As a long term traveller I lead a rather odd life to say the least.

Many people I know don’t really understand what I do or how I can be away for such prolonged periods and to be honest I can understand how they must feel – because there are points where even I have no idea either!

After spending the last month back in the UK (my first time home for nearly 2 years) I headed off again this week back to Asia for the rest of the year.

The nerves I had boarding that plane again and saying goodbye to everyone is something I haven’t felt like for a while – and conjured up questions about my thoughts and feelings about hitting the road again…but it got me thinking – how the hell is all this travel affecting my mental health?!

 

In Limbo

I’ll openly admit that in the list few days I’ve felt very odd and not entirely comfortable with heading out again. It may seem strange as I’m totally in love with travel but returning home gave me a base and some normality to my life again!

jetlag flight long haul gap year backpacker

Away With The Clouds…

In the last week I’ve gone from waking up in my own bed, to waking up at my girlfriends flat in Switzerland. From there I woke up in a buddies apartment in London, on a plane at 30,000 feet, in Bangkok and then on a night bus.

To be blunt it’s been a massive head f*ck!

You know that feeling when you wake up and you have no clue where you are and that everything you’ve done in the last few days seems like a hazy dream?!

Well that’s been my entire last week!

My mind is in total limbo right now and combined with a huge lack of sleep – I think I’ve grabbed about 9hours total in the last 4 days – I’m walking around like some kind of backpacking zombie!

I know it’s a feeling that will fade, but it’s a good reminder of why I still need to slow the pace down. My travels are no longer a rush to tick places, this has turned into a marathon, not a sprint and I need to make sure I don’t try and outrun myself.

 

The Only Constant

angkor-wat-sunset-cambodia

The Girlfriend – It’s a Tough Job But Someone Has To Do It!

One of the biggest mental struggles I think I have – and I’m guessing most long term travellers will have – is that lack of constants in their life, things that help anchor you and give you a clearer perspective on where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re heading.

My lifestyle doesn’t have the constants that my friends lives have. I don’t have a single base, I don’t have a guaranteed and steady income (seriously it can be all over the place) and I don’t even have the security of a close group of friends with me.

In fact apart from my family my girlfriend is pretty much the only constant I have. I chat to her everyday and I think to a large degree she’s one of the only things keeping me sane!

I’ve travelled whilst single before and I’ve always found myself in relationships within a few months,  I guess it’s the best constant to have though – someone you can rely on, someone you can share everything with (admittedly though I am rather closed up most of the time) and someone who helps anchor you to some sort of normality.

I also know this train of thought is also somewhat down to the fact I’m travelling properly solo for the first time since march. I’ve been lucky enough this year to be joined by friends and family for the majority of my times, but once again I’ve found myself going solo and it’s going to take some readjustment of my mindset.

 

Not The Norm

Normality – or what most of the world takes as normal – seems to be the reoccurring theme in my thought process on how I’m dealing with life on the road.

long term travel returning home

Office or Beach?!

It’s not normal to do this.

But how can you really think it’s normal to work all your life in an office? Normal is only what we want it to be and the vast majority of people accept what society considers normal. And we all know what society doesn’t see as normal becomes weird, a threat or outcast.

I guess that’s what us long term travellers have to battle with all the time. People questioning what we’re doing and constantly asking us when we’ll settle down or get a ‘real job’.

If I was to ask you that every other day you’d start doubting your decisions and questioning your choices wouldn’t you?

For me its become very much a case of living in the moment. I don’t really have any long term plans, I really don’t have a huge long term goal.

If you were to ask me what I wanted from life I’d simply reply with the fact I want to be happy, be in the sun and be able to surf.

My priorities in life are very simple!

On one hand I love that side of my thinking and I think the people I’m close to realise it’s part of how I am, but on the other hand I wonder if it’s really the best and most productive way to live…maybe I need a little more structure occasionally?

 

Untold Struggles

gopro beach surf ocean

Sometimes You Just Need To Take A Step Back

What a lot of long term backpackers – and bloggers in particular – don’t tell you is how travel can sometimes suck…and it really can.

Some people really can’t cope with being far away from home, even for a short period of time and I’ve chatted to people who’ve landed in a place, freaked out  not moved around and worked themselves into such a head space they simply bail and head home.

I don’t want to put anyone off travelling but it can happen. You just need to learn how to manage your nerves and feelings.

I haven’t really mentioned it much but mid this year I totally freaked out in my head, call it a mid mid life crisis if you will, where I began to question everything I was doing, where I was heading and I barely spoke to anyone at home for a couple of weeks.

