Psychology

Travel Burnout? Why Travel Can Cause Stress And How To Handle It

Welcome to my third piece of travel psychology! After covering the origin of wanderlust and the psychology of homesickness, I was asked to get further into the “real” side of travel that is less often looked upon. That’s why I today want to talk about Travel Burnout and its effects.

It can be a serious matter, and this post only gives initial understanding and help. If you suffer from serious symptoms of burnout and depression, please consult a professional! Feel free to get in touch if you need any further assistance.

As always, I try to provide proper scientific background – however, the phenomenon of travel burnout has nearly to none specific research conducted until now. Hence, I did my best to adapt existing research to the travel context as well as tell about my own experiences. Feedback is always appreciated!


What is Travel Burnout?

We know that travel rarely is rainbows and beachside coconuts, even though beloved social media does a good job in telling us so. We travel because it is passion, because a new place is our geographical form of a crush. But  nonetheless it’s stressful and can pretty darn exhausting – and here’s why.

The term “burn out” means literally that: A condition of strong emotional and physical exhaustion due to chronic overload, often caused by a job, but also common for stay at home parents – or travelers.

Many of the symptoms overlap with those of depression (e.g., lack of drive, tiredness, a feeling of senselessness), which leads some experts to assuming that there is no clear division between the two illnesses.

What are the Symptoms of Burnout?

 „I felt empty and dull. I would wake up at night, completely soaked with sweat, and thought of all the tasks that were still unfulfilled. I couldn’t go back to sleep. And so the next day already started with being overtired and exhausted.“ (IG Metall, 2011)

The individual inflictions of a burnout can be quite different, but the following symptoms are the ones most often described (Burisch, 2014). I tried to adapt them to the travel context:

  • Permanent Exhaustion: It’s almost impossible to relax. You feel overstrained, tired and incapable of managing daily tasks – like finding new accommodation, a place to eat, figuring out transport, etc. An increasing need of breaks comes along with a decreasing length of a relaxation sensation.
  • Reduced Performance: Tasks are not as easily fulfilled as they were used to be. There’s rarely a feeling of accomplishment, while difficulties in decision making and concentration increase. Compensating by trying even harder to take everything in and enjoy reduces energy and resilience further.
  • Physical Symptoms: These don’t show an organic cause, thus we’re talking about psychosomatic symptoms – e.g., headaches, sleep and digestion problems, back pain, or a weakened immune system.
  • Withdrawahl: You start to retreat from others, let go of hobbies and lose sight of friends and family.
  • Meaninglessness: It’s a feeling of permanent exhaustion and dissatisfaction. Nothing really excites you or makes you happy, the indifference dominates. Excitement is replaced by cynicism, desperation and hopelessness.
A view from St Nikolai Church over Hamburg's townhall and the Alster lake

When yet another terrific scene just doesn’t excite you anymore.

 

In a travel-reality, this can look like the following:

You just can’t get excited about an upcoming trip, you try to procrastinate instead of booking, you don’t look forward to meeting new people or explore unknown places. Checking in and out becomes an almost unbearable strain, foreign food just doesn’t come close to mum’s apple pie, every market and temple start to look the same.

You constantly feel disappointed and as if you are just checking things of a list instead of really enjoying them.

But how can Travel cause Stress? It’s supposed to be Fun!

You’re living the life so many dream of, so be grateful and enjoy it!

Yeah. Right. Believe me, I heard this one quite a bit. I’m not the one to easily share when I’m exhausted and fed up with travel at times, but I hear it anyway. And I can’t even blame people for it.

But what I can do is understand what is bugging me. I can dig in deep and find the source and then work from there.

A graphic about how burnout develops.

adapted after DGPPN, 2012

 

A burnout can develop in many ways. It mostly is a concurrence of individual (e.g., resources like family or hobbies) and situational factors (e.g., increased peer pressure).

Additionally, the following factors increase the risk of burnout:

  • too ambitious goals
  • conflicts with peers
  • anxiety over financial resources
  • a constant exposure to a lot of responsibility and time pressure
  • personality related aspects (e.g., excessive perfectionism, low self-esteem and tendency to avoid conflict, missing coping strategies)
  • big life events, especially if support by family and friends is missing
  • societal factors – we see everyone travel, we see how everyone enjoys it, and perceive this as increased pressure

And honestly, if you just keep going from one place to the next, you get pretty darn sick of packing and unpacking every single time.

When it all comes together, travel burnout can result of too much traveling, too much pushing yourself, too much time on the road. You stop being excited about architecture or nature, because it seem to be just all the same.

Think of it this way: Even your favorite chocolate will make you feel sick if you eat too much in too few time.

via GIPHY (me preparing for stressful situations anyway)

Tips to prevent and treat a Travel Burnout

Go treat yourself a little and it’ll be fine!

Honestly, I’m sick of hearing that. I can’t deal with my problems by distracting myself with food or a spa treatment I can’t really afford.

