Losing the Wonder of Travel

By Nomadic Matt | Published June 13th, 2010

the great coast of cairnsLast month, I was traveling Greece with a friend. My friend is sort of a travel newbie. While not her first time in Europe, it was her first time traveling without the comfort of her family or a group of friends. It was her first backpacking adventure and everything we did, everywhere we went, everything we saw was exciting, breathtaking, and wondrous to her. There was always a sense of awe on her face. One day in Athens, noticing I lacked that awe, she asked me “Do you still ever get excited about a place? You seem so unexcited.” “Of course! When I go to a new place, I love to explore!” I replied. “It’s just that I’ve been to Athens already.” But the implications of her question got me thinking and I realized I envied her and all the other new travelers I meet on the road. For them, travel is new- a wondrous moment that brings some awe inspiring moment and new experience around every corner.

But, for me, travel is not new. Travel is a lifestyle- an endless journey that I live every day. Some people get up and go to work. I get up and go to a new city. My travels aren’t a defined round the world trip with a start and finish date- it’s continuous. My friend’s question got me thinking- at some point, do we, the endless nomads, lose that sense of wonder and awe? Have I lost that sense of wonder? I don’t mean that those who spend years on the road lose their desire and love of travel- far from it. 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, it 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 the trains, 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, taken day trips, explored ruins- in short, I’ve done all the activities, over and over again.

beautiful Eiffel towerAnd that repetition can sometimes take the glitz out of travel. It even happens on those defined round the world trips. I remember watching A Map for Saturday (a great movie about round the world trips) and even the characters talk about how late in their trips they suffered from that feeling of “things just being another”.

And so I think- have I lost the wonder of travel? Has that awe gone out of me? And, sadly, the answer is yes. It has. The wonder is gone. My love for travel hasn’t gone anywhere. And that’s not to say that there aren’t places in the world that awe and inspire me. I still get awed by moments in life. I was blown away scuba diving in Fiji. I was awed by the rice terraces in Bali. Hiking the Tongariro in New Zealand is one of the best things I’ve done. And 4 yrs later I am still in love with the Cinque Terre.

But while places still blow me away, the act of traveling – that adventurous feeling of the first time on the road – has left me. When travel became a lifestyle, it didn’t become a permanent adventure, it just became my life. Travel is what I do. A few days ago, I told some people in a hostel about my blog. “You have the coolest job ever!” they replied. But I just think of it as life. The sense of wonder I had stepping into new cities, trying to figure out guidebook maps, meeting people in hostels- it’s gone. Not fully but just a little bit. Sometimes I just don’t want to see a new city or go exploring. Sometimes I just want to watch True Blood.

But, as they say, such is life. When you do something long enough, maybe that is what happens. Whether travel, playing tennis, teaching- do something enough and it becomes a routine. And once it’s routine, it loses its wonder. And even though I’ve lost those initial feelings you get when you start your trip, seeing it on the faces of others reminds me how life changing travel can be sometimes and, why even without that feeling of awe, I wouldn’t change a thing about this life I’ve chosen. However, sometimes it is good to simply take a break, relax, breathe, sleep, and get your energy back.

And in two weeks from now, I’ll be itching to get back on the road and wondering what the hell I was bored about in the first place.

comments 55 Comments

Maybe you need a break Matt, a couple of weeks in a cube farm in a non-descript town doing the 9 to 5. Then get back out there and feel the wonder.
Seriously though, there’s nothing so wrong about feeling what you’re doing is a routine. A lifestyle that has become a comfortable one can feel quite ordinary, but that doesn’t make it bad. Only you know if travel is still the right thing to be doing, and I don’t reckon you need anyone to tell you if that’s the case. A good read.

NomadicMatt

I’m actually moving to NYC over the summer and I’m pretty excited to be in one place for awhile.

I understood what you’re saying even if right now, I’m dying to be a professional traveler. I experienced that in seeing to many chateaux in France and too many temples in Japan or scuba diving every weekend in Batangas. We all need a little break from everything, even wonderful travels.

A traveler I hosted who has been traveling for 15 years when I met him 3 years ago. Sometimes he settles down in a place and take some kind of job just to take a break from traveling. I think this is a good way to recharge and maybe you’ll get back some of the glitz.

On the other hand, I can’t wait for my wonderment to start as I hit the road in a couple of months time. Cheers! :)

The best way to recharge those glitz batteries is getting a job at a shitty call center for 3 months. After that time you feel the need for freedom, and then the glitz will shine again.

