Of all the first world problems to have, travel burnout aka backpacker burnout ranks pretty highly on the list. It seems silly to complain about how tired and overwhelmed you feel travelling the world when your friends are all back home working their 9 to 5’s and many people can’t even travel at all!
To travel is to have immense privilege.
Being able to travel means having financial security and passport privilege as well as mental and physical health.
That said, travel, especially long term travel, can often take a toll on our minds and bodies. Not only are we becoming acquainted with a different city (and sometimes timezone) every few days, but we’re also constantly adjusting to new friends, foods, languages and currencies. We lug our backpacks across borders in 40 degree heat, we stay awake all night on bumpy night buses, and we deal with sand flies, mosquitos, bed bugs and food poisoning. We share rooms with strangers, we get lost and scammed and stolen from, and we’re thousands of miles away from the people we love the most.
Again, travel is a privilege, and for every negative experience that we travellers encounter on the road, there are 20 fantastic ones, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get worn down from time to time.
Travel burnout is very real, and sometimes it is made all the more severe by the knowledge that we ARE so privileged.
When we’re suffering from travel burnout, we often feel hesitant to complain to folks back home about the way we’re feeling. To our friends and family, we’re on a constant holiday, and so complaining about how tired we are just seems like a real kick in the teeth to them.
Not only that, but we’re judging ourselves a little too.
Why do I feel like this?
Why am I not enjoying myself?
Why do I just want to stay in bed all day and not speak to anybody?
For many people, time constraints make guilt about travel burnout even worse. If someone knows that they only have 10 days left of their trip before they have to head back to the States for the foreseeable future, they feel as though they should be ‘making the most’ of every last second, using their remaining time to see and do absolutely everything that they ‘should’ be seeing in any given place. They feel ungrateful, anxious, and fearful that they’ll regret not seeing every single thing that they read about on Lonely Planet.
So, you have travel burnout. What now?
If you’re suffering from travel burnout then please know that travel burnout is a natural human response to a chaotic lifestyle. Just as people get burnt out from new babies, new promotions and rigorous gym routines, backpackers are equally susceptible to burnout.
Experiencing travel burnout doesn’t make you a bad traveller or mean that you have to come home.
It’s okay to arrive in a new place and not want to see another church or go on another pub crawl.
It’s okay to feel moody and irritable and unsociable.
It’s okay to long for your own bed and your mom’s roast dinners and the cheap box wine that you can only get from your corner store.
As humans, we’re not meant to live in a constant state of adrenaline-fuelled excitement and hunger for new experiences. While long term travel is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, and one that works wonderfully for so many people, what the motivational Instagram pages don’t show you are the off-days. They don’t stress the importance of having a practical self-care routine to ensure that you don’t fall prey to travel burnout, and what you can do if you do begin suffering from travel burnout.
I’m certainly no stranger to travel burnout, and luckily over time I’ve learnt how to best manage it in order to look after myself while continuing to make the most of my trip.
Here are my tips on how to deal with travel burnout!
1. Stop moving
The quickest way you can deal with travel burnout right now is to just stop moving. Stay in a place for longer than you planned to. Commit to spending a week somewhere, somewhere that you can allow yourself to rest, recharge and recuperate. You might feel guilty about not being able to tick as many places off your list, but what’s the point in seeing so many new places if you can’t enjoy them?
Staying in one place for a week (or longer) means that you can forget for a moment about catching buses, booking hostels and waking up early. It allows you to let go and just be, which is exactly what you need to be doing right now.
Trust me, if you allow yourself to just slow down for a second, you’ll be much better placed to appreciate your next destination rather than just racing from place to place without a moment’s pause.
2. Rent an Airbnb
Hostel dorms are the accommodation of choice for many budget travellers but let’s be honest – they can wear you down. There’s only so much queuing for the bathroom, being woken up in the middle of the night and small talk you can make before you just need to get away.
In many places, renting an Airbnb for a week is not that much more expensive than staying in a dorm room, and the experience is more than worth it.
When you have your own apartment you can unpack your bag, leave your toiletries in the bathroom rather than having to rummage around in your backpack every time you need a wash, and not worry about who’s going to hear you singing in the shower, catch you wandering around naked or judge you for eating Cheeto’s in bed and binge-watching Love Island.
