I never thought a day would come that I’d utter the words, “I hate traveling.” In fact, I have yet to say those words as they are not true. However, I came pretty close. Some may have noticed that I haven’t been up to my normal wanderlusting ways as of late.
For the past two plus years, I’ve been on the road at least once a month, near and far, all over the globe. Rarely was I home for more than three weeks at a time, and in a few of those months, I was home for less than 48 hours between trips, with a couple of months having me home less than 10 days of the month.
About six months ago, I started to notice a feeling coming over me that was very unusual. And unsettling. “I don’t want to go,” I’d think. “Nah, not that interested.” A trip would be pending and in the days leading up to it, rather than being excited, I was dreading the travel. My suitcase looked like an obligation. My passport was a thorn in my side. The smell of the jet fuel at the airport made me nauseous.
While on the trip, rather than soaking up the experience with the vigor and enthusiasm that I always had, I felt like I was just going through the motions. “I guess I should probably take a photo of that…” was my thought, rather than thinking, “oh, that’s so beautiful, I want to capture it so I can always remember this moment!”
And then anxiety started creeping in – my heart would race at the thought of going anywhere, and not in a good way. Another airport, another beach, another hotel, another culture, another airline, another dinner, another hike, another zip line, another story to write, another obligation, another another another.
I know how it sounds, believe me! I have these amazing opportunities to go to incredible places that people dream of visiting, and all I wanted to do was stay home, play with my dogs, garden, and read a book in the peace of my own backyard. Earlier this year, I cancelled a couple of trips. And then on one occasion, I got the flu right before a scheduled trip and my body was telling me it was time for a break.
It used to be that if I didn’t have an upcoming trip on the calendar, I got anxious. Now, NOT having any travel on the calendar gave me a sense of peace and I could breathe again. The last international trip I took was in December 2013. Not long ago by most standards, but by the pace I had been keeping, it was unusual. Although I’ve had three business trips this year, one to New York and two to Atlanta, I’ve mostly been home, nesting, and trying to figure out if I was really done with travel or just experiencing some odd phenomenon known as “travel burnout.”
Common signs include:
- Overplanning or obsessing over every detail of a trip
- Procrastination in booking
- Lack of excitement
- Not wanting to leave the hotel room
- Lack of interest in local culture
- Wanting the trip to end
- Getting easily frustrated with travel delays, crowds, changes in plans, etc
- Not laughing while on trips
- Wanting the comforts of home
Owning up to the fact that travel burnout was exactly what I was experiencing, I decided that I wouldn’t go anywhere unless I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to go. I was home – no airports, no hotels, for three full months, and then I started to get curious again.
Was I ready to get back in the saddle? To test it out, I took a short three-day road trip to Ojai, California. It was a perfect segue — far enough to feel out of Los Angeles, but not so far that I couldn’t drive home in less than two hours if an overwhelming desire for my own bed came over me.
What I realized in that road trip was that I still wanted to travel. Of course I did! I just wanted to do it on my own terms, on my own watch. I needed to take back control and allow myself to once again have the kind of experiences that first made me fall in love with travel. That meant – no schedule, no itinerary, no obligations. I needed to be able to let destinations and people move me again, not because someone said it should, but because of happenstance, randomness, and unexpected encounters. No expectations.
I also needed time and space in between to recalibrate and take a breather. I let go of the stupid inner competition I once felt with my fellow travel writers. Travel is not and should never be a competition — not for bylines, not for those ridiculous “have you been here and here and here” conversations, not for Instagram or Facebook or for any reason other than the very reason it became a passion for me long ago.
It was simply to have experiences that enrich you, that connect you with the planet and the people in it, and most importantly, that allow you to connect with yourself, your spirit. That was what travel was about for me when I first crossed an ocean more than 20 years ago. However and whatever I needed to do to get that back, I was going to do it.
For me, that meant taking a hiatus and staying put. It meant focusing on my work, my writing, and getting caught up — really caught up, not just fulfilling deadlines and obligations, but truly crossing off the items that had been on the “to do” list for months and months, from housework to phone calls to friends I hadn’t spoken to in far too long, to cleaning out my email inbox to reorganizing my closet.
Next week, I’m breaking the hiatus. I’m heading to the Cook Islands. Where? Exactly. It’s a week-long trip to the South Pacific. It’s just long enough for a sojourn back in the travel saddle, to a place that conjures up mystery and intrigue for me. I am going in with no expectations, no plans. There is an itinerary, and I know what my options are, but I’m not obsessing over it. I’ll see what it’s like when I get there. I’m looking forward to it! And that is a victory in and of itself.
Have I beaten the travel burnout blues? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I don’t have any other travel planned after this, which is all the more reason I feel excited for this trip. I can focus on this and only this. I think this is step one.
For anyone who is experiencing travel burnout, here’s my advice:
1. Take an indefinite break.
2. Connect with friends, family, pets, and anyone or anything that you miss.
3. Do nothing. There’s nothing wrong with an empty calendar and no plans. In fact, clear your calendar of anything that feels like an obligation. Yes, we all have work obligations for our livelihood, but beyond that if you don’t feel like attending an event or a party or a networking function, don’t!
4. Do what makes you happy. If you love to paint and haven’t done it in years, go buy some paints or attend a paint nite event in your city. If you like to garden, go to the nursery and plant some seeds. If there’s a book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months, pick it up and start reading!
5. Make no apologies. You don’t owe anyone any explanations. It’s your journey, not theirs.
6. Take care of items on your “to do” list that cause subconscious stress. File your taxes, go through your stack of mail, send that “thank you” note, donate clothes that are taking up wasted space in the closet, reorganize your junk drawer in the kitchen…
7. Stay put unless you feel real, genuine, honest-to-goodness excitement and desire to go. If you don’t, you’re not ready.
8. Let go of the superficial need to compete or add to your “been there” list. Don’t worry, your travel bucket list isn’t going anywhere. And instagram will do just fine without you! You can pick up where you left off when you’re ready.
9. Take a trial run before you commit to something bigger. A weekend away before an ocean away.