I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
No, no, no
The Beatles, "I'm So Tired"
It finally happened, I hit a wall. The constant stress and isolation of traveling alone gave me my first case of travel fatigue.
The fatigue and subsequent depression started on the way New Zealand. The stress of traveling 26 hours to Tahiti then traveling to New Zealand within a week coupled with the long distance and brief lack of human interaction put me in a hole. I knew it would happen at some point so I’m not surprised but it’s deflating nonetheless.
The honeymoon wasn’t going to last forever. For 2 months I was unstoppable. I had found my ultimate calling, being a traveling writer/hobo that schlepped his way across the world, never slowing down and making enough money to keep the adventure going.
Those months of foregoing most of my social life and spending day after day couped up in my house in Hawaii before my trip, sweating and furiously pounding away at my laptop keys proved to be worth it. I was proud of myself for having a vision and doing whatever it took to realize it.
My work/travel balance wasn’t perfect but I was thriving in the chaos. Even with all I had going on I rarely got tired because every day had limitless potential. My confidence and excitement hit peaks I never thought were possible.
The negative thoughts were still there but the constant distractions prevented me from being consumed by them and shutting down like I usually do. This felt like a new chapter. Maybe I could actually get rid of depression if I never stop moving.
Obviously, that’s not possible. I came crashing back down to Earth with vicious ferocity.
Same Shit, Different Area Code
I’m not tired, I know what that feels like, I’m fatigued. Beleaguered from an endless stream of trains, planes and automobiles. My body has given up on figuring out what time zone I’m in.
Behind the Instagram photos is constant work and isolation. After every day of adventure there is a sleepless night spent writing and editing alone.
I’m growing tired of sleeping in bunk beds above people who snore like an idling Harley Davidson. Or trying to relax when it’s “Pub Crawl Night” at the hostel and the entire building is blackout drunk. Or using a microfiber towel every day. It’s like drying myself with a plastic bag.
Not to mention the mattresses. I might as well sleep on the fucking floor. It would be better than feeling every single spring dig into my back. And the moving, the constant moving. I rarely have a chance to just relax. I’m either forcing myself to work, moving from place to place, booking tomorrow’s trip, or trying to make the most of my short time in each destination.
It feels weird to complain about these things but sometimes I just need to be alone do nothing for a while. Let myself process what’s happened and recharge. That’s impossible when you live the hostel life.
I wasn’t paying attention to my mental and physical health at all and I paid the price for it.
Falling into a Hole
As my cab dropped me off at the Moorea Ferry to travel back to Papeete, I had a profound feeling of loneliness. No travel friends to save me, nothing but me and my thoughts for the next 48 hours. I felt completely empty, drained of the enthusiasm that had sustained me thus far.
No music or podcast could save me. It was just noise in my ears as I was lost in my mind. I sunk deeper and deeper into my subconscious and was forced to deal with feelings I had been ignoring for weeks.
I reverted back to bad habits, bought $50 of snacks and beer from the local supermarche and barricaded myself in my tiny AirBnB for the night, staring blankly at the wall, too depressed to even put on Netflix. What was wrong with me? I had just come from an awesome vacation with some of my favorite people but none of it mattered. I hated being alive.
My desire to explore or share my adventures with the world died. I wanted to be shut off from the world and feel worthless. This whole trip was a waste of time. What had I really accomplished? Running away from responsibility for a few months? The negativity kept building as my thoughts spiraled into a really dark place.
Despite knowing how counterproductive it is to put up walls when I feel this way I couldn’t help it. No matter how many times conversations with familiar faces have pulled me out of my funk, no matter how many examples my brain tries to show me, I didn’t want to listen.
I’m not worth anybody’s time, why do people even put up with me? I have no value, I’m just biding time until the inevitable. Yeah, that over-the-top. Trust me, I tried to snap out of it but it just wasn’t happening.
I wanted to reach out to my friends but I just couldn’t. I wanted to plan the next leg of the trip but my mind wouldn’t let me.
So I sat, bathing in self-destruction. I hoped tomorrow would be better. Pleaded with my brain to stop being so mean. Stop telling me to hate myself, stop telling me my friends hate me, stop trying to convince me I’m worthless.
At its worst, the travel fatigue induced depression is unrelenting. The constant waves of negative feelings, jealousy, bitterness, sadness, and anger crash into me over and over again.
Thankfully, I was able to pass out from exhaustion. Tomorrow will be better, it always is. I only needed to make it through today.