And going on a treasure hunt to find a nice restaurant or massage therapist is really not what I wanna do right now anyway.

Travel Burnout – as well as early stages of feeling exhausted – is a normal reaction to an unstable lifestyle.

No, you’re not a bad traveler or have to get a ticket home or kill a bottle of red wine.

A mix of leaving home and routine and instead throwing yourself into something unforeseeable, meeting and farewelling new people every day, plus months of night buses and hostel kitchens and wrinkled shirts – that does that to you. Together with enough fried to last for a lifetime and more local beer than your supply of Advil can handle.

Just because you have the privilege to travel doesn’t mean it’s always gonna be fun.

Still, the whole travel culture conveys to always do something. And whatever level of exhaustion you are experiencing – this is your body telling you: Chill. You’ve done enough for now.

Excitement is not meant to last forever, so accept where you’re at as a part of being human.

Take a break from meeting cool people at a café or bar or beach every day. There will be more cool people, and cafés, and bars, and beaches.

Have your moody days, don’t talk to anyone if you don’t want to. Stop doing. Be exhausted.

And then handle this strategically. These tips are again travel-adapted from treatment guidelines for burnout (Institut für Arbeitsmedizin; Turnipseed, 2000).

  • Create a routine, get some familiarity in a novelty-filled life. Like back home, I always start the day with 20 or 30 minutes of yoga and catching up on news, and that sets a positive tone, whatever the day might bring.
  • Figure out how to best use your time. Are you a morning person? Then use that time – and don’t overthink afternoons spent in front of Netflix if that’s what you wanna do.
  • Take time to reflect. I personally notice I like to have people around me all the time, and always do something. It’s vital for me to consciously sit down, breathe, and think. Or write.
  • Don’t overplan. It’s not your goal to create an itinerary that would make a Fortune 500 secretary weep. And if you miss out on that castle or viewpoint, well, who cares? You’re never gonna see everything anyway.
  • Stay healthy. Of course fast food is fast and yummy and I could never say no to some proper German chocolate. But over-indulging honestly doesn’t make me feel good either.
  • Learn something new. If part of what you’re feeling – as mentioned in the symptoms before – is meaninglessness, you might be able to create a new purpose by maybe a language course or a cooking class. As travel often is sensual and emotional, a little intellectual spice might do the trick.

And most of all, never forget my friends:

Happiness and excitement don’t last forever. Neither will unhappiness and exhaustion.

Travel Burnout - Why Travel can cause Stress and How to Handle it


Sources

Burisch, M. (2014). Das Burnout-Syndrom. Theorie der inneren Erschöpfung. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Nervenheilkunde (DGPPN) (2012). Positionspapier der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Nervenheilkunde (DGPPN) zum Thema Burnout. Berlin: DGPPN.

IG Metall (Hrsg.) (2011). Ausgebrannt – Betriebsräte als Lotsen für Burnout-Betroffene. Frankfurt am Main: IG Metall Vorstand.

Institut für Arbeitsmedizin. Burnout – ein Leitfaden des ifa. Baden (Schweiz): Institut für Arbeitsmedizin.

Turnipseed, D.L. (2000): Phase analysis of burnout and other psychological phenomena. Psychological Reports, 87, 341–345.

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    Chasing Potatoes
    August 27, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Such an informative and useful article… I don’t travel that much, so I have not experienced it. But I understand this post. I’m thankful you shared some great tips on how to overcome travel burnout. I now know what to do in case sooner or later I may experience this unwanted feeling. So, thank you.

  • Reply
    Suma
    August 27, 2017 at 6:15 am

    When I’m travelling for long duration, I do get homesick sometimes. But travel burnout seems more serious and troubling, Iit is really great you shared details on this. This is going to help a lot of people who are going through it.

  • Reply
    Alberto C.
    August 26, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Very interesting post, it’s not very common to read about the other side of the coin!
    I do love travelling, however, this is one of the reasons why I haven’t left my job and gone travel full time. I’d probably feel the same after a while!

  • Reply
    Oursweetadventures
    August 26, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Great information. We definitely started to feel the burn out towards the last couple weeks of our European 3 month trip. It felt like every day was pack and unpack pack and unpack. While it was great seeing all of places it got exhausting. Will we make the train on time? Where will we eat. All contributed to an exhausting trip.

  • Reply
    Lydia Smith
    August 26, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Hahaha. The giffy. The only time I feel burnt out is when I’ve read a lot about my travel destination and want to do what others had done. Then I’m left with little time much to do. These days, I only appreciate what others experienced and find my own different experiences when I eventually go to the same location. No more to-visit-list. Thanks for this post, it was such an enlightenment.

  • Reply
    Eve Kay
    August 25, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Insightful post! I wouldn’t called myself burnout yet but I definitely have moments where I felt traveling/on vacation is more stressful than not being on vacation. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  • Reply
    Natalia
    August 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    this is a really interesting article, its so easy to be overwhelmed and burnout. great read!

