Travel Fatigue and How to Avoid It

I’ve been proverbially homeless for 10 years, travelling through and living in over 50 countries.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different styles—and paces—of travel. In 2010, embracing a “backpacker” moniker, I breezed through a dizzying number of countries. In that entire year, the longest I spent in one place was three weeks; on average I “moved house” every five nights.

After this fevered travel pace, I spent the first six months of 2011 in a near-comatose state of recovery. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite define what was wrong, but I had an unsettled feeling.

I was fundamentally tired, like I hadn’t slept well in months. On reflection, this was true; too many late nights, early mornings, unfamiliar beds, and communal living quarters had taken a toll.

I was dizzyingly confused; the whirlwind of travel in the previous year left me feeling like the world was spinning around me, as if I’d had too much to drink.

And I was apathetic about everything around me. A beautiful vista, you say? Not to be missed? Meh. I’ve seen lots of beautiful vistas. Here are a few hundred pictures; have a look. Why go out of my way for one more beautiful vista?

These, I eventually realized, were the cumulative effects of Travel Fatigue.

Years ago, I watched a documentary called A Map for Saturday, which follows the adventures of a few backpackers on long-term trips around the world. At a certain point, each backpacker felt similar to my description above. They suffered from information overload, and their emotional response was to shut down.

Although many world travellers on long trips fall prey to travel fatigue at some point, it doesn’t have to be a crippling experience. Here are some pointers to avoid this travel ailment.

 

Don’t Try to Conquer the World

….or even a country. My last traditional vacation (before I sold everything to travel full-time) was a month-long trip to South Africa. I’d never travelled for that long, and figured a month was long enough for me to “crack the code” of the country, see everything worth seeing, and depart satisfied that I could tick it off my list. Instead, after travelling everywhere at a furious pace, I departed with more questions than answers. (I consequently realized that in order to travel the way I really wanted to, a lifestyle change was necessary.)

 

Know Your Limits

Some people have higher energy levels than others. Even if you’re the Energizer Bunny, your batteries will eventually run out.

 

Solo Travellers: Be Mindful

I’m all for solo travel—it’s empowering and liberating. It’s easy to meet people along the way, so you’re rarely alone unless you wish to be. But I also found that travel fatigue hits harder and faster when travelling solo. Without a travel partner by your side, providing a contextual baseline for your constantly changing environments, travel dizziness (I call it “motion sickness”) takes hold quicker.

 

Work with Your Time Frame

Six months for a round-the-world trip actually isn’t that long. Build in rest periods to stabilize your energy levels, so you don’t need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

 

Flex with It

It’s an evolving process. Since 2010, I’ve done other stints of fast-paced travel. For example, in 2011 I travelled by train from Lisbon to Saigon (25,000 km) in 30 days. The following year, I did a sponsored trip through eight countries in three weeks. In 2015, I spent two months traipsing through five countries.

In all cases, I ensured that after a fast-paced period, I had somewhere to chill out and recover.

 

Know Yourself

Given that my travels aren’t temporary but a lifestyle choice, I love slow travel. I usually stay somewhere for at least a month (often much longer) so I can discover the local pace and ways of life. With a location-independent writing career, slow travel also helps me strike a comfortable work-life balance.

Your travel pace and style will be totally unique, as it is for everybody. The trick is to recognize the signs of travel fatigue before they become a problem, and to know what to do about it.

 

Planning multiple trips this year? Consider a multi-trip annual plan for hassle-free coverage.

 

A Zen Guide to Heartbreak while Travelling

A heart-wrenching breakup is agonizing under any circumstances. But doing it while travelling adds a whole new set of complications.

I’ve had a few cracks at breaking up while travelling. The first was three years into my full-time travel lifestyle; my boyfriend and I had been together for a year when we sold everything to travel. I learned some key lessons about travelling with a partner during our three years on the road:

  • Travelling accelerates the natural progression of a relationship.
  • Travel’s inherent stressors create interpersonal tension.
  • It’s imperative to claim your space, since you’re together 24/7.
  • You might stay together longer than you should.

This last point was the most difficult for me: our relationship was over long before we broke up. But we were in Australia, my boyfriend had run out of money, and he was working to replenish it. I couldn’t just leave him on the other side of the world. So we stayed together, and I supported him until he was on better footing. We “took a break” while I travelled solo for five months (he remained working in Australia), thinking we would continue travelling together when I returned. A few weeks into my trip, he found somebody else. He now lives in Canada with his Australian fiancé.

My next major relationship was with a man I dubbed my “Swedish Squeeze,” who I met in New Zealand. Unsure of our respective futures, we kept things light, and we travelled both together and separately. As our relationship progressed, we committed to a three-month house-sitting gig in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, while I sat in Grenada awaiting his arrival, I learned that in the month prior while we were apart, he had hooked up with an old friend of his… and got her pregnant. It marked an abrupt and heartbreaking end to the relationship, which also coincided with my getting dengue fever.

Six months later I got together with a UK/Grenadian man when I returned to Grenada for more house-sitting. For almost two years, I used Grenada as a home base and lived with this man and his daughter. The relationship was tumultuous at best, and after a hellish year (including a near-fatal accident among other tragedies), we separated while house-sitting in Panama. He returned to Grenada on New Year’s Eve, and although we kept in touch in an attempt to reconcile, a fateful drunken text message on Valentine’s Day sealed the deal.

Almost two years later I was living in Peru and fell in love with a man visiting from the U.S. His life was in transition, and after a few visits, he sold everything and moved to Peru. Unfortunately it was too much too fast, and shortly after he moved in I realized it was a mistake. I was guilt-ridden after his international move, but wanted to learn from the mistakes of my first travelling relationship and nip it in the bud.

The tables turned when I had my heart broken in Peru a year later; he wasn’t my boyfriend, but rather my teacher/friend/landlord/boss. He was a shaman with whom I was apprenticing, and in the years we worked together, our lives became intertwined and we formed a lifelong partnership. When he suddenly changed his mind, my life was turned upside down and my heart broken.

These five stories over 10 years are an interesting cross-section of life in general. I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve broken hearts. It isn’t any easier or more difficult while travelling. In fact, an advantage of breaking up while travelling is that you can put a few countries of distance between you! And although the pool of compatible mates is smaller when travelling full-time, it’s far from impossible to find love on the road.

Travel is intense, in every way. Relationships on the road reflect that intensity. If I’ve learned anything in the last 10 years, it’s that communication is paramount. The relationship may work, or not. But if you communicate openly, you’ll reduce the chance of surprise and unnecessary heartbreak on the road.


For more travel adventures, check our blog.

What Is “Home” to a Lifestyle Traveller?

Lily and I had a great chat during our podcast recording. Despite our lifestyle differences, I think we found a lot of common ground with regards to the way we think, feel, and approach our lives.

One of the lessons I’ve learned through my 10 years of travelling and living around the world is that, for the most part, we’re all programmed similarly. It may not appear so at first glance, but I’ll use the idea of “home” as an example.

I am “The Professional Hobo”; by definition, I’m homeless. But ask any lifestyle traveller, and even though they may staunchly defend their homeless moniker, talk to them long enough and you may hear the word “home” creep into the conversation.

“Home” could be the place you grew up, or where your parents live. Many lifestyle travellers also love to say “home is where I lay my head for the night.”

There’s nothing wrong with these definitions of home. But I want to go deeper than that. I believe we can feel “at home” when a certain set of circumstances is met in our lives—circumstances that make us feel secure, stimulated, and happy.

Despite saying I’ve travelled full-time for the last 10 years, I’ve also had various “homes” (rather, home bases) throughout that time. I was in Australia for a year and a half, Grenada for two years, and Peru for two years. In each case, I had a place I could call “mine” where I had autonomy, I felt comfortable, I had friends and community, and I could see myself being there for a very long time—for life, even.

But in each case, over time, something happened that affected my ability to continue to see it as home.

In Australia, I survived the Victorian bushfires (their worst-ever natural disaster to date), and I broke up with my partner at the time. The entire landscape (literally and figuratively), and the network of friends that made the place home, changed.

In Grenada, I discovered a dark underbelly over time that I didn’t like. I moved house a couple of times, but things didn’t improve. The final nail in the coffin was (another) breakup.

