A Life of Perpetual Travel
How to Know When Enough is Enough
If Facebook Pages are any indication, 10 billion people “like” travel. Is there anything we like more in the world? (Ok — don’t answer that.) Most of us enjoy visiting new places and exploring different cultures, but one of the reasons we are so drawn to travel is certainly the mystique of “getting away from it all.”
We’ve somehow convinced ourselves, albeit subconsciously, that we can travel away from our problems.
At face value, travel is exhilarating and fun. It allows us to come alive in a unique way. It helps us exist in the present moment (carpe diem!).
It’s also an escape.
A universal ideal people hold about travel is that by briefly changing our geographic location, things will be different when we get home. We’ve all said or thought the same at one time or another.
For digital nomads, in particular, a life of perpetual travel can be a dangerous trap. An endless closed loop where enough is never enough. A quest for an insatiable collection of passport stamps.
The saying “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” really applies here.
Do you have a problem with travel addiction? Read on to see what you can do about it.
Why Does Everyone Like to Travel?
Travel can give us freedom and new insights into old problems. It also helps change our perspectives on ourselves and the world. However, over many years of globetrotting, I’ve learned that travel tends to pave the way to rapidly uncovering some deeply personal struggles.
As with money, we think that if we could just travel more, things would get better. And, as with money, at a certain point, we can expect to experience diminishing returns on the sense of joy and utility that disposable income, material things, and even travel provide.
Regardless, when financially and otherwise feasible, human beings can pursue travel at a rate where it becomes addicting and habitual. Some nomads compare the number of their passport stamps like it’s a badge of honor. Many choose their next destination based solely on crossing another country off their bucket list. But this isn’t a particularly healthy pattern.
Passing through a new country for a few hours, just to say you’ve been there, isn’t particularly meaningful.
On the other hand, there’s real value in returning to a country you’ve been to before with the intention of deepening your sense of cultural understanding.
The concept of escaping or replacing our problems with buying a one-way ticket somewhere certainly defies logic, conventional wisdom, and our own better judgement. Yet we tend to fantasize that it could be different for us.
Psychology calls this optimism bias.
One thing’s for sure:
Go far enough in one direction, and you’ll end up back where you started.
How Much Is Too Much?
Are digital nomads lying to ourselves about why we like to travel?
The only way to find out is to diagnose the symptoms.
You might be traveling too much if any of these sound familiar:
- Waking up somewhere and not knowing where you are.
- Experiencing weight gain and fatigue.
- Drinking and socializing more than you should.
- Consistently prioritizing travel over anything else: work, romantic relationships, self-care, etc.
- Continually operating in the urgent/important quadrant of work and life.
- Feeling stress or anxiety over upcoming travel plans.
- Spending outside of your travel budget.
- Spending a disproportionate amount of time planning travel versus working or enjoying life.
- Getting homesick.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Feelings of depression and hopelessness.
- Regularly thinking about where you’re going next versus enjoying where you are.
- Feeling FOMO when looking at social media, even though you’re living “the dream.”
If any of those resonate, it’s for a reason. Studies now indicate that extensive business travel is actually associated with increased risk of disease.
Risks that travelers can be exposed to in general include:
- Food-borne illnesses
- Civil and political unrest
- Sleep interruption
- Unhealthy food and drink choices
- Lack of regular exercise
Harvard Business Review published results of a strong correlation found between the frequency of business travel and health risks. Results from their study include:
- Higher than average BMI
- Clinical symptoms of depression
- Higher blood pressure
- Alcohol dependence
- Trouble sleeping
Travel as a digital nomad falls somewhere in between mandatory business travel and fun leisure travel. But even voluntary trips can have detrimental effects.
How Can We Deal with Travel Addiction in a Healthy Way?
The first step is admitting there’s a problem — something I’m starting to see hints of online as long-term traveling professionals enter what has come to be known as “Digital Nomad 2.0.” Additionally, as the industry of online influencers matures, some jet-setting social media stars have begun to open up about their struggles to cope with the lifestyles they created.
You may notice that some people you follow online are burning out or taking social media breaks. This isn’t much different than when pop stars take time off after a grueling world tour.
So, as digital nomads, we need to:
- Become intimate with our inner selves.
- Recognize when we’re going too far (no pun intended).
- Learn to find balance.
- Know when it’s time to slow down or stop traveling wholly or temporarily.
We also need to recognize the signs of burnout, listen to our intuition, and learn to be selective about opportunities to go on trips or attend events. As Mark Manson preaches, it’s either fuck yes or no.
Some of my top tips for accomplishing this:
Travel Less. Travel Slower.
