Travel Fatigue, and Slowing Down the Pace of Travel

by Nora on March 3, 2011

Travel Fatigue…..it’s a bitch.

traveling

About a month ago, I realized something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite define what was going on, but I had an unsettled feeling in my gut.

I was fundamentally tired; feeling like I hadn’t gotten a truly good night of sleep in months. On reflection, I realized this was true; too many late nights, early mornings, unfamiliar beds, and communal living quarters over a long period of time had taken a toll.

I was dizzyingly confused; the whirlwind of travel in the last year had left me feeling like the world was spinning around me as if I had consumed too many drinks.

And I was feeling apathetic about so much around me. A beautiful vista, you say? Not to be missed? Meh. I’ve seen lots of beautiful vistas. Here are a few hundred pictures; have a look. What’s the point in going out of my way for one more beautiful vista?

beautiful vistas

I was up near Kerikeri at the time, characteristically bouncing from one temporary dwelling to another, fighting to stay caught up with my writing (which felt more like a chore than the delight it normally is), and somewhat unenthusiastically taking in the stunning beauty of the Bay of Islands area in New Zealand.

Then, it dawned on me: in the last year of travel, I hadn’t spent more than three weeks in one bed (and that three week stint was only once; I was lucky to average five nights in one place). Being the big proponent of slow travel that I am, this fevered pace had been fun, but exhausting.

Navigating the bus in Singapore

I recently came across this quote from Winston Churchill. Although he spoke these words 70 years ago, it seems that he was a man ahead of his time; the global climate we live in now is exactly what he describes, a hundred-fold:

Nowadays we have reduced the world to a twentieth of the size it was 100 years ago. People can rush about frantically through the air. They certainly do not see the beauties of the world, and it is surely their responsibility to show that they make it better. It is a delusion to think that being able to move rapidly about from place to place makes people happier or wiser. As for the advantages of travel, they may be greatly exaggerated. In order to know anything about a country you must walk through it. You must sleep on its soil, pluck its foliage with your fingers. You must light your fires by its fiords and streams, and watch the dawn break beyond strange mountains.

Winston Churchill

November 1939

In feeling this fundamental travel exhaustion and departure from my preferred style of slow travel, I decided to return to Mana Retreat; a favourite place of mine in the world and one that nourishes my body and soul. I knew it would be a good place to kick up my feet and stay for a spell, while I recover from this “motion sickness” (more on that in a future post) and gain a sense for what my next step should be.

yoga on the beach

Watch A Map For Saturday, and you’ll learn about the fatigue of travel over an extended period of time. Most actively traveling backpackers experience this after about six months on the road. It’s normal, and something to be conscious of; because once fatigue sets in, the travel experience loses its luster.

And when travel no longer becomes fun, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing it.

Travel is still fun for me, and ultimately soul-satisfying. In fact, despite this longer stint in New Zealand, I still consider myself a traveler. I’m still having new experiences, seeing new places, meeting new people, and learning the intricacies of local New Zealand life. I’m just taking a bit of a break from actively and constantly moving, packing and repacking my bag, and researching bus and train schedules in preparation for my next departure/arrival.

Right now, I’m enjoying the ability to say “Good Morning” and “Good Night”, instead of “Goodbye”.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

THE_HONEST March 3, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Tourism is boring, that’s ur problem!

Nice rack!

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Michael Sokol March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Yes, I have experienced what I call road burn out. You are doing the proper thing, stay put and charge your batteries.

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Natalie - Turkish Travel March 4, 2011 at 12:21 am

Sounds like you just need to recharge your batteries. for the past month, I too have felt unsettled and I think it is because I have got into a routine and being lazy. I need to gear myself up once again. Winston C was definitely ahead of his time with that quote.

