Gaining the Wonder of Travel

taking a photo in tongariro new zealandA few months ago I was in a slump. After 4 years on the road, I was a bit burnt out. Since my last “rest” I’d been traveling for 11 months solid. That’s a long time to go without a breather. I wrote about how I had lost the wonder of travel. As I said:

“The more I travel, the more I realize travel is the only thing I want to do and I would never trade my lifestyle for a cubicle. But eventually travel does become repetitive – more trains, more waterfalls, more beaches, more, more, more. I’ve been lost, I’ve done the hostel thing, I’ve ridden on trains, I’ve explored jungles, seen bridges, and got drunk with people from around the world. I’ve partied, I’ve slept, I’ve met thousands of faces I’ll never see again, I’ve taken day trips and explored ruins – in short, I’ve done all these activities over and over again. And that repetition can sometimes take the glitz out of travel.“

The only remedy that works when I’m feeling this way is a break. Sometimes when you do something so much, it can take the shine off it. It becomes…work. Travel became work for me. I knew it was becoming tedious, and soon everyone was telling me the same thing. “Stop and relax”, they said. “There’s no reason to push yourself.” And they were right.

I’ve spent the summer in New York City and the months have flown by. It only seems like yesterday that I was landing in NYC for TBEX. Now August is coming to an end and I am heading to see family in Boston. I’m sad to leave New York. But it was a great break.

One thing I am ready for is to travel again. Living a non-nomadic lifestyle was great. It gave me time to relax, get some work done, catch up with friends, and become a local again. To me, travel isn’t about moving. It’s about getting to know a place. I got to know New York a bit better this summer.

But my true nature is that of a nomad. I love life on the road. It’s part of who I am. After two months in one place, I’m ready to be back out there. My mind is churning with new trip ideas. I’ve been planning trip after trip. There are a million ideas racing through my mind again. In October, I sling on my backpack and hit the open road again. I have a month to prepare, and a conference to attend, and before I know it, I’ll be off again. The countdown begins.

My friend Scott once said that when something becomes a grind, it’s not worth doing anymore. You need to take a break. He was right. Whether you’re a painter, teacher, traveler, office worker, or programmer, spending too much time on one task isn’t good. The brain and body need a break. Otherwise, you’ll get burnt out. That happened to me. I got burnt out on travel and I needed a break.

Travel burn out does happen. You don’t need to be a four-year traveler to feel it. Even on a short trip, running around constantly can lead to travel burn out. When that happens, it’s often best to stop and relax. Stay in one place and get to know it. Soon you’ll be getting itchy travel feet again. After a while, things can begin to feel like just “another.” Another waterfall, another city, another this, and another that. And when that happens, you lose the wonder and beauty of traveling. In a way, it becomes meaningless. You don’t appreciate where you are or what you are doing. For me, I was simply going through the motions.

Taking a rest when you’re on the road lets you gain the wonder of travel again. Now, I’ve had my rest and I’m ready to get out there. It’s time to explore the world again. If New York has taught me anything, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. To be a traveler, you don’t always have to be on the move. You can simply be discovering something new. After a while, you can move on again and appreciate just how wonderful the journey really is.

  1. Matt,

    I know we don’t ‘know’ each other, but I just had that feeling for the first time myself, after only traveling for 3 months. I stopped for a bit, and now I wish the money didn’t run out (or I had my travel site complete ;)), because what I always thought was true, actually – is: Once a traveler, always a traveler. :) As with anything else, we just have to keep a balance!

    Thanks for another great post! :)


  2. I have not experienced the amount of travel as you have, but even when I get away from any sort of travel for a time I get antsy and want to get back on a train or bus and go exploring. Granted your breaks probably need to be longer than mine, but I can understand what you mean. We all need a break from things now and then even if it means taking a break from what you love the most.

  3. Anything that you do a lot of can become routine and a grind…and that includes travel. Breaks are necessary and I find the longer we’re on the road the more I enjoy moving slowly and taking time off to work, explore a city more thoroughly and be able to make my own breakfast in the morning. I agree with you – the best thing to do is listen to what your body and mind need.

    We’re leaving tomorrow for Berlin to spend 7-8 weeks there. So while I consider this “taking a break from the road” it really is just spending more time exploring a city. Then we have to figure out how to escape winter in Europe and get back on the road…

    • NomadicMatt

      I always love when you comment on these posts. You and Dan travel as much as I do so I always loving seeing your thoughts. Again, we seem to be on the same page :)

  4. As always, I appreciated your insights in this post, and it made me reflect on our family’s decision to plug back into our community after a year on the road. Having school-age kids enhances appreciation both for travel and for the things that are hard to gain on the road: school routines, neighbors and neighborhood familiarity, traditions, making a house a home, participating in and helping out with community causes, etc. Being back home enhances my appreciation for our year away and gives me itchy feet; conversely, living a nomadic one-bag lifestyle for a year enhanced our appreciation for things back home. It’s more of a balance between home and long-term travel that our family seeks rather than being nomadic with occasional breaks, and we hope to make it a cycle of long-term travel, home again, road again, etc.

  5. After 5 months I’m surprised that I’m on the cusp of burnout. Although I’m following Andi’s suggestion and looking into volunteering. I think the burn out is coming from a lack of connectedness to anything or anyone as I’m traveling solo.

    But I’m with you, I can’t bear to see another waterfall right now.

  6. Michael

    I know this feeling all too well. A few months ago I spent four months in Buenos Aires doing exactly what you did, just getting to know a city. A few months more of travel and I decided to was time to visit home and spent four months in the states.

    I think it’s important to have a mental break even if it’s doing what you love.

    Glad to hear you had a good time in NYC. Sucks we didn’t get to hang out more. See you on the road perhaps.

  7. I have just started traveling, but plan to keep it up for at least a few years. Since I really like to get to know places I am visiting, I plan on spending 2-4 months in most places with shorter breaks of more intense travel in between.

  8. Billy

    Nice Post Bro…

    I remember my dad took a ‘trip’ a few years back. He did something like 14 countries in 11 days… CRAZY!!! There is a definite HUGE difference between being a ‘tourist’ – and trying to cram as many places/experiences into a short space as possible, and a ‘traveller’ – who really gets to know every place he/she visits.

    For my wife and I we try to spend at least 1 month, 3 if possible, to really get to know the place. If we don’t know the names of the people at the local pub, dairy, café… we don’t feel like we have really gotten to know a place.

    This certainly slows things down for us, so when we do venture to a new place, we feel ready for it, and thus appreciate it much more.

    I read a quote a while back (and please someone correct me if I’m wrong, and tell me who wrote it) – “The world is a book and those who do not travel – read but a page.”

    Awesome site Matt, keep up the journey as long as you can…


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