I didn’t really know what travel exhaustion felt like until I experienced it earlier this year. It’s a weird feeling. Discovering the area, booking the next hostel, and many more things that should feel exciting started to feel like a burden. All I was longing for was a routine, stability, long-term connections and doing something more meaningful than hopping from one tourist spot to the next one.
I’ve travelled quite a lot during my twenties with a maximum of two months per trip (I mean the pure travelling, the nomad lifestyle I’ve been doing since start of 2020). I’ve never really gotten to the point of feeling exhausted. Maybe because I was going back to studying and knew that time was only limited to a few weeks per year. But on this long-term travelling trip it hit me, and to be honest it takes quite a while to recover. With this blogpost I’d like to share how to make long-term travelling less exhausting and what my ways were to cope with it.
A year of long-term travelling
End of 2022 my partner and I quit our jobs to make 2023 about exploring Southeast Asia and living on the island Koh Tao in between the trips. During the pandemic Koh Tao became my home away from home so I just can’t stay away for too long. In general the island gives me a healthy routine, I have friends there and volunteer at a dog shelter. From February until April we took three months to travel Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The first few weeks felt like a holiday and I was super excited about everything. We made vlogs about the trip and did so many different things without really feeling tired. We also joined a one week volunteer program in Cambodia which gave a different perspective. In general I’d say we were rather slow travellers and stayed at one spot for at least three to four nights.
I vividly remember our second week in Vietnam. We just finished the stunning Ha Giang loop. It was truly beautiful but also demanding as we were changing accommodation every day and our minds where overwhelmed with the most picturesque views. Bare in mind that we didn’t really have time to process everything we had seen the weeks before. When we arrived in Ninh Binh, a little town in Vietnam, I got sick. This was when I first got that feeling of being done exploring.
My personal travel limit
I really admire people who travel non stop for months and even years. I discovered that my personal limit is around two months. After that my patience gets lower, I’m not appreciating everything as much anymore and deep inside I’m longing for a steady routine. Have you ever experienced coming back from an adventurous backpacking trip and feeling like you need another holiday to rest? It’s a little bit like that. Back then we decided to stick to the plan, explore Laos for a month and then head to Koh Tao to stay for two months. God, these two months were so good for my overall being. Instead of researching for ‘the best things to do in the area’ I dedicated my time to see the dogs at the rescue shelter, go diving, progress in underwater videography. Instead of lying around in an uncomfortable hotel room I spent the evenings on my cozy sofa.
Two months can be a long time. But they weren’t enough for me to fully recover from the exhaustion. When we left the island again to travel south from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia the feeling immediately came back. It got to the point where I didn’t care about seeing any of the attractions anymore, where I hated coming back to a random and empty hotel room at the end of the day and where I was asking myself: Why am I doing this? I couldn’t answer this question as none of the things about travelling felt enriching to me in any way. And this was only the third day into the new trip!
I needed to change something
As I immediately felt exhausted when we arrived in Malaysia I knew that I needed to change something. I didn’t want to continue travelling to countries without really wanting to go. They deserve all my attention and appreciation! We decided to still travel to Indonesia (the thought of going there felt good) but to not plan going to other countries. Originally we had Nepal and India in mind but I knew that I wasn’t ready for them.
What travel exhaustion felt like
The feeling of travel exhaustion can be very individual. Some can especially feel the physical effects, for others it’s more mentally. This what travel exhaustion felt like to me:
- Not wanting to explore the area
- Being quickly overwhelmed and agitated by challenges
- Feeling aimless, feeling like the travelling doesn’t enrich my life
Honestly, talking about travel exhaustion is sometimes a bit weird. Because most of the people have never gotten to that point and think you are mentally instable. Why are you complaining? You don’t have to work and can just travel around. Such an easy life! Unfortunately there is not a lot of acceptance and understanding regarding topics like that. But if you have gotten to that point, you are not alone. I’ve met so many travellers who feel exactly the same way.
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5 ways to make long-term travelling less exhausting
Even though I got to the point of feeling exhausted there were some ways which still helped with that feeling. They made me feel more relaxed and gave some normality in that constantly changing travel environment. If you are on a long trip, or even if you feel similar while only travelling for a short time, maybe this will help you to slow down as well and to gain new energy.
1 Establish routines you can do from anywhere
Routines play an important role in our lives, and they already begin in our childhood. They contribute to better health and well-being. For me, flexibility and structure should both be balanced in life in order to make me feel good. When we go travelling though we usually tend to forget about our routines due to factors like unpredictable schedules, shifting priorities or a lack of certain resources. Skipping routines on short trips doesn’t really affect my well-being. When travelling for a longer time though they are too important to be missed. To me, routines give a feeling of normality and time to focus on myself. I can tell that I start to feel imbalanced if I skip them for too many days.
I established one specific routine that makes me feel better and I can do from anywhere: yoga and meditation. The good thing with this activity is that I don’t need to look for a gym or a specific place in the area. All in need is some space and my yoga mat. Travelling with a yoga mat is really easy so I can take it with me everywhere I go anyway. Every morning I spend at least 15-45 minutes doing a short meditation and a yoga session. I personally prefer guided programs and can recommend the ones by Yoga with Adriene on Youtube. Her videos suit all levels and she has many different 30 day playlists, so it never gets boring.
Sit down and make a list of things you could do from anywhere without depending on external factors! Start these routines in your home country and take them with you while travelling. It’s true that in some locations it’s harder to maintain certain routines. In hostels for example I tried to find quiet areas as I couldn’t do yoga in the dorm. Don’t be too hard on yourself but try your best to do the routines as regularly as possible! It’ll definitely help with your overall well-being.