Peru was the ultimate home. In Australia and Grenada I struggled to admit I wanted a home; it seemed to contradict my travel lifestyle. (It didn’t: I still visited upwards of seven countries a year with these home bases, but it was a mental block). Here, I overcame this mental block and accepted Peru as home. But again, when my circumstances changed, so too did the feeling that Peru was home.

I’m on the road again, living out of my bag. Sure, I feel at home in the world in general, and in each place I spend a few weeks or months, I call it home. I can travel and be home. Likewise, I can have a home and be a traveller. The two are neither synonymous nor contradictory.

For me, home is both a place and a feeling. So although I’m home wherever I go in the world, I’m also searching for the next place that resonates through to my core… as home.

Your guess is as good as mine as to where (and when) that will be.

 

Looking to travel while staying financially sound? Here are some tips on how to travel within your budget.

Alternatives to Travellers Cheques

At one time, travellers cheques were the preferred way to carry foreign currency. They were secure, low on fees, and in some cases were the only way to pay for things abroad. But they’ve been going steadily out of favour since the 1990s. They pose security risks and cause extra work for retailers, the commissions and fees aren’t competitive, and even banks abroad are hesitant to cash them. A reader told me about a European vacation during which she visited 12 banks, none of which were willing or able to cash her travellers cheques.

These days, there are other, more secure and cost-effective ways to access your money while travelling, such as the following:

 

Credit Cards

In most Western countries, you can pay for almost everything with credit cards. Many of my North American friends don’t even carry cash any more. Credit cards are convenient, they provide a record of spending, and if you collect frequent flyer miles, they’re a great way to passively collect miles to get you on your next flight. Buyer beware: pay off your balance in full each month to avoid costly interest charges and credit problems.

Security: Although there’s risk of your credit card information being hijacked, in my experience the credit card company has always known about it before I did, and I’ve never been responsible for paying fraudulent charges.

 

Debit Cards

Debit cards are useful for ATM withdrawals and debit (Interac) purchases. If your debit card has a Visa or MasterCard logo on it, you can also use it in place of a credit card (although you need sufficient funds in your account to cover the charge). Interac purchases aren’t as widely available abroad as they are in North America, and are practically non-existent in developing countries.

Security: If somebody gets your debit card and PIN, there’s no recourse if they clear out your bank account. So don’t keep your life savings in your bank account, and set a low daily/weekly withdrawal limit with your bank.

 

Cash

In many developing countries, cash is king. If you’ll need more than the ATM can reasonably give you (for example: in Peru I had to pay for an expensive retreat with cash), then you can pre-purchase foreign currency at your home bank before you go.

Security: Cash is the easiest to lose when travelling, and impossible to recover. So make sure you have a good strategy for keeping it safe. It’s a good idea to carry it securely out of view, and to store it in more than one place.

 

Prepaid Travel Cards

Charge up your prepaid travel card (such as a Visa TravelMoney or Mastercard Cash Passport) before you leave, and you can use it in place of a credit or debit card abroad. Their popularity, however, has decreased due to non-competitive fees and limited currency availability.

Security: The upside to prepaid travel cards is that they’re very secure. They’re not linked to your personal accounts, so the total liability is the amount on the card, which is protected by your PIN/signature.

 

A Note on Fees

Unfortunately in Canada, almost every payment method you choose (including travellers cheques) will charge fees—hidden or otherwise.

Credit and debit cards hit you with currency exchange fees by charging a higher percentage than the prevailing exchange rate.

Using your debit card for ATM withdrawals and Interac purchases can result in not only your bank’s currency exchange fee, but also withdrawal fees and ATM commissions.

Prepaid travel cards are the worst, charging any combination of monthly fees, currency exchange fees, and even cash-out fees if you don’t use all the money during your trip.

The lowest fee you’ll pay will be to buy foreign currency at your home bank before travelling, but carrying cash poses the largest security risk.

 

There’s No One Solution

To minimize fees and mitigate security risks, I suggest a combination of the strategies above. I carry two credit cards (separately in case one is stolen), one debit card (for ATM withdrawals), and some cash (stashed in different places). When travelling, a multifaceted approach to paying for things is best.

