you have a problem is the first step; figuring out how to deal with it comes after.

* * * *

This post sat in my draft folder for months, staring at me expectantly because I honestly didn’t have the answer myself. But this week, a magical light bulb went off. I was finally excited about a trip again. And it isn’t a big, distant international adventure (those still feel overwhelming to plan). It is just to NYC, a place I haven’t been in 20+ years and which I’ve notoriously have mixed feelings about. New York to me is like Vegas. A place I can spend 2-3 days tops that’s frantic, a bit seedy, and soul-sucking. So why was I so jazzed to visit?

A few reasons that actually ended up being the perfect storm. I’m seeing a bunch of friends I haven’t seen in awhile, which I’m excited about. I often travel solo for work, which gets lonely. The truth is, you can have fun anywhere as long as you’re with the right people. Secondly, I have no deliverables. If I want to shoot a million photos I can, but there’s no pressure from clients. I will still be hitting every Insta spot possible because styling shoots is actually fun for me (and FOMO), but I don’t feel like I have to.

I have the freedom to be on my own time. As someone who rarely dictates my own schedule, I get to do exactly what I want when I want. This could mean staying out until 4 a.m. and sleeping in until noon or going to bed at 9 and waking up at sunrise to beat everyone to the Brooklyn Bridge (we’ll see which way it goes). Basically, it’s traveling on my own terms and the freedom to explore a huge playground with a killer girl squad.

At home, I started reentering the social scene slowly, not necessarily because I wanted to but because I felt like I had obligations I couldn’t bail on. Getting motivated to leave the house was hard, but once I was out, it felt good to be out. Normal.

When I wrote about brunch every day for a year and a half, eggs benedict was my secret baseline. Once my favorite dish, I got so sick of it I thought I would never crave them ever again. A few years later, they sound good…sometimes.

I slowly started introducing some semblance of routine into my life. Grocery shopping. Working out. Happy hours, coffee dates and hikes with friends. Basic things normal people do when they live in one place consistently. I’ve always balked at routine and as much as I hate to admit it, it is comforting.

Am I going to give up traveling? Of course not. I am still very much in love with the world. I’m just going to it more strategically. And be more discriminating with who, what and where I say yes to. 

If you’re feeling burnt out or depressed, you’re not alone and know the feelings are normal. Everyone ebbs and flows, and has highs and lows. I’m not a medical professional by any means, but here are some tips I came up with for coping that helped me. 

Strategies for coping with travel burnout:

Try to create some semblance of a routine. Whether it’s a 7-minute workout app you use to start your day, a midday walk to the grocery store, or a friendly face you chat with every night before bed, a routine can provide some much-needed structure.

Reconnect with old friends…or friends outside the travel world. You know, those friends with “normal” jobs that you don’t always relate to when you’re racing around the world.

Surround yourself with other creatives and creators. Get reenergized by doing “for fun” projects you’re passionate about, even if it’s not monetarily driven. Bounce ideas off each other and use each other as a sounding board.

Get outside. Nature is the cheapest therapy. Even a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood can break you out of a funk. And an epic sunrise or sunset can make even the most pressing issue feel trivial.

Take supplements. I had a bunch of blood work done last year to determine what my body was deficient in. Turns out a calcium pill and a daily multi-vitamin works wonders.

Set boundaries and scale back. At one point, I was traveling 75% of the month spending on average two days at each destination. That is simply not sustainable. I plan trips more strategically now so I’m in the same region, leaving a few days in between to recover.

Give yourself time off. Working for yourself can be super fulfilling, but the pressure is also 10x more intense with the accountability. And without set hours, the work-life balance is extra blurry. Give yourself a day off whether it’s a traditional weekend or a well-deserved break in the middle of the week.

Sign off. Your phone’s constant stream of notifications makes everything feel urgent. Recognize that rarely anything is actually an emergency and step away from the computer and phone.

Throw yourself a staycation. If your bed really does start to feel like you’re on vacation, embrace it. Indulge in your favorite show or play tourist in your hometown.

Really hone in on your feelings (I know, gross). Keep a journal or take notes to identify your triggers. When are you feeling happy? When are you not? While you know yourself better than anyone, there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help or simply talking to a friend. Sometimes an unbiased, objective opinion is all you need.

Have you ever experienced travel burnout? What worked for you?

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