In the spring of 2010 I set off alone on an 8 ½ month trek through Central and South America with no plans, no timetable, and no obligations. From the beginning of March until the middle of November I traveled almost entirely on a whim. I based my itinerary on the conversations I had with fellow travelers and locals. If someone recommended an interesting town or attraction nearby, I’d pack up my things and go check it out. Over and over again, I repeated the process, steadily working my way south from Costa Rica to Chile. Overall, it was a trip filled with experiences and people who fascinated and thrilled me.
That said, however, I did have days were I experienced what I call “solo traveler burnout.” Days when I woke up and just wasn’t in the mood for any of it. When I couldn’t bring myself to go view another cathedral or another quaint town square or another local history museum. On days like that, I just wanted to be back in California with my family and friends. This post is intended to help solo travelers who are experiencing something similar. Who are tired of traveling by themselves and aren’t sure how to get back on track.
Don’t deny how you’re feeling
Be honest with yourself and acknowledge how you’re feeling. Realize that there’s nothing wrong with taking a day or two off and do nothing new or exciting. If you’re on a short vacation, it might make sense to be active all the time. To push yourself to see and do as much as possible. To ignore the urge you have to take a break and just sit and do nothing. But extended trips, especially solo ones, are more like running a marathon than a foot race. You’ve got to pace yourself and listen to what your body (or mind) is telling you. On occasion, you’ve got to stop and take time to process all that you’ve seen and done. I’ve found that a completely unproductive day is often the perfect remedy for feelings of solo traveler burnout. But you can only get to the remedy if you’re aware of the problem.
When the daily onrush of new people, new sights, and new experiences starts to feel more like a burden than a boon, take refuge in the familiar. Surround yourself with things that make you happy. If you’re a book lover, spend hours in a bookstore or library. Love art? Head to a museum or buy some cheap art supplies and get creative. Prefer the great outdoors? Head out on a hike or down to a local park. Your solo journey is supposed to provide you with new and different experiences, but that doesn’t mean you should totally cut yourself off from what you already know and like.
Surround yourself with joy
If you’re starting to feel travel burnout, try surrounding yourself with people who are happy. Whether it is children laughing in a park or a crowded bar pulsating with great music, being in the company of people who are having a great time can be a great mood booster. It can help you redirect your focus away from yourself and your own private, brooding thoughts. And it can help you see that despite what you’re feeling, there’s joy and happiness all around you.
Remind yourself why you’re traveling
Take a pad of paper and a pen and write down your reasons for going on your solo journey. Remind yourself what you were expecting to get out of it. Then take stock of how much you’ve done so far and how much you’ve learned and grown. Tally up how many of the official and unofficial goals you set you’ve already accomplished versus how many you still need to achieve. Sometimes just taking time to step back and marvel at the adventures you’ve lived through can be enough to rekindle the spirit of adventure that drove you to travel alone in the first place.
Write a phantom email to your family or friends
One of the down-sides of traveling solo is that you often don’t have anyone to gripe to. One solution I’ve found to be very effective is to write a long email to a friend about what’s going on. I’ll sit for an hour or so and vent my feelings in an uncensored, brutally direct email. And then, when I feel like I’ve said everything I needed to say, I’ll delete the message without sending it. Often just the act of bringing out into the open whatever is bugging me is sufficient to help me move on. In most cases, by the time I finish writing, I’ve realized that whatever is bothering me is not really important or, if it is important, I’ve figured out a solution for dealing with it.
Avoid spreading your gloom
The reason I don’t actually send the email in the process described above is two-fold. First, the message is really just a method for blowing off steam when there isn’t really anyone to talk to. If your family and friends aren’t in a position to do anything other than email back, what do you gain by dragging down their spirits, too? Secondly, a lot of your friends are probably living vicariously through you. On an average day, they are likely not experiencing anywhere near as much excitement or adventure as you are. So writing to them to tell them how you’re suffering from solo traveler burnout during your trek across India probably won’t generate a lot of sympathy.
Stop and grow (temporary) roots
If you’ve tried everything listed above and still can’t seem to get back into the swing of things, consider taking slightly more drastic steps. What about stopping your trip and renting a cheap place for a month or two? Or, if you’re traveling in a country where they don’t speak your language, enroll in a language course. Or find a local charity that needs volunteers and commit to helping them for a time. The benefits of all of these solutions are that they enable you to start connecting with people again. To become part of a community and to share in the lives of others as more than just a visitor. In the end, you’ll either have overcome your solo traveler burnout and find yourself ready for the road again. Or you’ll have found your happy place. Either way, you win.
If you’re not already familiar with it, check out Meetup.com, an app that brings people with similar interests together. It’s free to download and can put you in touch with people nearby who share your passions. Whether that’s a love of vegan bakeries, an affinity for night surfing, a passion for painting, or just about anything you can think of.
For tips and advice on how to meet people when you travel solo, check out our related blog posts: