Have you ever had those trips where you just feel the planets aren’t aligned for you to be traveling right now? Everything is going minorly wrong, and it’s altogether more exhausting than you anticipated?
Across my 12 years of travel, there are times when travel fatigue set in quickly and made me feel tired, sad, and alone. I first experienced it on my round the world trip in month eight, and then more recently when backpacking solo through Central America was far harder than I expected. Like, much harder.
Travel fatigue is something not frequently discussed among travelers, but it’s very real according to science, and it’s something that can be avoided a lot of the time, but it will eventually set in on any long-term trip. With the right steps though, and with some prior knowledge of what’s worked for other travelers, it’s possible to cure travel fatigue—or at least recover enough to continue enjoying your trip.
What is Travel Fatigue?
Travel fatigue is a total exhaustion caused by too many days or weeks of constantly being on “alert” while you travel. It manifests as apathy toward travel activities that usually excite you, and a lack of motivation enjoy local culture and cuisine. Like other types of burnout, travel fatigue is a feeling of deep weariness and disengagement.
Pinning down what this looked like to me was actually one of the harder steps in the process of learning how to how to recover from travel fatigue. It’s not any one thing that I can always put a finger on. For me, I would often still enjoy the countries I am visiting and many of the unique experiences. I would even slow down as a first remedy for it—in Central America I just planted myself in Guatemala to see if that would help with the travel fatigue (and because I really like Guatemala!).
But a few minor difficulties (and a few not so minor difficulties) would seem too big to handle—my mind blew them out of proportion as signs that I was doing something wrong. I’m incredibly grateful that I get to travel—that’s not the issue here. It’s more that the whole experience can seem harder work than it should be. My round the world trip had ups and downs, but the tiredness I felt in Central America was just different. My debit card was cloned; money was stolen and it was a straight up fiasco to get a new one through the Guatemalan postal system and to my doorstep—a hostel in Xela that agreed to front me accommodation until my card arrived. This in and of itself, not such a big deal—it happens right?
This incident, though, points to some wider overarching issues that have cropped up in the past three months—lots of illnesses this trip, some big family problems cropped up back home, and it seems like I’ve faced more general difficulties while traveling this part of the world. Science says travel is tiring on the body in every way—and that’s just the act of normal, uncomplicated travel. So I had to ask myself: Are there more difficulties than on my RTW trip, or am I just tired? Is the Universe was conspiring against me—are the gods of travel just telling me to go home? Or is normal fatigue just combining with a few more trying situations to make this all just seem unmanageable. This is what I pondered.
Perception is reality, facts notwithstanding. We must alter our perception of a situation to see alternatives, and a different perception often leads to a different reality. That’s my firstline approach to travel fatigue: accept, acknowledge, and consider—reframe your perspective and perception.
Easier said than done though. When I was exhausted in Central America, I had a month left on my six-month backpacking trip before heading home to the States for a wedding. Although I deeply wanted to expat myself somewhere for six months or a year (Thailand?), to have a homebase and explore more from there, I needed to recover from my fatigue in the short-term. Here’s what worked when I asked long-term travelers for their best advice on curing travel fatigue, and steps to avoid it in the first place.
How to Recover From Travel Fatigue
Update: After receiving incredible support from the travel community in the comments and via email—thank you, by the way—I’ve collected a list of advice for others who might find themselves in this situation: hitting a wall of tiredness and feeling complete inertia in your travels. I’ve also written an extensive post on how to cope with loneliness while traveling, offering additional tips there, because loneliness often factors into travel fatigue, even if you’re not traveling solo.
If you’re feeling travel fatigue, first, know that you’re not alone. Then take steps to help cure those negative or lonely feelings. Travel can feel very isolating if you’re not vigilant, so please take it seriously and find the ideas that help you recover a sense of joy in your life and travels.
1. Pick a Place and Stay There
Every time I feel similarly to how you’re feeling, I’ve realized that the constant movement from place to place was the culprit. And so I would just stop or I would move to some ideal place for three or more months in order to regroup.Derek from Wandering Earl
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: Don’t let your exhaustion get to the place of a bone-deep tired by traveling slowly. This is the single best way to ensure that you continue to enjoy every place you visit. It’s especially important in long-term travels. Any traveler on the road for months should consider a place they’re keen to experience more like a local—then move there! Use my extensive digital nomad cost of living guides to find the cities and countries most welcoming to travelers in need of a break.
2. Take a Nap & Get a Solid Night’s Sleep
If you’re on a short-term trip and you need a solution today, consider taking a nap. And no matter how long your trip, make an early night of it for several nights in a row if you’ve been moving too quickly to get your recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Sleep is important to wellbeing, and travel (and the strange beds, jet lag, and long days) can exacerbate any sleep issues you might have. Plus, things always look better when you are well rested. So, take a nap, skip the alcohol, and sleep.
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: Fiercely protect your sleep routines on the road. It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer joy and fun of round the world travel—that can mean late nights out drinking and enjoying the company of new friends—but if you’re on the road for weeks and months, you need a functional sleep routine, too. To avoid travel fatigue in the long-term, consciously assess your sleep patterns and construct a cadence of travel that allows you to get a full night’s rest more often than not.
