It’s easy to feel ground down after extended periods of nomadic living: ever felt that you needed a break from your travels too? Then read on, as from cuddling a canine to ditching the guidebook, here are my top tips to banishing the travel blues.
A little bit of what you fancy
Whether it’s a relaxing session at the local spa or a steaming hot chocolate at your favorite café, pampering isn’t self-indulgence, but self-investment. For example, while staying in Rome, I loved to knock back a gutsy espresso at one of the charming Italian cafés which always helped me to unwind and quiet. If you minister to yourself whenever you’re in need some TLC, you’ll bounce back rejuvenated and ready to embrace the next step of your journey.
Back to school
Learning a little bit of the local language is the perfect way to take your mind off long journeys and cockroach-infested rooms. There are lots of terrific classes that you can register for, plus podcasts and apps that will soon have you filled with a new sense of purpose and confidence. Intense language courses worked out nicely for me in Cuzco, Peru where I was studying Spanish and in San Jose in Costa Rica, where my Spanish got actually a level higher. I also recommend the BBC’s terrific interactive courses. So what are you waiting for?
Take it easy
How far did you travel yesterday? Are you ticking all the sights off your list today? And how will you reach the station tomorrow? If your journey is becoming a major military operation, chuck out the schedule.
And slow … right …. down. I check into a bargain B&B when I need to regroup for a few days. If you stay still one week, you’ll be raring to jump on the bus later.
Stepping out of your comfort zone may seem a counter-intuitive cure for burnout. But it works. After all, there’s a strong sense of accomplishment when you surpass your own expectations. And doing something different gives you a fuller understanding of the region you’re exploring, enriching the entire experience. In Poland I was, for example, deeply touched by wandering around former concentration camp Auschwitz. I hesitated to visit this site during my first trip to Poland, as I was afraid of too strong emotions and being confronted with cruelty I wasn’t sure I can handle. Pushing myself to face my fears has, however, somehow strengthened me and has become one of the most enriching travel experiences.
Give something back
It’s easy to be so focused on the demands of travel that you forget the problems of people around you. You can regain a healthy perspective by joining up with a volunteer group wherever you are. Check out the opportunities with organizations like Original Volunteers; rewarding projects range from conservation to education, so there’s sure to be something of interest. In Europe, it’s worth to check out European Voluntary Service, but also internet platforms for volunteers and hosts like Workaway, Helpx and WWOOF.
Taking a hike
Strong links between exercise and good mental health confirm that there’s nothing like a good walk to clear a troubled mind. So hike up a nearby hill, stroll along the sandy beach, drift around a tranquil lake or relax in the dappled light of a forest. It’s great for both body and soul. To recharge in Northern Italy, I took the super-easy train from central Milan to the gorgeous and tranquil Lake Como, where I was hiking for two days and I even camped out. It was a purifying treat for my body and soul.
Multiple time zones, antisocial departure times, unfamiliar environments – sleeping at all when you’re on the road can feel like a miracle! But exhaustion is one step away from total burnout. You can improve sleeping patterns with relaxing lavender spray, calming herbal tea and noisy-neighbor-proof ear plugs. I stock up on all my essentials at stores like Remedies or Flower Power in New York whenever I get the chance.
Have FaceTime, will travel! After all, with today’s technology at your fingertips staying in touch with friends and family while you’re away is a cinch. Keeping the communication lines open is also handy for when you’re having a bad day – a case of a trouble shared really being a trouble halved. It’s obvious, I know, but don’t forget your chargers – there’s nothing more annoying than a dead phone – and I speak from experience.
When you’re low, it’s well worth having a proper record of all the amazing spots that you already admired; there’s no better reminder of why you’re on your adventures and what you already achieved. A diary, whether print or an online blog, will also make the perfect personal souvenir in years to come.
OK, we all know that traveling light is essential. But why not squeeze in a cherished possession or two? It may be a battered soft toy, a snuggly blanket or a familiar mug. I only take things that fulfill a practical function too (You’re welcome!). Whatever you choose, it’ll immediately make you comfy when you’re missing home, wherever in the world you may be.
Meeting the locals
A sure-fire way of overcoming the burnout blues is making some new friends. If you’re lonely, head away from the tourist hoards and find the favoured local hangouts. I picked up all sorts of handy hints from those who know the area best that gave me a truly authentic taste of – and for – the place. During my stay in Krakow I was joining Couchsurfing traveler meetings, but also went out to a student festival Juwenalia. Thanks to the people I’ve met there I’ve managed to discover a whole new dimension of the city exploring students places in Krakow for the rest of my month-long stay.
Don’t beat yourself up …
Repeat after me: ‘I don’t have to see every single thing in the guidebook’. Your voyage of discovery should be every bit as unique as you are, so not everything you discover is likely to be on the main tourist trail. Rather than going on a guilt trip over the attraction(s) that you missed, embrace your bespoke itinerary. You could even mark up the book you bought along with you with your own recommendations. Less is more and this thought has brought me to slow travel movement, which has literally slowed me down.
There’s scientific evidence that cuddles with four-legged friends are highly uplifting; their silky smooth fur and warmly appreciative purrs are guaranteed to make even the darkest day a little bit less gloomy. So why not check in with the super-welcoming mutt or moggie when you reach your next b&b? Or you could bond with the feline staff at San Diego’s amazing Cat Café. Yes, it really exists!
Enjoy the ride
Journey-as-destination may be a cliché, but you should definitely make it as much of a pleasure as possible. If you’re sick of the bus, ring the changes by renting a bike. I always try to choose the most natural and common mode of transportation in a certain region, so I was cycling a lot in Western European cities, I rented a motorbike in Thailand, hopped on cheap trains in Eastern Europe and on a moto-taxi in Central America.
You are what you eat
We all grab cheeky chocolate bars and unsustaining sandwiches as we rush from A to B. But this does not equate to a nutritionally balanced diet. Drop by the nearest markets for delicious (and vitamin-filled) local produce instead, and you’ll soon feel both healthier and happier. While traveling in France I discovered for example Thuir in the Languedoc for fruit and flowers is Saturday’s extravaganza, but I’ve found most exciting markets called souks in Morocco where you can get anything from oriental souvenirs to fresh food.