Part of me wondered why I didn’t have a normal job, why I wasn’t living with my girlfriend and why I was seemingly running away from normal life.

In the end I realised the only person that could drag me out of this thought process was me and I surrounded myself with some amazing people, did some pondering on the beach and realised I could change my lifestyle at any moment.

I could fly home anytime I wanted, rent a house, get an office job and become ‘normal’.

But then I look at the issues this life produces. I’ve heard conversations over the last month where incredibly mundane and trivial things I would never think twice about have consumed people and really put then in a bad place.

People in normal live have just as many issues but their escape isn’t as easy.

Going back to normal life is the easy option. I’ve chosen the path with great rewards, but the best things in life are often the hardest to achieve – you need to stick with it and ride out the storm.

 

So How’s Travel Affecting Me?

Well it’s made me reckless and a risk taker – but in the best way possible.

Like the saying goes – you always regret the chances you didn’t take more than the ones you did.

Just make sure if you commit yourself for the long haul you’re ready to take on both sides of the coin…it’s a lifestyle choice where the highs are high and the lows are low, but it’s one ultimately I know was the best choice.

For me I think the only major thing long term travel has done to my train of thought is to broaden it and irreparably affect the way I’m wired. I’m no longer content with 9-5, no longer able to really deal with being in one place for more than a few months and always wanting more and more adventure.

But at the end of the day it’s a positive change.

For now I just have to readjust, get back in the backpacker bubble and rediscover everything what makes me tick…and catch up with some sleep…I think that will definitely help! Luckily I’m about to jump on a dive boat to the Similans – just the ocean and sunsets to distract me and no wifi, it’s exactly the bit of downtime I need.

This is just one side of the mindset too, I’ll ask myself the same question in a few weeks once I’m back in the flow of being a traveller and I’m sure it’ll be a totally different answer!

 

Have any of you guys had any bad moments on the road or suffered from backpacker burnout? Share the love in the comments and we’ll get some group therapy going!

 

 

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22 Responses

  1. libby

    Very honest! I’m on the other side of the coin, working full-time at the moment and wishing I was travelling…guess its important to find a happy medium!
    libby recently posted..Reaching ElysiumMy Profile

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    • Chris

      indeed Libby – as long as your happy with life and can afford the things/experience you want then all is good!

      Reply
  2. Sam

    What’s normal is constantly changing. It didn’t use to be normal for women to have jobs or people of the same sex to get married. Perhaps the lifestyle of constant travel will be one of those things to become accepted by society as normal in the future; who knows?! To be honest, though, I think the more important thing to consider is are you happy? If so, keep on doing what you’re doing. I’m a fan of routine, much more so when I’m travelling than when not, as I think it helps to have the stability of certain daily routines, as minor as they might be.
    Sam recently posted..300 Days of TravelMy Profile

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    • Chris

      Wise words Sam!
      I think now the dust has settled, the sun is out and I’m back on the road I know I’m doing the right thing. After all if it wasn’t the right thing I wouldn’t have done it for 2 solid years already hey?!

      Reply
  3. Michael Huxley

    As you say I think it is all down to what is considered normal. People really underestimate the overt and covert pressure society puts on them to conform to what is thought of as normal, to have a ‘base’, to have a 9 to 5, a salary, do the normal thing and settle down and have 2.4 kids. Yet who says that is normal? Do you not think those who have done that and are stuck in that mundane reality are going through the same mind f***s? Do you not think they wish they could ditch it all and travel like you? I think sometimes Sociopaths have it right, they have no need for soceties norms and rules, they are better than that. So why can’t we? Why can’t we just do what makes us happy instead of doing what society pressures us into thinking is normal? Over the last decade of backpacking I have slowly settled into a shifting pattern of backpacking for extended periods of time whenever I choose, and settling for short periods to work whenever it suits me. I have no wish to do the whole settle down and get a house and 9 to 5 thing and I am happy. I have escaped societies pressures. I don’t need the false security blankets of stability or anything else. I am creating my own social paradigms as I go along and I am better off for it.
    Michael Huxley recently posted..Solo female backpacker safety tips.My Profile

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    • Chris

      touche Michael, touche!
      Love that mindset…glad to know I’ve got the support of everyone and we’re all in the same boat! As Steve Jobs once said – here’s to the non conformists!