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Corinne March 4, 2011 at 12:40 am

After two months of frantically running (& flying) everywhere I quickly decided to stop for a while and here’s why I was pleasantly stuck in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for now nearly 10 months. Although I’ve used this perfect location (and its airport) to go around South-East Asia here and there, I found back the joy of having something that I could consider a little bit like a ‘home’: a place with just me, my own directions and choices, my personal space and references of some sort. In May, I’m taking again an hectic month of endless movements, but to better stop after. I used to consider myself a ‘slow traveller’ also, but it seems I have to alternate both: it’s like a mental and physical recovery after a self-created overstrain. I like Churchill’s quote a lot, thanks for sharing and take care of you!

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Turner March 4, 2011 at 2:06 am

I’ve definitely lost my travel passion after so much time abroad. And this is from someone who isn’t changing where he sleeps every night; I actually have quite a bit of stability in Korea, but it’s still become more foreign than I can handle.

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theprofessionalhobo March 4, 2011 at 3:27 am

Thanks for all your honest responses, and it’s great to know I’m not alone!

How’s this for fatigue in general? I uploaded this post to be scheduled and published on Monday, not today! But with your sage comments, I couldn’t possibly un-publish it, only to re-schedule it for publication a few days later.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

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Dani | Globetrottergirls March 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

Nora, we totally understand your travel fatigue – we are at the same point as you are. We have been on the move so much during the last year, and even though we are still finding one amazing beach after the other, new food, great people, etc., we start to get less excited about everything – time for a break! Especially when you travel and work at the same time, moving from place to place, packing and repacking, organizing transport … can get pretty tiring. Our longest stop last year was 1 month in an apartment in Mexico – every other stop was less than three weeks, which is just too short for long-term travel, I think. For our second year of travel we made the pledge to travel slower as well.

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Akila March 4, 2011 at 10:44 am

I think settling back and relaxing is an integral process of long-term travel. We try to take breaks every now and then from our trip to settle down. For our European stint, we are considering staying in apartments for 2 weeks to a month, at a time, to reduce the fatigue of traveling (and to reduce the stress on our dogs). I’m glad you’re relaxing and enjoying yourself!

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j. March 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Always leaving *does* get tiring, really quickly. I’m only starting my second week out this time, and I’ve already blown through Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Luckily, I found a place to stick for a while. Or until they kick me out.

I will never understand how people can spend one day in a place, “see” everything, and be off to the next spot in the morning. All that packing and moving gets old- and expensive. Just take your own trip, I guess.

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Vesna March 4, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Even though it’s been only 2 months, other than a 3 week stint in San Diego, we’ve been taking down and putting up the tent trailer every couple of days. Sometimes even a few one nighters in a row. We’re dying now for a week or two of not going anywhere just to slow it down. We’ve booked 2 weeks starting tomorrow and I cannot wait to take down and set up again and just stay put for a bit.

So…I think I slightly feel your pain 🙂 You definitely have more to be burned out about with having different beds all the time (we at least have the same ‘house’ with us). Just reading about that gave me a bit of stress 🙂 Take your time, slow down and relax. Regroup. You deserve it!

Nice post! 🙂

Ves

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theprofessionalhobo March 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Once again, I’m amazed (thrilled, even) with how many people identify with my travel fatigue. I was a bit worried about how people would react to my staying in New Zealand for such a time (especially seeing that I was in New Zealand for a while last year too), but one of the greatest realizations I’m coming to now is that life evolves with us – and even with our travel websites – and just when I feel like I’m all alone with what I’m feeling, I discover that I’m not.

Thanks everybody.

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Miriam March 6, 2011 at 3:28 am

Hi,
I completly understand where you are coming from. I’ve been freelance writing – for my own blog – and doing marketing freelance work while travelling for just over a year now. It can really be exhausting. What you’ve done is the right thing. Enjoy decompressing and keep seeing the world at your own pace. Also, thanks for telling me about that film “A Map for Saturday” – I’m going to try to get a copy.
Cheers & safe travels, Miriam 🙂

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Erin March 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

We have just passed one year of travelling and although we have combined 2 month stays in apartments with travelling we are still feeling burnt out. Things are definitely harder when you have to work and travel. Long bus journeys, and the never ending search for accommodation and food are feeling exhausting at the moment. We also find it so much harder to be impressed by attractions and landscapes.

I still have this urge to explore though, but I think we need to take it slower. Hopefully we’ll find a beach house to spend a month, as I don’t think cities are the most relaxing places to be.

Emjoy New Zealand!

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Prime March 8, 2011 at 8:26 am

Hi Nora: Slowing down to know more about yourself and the place you’re visiting is all part of the traveling experience. Go at your own pace, this is after all a journey and not a marathon 🙂

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Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World March 8, 2011 at 12:01 pm

We haven’t started our journey yet, but anticipate feeling burned out sometime during our travel. The longest we’ve been away was 3 months and towards the end of the 3rd month I just wanted to go home.

Have been reading quite a bit about preventing travel fatique and it seems that traveling slower seems to be the key. How slow of course depends on the individual.

Curious to see how our own epxerience will turn out. Anyway, hope you will find your way out of the fatigue and be excited again about your journey 🙂

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Bluegreen March 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

We all need to slow our pace sometimes. I like the point that Churchill makes. with the planes, trains and fast travel we are missing the beauty of the world around us.

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theprofessionalhobo March 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

One of the things I find most exhausting about active travel is researching/booking the actual travel arrangements. I’m a stickler for wanting a good deal, so I tend to research my options ad nauseum, which is time consuming and stressful. I’m also perpetually hesitant to actually make the booking, for fear that I’ll find a better deal as soon as I do!

This could well be one of the causes of travel fatigue, which is (of course) remedied by slowing down the pace of travel.

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Pete @ Hecktic Travels March 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

Great post and quote from Churchill. Totally understand and we can relate. About 6 months into our trip both Dalene and I were tired. You’re right, not just the moving around, but all the research and writing and everything. We weren’t as impressed anymore with views of mountains and beaches and jungles, and for our effort it needed to be jaw dropping. We realized this wasn’t fair and it was at this point we decided to go back to one of the places we enjoyed most and stay put for an extended stay. It surely helped and recharged us. The thing is we realized we like the extended stays and think this is the way we will continue going forward. The fact is though it will take a long time to get to everywhere want to go if this is the way we are going to do it. The most important thing is make sure that you are comfortable and happy whichever way you go about it.

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theprofessionalhobo March 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm

One of the interesting things I’m discovering in my extended stay in NZ is that I really still want to travel! Initially my fatigue was so profound I was questioning my desire to travel at all any more, but “settling down” also didn’t feel right. Now, I’m feeling the batteries slowly recharging, and I’m looking forward to whatever next destination (currently unknown to me, and likely a couple of months off yet) will tickle my fancy and set me off in a new direction.

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Audrey March 13, 2011 at 12:38 am

This post is very timely for us as well. Even though we had several stints of staying still for a couple of months in different countries this past year, a fatigue has fallen over us in terms of travel and also keeping up with writing and projects. I think what we need is to be still for more than two months so we’re not already planning the next destination halfway through our still time. Need to figure out that next base for us…

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theprofessionalhobo March 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm

@Audrey – I’d have thought that a couple of months in a place would have been long enough to stay before moving on, but you’re right; with juggling writing projects, plus deciding where to go next and planning all the logistics, it’s like you have to mentally move on halfway through your stay.

So how long do you think is a reasonable time to stay in a place, settle in and experience local life and what the area has to offer, keep up with writing, and plan the next stage of travels without feeling overextended?

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brian March 13, 2011 at 6:22 pm

I completely understand this feeling. I was in Heathrow on my way back to the USA after my round the world trip and the Immigration agent asked what country I was in the night before.

I could not remember!

That’s when I knew I picked the right time to go home.

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ayngelina March 14, 2011 at 9:35 am

I had a major breakdown at 6 months but got over it now at 11 months I’m getting a bit tired again but in a few months I’m going home to charge and head out again.

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BudgetGirl March 16, 2011 at 4:57 am

I found this post really interesting because I rarely feel this. The only time that kind of fatigue comes over me is when I’m going somewhere I’m not very excited about, for example, seeing an old lighthouse. I find being on the go all the time, not knowing where you’re going or when to be really exhilerating. Its like living off a constant adrenaline rush. Maybe you weren’t psyched to see a beautiful villa simply because you’ve seen too many beautiful villas?