I woke up at 4 AM in order to catch my flight at 7. The depression induced fatigue had turned into a dull numbness, mostly because I was too tired and busy to think about anything but getting to the airport.
I’ve been here before, I knew this wasn’t going to fix itself. These bouts of sadness happen without warning or reason but they don’t go away as frivolously. I needed to help myself instead of waiting for something or somebody to save me.
Instead of packing I meditated, a practice that I had been neglecting. It didn’t matter if I was late, this needed to happen.
Afterward I felt a little better. Then I started writing in the cab on the way to the airport and felt even better. Then I read part of my book at the airport which kept the positivity rolling.
I stopped eating garbage and got a healthy breakfast. Well, there’s no McDonalds at the Papeete Airport so I didn’t have a choice, but still.
All of these little things started to add up and I could feel my energy slowly building like I had drank some healing potion in an RPG. I was starting to have a personality again instead of avoiding eye contact with everybody and endlessly scrolling through social media.
Experiencing travel fatigue and scrolling through Instagram is like pouring salt on an open wound.
It affects everybody differently. For me, it brought back some depression.
But if you struggle with it, just keep working at it. Even if every fiber of your being is telling you not to, get up and do something. Clean up, pack your bag, check anything off your to-do list. You can prove to yourself that you’re not the failure your brain wants you to think you are.
Travel fatigue will tear you down but only if you let it. You’re the only one that can fix it.
If you’re feeling similar to what I described above, don’t immediately book a ticket home or get blackout drunk. Remain positive and work on yourself, it will pass.
This wasn’t the first time it happened nor will it be the last. The trick is to know it when it hits and work like hell to get out of it.
Fighting Travel Fatigue
Here are some pretty obvious but effective tips if you feel the fatigue starting to creep in.
Call a Friend
This is the easiest and best option there is. Nothing will get you out of your head faster than hearing a friendly voice. If it’s late or you can’t call at the moment send them a message. When they reply in the morning it will make everything much better. It may seem impossible when you’re feeling down but know that it always works.
Make a Friend
If you’re living the hostel life, strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Or the front desk person, or somebody outside. Don’t get caught up in your misery. Reach out and pull somebody down with you. Kidding, but seriously reach out to somebody. It’ll distract you and you might end up having a friend for life.
Partying and running around all day is addictive but it will leave you feeling empty and drained. You don’t necessarily need a job but find something productive you can do every day. Pick up a reading habit, write a travel journal, start an Instagram travel page, make a list of restaurants and start checking them off, anything.
We need to have purpose in life and it’s easy to lose sight of that while you’re traveling.
It’s hard to stay in shape on the go but it’s absolutely necessary. Even 30 minutes of activity will transform your day and stop you from feeling like a worthless pile of shit. You don’t need a gym, go for a run or do some push ups in your hostel/hotel room.
If you do need a gym, there are F45s and Crossfit gyms all over the world that offer free weekly trials. Just keep making new email addresses and you have a free week membership in every destination.
Get a Hotel for a Few Days
This gets you away from the people and let’s you reset. I’ve done it 2-3 times on this trip and always leave feeling like a new man. Also, fresh towels and a personal shower without wondering who probably pissed in it earlier.
Living the Millennial Dream
Traveling isn’t a cure for depression but it’s damn good medicine. Even with the fatigue I prefer this lifestyle over working 40+ hours of week in an office. I’ll die before I go back to that.
If you’re setting off on a long journey, understand that at some point you will catch travel fatigue. You’ll get sick of living out of a backpack and long for the days when you had a comfortable routine. You’ll miss your apartment and your friends and your weekly trivia night or whatever bullshit you did on a regular basis that made you feel sane.
Instagram makes you think traveling is constant fun and excitement but that only shows half of it. It’s stressful being unsure of where you’re going next. Booking hostels, flights, and activities on the go takes a lot of work.
And the financial stress will put you in a constant state of anxiety. I’m constantly stressed and I’ve been making pretty good money this whole time. Asia is cheap but it ain’t that cheap. Especially when you’re eating out every meal, paying for excursions, and drinking a lot.
It may seem like I’m bitching about traveling alone but I’m only trying to paint an honest picture.
The positives still heavily outweigh the negatives. You may get a bout of travel fatigue once every month or so, but the rest of the time you’re happier than you’ve ever been.
I wouldn’t trade this trip for anything. It’s been the best experience, or collection of experiences, I’ve ever had.
If you’re on your on a journey right now feeling down, fight through your travel fatigue, don’t give up! I promise you won’t regret seeing more of the world.