      Reply
  4. Christine

    I love this article! I think long term travel changes your normal. We were on the road for a year and I had the biggest desire for structure, even a job. It could have been the societal pressure that could have contributed to this. Well, we have been home for a couple of years now and all I can think about is being on the road again. Awe, the excitement of an adventure and not knowing what will happen next. I think normal is wherever you feel comfortable and where your passion is. Enjoy this next adventure.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Cheers Christine! I think I’m coming to the conclusion that normal is what you make it and also you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I took travel away for a month and it seems I got a little lost. I’ve been back on the road less than a week and I’ve jumped right back in where I left off…with a big smile on my face!

      Reply
  5. Lisette

    Absolutely right, the only one standing in your way is yourself! I think that people, nor things or societies can force others to follow their rules, even though we often feel like they do. That goes for a lot of things and it’s almost a scary thought really. It’s easy to do what someone else would like to see you do, but it’s way more fun to do what you love to do =)
    (on the flip side of the coin, the longest time I’ve travelled solo was 2 weeks – at 16 – and at the end I was pretty much craving a comfortable bed and good food! So I completely understand the confusion when travelling long term..)

    Reply
  6. Roo

    You just described everything I’m feeling at the moment. The decision making process is a tough one and it’s hard to decide whether what I’m doing is what i ‘should’ be doing. But you’re right, who’s to say what is normal? When everyone around you is saying that what you’re doing by constantly jumping around the world is a waste and you should be settling down and getting a ‘real’ job, it’s hard to convince them otherwise. I guess it’s just about following your heart and walking your own path, no matter what anyone else says!
    Roo recently posted..30 Countries Before 30My Profile

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    • Chris

      Always good to hear that I’m not on my own with these trains of thought Roo! We’re an odd bunch us backpackers hey?!

      Reply
  7. Vanessa Workman

    Sometimes extensive ‘roughing’ it really takes it’s toll on my head, but I appreciate the occasional (rare) perks so much more now. I’d like to think I could take this new appreciation and apply it to my old life if and when I ever return. But I’m also looking forward to one day discovering adventures (in my own back yard) with the new eyes of a semi-seasoned traveller.
    But overall, I think not having a solid group of friends to banter with is what I miss most.. so yes I’m glad I joined in this little cyber group therapy. I feel much better now. And thank you for sharing! Great article! :D
    Vanessa Workman recently posted..Dialogue In The Dark, MalaysiaMy Profile

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    • Chris

      hahahaha love the group therapy Vanessa!
      Yeah the friendship thing does suck – but if that’s a sacrifice I have to make to live this lifestyle it’s one I’m willing to accept!

      Reply
  8. Vanessa Workman

    Well I did recently meet a whole slew of interesting folks in Songklha Thailand of all places. A bit of a mix of all types of ‘foreigners’. So I can tell you if you need a ‘fix’ that they seemed like a refreshing one-stop shopping option. And interesting! There are some great little guest houses there as well. Then from there you can pop on down to Langkawi and visit me lah..:D
    Vanessa Workman recently posted..Dialogue In The Dark, MalaysiaMy Profile

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  9. Catherine

    Love this article. Reminds me when I was in oz and after 7 months felt the urge to just go home and see my family and everything that I was used to. Am now planning my next trip out after just one week home

    Reply
    • Chris

      Yeah sometimes it can get like that hey Catherine. Stoked to hear it hasn’t put you off and you’re eager to get back on the road again!

      Reply
  10. Simon

    I’ve just read through your article and thought to myself “I’ve read this before” and I was right I have! but the first time I read it was before starting my 12 month around the world trip (which I finished last week) I have to admit its been hard, but at the same time what an amazing world we live in! in relation to the topic “how is travel affecting my health” this first week home for me and it has been the worst I have felt in the whole year (the shits, headaches, aching, razor blades in my stomach).. whether it is one giant come down from travelling or just by pure fluke I catch an illness in perfect timing for my mother to nurse me better I don’t know! haha either way life in my home town of North Wales is grim.. the streets are quite, there is no life here. I’ve took another 12 months off work and am heading straight back out on that traveller scene, this year I’m going to go slooooooow! 25 countries I done last year in 12 months, but I wouldn’t have done it any differently. The people I met along the way made the trip what it is, Amazing. One quote I live by and share amongst over travellers is… “we’re here for a good time, not a long time!” take care man,

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Simon,
      Welcome back to the site!hahaha!
      I actually got the same when I first got home, had more issues with my stomach than on the road! Weird hey!? Yeah maybe its just a travel comedown!
      Glad to hear you have the travel bug now and you’re planning the next adventure – where are you heading?
      Love that quote! Might have to steal it!

      Reply

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