by Chris Anderson
Traveling can lift spirits, inspire and infuriate -- here's how to recognize and deal with the low moments
This photo was taken right before the happy couple experienced travel burnout because they couldn't find the Eiffel Tower
Some believe travel can be good medicine. While others may reach a point during their travels where they crash and burn. They hit that point in a journey where they just can't handle it anymore. They snap and stubbornly continue their trip in a foul mood, not enjoying what might otherwise be a wonderful experience, or they hang up their backpack, camera, and iPad GPS app and head home to the comfort of their own bed.
Different road warriors burn out for different reasons. For some it could be as simple as sleeping in a hard bed for too long. For others the final straw could be something serious like losing a passport while in a strange land. Travel burnout can occur during a week-long vacation or after months of traveling.
Here are some signs that you, dear traveler, have travel burnout, and how you can overcome it.
1. Travel blogging to travel bitching
Seventy blog posts-worth of complaining. Sad but true. On one blog detailing the three-month long trip of two Australians through Vietnam by motorbike, on Day 67 the author obviously reached, surpassed, and smashed his burnout point with a paragraph of derogatory venom, "Vietnamese people are stupid f**king retards and this country can burn to the ground for all I care. Apparently they wouldn’t care either. If I were to pull out a gun, go downstairs and point it at the hotel manager, I would almost expect him to say 'Oh, haha, you got me!' and laugh as I blew his brains out all over the wall. They just don’t seem to place any value on human lives whatsoever."
Darren Cronian, author of the popular Travel Rants blog has this suggestion for the above blogger, "I would say he needs to go somewhere cool and calm down, and move on to another destination."
2. Can't let the small things go
Jodi Ettenberg, author of Legal Nomads, a former lawyer and round-the-world traveler, believes the small things do not matter. "One of the luxuries of a more sedentary life is that you can control a good swath of the tiny activities that make up your day. Not so on the road, where oftentimes your meals, lodging and whether or not you even get to your desired destination remain out of your hands. To avoid burnout, I try and let the small things go. Easier said than done, but an important way to stay calm when traveling to far-flung places."
So how does the long term traveler cope when the small things get to be to much? Ettenberg says to plan a vacation within your trip. "This might sound counterintuitive, but round-the-world travel is not all ponies and rainbows. You will get sick, you will get tired and you will find yourself culturally out-of-water. When you are no longer able to let the small things go, it might be time for a vacation. Head to an island somewhere, relax for a week or more and let the frustration seep away."
3. You stop laughing
Laughter truly can be the best medicine. Travelers that have learned to laugh off their frustrations cope better on the road. Those that turn their frustration into anger punch goats and end up in prison. If you lose the laugh, Jodi Ettenberg suggests talking to other travelers who can help turn frustration into laughter.
Ettenberg says, "Sometimes the best thing to do is to sit down and have a rant with fellow travelers who can empathize with your head-smacking experiences and offer funny stories of their own. Laughing off misadventures is one of the more fulfilling ways of getting past them, and it often helps to know you're not alone in feeling the way you do."
4. You start seeking the comforts of home
Seriously, go for the local food.You find yourself eating at McDonald's and other recognizable fast-food chains or seeking out only the comforts of home. Yes, there is an argument to be made for resorting to "comfort food". But why are you resorting to something easily gotten back home? Why do you need comforting? What would Freud say?
Start exploring the local food. Ettenberg says, "When I am feeling overwhelmed in a new place, I turn to the street food to ground me."
She doesn't mean ground you in the bathroom either. "I get a crash course in local culinary tradition, I meet local people and it makes a foreign city seem more accessible. It is a small and easy way to ease the sensory overload of arriving at a new destination already frustrated with how you got there."
5. Obsessive over-planning
You're traveling for a week to the Philippines and you've planned every bit of the trip down to the minute, leaving no time in your itinerary for spontaneous travel and exploration. This means you can't let go of the control you have over your daily life when you travel, or you previously got burned on a spontaneous travel decision. But over-planning denies travelers the ability to choose which way to go when confronted with that proverbial fork in the road. You can't choose the path to the right because damnit, you have a schedule to stick to and that schedule dictates you go left and arrive at the Museum of Boring History at 3 p.m. sharp.
What if taking a right would have led to the most amazing travel discovery you've ever experienced? Sorry. You'll never know.
When planning a trip, leave some room for the unexpected opportunities that might arise. Don't let past mis-adventures decide how you plan trips in the future.
6. Getting aggressive
Punch or pet?
Infrequent or newbie travelers must quickly figure out that aggressive behavior while traveling doesn't do anybody any good. People that "get it" eventually learn to listen and adapt the more they travel. Travelers who previously figured this out but shift into aggressive behavior are relapsing. Hiroko Yoda, a CNNGo contributor and constant traveler says, "I think successful visitors/expats learn to listen and adapt rather than aggressively demand satisfaction in ways they are used to from their home culture. Life is a gray zone. Not something that can be compared."
During Ettenberg's around-the-world trip she remembers sitting on the roof of a minivan with a goat in her lap and thinking, "OK, I could do what the person next to me is doing and start yelling at the driver, or I can pet this goat." She didn't start yelling. She pet the goat, it probably liked it, and she had a hilarious story to tell her brother.
Say the hotel you wanted to stay at said they are fully booked when you showed up after calling them earlier and listening to them assure you of plenty of vacancies. Be calm, ask to talk to the manager and be insistent but not aggressive. You're still a guest. If somebody came to visit you in your home and demanded they get the master bedroom instead of the futon "or else!" how would you react?
7. Stop respecting the local culture
Once you stop respecting the local culture, the locals stop respecting you. People notice if you truly don't give a damn, and they'll react accordingly. These reactions are likely to be less than favorable, and raise the potential to bring your attitude from calm and cool to aggressive jerk in a flash.
Ettenberg believes that "respecting certain customs (covering up in certain countries, handing money or items with my right hand in others, etc), also goes a long way toward being treated with respect by the locals in that country."
8. Stop being excited about traveling to new places
The night before a big trip usually entails tossing and turning in bed, brain running wild with anticipation of the upcoming journey. Ettenberg thinks it might be best to take a break if "new places stop exciting you, or if you find yourself rolling your eyes at the thought of unpacking yet again and having a new set of money in your wallet, you might want to take a break from travel and take off again at a later date. You want to experience new places in Technicolor; once burnout sets in, sometimes it is best to go home until you're excited about travel once again."
A traveler can recognize all the signs of burnout and still not shake the bad travel vibe. Darren Cronian has a sound bit of advice for travelers everywhere: "They need to remember that they are in the fortunate position of being able to travel the world."
Remember, don't punch the goat -- pet it.