The first time I heard the term “travel burnout” it didn’t make sense to me. Isn’t travel what we do to get away from everything else that makes us feel burnout? How can something meant to be so good for the soul turn into something bad? Do people actually hit a point where all they can think about is catching the first available flight back home?
It turns out it’s true. Travel burnout is a very real thing. We tend to set out on our new adventures with such excitement and determination that it’s easy to forget that even when traveling – or especially when traveling – we still need to make time to simply relax and do absolutely nothing in order to recharge and truly let all the new experiences sink in before we jump into the next big thing on our must-see list.
I found this to be particularly important when traveling with my young daughter through France this summer. Living in Lyon for a month, followed by three weeks in Paris on a tight budget, I made a conscious effort to avoid expenses such as using Uber and taxis to move around town. This meant relying heavily on public transportation and walking a LOT more than what we are used to back home, even to accomplish the simple tasks of life like buying groceries from the local market.
There’s also a degree of mental exhaustion that comes with planning out visits and best ways to get from point A to point B. While both Lyon and Paris have great Metro, Tram and bus networks, figuring out how to navigate our way in a foreign-language system, finding the right bus stops, route schedules, etc. felt taxing some days.
And let’s not forget that taking the Metro regularly involves going up and down flights of stairs every time! Add to that the hours spent on our feet while exploring museums, parks, historical sites or simply strolling around in the heat of the summer, and it’s no surprise that we would feel completely wiped out by the end of the day.
So how to avoid the dreadful travel burnout?
Focus on Quality vs. Quantity. I’ve taken trips in the past where we went from city to city and from landmark to landmark packing as many activities in a day as the day would allow. This approach can be a good introduction to a new destination but won’t give you an opportunity to deep-dive into the local culture and lifestyle, and you will most certainly end up feeling exhausted before the trip is over. Pick activities wisely and try to include some downtime into your travel schedule even if that means covering less ground, particularly when traveling with kids. You’ll thank yourself for that!
Give Yourself the Gift of Time. I understand that “time” is a hot commodity when you only have a limited number of days to go on a trip. However, planning for trips that allow you to stay as long as possible in each new place (also known as "slow travel") will help keep your energy at a healthy level and free you up mentally and physically from the pressure of having to see it all in a day or two. Also, don’t forget to factor in the time differences if traveling to a different time zone. It can take days to get used to a different schedule! Remember that the longer you stay in a single city or region, the more you will get to know the area and absorb the local way of life. And isn’t that what travel is all about?
Take Plenty of Breaks. The body needs time to recover from all the walking, climbing, exploring and such. And the mind also benefits from having time to process new experiences! What I learned from traveling with a six-year-old is that taking chill days in between active days was key for our mental and physical health. For every day we spent exploring the city on foot, we tried to take at least half a day off to relax and renew before heading out again on a new adventure. This is also necessary when planning daily activities. The younger your kid is, the more breaks you’ll need throughout the day to simply sit down under a shady tree to contemplate life go by without a rush – preferably with an ice cream cone and/or your beverage of choice in hand. There were a couple of instances when we pushed ourselves a little further only to end up feeling beat and cranky by the end of the day. Not. Worth. It.
Make Connections. While my daughter and I enjoy each other’s company a lot, we are also social beings who like to be around friends. We tend to start feeling restless after a few days without interaction with others. One of the first things that made us feel homesick during our time in France was being away from friends. She was craving playtime with someone her own age. As for me, having an adult conversation over a glass of wine or two can’t ever be overrated! Hanging out at local parks and connecting with other parents through online communities and kid-friendly activities helped us make friends while traveling, bringing some balance back into our lives. I encourage you to do the same!
Be Flexible. If you’re a planner like me, you’ll want to have at least a good idea of all the wonderful things to do and places to see before embarking on your trip. That’s all great, and I applaud your initiative and good intentions. However, I found that being flexible saved me a lot of unnecessary stress. Sometimes you start with an idea of what the day will be like only to keep finding along the way that you need to change the plan or adapt to a new situation. My advice to you: learn to go with the flow! Some of the best days we had while traveling “happened” to us while trying to do something else. By giving in and taking the path of less resistance, we often discovered new things we would have otherwise missed out on.
Listen to Your Kid. There will be times when you feel tempted to plan your day based on YOUR own preferences and wants. I hear you! There were certain visits in my must-see list that I wasn’t willing to compromise for. However, if your child is telling you that he/she is done, you might as well be done, too. Also, once you hear, “My legs hurt, I can’t walk anymore!,” it’s time to take a day off!
Find “Me” Time. Being a single parent traveling with a kid, it isn’t always easy to find those moments of quiet and peace for oneself. Thankfully, my little one seems to appreciate her own “me” time, too. Whenever she’d get lost building something with Legos, coloring, watching a movie, etc., I’d use the opportunity to do something that helped me recharge, too: reading, writing, meditating, stretching, etc. Figure out the simple things that make you feel good, and make an effort to squeeze them into your day. Having those moments is just as important as checking activities off your to-do list.
Finally, if and when you hit that low point where nothing seems to make sense anymore, remember you are not alone. Travel burnout is real. Take a deep breath, listen to your body, take a long bath, SLOW DOWN, and just be in the moment. Things will look and feel better once you’ve had a chance to rest!