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theprofessionalhobo March 16, 2011 at 7:10 pm

@BudgetGirl – You make a great point about excitement giving us the energy and adrenaline to keep going. But my question is, how long have you been on the road in one constant stint? I think it’s different for everybody, but I would imagine everybody has a “breaking point” of fatigue if always on the go. Maybe you just haven’t hit yours yet! 🙂

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Amanda Kendle March 20, 2011 at 7:36 am

Nora, just browsing the comments and saw your question about how long you should stay in a place, I think I’m the world’s slowest travel because my answer to this is 2 years! I don’t feel I “know” somewhere properly the first year – it’s only the 2nd year that you know, for example, which festivals to go to (you might’ve heard about them too late the first year), you know the seasons, you’re getting used to the food, etc, etc – I decided this a few years back and became instantly depressed to realise there was no way I’d ever live long enough to “live properly” in all the places I wanted to!!!!!

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theprofessionalhobo March 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm

@Amanda – I like your two year suggestion; it’s a great way to truly sample life in a place. But I also agree: there are so many places to stay; how can we possibly see them all in two-year stints?! And I must admit, after 1.5 years in Australia, my feet were itching to hit the road again.
So as a nice compromise, I think one year is a good period of time.

The timing of your comment is ironic: My next post (called Motion Sickness) addresses how people treat you differently depending on how long you stay, and I use two years as an example!

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Pinoy Tv May 10, 2011 at 2:01 am

We wouldn’t have found these things on our own. The experiences were also only possible because we didn’t rush from one park to another, trying to fit as many “sights” into a trip as possible. It may not be a secret that a slow trip can be more interesting, but not many people seem to want to try this more relaxing, slower pace.

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theprofessionalhobo May 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

@Pinoy – It’s tough not to get caught up in the fevered pace of travel, especially when you’re somewhere like Asia or Europe, where there’s so many places to see packed into a small-ish area. I had four months in Europe, and I skimmed through it, not delving deep anywhere, but rather getting a flavour for many places. But it came at a cost….ultimately being a contributing factor to my travel fatigue.

Also, not everybody has the luxury of truly slow travel. So many people are relegated to holidays that are only a few weeks long (if that); so I guess we all work with what we have on our plates.

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Mel June 15, 2012 at 9:11 am

Hi all,

It’s really comforting to read all your comments on travel fatigue. I have been travelling for 5 months at a fairly quick rate and I am definately feeling the burn out now. I started to want to go home about a month ago and it’s becoming stronger, I got a cold a week ago which isn’t shifting and I feel lethargic and regretfully unimpressed with the sights I’m seeing. I’m normally the first to go ‘wow – this is amazing!’. I have three more weeks left, on a tour I booked months ago, so thankfully I won’t have to think about where to sleep or visit, I can just be a sheep and relax! But by the time it comes to flying home I’m gonna be elated, I’m starting to look really tired in the mirror! I love travelling and I hope this won’t be my last trip, but after this stint I know I need to travel slower next time. You live and learn! Happy travels everyone, keep on smiling. x

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theprofessionalhobo June 15, 2012 at 9:47 am

@Mel – I feel ya! But once you’re recovered, you’ll look back on this whirlwind trip as the experience of a lifetime. Next time, like you say, you can tailor your itinerary a little differently, knowing your fatigue tolerances a little better. Cheers!

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Kristin Addis May 17, 2013 at 5:13 am

Wow, I think my issue is I haven’t even spent three weeks in the same bed over the past year. I definitely plan to slow down a bit…but not until next year. Oh God, wish me luck!

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theprofessionalhobo May 17, 2013 at 7:23 am

Hi Kristin – Whew, that would do it! Make sure you make it to next year….that’s a lotta wandering between now and then! The world is big, but then again life is long. Enjoy!

