It happens to all of us. It can sneak up on even the most experienced traveler. In the backpacking world, it’s commonly referred to as “the travel blues.”
There are a number of reasons a person might experience the travel blues. Perhaps there is a difficult situation at home & it feels as if you have no control over it. Perhaps you are exhausted & overwhelmed from sightseeing & moving around so often & just want to feel like you have a home for a while. Perhaps there is no logical explanation at all — that’s perfectly fine too.
Whatever the case & despite our beautiful Instagram presence, us long term travelers are human. Like all humans, we cycle through moods about as often as the moon cycles through it’s phases.
So what do I do when I the travel blues inevitably hit me?
In short, I let go & be flexible.
Personally, one of the biggest causes of my travel blues is the internal (& sometimes external) pressure to go & do all of the things, see all the sites, socialize with every person I meet, go out & drink at night, etc. After 2 – 3 days of this, I’m exhausted! While I might be enjoying myself & having a blast, my little introverted self is screaming at me, “enough is enough!” But there’s a conflicting voice that tells me that because I’m in such an amazing, beautiful, wonderful place, I should be out soaking it all in.
Step 1: Take a rest period
As best I can, I try to shut off that conflicting voice that tells me I have to go out & do it all.
I lay in bed & read. If there’s working internet, I might even be able to spend an entire day watching Netflix &, Lord knows, I’ve been longing for a day devoted to Netflix for 2 months!
Once at a hostel in Ushuaia, Argentina, I was hit with a particularly serious case of travel blues. It was complicated by a cough & cold & it was too chilly outside (& inside) for this sunny Texas gal to enjoy going out. For over a week, I laid in my mummy sleeping bag in the hostel living room.
Ushuaia is not a place that people typically visit for more than a few days. The other travelers moving in & out of the hostel were astounded. “Have you even moved at all today??” they asked. “Yes, I moved from that couch, to this couch” I pointed out.
Did they make fun of me? Absolutely! In fact, I was given the nickname “caterpillar girl,” which has apparently stuck with me since. I ran into a guy in Northern Chile a few months later who I had met at that hostel in Ushuaia. He didn’t remember my name but he remembered that I was the “caterpillar girl” laying in the sleeping bag all day.
The truth is, I needed that time & it was kind of glamorous. I produced some of my best blog writing from that hostel living room, I Netlflixed the crap out of a few shows, I finally finished reading the 4th book in the Game of Thrones series, which I had been working on for 10 months, & I recovered from that nasty cold.
Step 2: Get on a bus
One of the biggest glamors of long term travel is the flexibility. I can take a rest day & opt to stay an extra day in a place to see the sites or I can get on a bus & go if it pleases me.
If I decide that, in fact, it’s the atmosphere of a town or city that is getting me down, I get on a bus & move on. In the Ushuaia situation I described above, getting on a bus wasn’t a real possibility because I was waiting there to embark on my Antarctica voyage.
But when it is possible, getting on a bus can do three things.
First, it gets me out of my environment, which might be the root cause of the problem. Sometimes I’m just not feeling a place & that’s okay. Maybe the weather isn’t cooperating, I haven’t found a good group of people to explore with, or I decide that I’d rather be trying my luck with surfing at the beach instead of hiking in the cold in the mountains.
Second, the thought of a new place fills my head with ideas & possibilities. I love possibilities. Ideas about things I will see & places I will go rejuvenates me. The simple act of getting on a bus & moving on can completely shift my attitude towards excitement.
Third, long bus rides give me time to do all of the introverted things I sometimes have trouble making time for. I have ample time to read, write, think, meditate, sleep, or just soak up the silence & alone time on the bus.
Check out my post: Why I Love Slow Travel <coming soon!>
The travel blues are as normal as everyday blues. The distinguishing factor between travel blues & normal blues, is that at home, a person is more likely to have time & space to deal with whatever problems inevitably arise.
If all else fails & I’m still not feeling great after giving myself a rest day & changing locations, I bring out the at-home self care techniques. These are the things I’m less likely to do while traveling, because, as I mentioned, I don’t always have the space.
Step 3: Fix myself up & go out
I wash my clothes so I’m not wearing the same t-shirt for the third day in a row. I put on makeup- maybe for the first time in a week.