 

If you do end up carrying and using cash over card, we’ve got 16 tips for you for carrying cash while travelling.

 

Using ATMs Abroad: 12 Things You Need to Know

Using ATMs (cash machines) while you’re abroad is not as simple as it is at home. I know travellers with horror stories about being strapped and unable to get cash due to various ATM blunders. That’s why it’s best to be informed about overseas banking before you depart!

Here are 12 tips for using ATMs abroad and effectively managing your travel cash.

 

1. Get Online
First and foremost, register for online banking before travelling. This allows you to manage your accounts and bills easily, and if there’s a problem with your ATM card or one of your accounts, you can fix it from wherever you are.

 

2. Foreign ATMs Offer Limited Services
At home, you can use ATMs to change your PIN, see account information, transfer money between accounts, and more. Abroad, you generally can only view your balance and withdraw cash. For the rest, you’ll need to register for online banking.

 

3. Same Bank? So What?
It’s common among frequent travellers to bank with an internationally recognized institution, such as HSBC. With HSBC ATMs being located around the world, you can usually save money on withdrawal fees. Great! But don’t expect even bank-affiliated foreign ATMs to offer the same functionality as you’d get at home.

 

4. Know Your Chequing, Savings, and Other Accounts
Before travelling, make sure the accounts you need to access are linked to your ATM card properly. You can link accounts to “chequing,” “savings,” and “other”. For example, my main bank account is listed as “chequing,” and my line of credit is my “other” account.

Related article: Heading overseas for an extended period? Read our tips on how to save money while living abroad.

 

5. Set and Remember Withdrawal Limits
Setting a low ATM withdrawal limit (at your home branch, online, or over the phone) will prevent somebody from clearing out your account if your card is stolen. But don’t forget your limit—otherwise you’ll have some unsuccessful withdrawal attempts that could result in your account being frozen. (This happened to me a few times, and necessitated calls to my bank to rectify the situation before I could get any cash).

 

6. Keep Your Bank’s Phone Number Handy
In the situation above, I had to call my bank, because I couldn’t fix the problem online. Make sure to bring along your bank’s phone number (and register for telephone banking before you leave) so you can quickly tackle any issue that arises.

 

7. Eliminate Withdrawal Fees
Using a foreign ATM usually results in a $5 fee charged by your home bank. You can eliminate these fees in a few ways, including using internationally recognized banks, and/or structuring your home account to include free foreign ATM withdrawals. This usually entails a monthly account fee, which can be avoided by maintaining a certain balance.

 

8. Avoid Private ATMs
In addition to the withdrawal fees mentioned above, using private (non-bank-affiliated) ATMs can result in additional charges and commissions. Private ATMs can also be a security risk, so they’re to be avoided whenever possible.

Related article: Many travellers rely on their credit card for insurance coverage—but is that enough to keep you protected? Find out here.

 

9. Know Your ATM Networks
On the back of your bank card should be a series of logos, such as Plus, Interac, Maestro, or Cirrus. You can only use ATMs abroad that display one of the logos on your card.

 

10. Ensure Your PIN is Four Digits
If your bank card has a five-digit PIN, switch over to a four-digit PIN, since some ATMs (and debit machines) abroad don’t accept five-digit PINs.

 

11. Back It Up!
Keep your bank card number and bank phone number separate and accessible in case your card is lost or stolen. This has served me invaluably. I back up this and other sensitive information using my trusty “USB Stick Trick.”

 

12. Know Your Credit Card PIN
Most credit cards have electronic chips so you can make purchases by entering a PIN. This PIN also allows you to make ATM withdrawals with your credit card. Warning: credit card ATM withdrawals are a last resort, since (in addition to withdrawal fees) interest compounds daily on your entire credit card balance from the date of withdrawal, with no grace period (normal credit card purchases have a grace period of 30 days). When I was in Grenada, my bank card wouldn’t work so I could only get money with my credit card. I paid off my balance in full before making any withdrawals (and paid off the withdrawal/advance amount immediately) to save myself the exorbitant interest charges, but I couldn’t avoid the withdrawal fees.

 

Want to learn more about financially smart travels? Read more financial travel tips for economically savvy travellers.