There’s nothing worse than traveling yourself to exhaustion. (Photo: Thinkstock)
My travel partner, Tom, and I travel for a living. We’re the couple behind the website Five Dollar Traveller and the podcast “$5 Planet.” Obviously, we love traveling enough to devote our lives to it, but that doesn’t mean we’ve perfected the globe-trotting life. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve had meltdowns. In fact, we almost reached a breaking point and called it quits entirely when we were in India. Travel burnout is a real thing, especially if you do it a lot — or, in our case, for a living.
Of course, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so we’ve definitely learned many lessons from our missteps. And we’d like to pass those gems along to you. With the beauty of hindsight, here are our golden rules on how to avoid travel burnout — so you can keep your fiery travel passion going for years to come.
1. Travel slower.
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast — you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” —Eddie Cantor
Take a moment to really let this quote sink in, because it stands the test of time. It’s just so true — especially when it comes to traveling. If you can swing it, it’s much more worthwhile to allow yourself to spend a longer amount of time in one place rather than trying to hit as many as you can in that same time span.
When we first started traveling, we didn’t understand how important it was to “slow travel.” We tried to do too much in too little time. What would often happen is that just as we were getting used to a place, really getting to know its people and its vibe, we would have to pack up and leave again.
Our advice: Slow down, take a breath, and spend some time discovering the true essence of a place. You won’t be able to find it in just a few days; this is something that takes time. It just does.
We recently rented this apartment in Essaouira, Morocco, for an entire month so we could really get to know the place, rather than hopping around so much. (Photo: Meagen Collins/Five Dollar Traveller)
When you live in a place for a bit as opposed to just blowing through like a hurricane, you get a better idea of how things work: how the people work, how the transportation works, how the lifestyle works. The life of a hurricane is ferocious but brief. Long-term travel just doesn’t work like that. The longer you spend wandering the streets, tasting the food, and meeting the people in a nonrushed way, the more you’ll truly understand its deep identity.
Of course, not all of us can work our lifestyles to stay in one place for a long time. And there are others who just don’t want to, and that’s OK, too. The point is, even if you are on a short trip, don’t try to speed-tour your way through town. You’ll get a much better sense of the place if you stay and talk to the locals in a coffee shop for an entire afternoon rather than trying to hit three museums in that same amount of time.
We took the time to really get to know the wine vineyards in Tuscany, and we do not regret it! (Photo: Meagen Collins/Five Dollar Traveller)
2. Plan in advance … kind of.
“I adore spontaneity — provided it’s carefully planned.” —Old proverb
Again with the quotes, but this one is just as true as the one above. Planning your travel is a tricky thing. It can be a bit of a double-edged sword: It’s great to just go where the winds take you, but at the same time, doing everything in the moment can hold you back. When we were in China and India, for instance, we waited until we were at the bus station to buy tickets — but it turns out that most tickets sell out months in advance, so we were left with standing-only tickets. So we had to stand in the aisles of buses or sit on the floors. And if you’re on a long bus ride, this can be very uncomfortable and wear on your nerves faster than you’d think.
Or, you know, a camel gets the job done, too. (Photo: Meagen Collins/Five Dollar Traveller)
So how do you walk the line between overplanning and not planning enough? Try to map out a very rough, loose itinerary — and research how the transportation systems work in advance. If you know you want to take the train from Paris to southern France, for example, at least look up how often it runs, how expensive the tickets are, and when you need to buy your tickets. If you find out it’s easy to get tickets whenever, then you know you can wing it, and you’ll be able to rest easy just by knowing you can leave Paris when you feel like it. But if you find out that tickets are best bought in advance, then buy them — and let everything else fall into place based on your ticket time.
3. Don’t always go for the cheapest option.
Sounds ironic, coming from two people who write and podcast about how to travel on the cheap for a living. We know. But part of traveling cheaply is doing it in the smartest way possible — and that doesn’t always mean choosing the cheapest option.
Let’s say you are faced with a decision to buy tickets for a 10-hour bus ride. You can buy a standing-only ticket for $20, or a seat for $50. Before you automatically book the $20 one because it’s cheaper, think about how you’ll feel after the bus ride’s over. Chances are, you will feel incredibly busted after standing on a crowded bus for 10 hours, and you may need to collapse into a comfortable bed right then and there. You may splurge for an expensive hotel room in the moment because you feel there is no other way you will make it. But if you opt for the slightly more expensive bus seat in the first place, you’ll probably feel fine when you get off, and therefore won’t feel the need to book a luxurious room to treat your aches and pains. Not only will you end up saving money in the end, but you’ll also save your stamina. It’s much better to remain even rather than putting yourself through extreme lows and highs.
Sometimes it pays to get the nicer bus seat. (Photo: Thinkstock)
And then there’s the impact that cheap options have on your psyche. As budget travelers, we thrive on getting a good deal. We practically live for it. Our adrenaline really kicks in when we score something for a great price. But know this: When the cheap alternatives are tough — like the standing-only tickets — they start to lose their appeal over time. And eventually, the thrill of saving money wears off, and they don’t seem like any fun at all.
Our final message? If your intention is to avoid travel burnout — and it should be — then you need to go big-picture, even when you are making small decisions. Rather than always going for the fastest, the cheapest, and the most, slow down. Really think about what you want. To last and truly make it as a long-term traveler, you need to be conscious and smart about your choices, and be sure to evaluate how they will affect you over time.
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