Some remote workers like to set a 1-month minimum for each new country they visit, while others like to go to a new place every week (although I think that’s the fastest way to a digital nomad burnout). There are also those who set a minimum of 2–3 months per destination. The key is to figure out what works for you.
It recently dawned on me that I’ve been traveling too much because I literally turned down an invite to the World Cup. When you’d rather stay home, sleep, and work instead of jetting off to the Olympics of soccer, you know you’ve probably overdone it. 😳
Slow travel is the most sustainable way to make a nomadic life work for you without feeling like your head is spinning.
Create a Home Base on the Road
As a veteran digital nomad, I’ve found it super helpful to maintain a home base somewhere central to my destination. This way, I can eliminate the mental and physical burden of lugging all my belongings around and packing/unpacking everything I own even for short trips.
For the past 3 months, my home base was in Bulgaria, which allowed me to take stress-free side trips with just a carry-on. It also helped me stay productive and revert to a routine after each trip was over.
Go Home Sometimes
If you’re fully nomadic and haven’t been home in 6 months or more than a year, it could be time for you to go home for a visit. This can be a rejuvenating experience that helps offer clarity and put things in perspective.
Plan Time to Connect with Friends and Family at Home
Traveling and crossing time zones constantly can be hectic and disorienting. Before you know it, weeks or months have passed without FaceTiming your family members or closest friends. Make sure to set a day every week or month to connect with the people who know you the best. Don’t be a stranger!
Limit Time on Social Media
Everyone can benefit from less time on social media, but this is even more relevant for digital nomads. If you’re out traveling the world, it’s important to stay connected online, but it’s just as important to experience the world offline. Set some limits and keep a balance to stave off a social media-induced funk.
Don’t Party Too Much
Sounds flippant, but this topic can turn quite serious. While traveling long-term, you’re more likely to meet transient types than locals. It’s not normal to go out every night. Just because you feel lonely or everyone around you is on holiday, doesn’t mean you should partake as much as they are.
The last thing digital nomads need is a substance abuse problem. At a minimum, alcohol is a depressant. If you go out too much and overindulge, you could end up feeling like something’s off without being able to pinpoint why.
Spend Time in Nature
A life of constant travel is inherently ungrounding, while nature is, well, grounding. Nature provides a host of benefits such as calming the mind and reducing stress and blood pressure. If you’re feeling frantic from travel, sometimes a good dose of nature is just what the doctor ordered.
Spend Time Doing Nothing
On a similar note, traveling can be really time-consuming. Sometimes the best moments come when you’re sitting on a park bench, people-watching or wasting the day away in a cafe with a good book. Make sure you have some downtime and aren’t always on the move.
Design a Daily Routine That Works While Traveling
Human beings also thrive with a regular routine. If you don’t have one, the effects will catch up with you in some form. Try your best to maintain a consistent bedtime, mealtime, and work schedule.
Incorporate Elements of Your Old Routine
Often, when people become digital nomads, they drop their old daily habits and patterns, as new experiences or living in survival mode take priority.
At some point, you may start to lose a sense of who you are. It’s important to be yourself and retain some habits and characteristics that remind your brain of who you’ve been for the past few decades.
Take a Break from Traveling
Sometimes, the answer is simply to stop traveling until you get bored and feel the urge to move again. In 2015, I went home to Florida for 1.5 years before deciding to return to a fully nomadic way of life.
With Florida as my home base, I would often spend weeks or a month there in between trips. This allowed me to blend into a regular pace of domestic life, join a gym, and make friends who weren’t just passing through.
Get Involved in the Local Community
Traveling is an excellent opportunity to help others who are less fortunate. Volunteering also has the added benefit of increasing dopamine levels and making you feel good.
In addition to philanthropy, it’s also helpful to join a local co-working space or link up with other digital nomads so you can step into a social circle of like-minded people with things in common.
For some ideas of how to get involved, check out my articles, “The 15 Best Digital Nomad Communities for Networking” and “Is Co-Living the Future of Housing?”
Remember Why You Started Traveling in the First Place
If you don’t know why you’re traveling, you won’t know when it’s time to slow down or stop.
- Are you traveling for fun?
- To meet new people?
- To learn?
- To find the best croissant in France? 🥐🇫🇷
- To lower your cost-of-living?
What are you doing out here? 😉
Make sure you have a clearly defined WHY so you can recognize when you’re getting off track.
Travel burnout is a thing. At some point, the other shoe will drop, or the chickens have to come home to roost… or something like that.
While going forth into the world can shed light on our problems, it can also serve as a distraction that allows us to procrastinate on doing anything to actually solve them. Consider dealing with whatever is bothering you before applying for a passport. It will help you enjoy the journey that much more.
Are you using travel as a distraction in some way? Let’s discuss in the comments!