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Laura August 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm

So relieved to read this. I’ve been on the road for six months and haven’t spent more than two weeks anywhere. I am really tired and hesitate to say this to anyone back home for fear that they will not understand and think I’m complaining about what they see as an enviable adventure. Appreciate your writing this so I know I’m not alone. And I need to slow down!

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theprofessionalhobo August 14, 2013 at 7:27 am

Hi Laura,
I’m so glad you realize you’re not alone! Fast travel – especially on your own – is absolutely exhausting…..exhilarating, but exhausting. This is why I now like long-term house-sitting as much as I do; I can ease into a destination while maintaining all the comforts of “home” (somebody else’s home, that is!) and I can stay a while and ultimately spend way less money.

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Jeca October 7, 2013 at 3:24 am

I returned to this post because I knew you could relate to my current burned-out feeling – I’d forgotten there were so many great comments, though!

I’m a little scared of the thought of wanting to settle down after “only” 8 months. Especially since I’ve been in only one place for the last month and will be here another 2 weeks. So much more of the world left to see! I can’t be burning out now!

But I think part of the problem is this town just isn’t the right place for me. Too hot, too much crazy traffic, not enough “fun” culture (I think motorbike travel in SE Asia qualifies as a cultural experience but eh! I don’t like the risk:awesome ratio here). Add staying in someone else’s house set up by someone else’s preferences, and a FT staff around 6 days/week limiting my opportunities for privacy… When I put it that way it’s hardly surprising I feel exhausted!

I just looked up “longest visa for us citizens” and found an interesting site: http://countryfriendly.com/ – it lists visa stuff for the easier countries. It’s not 100% accurate (the Panama listing is definitely wrong: it’s been 180 days *for the last 3 years,* not 30), but envisioning 3 month stays in various inexpensive countries around the world is soothing my anxiety a little.

Perhaps a return to South America after wintering in Asia/Australia? I might not mind a heavy checked bag if I only had to pull it out every 90 days! Or apply for residency in the Netherlands (that’s a whole other can of expensive worms, but I get the impression you might understand the appeal)? …Lots of 6 month visas in your neck of the world 😉

My bf mentioned the fact that visas wouldn’t be required for travel in the US (hey, it is a huge country after all) and my heart screamed NO!!! So maybe I don’t have to be too worried about my long-term travel being cut short by exhaustion. I’ll make it work 🙂

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theprofessionalhobo October 7, 2013 at 11:06 am

Hi Jeca,
Oh boy – do I ever understand what you say; I’ve experienced your range of emotions in a variety of different ways through my own travels.
Okay. Don’t worry about visas too much. Most of the time, if you land somewhere and like it, you can find a way to renew or extend your visa.
And don’t feel guilty for wanting to stay in one place for a while! I’ve wrestled with (and continue to wrestle with) this. It’s draining.
And yes! Find a cool opportunity somewhere in the world (be it volunteering or house-sitting or just some things you want to see and do) and, plan to stay for a few months, but ultimately just see how it feels! Obviously honour any commitments you make (for example to house-sitting), but don’t pin yourself down beyond that if you’re not feeling it. Find another opportunity instead!
(At least, that’s what I do). 😉

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Jeca October 8, 2013 at 12:41 am

I wish I had the option to Like or +1 things in your comment thread!

Someone should start a forum for weary travelers, so they have a place to go to get a little cheerleading from people who know what it’s like. And then we could arrange meetups 🙂 I miss having friends! (Yes I’m lucky to have my bf, but still.) (…Maybe I’ll look into doing that for the website I’m setting up, though it might be beyond my current level of tech-savvy…)

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theprofessionalhobo October 8, 2013 at 6:31 am

Hey Jeca – Ha ha! I think it’s a great idea! Do it! 😉

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Wind in Her Hair November 23, 2013 at 3:51 am

What do you think about the possibility that travel fatigue may not be the result of too much extreme traveling, but a long-term sense of being unable to settle down? My husband and I have been expats for nearly 10 years which means that even our home is away from home. We are constantly on business trips, family visits or other getaways to exotic places. There is no rhythm to it. As I am settling into “home”, looking forward to a project or otherwise trying to establish a routine, I am ripped out again at random, and there I am: in one or other pretty dresses, jet lagged and all made up at some ungodly hour, smiling, taking pictures, collecting stories, eating whatever I am offered, sleeping wherever I am, and living out of little shampoo bottles. There are usually one or more things going on underneath the smile that I am bearing up with: a headache, argument, hem that fell down, hard bed etc. Or once again, someone back home is in a crisis and I can’t call him or her due to some technology problem.

