Do you feel like you might be getting tired of traveling? This could be a sign of travel fatigue or travel burnout!
What is burnout? Burnout is defined as “mental or physical collapse due to overwork and stress”.
You could be experiencing a burnout if you ever wake up feeling dejected and exhausted, like you want to give up on the day before it has even started. These are the days when all you want to do is crawl back under the covers and not move all day. I think most of us have had one or more of these days at one point or another.
Now, while you’ll often hear the term “burnout” thrown around when it comes to the subject of work or college, it can also hit you on the road, when you’re backpacking. I know what you’re thinking… “Travel? The thing we do to de-stress and escape the working world. Why doesn’t this decrease my chances of getting burnout?” It’s a fair question, but burnout can hit you a lot easier than most think.
There are two main causes of travel burnout when it comes to backpacking and living life on the road:
1. Never, mentally, fully escaping life back home.
While you may have physically left, your mind is still stuck back home, in work or in other issues.
2. Travelling too fast.
Travelling too fast has become more of an issue in recent years with everyone trying to cram entire cities into a few days and whole countries into a couple of weeks or less. While this is still undoubtedly better than the regular 9-5, there’s no question that this is a high-stress, high-workload environment.
So, what the hell can we do to avoid burnout hitting us? That’s what this guide is here to do. First, we’ll start by looking at the symptoms of burnout and what can cause them on the road. And then, we’ll get into how to cure these symptoms and how to avoid burnout completely.
So if you’re after a more relaxing, enjoyable and fulfilling backpacking experience, keep reading.
Symptoms of Travel Burnout
Burnout is like a brick wall standing in the middle of a road. It’s only going to hit you if you don’t see it coming. Luckily, there are plenty of early warning signs that suggest you might be suffering from travel burnout, or that you may be heading towards a crash in the near future.
1. High Stress or Anxiety
You may think of this purely as work-related but it can be just as common on the backpacking trail. If you’re constantly travelling to new places, never staying anywhere for longer than a few nights, never having a free moment scheduled into your day, that’s all going to catch up with you at some point.
2. Feeling Disengaged
Feeling disinterested and being unable to focus on any given task is a tell-tale sign that burnout is coming.
3. Negativity and Self-Criticising
Burnout can leave you feeling more negative than you usually do, both towards others and yourself.
4. Binge Eating
We’ve all been there, right? We get stressed out or we feel totally overwhelmed (perhaps by travelling too quickly or by packing too much stuff into our itinerary) and we resort to binge eating our favourite comfort food. I can usually tell I’m on the verge of burnout when I discover myself in the local McDonald’s, instead of at a local spot or street food cart.
5. Distracted Eating
Another common symptom and early sign of travel fatigue is if you find yourself distracted when eating. This could mean you’re eating and on your laptop or tablet at the same time. Work can wait. Netflix can wait... Especially when travelling.
6. Mental Exhaustion
This is what I was talking about at the beginning when you just want to spend the entire day in bed; not necessarily because of sleepiness but because of total mental and emotional exhaustion.
7. Constant Worrying
You have the same worries and fears playing around in your head, on repeat. And, no matter what, you can’t seem to quiet the noise.
8. Physical Illness
This will come rather far into the burnout process, so hopefully, you never get to this stage but it can happen. If you’re constantly doing stuff during the day and then partying into the early hours of the morning and not factoring in any downtime to the equation, at some point it’s all going to come back and bite you.
9. Increased Alcohol Consumption
For this one, it’s slightly harder to tell, since drinking and backpacking seem to be synonymous with one another. Red flags should be raised when you start drinking to escape the worries and fears in your head, to forget about your stresses and to combat the mental exhaustion.
But, sampling the local beer when eating out? Go for it. It’s a must! Partying with your new backpacking hostel buddies? Drink the night away! Just make sure alcohol is being used as a party enhancer and not solely as a stress reducer.
Causes of Travel Burnout
So, we’ve covered the symptoms to watch out for, but that’s after burnout has struck. What causes travel burnout? In order to know how to avoid burnout on the road, we’ve got to understand what causes it to begin with.
