The Evolution of a Traveler: My Journey to Self-Discovery (Again)

long term travel problem

Running through the dusty basement of a house I’ve never been in before, I was trying to find a place to hide. Hide from what, I couldn’t say, just hide. It was nighttime, and the walls were pale yellow, barely illuminated. Hearing a noise, I keep moving, trying to be as quiet as possible. Ahead of me there are dark stairs going down, the same dark stairs I’ve seen in my dreams since I was a kid.

Unlit and damp, they go down underground to empty, low-ceilinged rooms with claustrophobic, pitch-black murder caves leading off them. Standing there, I am terrified of what’s below, but afraid of what’s behind me, following me.

“Beep beep beep,” goes my iPhone, jerking me awake in the dark. Quite literally frozen in place with fear on an air mattress in my friend’s dorm room in Cambridge, England, I slowly regain my senses.

The nightmare quickly dissipates from memory, like water slipping through my fingers when I wash my face in the morning. The overwhelming sense of fear that gripped me just moments before eases away as I realize where I am and what time it is. Instead it is slowly replaced by a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach of both anxiety and exhaustion, two of my closest friends.

long term travel problem

Como, Italy

4:30 in the morning glows my iPhone, burning my eyes. Too goddamn early.

Rolling over on what I’m convinced is the most comfortable air mattress in the entire world, cocooned in a huge down comforter with just the right amount of pillows (four), I turn off the alarm.

Time to fly to Rome.

Except, I didn’t want to go to Italy. Like, I really, really did not want to go to Italy.

long term travel problem

Granada, Spain

4:30am wakeup call or not, the last thing I wanted to be doing was getting on another plane and going somewhere to the point where I was on the verge of tears. Of course it didn’t help that it was my first Ryanair flight in 4 years and I hate them more than Sarah Palin, which is saying something.

I should be thrilled right? I should be so excited? What person in their right mind in the world DOESN’T want to go to Italy?

How did I go from the girl who NOT ONLY said yes to every adventure imaginable but who ran after them like a thief, to a girl who couldn’t get out of bed with the prospect of a trip to Italy?

What happened? How did this happen?

long term travel problem

Ancash, Peru

My life motto since high school has always been “You can sleep when you die;” I’ve never shied away from long travel, early morning wake-up calls or even just the whiff of an adventure. No matter how scared or tired I got, I was always able to dig deep inside myself and find enough courage and strength to overcome it.

But it was at that exact moment, approximately 4:32 in the morning of Wednesday October 9th, that I realized something profound  – I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was lost.

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

Almost exactly 6 months earlier, I quit my job to travel full-time and move abroad again. I was following my dreams and doing what I loved, right? But why wasn’t I happy? Why was I feeling like this?

long term travel problem

long term travel problem

Wadi Rum, Jordan

How could I feel lost when I thought I finally found my path?

Have you ever felt this way? Am I alone in experiencing this?

It was that moment of self-realization that I finally became aware of a problem I was having. And realization is the first step to recovery right? Isn’t that what they talk about in AA meetings? (Not that I would know….)

At the risk of sounding like a whiny, pretentious little bitch, I was burnt out from too much travel – is that even possible?

Mentally exhausted, I could barely function anymore. 6 months of nonstop travel finally got to me. I was tired of sleeping in a new bed every other night. I was tired of planes and trains and buses and taxis. I was tired of living out of backpack and not being able to wash my clothes whenever I wanted. I was tired of eating food I didn’t make myself.

Stupid things that never bothered me in over 6 years of traveling and living abroad finally got to me. Why now?

long term travel problem

long term travel problem

Jordan

One day a close friend of mine commented on how negative I had become and asked me what was wrong or if something had happened. It hadn’t even occurred to me how much my bubbly, (generally) positive personality had subtly shifted over the past month or two.

It goes with out saying that traveling the world means everything to me; and every moment of every day I remember and I am grateful that I’ve worked hard enough to get to the point where my work and my passion are one and the same. But on that early morning, I realized I hit a big ol’ wall, and I needed to take a step back and reevaluate this path I’ve been barreling down. It couldn’t go on. I needed a light at the end of the tunnel.

This past year has been incredible for me, and realizing my dreams of writing and traveling the world. But I got so caught up in my desire to “make it” as a professional travel blogger, I had started to lose sight of the key aspects of travel that I loved.

I felt like I was offered a seat in a Lamborghini and now it was flying out of control. Was that what I wanted?

long term travel problem

Would I rather have a short-lived blogging career in the backseat of a Lamborghini (do Lamborghinis have backseats?) or a long-term one driving my own vintage mint-colored Vespa that goes 25 mph? 

There on that air mattress, was when it hit me that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Afraid of missing out on something, letting people down or just saying “no”, I  had inadvertently spread myself so thin I reached a breaking point and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. Things couldn’t continue this way.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this is why I haven’t been publishing as frequently as I used to on my blog. My creativity suffered, and as a general rule, if I can’t write something well, I ain’t writing it. Period.

Those 6 months on the road taught me an important lesson – I can’t travel hard and write well at the same time. An article that would have taken only an evening to write and publish 6 months ago now took me weeks.

I needed to find my voice again. I needed to find my creativity again. I needed to find myself again.

long term travel problem

long term travel problem

Melbourne, Australia

Slowing down

It wasn’t til month six of never being in a place for longer than a week that I realized this is not the kind of traveler I am anymore. My travel style has changed and evolved, and I need to be ok with that.

I was rushing. I needed to slow down.

I’ve done so many intense backpacking trips since I was 19, I’ve lost count. The difference between then and now is that back then I always had a home to come back to, time and space to recover between adventures – not anymore.

I’m not cut out to be a global nomad, indefinitely living out a backpack…FOREVER.

That’s not me. That’s not my style.

long term travel problem

long term travel problem

Luxor, Egypt

That being said, I’m also not cut out to be living in an apartment in DC working 9 to 5 either. I want to travel slowly, live abroad and take my time.

It’s not to say I’m throwing in the towel on fast -paced, backpack-style trips, rather that I want to at least have space to recover between them. 6 months in a row without stopping is too much.

Will this change in a few years? Probably.

long term travel problem

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

long term travel problem

Digging deeper

When I went on my first big solo backpacking trip 6 years ago, I felt like there was so much I had to see, that I had been missing out on my whole life, that I needed to catch up and make up for lost time. This meant see as much as possible. Over the years, that idea didn’t change very much for me until recently.

I valued passport stamps more than learning experiences, and counted cities like I was competing. Competing with who?

Are you ready for a massive cliche?

Quality over quantity most definitely applies to travel, at least for this blonde.

long term travel problem

Istanbul, Turkey

It took me a long time to realize this, but I would much rather have a slower, more in-depth and profound trip where maybe I see a lot less, but take away more, than an action-packed trip that flashes by in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, I somehow stepped away from this in exchange for traveling as much as possible and saying yes to every travel opportunity and then some.

Lately the terrifying realization hit me that I couldn’t even remember some of the amazing things I was getting to do. I would literally wake up in the morning and I couldn’t recall what I did the day before, where I was or what I was doing.

This summer in Europe, I found myself saying on an almost daily basis, “Oh wow, this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Oh wait, no, THIS is the most beautiful place, no wait, this is…” On and on and on, til they all blurred together in my head and I could no longer distinguish them.

I HATE THAT! That’s not why I travel!

long term travel problem

I realized that I was doing so much that each amazing, beautiful, one-of-a-kind experience I was having was losing value to me to the point that I couldn’t even remember them, let alone cherish them like I should.

Superficial travel is not for me.

I would rather be a turtle, take my time and really get to know one place, than visit dozens of places in one go just to cross them off a list.

I thrive now on experiential travel, on the people I meet, the stories I hear, the choices I make myself and then any inspiration I can provide later on about those places. I like to take my time in a destination, to dig and really get to know it, not spend a night there and pretend to make major, ground-breaking cultural observations about a place (cough, cough, major travel blogger pet peeve, cough, cough).

For me, in the long run, less is more, maybe not in terms of nutella or cupcakes, but definitely in terms of travel.

long term travel problem

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Prioritizing better 

Subconsciously I think I was aware of this for a long time, since 2011 and my last year in Spain, where I somehow managed to balance both a healthy traveling lifestyle with working abroad.

I think it’s the same reason I dreamed about moving to New Zealand for so long. New Zealand means so much to me I need at least a year to do it justice.

Ultimately, I think that’s why I reached the verge of a breakdown in Europe a month ago – that was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in New Zealand – that’s the goal I spent the past year working towards, and yet I was halfway around the world.

While I don’t regret going to Europe because it opened a lot of doors for me, and hopefully will lead to some big opportunities in the future, I was not emotionally ready to be there. My heart was back in New Zealand.

long term travel problem

Shifting focus

But all is well because I’m back in Wellington! But now what?

Another flaw in my brilliant plan. I spent so much time planning the journey TO New Zealand and dreaming about the day where I can just sit still for a while, now that I am here, I don’t know what to do! Help!