When I return, I find that I am once again behind. Laundry and mending are piling up. I’ve spent so much time at the little jars, bags and other accouterments of travel, picture taking and reporting my stories, that all the aspects of everyday life are neglected. The eggs have gone bad again in the fridge, my pedicure is pitiful, and I am five e-mails behind with my mother. Haven’t had a check up in goodness knows when. I don’t know what country I’ll be in and when. Last night I found myself in the early morning hours with my heart pounding, angry because my husband has planned another getaway weekend…something other women might pine for. I actually woke him up and made him promise we would not be going. Something inside me had come forth and informed me that the fatigue and strange feeling I have was due to not yet overcoming the last three week odyssey. It wasn’t really that particular three week trip…it’s just that that trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Somehow when I came up for air this time, bobbing up at the surface wasn’t enough to steady me for the next bout of salty adventure. Still waterlogged, I wanted to stay ashore.

I can feel a theory developing. I think that perhaps it isn’t how often we travel but to what extent our daily lives are interrupted and for how long. I haven’t traveled as constantly as you have, but for almost 10 years I have not spent a single season in one place, and we have also moved quite a few times. When we come to a point where we don’t really have a daily life, travel fatigue sets in. Like mollusks unable to cling to a rock because of waves crashing and pulling us away, the ocean becomes not a place where we adventure and explore, but a place where we drown. Who can say how many breaths each person needs before they want to dive again?

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theprofessionalhobo November 24, 2013 at 11:33 am

Hi Wind,
I think you’re very much on the right track with your theory. As much as we all like to shake up our routines with travel, if there’s no routine to shake up to begin with, it’s easy to lose our grounding. And there’s no doubt that traveling – especially when it’s your career – makes it very difficult to stay on top of daily work.
Humans are creatures of habit….and sometimes, a little time enjoying our “nest” is very necessary.
I hope you enjoy your weekend home! 😉

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Wind in Her Hair November 26, 2013 at 3:54 am

Thank you for the thoughtful reply! I agree. I told my husband this morning that I didn’t mind if he wanted to go off for the weekend with his buddy over the border while I stayed home, but he emphatically said no. We then emptied a carry-on bag of his that was still languishing on the bedroom floor. Ah, what were those grounding housework and exercise routines I really should be getting to now? 😉

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Dave Mears June 22, 2014 at 4:49 am

Many people find anything different to be interesting and exciting but I am not one of them. It has to be something I am culturally connected to. Physical discomfort for long periods and “accepting” extreme poverty and human suffering and degradation is not educational or informative. And it does burn you out.

Many people have a “kaleidoscope” perspective where more variety is instantly good. But variety gets old and that approach is pretty superficial anyway. Hence the “yawn, not another magnificient mountain range”.

And in many places you discover that people are just people, sometimes poorer and bigoted/biased/ignorant but just in ways that are different from us.

So travel experiences can often be wasted time/effort. I gained nothing from Cambodia and Lao or Vietnam. Siem Reap is just a big set of ruins that admittedly are logistically impressive but since the history of Cambodia is boring to me anyway then that experience was also wasted.

There is something to be said for “intelligent travel” vs “any travel”. The latter is the domain of the young. The differences are often superficial anyway. There is also an attitude of “ticket punching” in which the pig principle applies “more is better”. So much to see and yet really it is not a race. A bit like penis length it’s a bit over rated unless you really think it makes a difference to notch your 130 countries against his 53.

Just some input.

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Nora Dunn June 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Hi Dave,
Thanks for your input! I agree with much of what you say….except penis length. (ha ha)

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