Looking good — at least as good as possible while living out of a backpack — equals feeling good.
I walk to a cafe or coffee shop where I can people watch, read, write, or catch up with friends & family on Skype. Fixing myself up & getting out of the hostel, even if means just walking down the street, does wonders sometimes.
Step 4: Cook my own food
Nothing is as great as a home-cooked meal when you’ve got the travel blues. I personally love fruits & vegetables, & sometimes it’s hard to get enough at restaurants in other parts of the world. But usually I can get my fix at the grocery store.
Maybe a familiar, healthy meal is all I need.
Bonus: when cooking in hostel kitchens, I’m forced to socialize with other guests using the kitchen. It’s a win/win! Bring on the wine night!
To the right is a photo of a walnut taco salad I frequently make. I found this & other simple, healthy recipes here.
One thing I love about the walnut taco salad recipe is that it can be easily modified based on whatever ingredients I find at the local market.
For instance, if there’s no kale, I use whatever type of greens are available. If walnuts are outrageously expensive, I replace with a can of black beans. The cashew cream can be replaced with sour cream. The possibilities are endless!
Check out this post on minimalist camp meals for other ideas for simple recipes that can also be easily made in a hostel kitchen.
Step 5: Take vitamins
I usually keep vitamin C & electrolyte packets & magnesium & zinc tablets tucked away in my luggage somewhere. Low immune system can lead to colds & feelings of being run down on the road. It happens to all of us. Having the travel blues is a good excuse to up the vitamin C, electrolytes, & water.
From the end of February to mid-April while traveling in South America, I had a cold that reoccurred 4 times! Each time that I felt it coming, I pulled out the vitamins. By doing this, the cold didn’t get me down nearly as much as it could have.
Did being sick so often suck? Sometimes! But the vitamins gave me energy. I hiked through it, went out, took a few extra siestas, & still managed to enjoy my time traveling.
Step 6: Exercise
I probably don’t need to mention that regular exercise is important for both our physical & mental well-being. The CDC recommends that adults aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days per week. But what traveler has time for that after spending long days exploring sites?
The best time to step up my exercise is when I’m feeling down from the travel blues. I have a few 30 – 45 minute yoga sequences that I can pull out of my brain when I’m in a rut. If I spend a few days in a hostel, it’s fun to get people together for a daily yoga session. This is another great way to make friends!
I recommend memorizing a few simple yoga or workout sequences that can easily be done in tight spaces with little or no equipment. There are also yoga & other workout apps, such as yogaglo, that offer video sequences for all levels. These apps have come in handy when I’m in a workout rut.
If there’s no space for yoga or workouts at a hostel, I might take a class in the native language at a nearby studio. This challenges my brain & my body & I have always left classes in a relaxed & elevated mood compared to when I walked in.
I traveled with a friend who is a Les Mills fitness instructor & she was surprised to find Les Mills classes & gyms in Santiago & other cities in South America. There are plenty of gym options in other countries, especially in larger cities, if you look for them.
If gyms & group classes are not an option where you are, I recommend going out for a walk or run or going to a nearby park & doing jumping jacks, burpees, crunches, push-ups, stretches– anything to get moving & feel better!
Step 7: Meditate
Finding a quiet spot in nature to meditate is ideal. But if nature is unavailable, I can usually find a quiet corner in a hostel to sit by myself. I set my phone timer for 10 or 15 minutes & I sit.
I sit with the discomfort, loneliness, homesickness, overstimulation, or whatever other feelings arise. I let these feelings be. These emotions all add to the experience of long term travel. Embracing them helps me to appreciate all of the wonderful, beautiful, exciting things that I love about globe-trotting.
For me, the benefits of travel far outweigh the few days of inevitable travel blues. I’m human & these feelings are just a normal part of life.
When you’re faced with a daunting case of the travel blues, try out one or all of the steps above. You might be surprised by how quickly you can overcome this travel phenomenon.
Check out this post from fellow travel blogger, Caz. She has some awesome ideas for combating travel blues that might resonate with you too!
Lastly, I’d love to know what works for you in this situation. Send me your tips in the comment section below & don’t forget to subscribe for future updates!