Please comment and tell me where I should be going in the North Island, what I should be doing, who I should be meeting, and most importantly, what I should be shoving in my mouth.

I just moved into a beautiful house that may or may not be falling to pieces but who cares because it’s mine! It overlooks the city and is in a great location, and I’m here at least until February, when I most likely will hoof it down to the South Island.

long term travel problem

long term travel problem

Iceland

Now I want my time here to be all about New Zealand. And maybe Fiji. And Australia. But mostly Kiwi, ok?

This is my time to heal, calm the hell down, and at the risk of sounding like one of those New Age hippies I can’t stand, become balanced again.

Who knows what kind of traveler I will be in a year? Or how I will evolve and grow? Or maybe I will revert back to my 19 year old self again, living off Kinder Bueno bars and Surge while sleeping in airports and never paying my rent on time.

We shall see, dear ones, we shall see.

long term travel problem

View from my crib in Wellington – not too shabby!

And now that I am standing here, at the top of a winding, dark and scary staircase of doom, with god knows what below me, and something terrifying behind me, I look up and realize there was a third way out that I hadn’t noticed before.

A ladder leading up to a bright circle of light. Grasping the bottom rung I haul myself up and begin to climb. Maybe there is a dragon at the top waiting to make me a meal. Maybe it’s Gandalf the White reaching down a gnarly old hand to help me up and pull me towards something amazing.

Only time will tell. Wish me luck!

Have you ever experienced a burnout? From traveling? How did you cope? Has anyone out there gone through something like this? Any advice for me?

long term travel problem

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118 Comments on “The Evolution of a Traveler: My Journey to Self-Discovery (Again)

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  1. I’ve been worried about this for a while—as I embark on my first study abroad journey and afterwards, 2 months of backpacking, I’m scared that it won’t be all I think it is or that I won’t be the person I thought I was! I’m happy you were able to take so much time to figure things out for yourself 🙂

  2. I feel like I went on an emotional rollercoaster just reading it! And I understand where you’re coming from (although I’ve not been travelling for more than 6 months at a time!) I think FOMO plays a huge part in this mentality and it’s hard because there is so many amazing places and countries. But at the same time, the most amazing places and countries for me are the ones I spent the most amount of time as I got to know the place and more importantly the amazing people that make it. Unfortunately, in some ways you will miss out but I feel better knowing I was able to know a place in depth rather than its superficial surface. Really looking forward to reading about your adventures in New Zealand, the kiwi accent is to die-for and obviously, the scenery’s beautiful too, lucky you!

  3. Ah, this is so refreshing to read — probably because I’m in a very similar place. Not necessarily in regards to travel, but I can apply this so much to my life right now. I’m feeling very burnt-out, even though I’m in the middle of my own dream, in a sense, and I realize I was pushing too hard and spreading myself thin. I, too, have recently had to make choices to recalibrate my life and add more of what I love into it and let go of the things that were draining me.

    I think it’s hard when we look around and suddenly realize it’s not everything around us that’s changed, but US. When we realize we want something different. It’s scary and it can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis — that what now? question. But then you push through that, listen to what your life is telling you, and you find a way that your dream works out even better! (Or so I think! I’m still recovering from my recent burnout!)

    I’m really excited to hear about your year in New Zealand… and to learn about NEW ZEALAND. I’m glad that you’ve come to this realization and that you’re being brave in sharing it, too. 🙂

    1. Yeah, when I was trying to find the guts to share this, I realized probably many people could relate to feeling this way about all sorts of things, not travel. Made it an easier decision to share it

      So many New Zealand posts coming soon!

  4. What a long, long way you’ve come! I feel like I’m starting to hit a wall with blogging after a year of non-stop writing and tweeting and connecting (and that GD master’s program). Now that I have time in the mornings, I don’t want to dedicate those hours to blogging or social media. Yes, it’s all been for something, but then I got this job that I actually like and have more time to myself and have a boss who encourages the creative part of my personality. I have a boyfriend who I can now cook for and like it, and still have two months off in the summer.

    Maybe I am settling, maybe the blogging thing was fleeting, and maybe I really should stick to teaching. It took me a year of absolute chaos and rebuilding my confidence after the private school experience to figure it out…kinda. How refreshing it is to be able to try something, learn from it, and keep trying. You’ll find your way!

    1. You’ve been blogging for so long though! It’s hard but sometimes I just want to get back to how I was blogging in Spain, when it was just for me, made it so much easier and more enjoyable

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