Travel burnout happens. Usually ‘travel burnout’ refers to a kind of ‘straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back’ moment. You’re fed up of living out of a backpack and you’ve slept in an uncomfy hostel bed for one too many nights. Enough’s enough and you want out. But I’m talking about the kind of burnout you get from perhaps being too enthusiastic with your travels. However much you love travelling, we all need to remember to relax sometimes and not pressure ourselves into doing and seeing everything! Perhaps you don’t need to be told that (especially if you’re beach-bumming in South East Asia 😉 ) but my style of travelling is ‘go hard or go home’. I can’t help it – it’s just the way I am! I have this urge to see as much of a place as is humanly possible in a set amount of time. (Personally, I couldn’t lie on a beach for a whole day! I’d get twitchy feet within an hour or two). But my approach to travelling isn’t always ideal and today’s post is about how I reached that conclusion.
By the time I arrived in Kuala Lumpur I had been travelling through Asia for 32 days. In the grande scheme of long-term-travelling 32 days is really not that long but let me tell you, I had been hard at the travelling game for pretty much every one of those days. I’d cycled or walked for miles every day (seriously) and fitted as many sights and activities in as I possibly could. Overall, I was having a great time. But I was also exhausted and I didn’t really know it! (The first clue should have been I was almost always catching up on sleep…!). Some people might see what I did as a ‘holiday’ but really, I did very little sitting down and relaxing unless it was on transport or at a dinner table. At the rate I was travelling, I was going to need an actual holiday after my ‘holiday’!
It only occurred to me that I should probably give myself a break when one of my Airbnb hosts that I was staying with, Chris, said to me one evening (in a surprised but admiring kind of way) how much I was fitting into my time in KL. He said something like “when we come home [from work] you’re still in the city [central KL] so you must be really going for it!”. I just assumed that everyone who came to KL and stayed with Chris & Mika had at the same kind of travel pace/itinerary as me! (Despite knowing Chris & Mika lived in a building complex that has a gorgeous relaxing swimming pool! Haha).
So it was what Chris said to me that made me aware of my pace of travelling and why I should really take a breather. But also, because KL doesn’t have a tonne of obvious touristy things to do, I quickly ran out of key sights to cram in and I soon understood that one of the beauties of KL (and probably every foreign place you visit) is the joy of just being there. I know, it sounds bloomin’ obvious. You don’t have to visit all the top 10 tourist attractions or take photos of every key landmark. Part of the joy of travel is just wandering the streets, eating the food and talking to the locals. Doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything specific! Heck, even just sitting in a cafe for hours and reading a book or strolling through a generic shopping mall is allowed if that’s what you really want to do! The ‘backpacking-police’ aren’t going to come and arrest you for not being a “real” traveller!
Believe me, I had done more than my fair share of street-wandering in every new city but I still always felt guilty if I missed something key off my to-do list, either because I didn’t have time, the weather was bad or I just simply didn’t fancy it! Like in Beijing I didn’t go to the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven! I know, it’s awful. I went all that way and didn’t go, but it was for a combination of the reasons above. My point is, the fact I didn’t do those key things shouldn’t make me feel guilty or make my trip feel like less of a good trip. I needed to learn to chill out and just pause for a moment! It shouldn’t matter that I didn’t do ‘everything’ or that I didn’t actually feel like doing ‘everything’ all the time. I could always return to these places another time and do the things I didn’t get to do on my last visit.
So shamefully or not, after a day or two in KL, I spent the rest of my time sitting in cafes, restaurants, bars, and wandering through shopping malls. I know, nothing imaginative but it’s what I needed at the time; some moments to sit and let my mind wander without thinking I had to be at a certain place by a certain time. I took those moments to reflect on my trip so far and to stay in contact with friends and family back home by writing emails and postcards. It helped me stay ‘grounded’ in the moment and truly appreciate all the great things I’d experienced and was yet to experience.
How do avoid travel-burnout? What things do you do to help you stay grounded and ‘in the moment’ whilst travelling? Tell me in the comments below!