Staying in an apartment also means that you can have uninterrupted sleep and cook for yourself, which will make you feel at home and also save you some money that you would otherwise have spent eating out.
For £25 towards your first Airbnb stay, please click here!
3. Stop doing ‘touristy’ stuff
I know, I know. You’re in a major European capital for the first time and you feel like you need to do ‘stuff.’ You need to see the churches, the statues and that famous bridge that you’ve seen on Instagram.
But do you?
It may seem lie a waste to visit a city and not be playing tourist, but ask yourself – do you really want to see another Orthodox church, or do you just feel as though you have to?
When I was in Skopje, Macedonia, my friends and I were all suffering from a bit of travel burnout. Although we’d been super excited to learn all about the city’s history on an early morning walking tour, and to see all of the controversial statues around town, we didn’t even manage the former.
Instead, we hung out in our hostel’s garden with their adorable kitten, we found an incredible Chinese restaurant and we wandered around the Old Bazaar. We went to a club for an LGBT+ night and drank some rakija with the locals, and we made friends with a lot of stray dogs. Sure, we didn’t do any touristy things, but we still had a great time, and hey – there’s nothing stopping me from visiting Skopje again in the future!
At the end of the day, racing around a city ticking sights off a list is exhausting, and it gets old very quickly. Especially if you’ve been travelling for a while.
The world won’t end if you take a couple of days to relax in the park or catch up on some reading in a local coffee shop instead. I promise.
4. Pamper yourself
Something that always makes me feel better when I’m suffering from a bout of travel burnout is pampering myself.
Often, I’m in such a rush when I’m travelling that I don’t care if I have chipped nail polish or forget to moisturise, but it’s amazing how these little things can make you feel so much better about yourself.
Just taking the time to exfoliate, moisturise, deep condition your hair, pluck your eyebrows and paint your nails can make all the difference. You can even treat yourself to a manicure or massage if it fits in to your budget (I indulged in far too many massages when I was living in Southeast Asia!).
5. Go somewhere familiar
Many travellers will look down their noses at someone who goes to McDonalds when they’re travelling, but these travel snobs are people you should take no notice of.
Visiting familiar places can be a huge help when you’re suffering from backpacker burnout, and whether that means cosying up in Starbucks or buying some new shoes from H&M, you’ll definitely benefit from a taste of the familiar.
I remember one such day in Melaka, Malaysia. My friend and I had spent months living on a desert island in Cambodia, before having a super intense 4 weeks backpacking through Vietnam. After working our way around Malaysia, we found ourselves yearning for home comforts, and so we allowed ourselves an entire day of guilt-free familiarity.
We began with a trip to the local shopping mall where we did some clothes shopping, before going to the cinema to watch The Purge: Election Year and finishing our evening off at a sushi joint.
It was wonderful.
More recently, I was volunteering at a hostel in Krakow. Anyone that knows me will know how much I love Poland. I’ve spent almost a year there for heaven’s sake, and there aren’t many Polish foods, traditions and customs that I’ve not lapped up enthusiastically. However, I’m not ashamed to say that on more than one occasion, my hungover colleagues (well, fellow volunteers) and I would order KFC and snuggle up in bed watching Christmas films on Netflix, and do you know what? I’m not sorry.
Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do.
6. Make sure you’re well-nourished
With all that travelling (and partying – I see you!), there’s every chance that you’ve not been looking after yourself. A combination of dehydration, fast-food and not enough sleep can make you feel terrible, so it’s super important to make sure you top up your electrolytes, eat something healthy and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
7. Run some errands
It’s very easy to let small things mount up when you’re travelling. Maybe there’s a flight you’ve been meaning to book, or some bank problems that need sorting, or some laundry that needs to be done. It’s very easy to be tempted to put these things off, but if you set aside one morning to blaze through all of the tasks you’ve been avoiding, you’ll probably feel like a real weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
8. Remind yourself that you don’t need to see everything
Shall I let you in on a secret?
When I was living in Montenegro, the #1 activity that all tourists did was climb up to the fortress to take that famous Kotor Bay picture. My Montenegrin friends? They’d never been up. Not once had they taken the 40 minute walk up to the fortress. And why? Because only tourists do!