1. Not Enough Sleep
Everyone’s different when it comes to sleep but most of us need seven to eight hours of quality shut-eye to minimise the risk of burnout. If we’re only getting a couple hours each night, burnout is almost inevitable and will catch up with us, eventually.
2. Not Enough Exercise
It can be hard to stay in peak shape while backpacking. Yes, there’s a lot of walking, exploring and adventuring to be had, and that has its physical benefits but it’s a lot more difficult to schedule in a workout or to go for a run than it is back home. Exercise is a known mood enhancer and energy booster so without it, we’re likely to feel more sluggish, negative and - ironically - more tired.
3. Constant Hurrying
Are you always packing your stuff last minute? Always running for the plane, train or bus? Burnout could be headed your way!
4. No Breaks
Breaks are important; in work but also in life. And that doesn’t change when it comes to life on the road. A lot of people return home from a trip, less relaxed than when they left because they didn’t give themselves any breaks. It was go, go, go 100% of the time.
Ways to Avoid Burnout on the Road
We’ve covered how and why burnout hits you on the road, but now, let’s get to the meat and potatoes… How to actually avoid burning out to begin with. When we travel, our daily schedules and routines change. That is inevitable. And, when this happens, a lot of us backpackers don’t adapt to it well.
Instead of being reluctantly forced into these habit changes, if we are better prepared for them, we’ll be able to deal with them, adapt to the backpacker life better and manage to avoid burnout completely.
1. Make Time for Sleep
On planes. In taxis. On overnight trains or buses. If that’s what it takes, do it. Say your iPhone was down to 10% battery. Without charging it, it won’t work or even turn on. If our body is the phone then sleep is the charger and a bed is the plug socket in the wall.
2. Have a (Simplified) Exercise Schedule
Yes, it is harder to stick to your regular exercise routines when backpacking but it’s not impossible to stay in shape. Go out for a run, or even a walk when possible. If you have space, do some simple bodyweight exercises that don’t require any special equipment.
If you’re travelling slow and are staying in one place for an extended period of time, this gives you the chance to find fitness opportunities in the area whether it’s a gym or some local classes.
3. Slow Down
As I’ve mentioned, it’s far less stressful (and more enjoyable) to travel slow. On top of limiting stress and exhaustion, you’ll also make a deeper connection with the places you do visit.
Doing some volunteer work is already popular among the backpacking community and it can really help soothe the soul and make you feel great about yourself. As a side effect, this is a great way to avoid burnout.
Both laughing and making other people laugh give you one of the best feelings imaginable. Surrounding yourself with positive and funny people can be infectious when it comes to your mood and outlook on life. It’s not going to be difficult to find people like this while backpacking.
6. Take Days Off
You can afford to do this when travelling slower. Not every day has to be filled with a million tourist attractions. It’s okay to spend some days lying on the beach, chilling in your hostel or even sprawling out on your bed (or in a hammock if there’s one available) to read your book.
This will help you recharge and keep your energy up to make the most of the experiences and adventures you do have.
7. Schedule Alone Time
If you’re not backpacking solo, it can get difficult spending every waking minute of the day with the same person (or small group of people). It’s okay to do your own thing occasionally. In fact, it will keep both/all of you sane and will mean you actually enjoy the time you do spend together more.
Avoiding travel fatigue involves recognising the causes and the symptoms and then implementing measures and habits to prevent it from happening. If you’re travelling with a backpacking friend, you can become each other’s burnout accountability buddies. Having someone to help you out can give you a massive boost and will help you to avoiding that feeling of being tired of traveling.
That being said, it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Backpacking - like anything else in life - has its ups and downs. But by managing to avoid burnout on the road, you can enjoy the ups more and limit the downs as much as possible.
Author: Jamie is an avid traveller and has been backpacking since he left high school in 2016. He is the founder of the backpacking and budget travel blog, Gaijin Crew, which aims to teach aspiring backpackers to travel on a student budget and make long-term, extended travel a reality.