3. Assess Your Current Country & Consider Moving On
Although we loved Guatemala, I have to say that traveling there was emotionally difficult at times. Each time we would tell people our plans, the response would be “peligroso” and we’d have to figure out whether we would be faced with armed robbery or just standard pickpocketing. It also seemed like a national pastime for people (locals and expats) is to tell you the latest bus-jacking or kidnapping incidence in the country.Audrey from Uncornered Market
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: When deciding your around the world itinerary, pick a mix of travel destinations that are easier and more challenging. Travel fatigue hit me for the first time after spending six months in challenging destinations across Southeast Asia and South Asia—all of that time “on alert” every single day took a toll on me mentally and physically, and I faced a bad case of burnout as soon as I left that region of the world. A better designed itinerary will give you a balance of destinations—and a slow pace—so you can enjoy them without the exhaustion.
4. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
It’s really important to be sure you’re still eating healthy foods that give you energy, because a lack of certain nutrients (such as B vitamins) can affect both our mood (mind) and stamina (body).Trisha from Travel Writers Exchange
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: Like with sleep, it’s easy to let your usually diet go when you’re on the road and faced with any number of local treats. And in some regions, fried snacks—especially on travel days—are by far the easiest snacks to locate. But fresh fruits and vegetables are easy to locate anywhere in the world and you should maintain an awareness of your diet across a week. Some days it’s fine to splurge on local foods, but you still need all of the micronutrients vegetables provide throughout each week on the road. Consider shopping at a local market and then cooking dinner yourself a few nights a week. Or seek out vegetarian restaurants (even if you aren’t vegetarian) in meat-based cultures to ensure you can easily have a delicious and healthy meal on the reg.
5. Avoid Guilt, It Happens to Everyone
We found India to be difficult, and we had quite a hard time with travel fatigue. To top it off we felt guilty for evening having travel fatigue. It eventually went away after we decided to relax on the beach in Sri Lanka for 10 days.— Deb from The Planet D
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: You can cure your travel fatigue faster if you acknowledge it as a natural part of the travel process. Sometimes you will face situations that are out of your control—perhaps a destination that challenges you at every turn, where you can’t find a good bed or a healthy meal for weeks. That’s OK. You’ll get through it, and there is an enormous community of travelers around the world you can talk to online if needed—we’ve all been where you are, so reach out and feel safe knowing it can happen to any traveler.
6. Chat with Family and Friends
Problems don’t go away on the road, they are amplified in many ways, so eat well and take it easy. Skype friends and chat, unplug otherwise. When you get shaken and feel more vulnerable, you need to fill up your cup, so you can enjoy the travel. Daily meditation and time in nature also helps us a lot, and we are lucky to be surrounded by good hugabuddies. ;)Jeannie from Soul Travelers 3
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: Stay connected to your loved ones when you’re traveling! This is vital throughout your trip, as it’s one of the first lines of defence in travel loneliness as well.
7. Unplug, Meditate & Exercise
By moving our bodies on a daily basis we are doing what our bodies are designed to do and, at the same time, producing the wonderful endorphins that come along with the movement for which our bodies and minds are grateful.Chris Heuisler in Quartz
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: Exercise makes you feel good, even if you kinda hate it. And on the road, practicing good mental and physical habits like meditation and exercise are a first line of defence against travel burnout. You don’t even have to make it a huge “thing.” There are fun and travely ways to incorporate both into your travels. You can look for urban and rural hikes to incorporate into your travel route, or take a fun approach to meditation like my friend Victoria did in her “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it” series when she was living in Ubud, Bali. And you can also just bring along lightweight exercise bands and do some quick travel exercises every day to stay in peak mental and physical health.
8. Rent the Movie “A Map for Saturday“
Easily one of the best films about long-term travel, you’ll find yourself continually reassured that you’re not alone in your up and down journey around the world.Nora from The Professional Hobo
Avoid Travel Fatigue Long-Term: Make sure you’re enjoying pieces of your life beyond just travel. Long-term travel becomes a lifestyle versus a vacation, and you should create balance between all the things you love. Keep up with your favorite TV shows from back home if that brings you joy, and read all the time if that was your favorite pastime. Keep routines you loved, and don’t feel guilty or as if you have an obligation to do anything specific on your trip. If you choose to spend your entire first days in Bangkok holed up in a hotel room binging Game of Thrones, no one need judge you as long-term travel is about the overall arc of a trip, and you can’t be “on” in travel mode every minute of every day.
Remember: It’s All Impermanent, It Will Get Better at Some Point:
I’ll chalk it up to my 10 days in Vipassana Meditation, but the Buddhist notion of impermanence applies here as well. It seems so bad at the time, but it’s a fleeting moment, circumstances are going to change. This is what I kept telling myself to get through my own bouts of travel fatigue. :-)
A big thank you for the comments and support when I was feeling blue—and for you many additional great suggestions in the comments below—check them out as well if you’re looking for a way to come back to level after experiencing travel fatigue!