2 Allow yourself to do something boring or normal
I think most of you know that feeling of having to make the most out of every second while travelling. Where you feel guilty because you have spent one hour more in bed than you were supposed to. Or when you are not joining every night’s social activity. Where you want to do the most exciting things every day. But when travelling long-term I think it’s so important to allow yourself to do something boring or normal as well. This can work wonders and almost feel like a little reset!
Allow yourself to:
- Spend an afternoon watching a show in bed.
- Sit in a café for hours just reading a book.
- Sleep in and not leave the room when you don’t feel like it.
- Have a quiet evening instead of a night out.
Honestly, as long as these things feel good to you who cares whether they are considered boring! At least you’re not draining all your energy but giving yourself time to recharge. When I visit really hot countries with good weather I’m sometimes even happy when it rains occasionally because it kind of gives me a reason to stay in and do something relaxing. But honestly, even when the weather is good we should allow ourselves to do nothing or something really simple. I mean, why not?! In fact, doing more normal things like you would do at home in another country is almost giving a feeling of living there which is also quite exciting.
3 Stop planning everything
Not having a plan for every day or even the coming weeks can decrease the stress level as well. I know for some this might sound horrible and they want to make the most of their time. But think about it, if you know what you’re doing every day there’s barely space to do what you actually feel like doing. What if you have this great trip planned but actually need some rest from the weeks before? If we make our agenda to full, it can actually lead to stress and exhaustion instead of excitement and pleasant anticipation.
I used to travel to countries with this detailed itinerary where I had everything planned through. Again, this does make sense if you only have a limited amount of time. But when you travel long-term I would recommend to handle it differently. Nowadays, I barely plan but start with a rough route. Everything else I work out day by day. I maybe do some research about things I might really want to see and keep them in mind. However, I stopped writing bucket lists, as to me they feel like work. Instead, I prefer going somewhere without huge plans and expectations. The things I’m actually going to do I decide based on how I feel. This makes it possible to plan the trip according to my well-being and not being stressed about a full agenda and whether everything is going to work out or not.
4 Make your trip meaningful and find a task
After some time spending the days visiting tourist attractions and taking lots of photos it all started feeling a bit pointless. I also didn’t just want to contribute to a country by only spending my money there. I was longing for something more meaningful and valuable. Early this year I signed up on Workaway to look for volunteer placements. The first one was about teaching English in a school in Cambodia, the second one was quite similar but in a school in Laos. I can highly recommend doing something like this to everyone! Not only will you be able to unpack your bags for a while and find a temporary home. But also you automatically develop routines, you get to know the country in a genuine way, you have a more constnat social circle and you can actually contribute. I find volunteering quite a rewarding experience, it’s a win for you and the host.
During the trip I also started writing more blogposts for placesoflinda, changed the website design and became the marketer of our baby Wingflight, a boardgame app my partner and I developed. Thanks to these tasks I was able to use my brain and my creativity. Having some work to do’s was also beneficial for more ‘normality’ as it meant that we sat in a café for hours, just working. I didn’t quit my job to not work, I quit it to create my day the way I want to. It turned out that I love working on my laptop and having proper tasks for some hours every day. The task you choose doesn’t have to be the same though! It could also be journaling, taking and editing photos, drawing or something totally different. Having a little task helped me a lot to deal with travel exhaustion.
5 Don’t feel ashamed to end your travels
Sometimes in life it’s best to bow out on a high note. If nothing helps and you’re just not feeling the long-term travelling anymore, maybe it’s best to end your travels. You really don’t want to start hating everything too much or becoming sick. Respect your own feelings and well-being enough to know when it’s time to quit something. I had that moment of realization in Malaysia, when I just got really tired of travelling. Logically it made sense to visit Nepal and India next. It was the right season, I had the time and the money. But… it just didn’t feel right going there. So, why do something that doesn’t feel good? To tell others you visited the countries? To post exciting things online? Prioritize your own needs.
After 4 years living the nomad lifestyle and 10 months of that only focussing on travelling, I was so ready to settle for a while. Friendships, connections, a routine, home made breakfast… things like that seemed of much bigger value. I just came back from a visit to Germany and going to see my family was the best decision. It was so grounding and nourishing, so much better than visiting another country.
You know, this is why I’m convinced you should do the things you really want to do when you want to do them. Don’t postpone, don’t wait too long, find a way to make it happen! Our needs and circumstances can change sooo quickly. Yes you can theoretically make a career first and then do a sabbatical but what if by then your priorities changed? What if that becomes the biggest regret of your life? If you really really want to do something do it while you have the spirit to do it.
Am I quitting the travels?
Personally, I decided that I’m not fully quitting this trip. Also because I just love living abroad too much. Therefore I’m not going back to Germany, but I chose Koh Tao as my home. I want to live there for however long it feels good.
All in all these are my ways to make the travels less exhausting! They really helped a lot and make the whole journey more enjoyable to me. Routines, normality, meaningful tasks… they can do so much. Ironically, I still got to the point of getting travel exhaustion. Can you even avoid it? I don’t know. But I see it as a sign to change priorities. And I also realized that pure travelling isn’t my cure to a happy life. Maybe I needed to get to this point, maybe I needed to feel exhausted to realise exactly that.
Have you ever felt exhausted by travelling long-term? How would you deal with it? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments below!