On travel fatigue and the need to slow down

travel fatigue

From an outsider’s perspective, traveling all the time is exciting and fun. And while it is those things, it’s also exhausting, and eventually it takes a toll. It’s really easy to get caught up in constantly booking flights and checking sights off a list and scratching countries off a travel map. But in practice, taking a trip every couple of weeks is kind of draining.

As I write this, I realize that I straddle the line between debunking the myth of the lifestyle that Instagram makes me look like I have and sounding ungrateful for the privilege I do have. Is there a more whiny and entitled first world problem than bitching about traveling too much for fun?

Explaining travel fatigue

Nonetheless, travel fatigue is a thing. And it’s not just something I’ve experienced because of how much I travel. It happens to all of us to some degree, even on the one trip you may take a year. Because something that’s not talked about enough is the difference between traveling and taking a vacation. That’s why this saying is so relatable: “I need a vacation from my vacation.”

Waking up at the crack of dawn after an international flight to make sure you get ready and eat breakfast before the 11 am tour of whatever city and then spending your day going from museum to church to park to monument is not a vacation. It’s travel, and most people love it, but it’s not relaxing. When you repeat that for 10 days in a row before hopping on another numbing series of flights back home, you arrive more exhausted than you left.

And this hectic pace of travel is kind of a necessary evil, because if you have only one week to spend somewhere and you don’t take advantage of the time you have, you’ll miss stuff, and you might feel like your trip wasn’t worth it. For me, this goes double, because wherever I am, I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to write about it. If I don’t do something, I can’t write about it. And if I don’t see enough, I feel like my writing won’t be good enough; like it’s incomplete.

So I do what we all do. I make a list of the things I have to see, because “who knows if I’ll ever make it back here” I tell myself. And I set an alarm, and hit up all my starred places, and I plan day trips, and I take long train rides and hikes. On my last trip, I lost my ability to bend my foot for half a day, because I had walked so much the day before. So when I arrive home after a trip, limping and sore and exhausted, all I want to do is sleep for 15 hours and never travel again. And of course, that’s a lie, because I have to unpack and do laundry and repack again before my next flight leaves in a week.

What to do about travel fatigue?

Ironically, I’ve been able to slow down my “real life” to a pace that is enjoyable and relaxing in a way that I’ve never learned to do when I travel. In fact, the only time I ever set an alarm is when I’m on a trip, because I work my own hours and I don’t like to work mornings. I almost never have to worry about being on a schedule.

But when I travel – when most of us travel – we want to make the best of our time, which means cramming as much activity as humanly possible. In theory, you can see all the major things to see in any given city by spending a very busy weekend there. So you do, because then you can take advantage and spend the next three days elsewhere. But that kind of planning leaves you spent. And after a couple of days, a place might even start losing some of its magic (like after you’ve seen the 17th Inca ruin in three days).

So maybe vacations should be more like a marathon and not a race. Because if you have 7 days to spend in just one place, you can sleep in and feel rested before heading out on your day’s adventure. You don’t have to force yourself to do anything you’re too tired to do today if you know you have tomorrow or the next day or the one after that. Of course, the downside is that you get to see and do a lot less. So how to juggle both?

Tips on how to find the balance and reduce travel fatigue

1. Choose wisely

If you’re burned out and really in need of a rest, maybe take a cruise instead of backpack through Europe. There are some places that lend themselves better to taking it slow than a major city with a thousand important sights and museums. You don’t have to feel like you missed out on anything if the only thing to do somewhere is lay on a beach and drink mojitos. On the other hand, if what you want is to really see a place, then go to London, Rome, but know what you’re getting into.

2. Plan better (or plan less)

When you have a set itinerary, travel is more exhausting. You really don’t know how you’ll feel about a place until you’re in it. So if you don’t already have every hotel and train or bus booked when you arrive, you can decide if you want to stay longer in any one particular place. Then you can rest if you need to, and just stay an extra day to see whatever you want to see. It relieves the pressure (and potential disappointment) of having to do certain things after you’ve realized you don’t really have the time.

3. Space out trips

Sometimes because of circumstances, trips pile up. You might have a weekend getaway for someone’s bachelorette party the same month as your partner’s only week off this year. But if you can avoid taking vacations back to back, do it. You’ll appreciate it more if you have some time between trips to at least look forward to the next one.

4. Find time to do something relaxing in the middle of a hectic trip

My favorite day in the Baltic road trip I just took was a night we spent in Saaremaa, where there was hardly anything to do. So we just wandered around Kuressaare in no rush, and ended the night at a spa for several hours. When we got back home, my friends worked on a jigsaw puzzle at the Airbnb while I blogged. It was perfect, because it required no scheduling and no running around. Whatever relaxes you, whether it’s reading or sitting in a nice park or taking a swim, find that and do it.

5. Slow down

There comes a point when you’re trying to do too much and things stop being enjoyable, because you don’t even give yourself time to appreciate anything. You’re too busy thinking about going to the next thing you have scheduled. So prioritize. Recognize that you’re probably spreading yourself too thin, make a list of things to do in order of importance, and accept that the last third of that list are probably going to end up on the chopping block.

It’s a double-edged sword either way. The question is what do you really want out of your trip? Do you want to travel or do you want to vacation?