Monday, February 16, 2015

Travel Fatigue After 11 Months on the Road

I wrote this out while hiding in a much-needed private room in Chengdu, China, when the little frustrations of daily travel life were beginning to take their toll on my mental sanity.  This was just prior to some very necessary days with some familiar faces from the States and three blissfully relaxing weeks in Bali with my Portuguese pirate.  It bears sharing in its honesty.  Burnout happens, and at that point I had to just put my head down and charged forward, until I reached the "break" I had put out there for myself.  In another situation, perhaps I would have just stopped and gone straight to visit friends, or return to a more familiar, comfortable destination and camp out there for a while.


Mere days after I hit the eleven-month anniversary of my travels, as I found myself collapsing onto my fourth bed in a week's time, I felt absolutely exhausted, grouchy, and overwhelmed at the thought of making the regular series of decisions that I have to tackle on a regular basis:  Where will my next stop be?  How will I get there? How much longer will I be in this city? What should I do tomorrow? Where should I find food?  

While this journey has been an absolute dream of mine, and while I'm truly enjoying every step of the way, it bears acknowledgement that feelings of burnout were likely to occur at some point along the way, given the duration of my travels.  I had already experienced something akin to homesickness, a longing for a space of my own, familiarity, a routine - without wanting to give up traveling or return home.  But after a few days of rest and relaxation in Northern Thailand, I forged ahead, racing through Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, with a very brief stop back in Bangkok as I made my way towards Hong Kong and perhaps my most intimidating destination of my entire trip:  mainland China.  I had been so good about forcing myself to stop and stay in one place early on in my travels - spending a full three weeks in my own apartment in Buenos Aires, followed by nearly five weeks based out of Aveiro, Portugal, very shortly thereafter.  Since then, I have hardly stayed in one place for a week.  In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I actually succeeded in doing so, most being prior to my run through the aforementioned countries.  

At this point I do have some rest and relaxation ahead, but it's still a little under three weeks away, when I have a full three plus weeks of beach time in Indonesia.  That doesn't sound too far off, but that is also the entirety of the duration I have remaining here in China.  While it would be tempting to just stay in one place a few extra days and get in some necessary recovery time, I don't want to miss the opportunity to see some of the incredible sites that I came all the way to China to see and experience.  Which is truly the conundrum of any traveler, especially the long term one - how to balance seeing and doing and experiencing with sanity-saving days off?

I'm going to try and push through for the next few weeks - I'm still resolved to see the terra-cotta warriors in Xi'an, spend time with my friend Amy in Shanghai, and visit the Great Wall and the Forbidden City in Beijing.  But perhaps I don't have to overextend myself and do too much else.  I have to try not to overly pack my days full, or I risk collapsing into a terrible mood that's some horrific hybrid of hanger and exhaustion.  


Looking back, I did overextend myself, nearly reaching a breaking point a couple of stops later in Zhangye.  But that's also where I found some sort of stubborn resolve and fought back.  I began my mental recovery when I set foot in Shanghai, a more comfortable city for a Westerner, and a place where I would stay with a friend from home.  I found another familiar face in Beijing, and that was enough to carry me through, to end my stay in China on a positive note, before my mid-trip vacation in Indonesia.  But, more on those things to come...

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