  • Reply
    Hooda (Travel And Bite)
    August 24, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    I am not a “full time traveler”, so I didn’t know what travel burnout is, but I can understand what you mean, These are some amazing tips you have shared here. Thank you : )

  • Reply
    Natalie Anastasia
    August 24, 2017 at 6:31 am

    This is super fascinating! I don’t think I have traveled for a long enough period of time to feel burnt out but I do feel stressed when I am rushed through visiting a destination. I bet there are a lot of people feeling this same way though <3

  • Reply
    Jo Jo
    August 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    I absolutely agree. My vacations now are more relaxed, a little bit less planed to enjoy the moment. Good post. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Jo
    August 23, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    This is definitely real and I feel it esp on press trips coz they can be pretty hectic for a slow traveler like myself 🙂 I don’t quite enjoy hopping on and off planes and a jam packed itinerary and need a LOT of chill time to unwind and enjoy the destination.

  • Reply
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    August 23, 2017 at 12:09 pm

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  • Reply
    Jen Horsfall
    August 23, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Posts like this are so important, thank you! Sometimes it feels as though you are the only person in the world feeling like this, when it’s completely normal.

  • Reply
    Julz
    August 23, 2017 at 10:25 am

    I just spend a month travelling in Europe with my kids, and when we came back I was just so overwhelmed by the whole experience. After a while you don’t enjoy the same way and are just not as excited as you should be… and I just do it for the pleasure ha! I can’t even imagine travelling for work all the time. I understand why people would feel a ‘burnout’!

  • Reply
    ad
    August 23, 2017 at 10:10 am

    wow I had no idea there is such a thing as a “Travel Burnout” ! But I guess it make sense, when you always on the road, far away from your family, and have no place you can returned to just jump to your bed. I hope it won’t happened to me anytime soon! 🙂

  • Reply
    Josie
    August 23, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Currently travelling long term and so conscious of burn out! Making sure we always schedule days off, and if we don’t want to go see yet another museum, we don’t!

  • Reply
    Nomadic Foot
    August 22, 2017 at 8:21 am

    I have feel the burnout once in my travel when i was in Tashken. There was a group of people whom i was escorting as a tour manager. They made my life hell there. That time i was feeling like to run away from my job but i could not. But its part of job so we need to learn to handle it.

  • Reply
    Amrita Sen
    August 22, 2017 at 7:24 am

    A great insightful post! And it is so right that you spoke about it. Just like any other profession, travelling is not always fun! Though many looks at it like that. Travellers, too have their shares of ups and downs. And many do not even understand the concept of travel burnout. Thanks for this article. It helped me to face my inner conflicts too!

  • Reply
    Michelle
    August 22, 2017 at 6:29 am

    I’m never on the road long enough to experience travel burnout but for any longer trips will definitely keep all of the tips noted in mind! Thanks for sharing, this is new news to me so it’s great to know information like this is out here.

  • Reply
    Brooke
    August 21, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Great post! I believe a lot of travel burnout happens because of FOMO (fear of missing out) and wanting to see/do everything in a short time. I’m a slow traveler and will happily admit I’ve not seen many of the “top attractions” in many places I’ve been. I hope more people will move towards seeking meaning, rather than accomplishment, in their travels.

  • Reply
    Parnashree Devi
    August 21, 2017 at 11:50 am

    This is absolutely a brilliant article. I am definitely going through this phase and the symptoms say it all. Thank you so much for letting me know about it. I am feeling positive.

  • Reply
    Marvi of Osmiva
    August 21, 2017 at 8:40 am

    I’ve had my share of ‘travel burnout’ when I traveled for work. Constantly packing, meeting deadlines and hopping from one place to another can take its toll tbh. Great to have read this post as I am now focusing on travel blogging. This may come in handy. 🙂

  • Reply
    Flo
    August 21, 2017 at 7:37 am

    I am loving this series! I majored in Psychology so I’m a big fan of all the references and academic research. Travel burnout is REAL and I hate hearing people tell others that they “shouldn’t be stressed if you’re on vacation”. One way we manage this is to base ourselves in 1 place to explore the surrounding towns for a few days, rather than move from place to place every night – it’s worked well for us!

  • Reply
    Abigail Sinsona
    August 21, 2017 at 4:04 am

    I love that you are talking about this since most people look at the lifestyle of travel bloggers and initially feel a sense of envy. In fact, some people would find it such a glamorous lifestyle, but it is anything but. It can get lonely sometimes too, and I think your tips can help remedy the situation especially for those suffering from travel burnout for the first time (and not even know this is actually a feeling of burnout!).

  • Reply
    Miranda Menelaws
    August 21, 2017 at 3:54 am

    So needed this! I’ve recently returned back to Australia after a visit home and have been feeling burntout and overwhelmed all week! Thanks for the reminder and tips <3

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