You don’t need to feel bad about not having seen every single thing that Lonely Planet recommends, because I guarantee that most of the locals won’t have bothered either! I mean, seriously – how many Parisians do you think have been up the Eiffel Tower? NOT MANY!
If something isn’t for you, then don’t push yourself to see it. If you’re not into churches, why make a point of visiting churches? If the thought of hiking up to a famous viewpoint makes you break out in cold sweats then don’t do it!
This is your trip. Spend it how you want.
9. Stop meeting people
I’m a very sociable person. I stay in party hostels, I’ve worked in party hostels, and if there’s a pub crawl or drinking game going on, I’m there.
That said, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve definitely been that person to check into a quiet hostel, hang a sarong around my bed to create my own little cave, put my headphones in and ignore the world.
Meeting new friends every day is exhausting, and at some point, everybody needs a break.
Don’t sweat about whether your roomies think that you’re weird – you’re never going to see them again!
If you’re that worried, just pretend to be ill – nobody wants to spend time around a sick person.
10. Stop beating yourself up
I know exactly how it goes. You feel bad because you’re burnt out and then you feel bad because you’re feeling bad! You’re angry with yourself for not being able to enjoy your trip, and then that anger in itself prevents you from being able to enjoy your trip!
With me, that emotion that multiplies is anxiety. I become anxious for no reason, and then I’m upset and frustrated and anxious that I’m wasting my time being anxious, and so my anxiety multiplies!
It’s really difficult, but you have to try and stop beating yourself up for how you feel.
You’re not going to feel excited and happy all the time.
You’re going to have your off days, and sometimes you just have to let that off day drift away like a cloud. There’s nothing you can do to make the day less cloudy, but if you wait it out, then it will surely pass.
11. Create a routine
If you listened to my advice and decided to stay in one place for a few days, then make that place familiar. Get back into a routine. Find a coffee shop you like and go to the same one each day for your morning coffee.
Get back into the habits that you have at home, like going jogging or watching your favourite trash TV show.
Just having some semblance of a routine will help to lift the burnout and make you feel like your old self again.
12. Count your blessings
Hear me out on this one. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty – I’m trying to make you feel better.
I’m a big believer in having an attitude of gratitude. I mean, I keep it pretty quiet because I’ve got a reputation to keep up 😉 but I regularly make a list of the things that I’m grateful for and it never fails to improve my mood.
You can write down things that you’re grateful for in general, such as your health or your family, or (what I personally like to do) is acknowledge the little things that have happened each day that I’m thankful for. It doesn’t have to be anything big – perhaps your new hostel has a really great coffee machine or the duvets are extra fluffy.
Just write it down, read it through and your mood will improve.
If you don’t want to do that, then perhaps make a list of all of your favourite or funniest travel moments from this trip. Write down the names of all the people you’re glad you met that you wouldn’t have met if you weren’t travelling. I promise you, your mood will improve.
13. Connect with family and friends
Part of your travel burnout could well be homesickness. Take the time to catch up via video chat or a phone call with your nearest and dearest and you’ll probably find that you feel loads better. What people often don’t realise is that although they’re meeting a tonne of new people every day, the same old conversations can get very draining, and sometimes it’s nice to be able to speak to someone about something other than how long they’ve been travelling for, where they’ve been so far, and where’s next on their list!
14. If you need to go home, go home
Look – as much as I can tell you that your travel burnout will pass (and 9 times out of 10, it does), sometimes you really do need to go back home, and that’s fine.
I’ve done it.
It’s totally normal to suffer from backpacker burnout, but if that feeling becomes more than just a passing thing and it has truly stopped you from enjoying your trip, then go home! It doesn’t make you a failure or a bad traveller.
It means that you’re someone who values your mental and physical wellbeing enough to know when enough is enough.
It means that you’re strong enough to accept when something isn’t working and to deal with the problem head on.
There’s nothing stopping you from travelling again in the future – hell, when I flew home from Serbia due to my anxiety, I only spent about 8 days at home before flying to Poland, and I don’t regret coming home one bit. It was exactly what I needed at the time, and there is no shame in that.