It worked for me after i came back from traveling central america.

NomadicMatt

I’m heading to NYC for a few months! It’s going to be my rest.

You can trade lives with me anytime, Matt :-)

Seriously, I do think it’s perfectly normal to lose the ‘glow’ and first-time wonderment of traveling. Which is why I think it’s important to show new travelers some of the delights that you’ve seen. You can see and relive the memories through them. They say the best way to be childlike, is to be with other children and see things through their eyes.

Maybe you do need to take a break – a different city every day? That would be get really old fast. Why not take a few months off and just stay put in one place and absorb the local atmosphere more?

NomadicMatt

I think much of it has to do with the fact I’ve been on the move so much the last few months.

Maybe the answer is to travel with others, like you did in Greece. You get to experience the wow and awe factors again through the viewpoint of someone that hasn’t been to that particular place. Seeing the Parthenon might not be exciting by yourself, but with someone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a whole new experience!

Locals and other travelers will get so excited telling us about such and such church or museum or ruins…and we’ll find an excuse for why we can’t go. We’ve become a bit jaded on all those things. But, then we’ll get off the bus in a new place and just feel a different vibe or energy in the market (or wherever) and think, “Now, this is fun and why I travel.” It reaffirms that we’re not too jaded :)

When travel becomes a lifestyle it’s natural that there are certain things that do become repetitive and feel like groundhog day. Being a traveler full-time is also tiring since you’re constantly observing, taking in data and trying to make sense of what’s around you. The longer we travel, the less I like to travel quickly and I like to take breaks from the road and spend more time in places.

NomadicMatt

Hearing that this happens to you too makes me feel a lot better.

mich

Maybe this is the time to take it easy. Time to stay in one place till that travel bug kicks in once again.

NomadicMatt

Well, I could have listed more but it would have gotten boring to read. Simply put though I don’t limit my definition but I think it’s just time for a break. Too much moving lately.

I don’t hear depression or concern in your words, Matt, just acknowledgment. And I’ve thought of that too…there’s really nothing like the first time you experience travel and begin to unfold the wonder of it. Rome, when I hadn’t been out of the country for 20 years, was the most magnificent, thrilling, fascinating place I’d ever been in. I was alive with wonder. I barely wanted to sleep, so focused was I on absorbing every moment. And it set us on a track to continue to travel, searching for more of that kind of experience.

But once you do, the romance fades a bit. Tons of new experiences to be had, for sure, but it’s kinda like any relationship–it becomes more predictable, known. Which isn’t to say there aren’t new layers to explore…

Great post and a feeling my wife and I have felt as well. To some degree I think a search for that same feeling of wonder is what drives many people to continue traveling to new places.

I completely understand what you are saying here. You can get so complacent and nonchalant about travel all after awhile, although I could never give it up as there are too many other great things about it that outweigh these emotions. While I was reading this I thought how much it sounded like a marriage or relationship, and I don’t mean in a bad way. But the first year or so, everything about your new love is amazing and wonderful and then you just slip into the routine of it all, and the wonder leaves somewhat. The love doesn’t go, as you were saying, but the newness has left. It just moves into a different stage. And moments of awe and wonder return. You just have to find new ways to do things,and different sorts of adventures to have. Go to Africa Matt- you’ll get the awe and wonder back real quick. There’s nothing like first time travel to Africa!

James Craven

NM:

Having been in the travel business for over 30 years, I’ve hit the wall and lost the wonder from time to time. The thing that really renewed my enthusiasm was having kids and taking them on trips; that wide-eyed wonder of your kid when he finally get’s to see Mickey for “real”, that first flight, “those are really houses down there”, the monuments in Wash DC, the Liberty bell, snorkeling a Caribbean reef, “Would you die if you fell overboard, Dad?” on the first cruise, “cool stuff, Dad!”. Anyway, next time you’re feeling burnt or under-wondered, replay this clip, http://youtu.be/rOzNrO54xsY then grab you passport and head out…

JSC

NomadicMatt

I think I’ll pass on the kid for now :)

TradingMyStuffs

Travel is a sign a of good trade.. Live your life to the fullest, and discover a fraction of your life’s never ending journey!

In a word: yup. My travel friends and I often sit around talking about how to get that “spark” back. Kinda like being married for a long time… For me, I only started to get butterflies in my stomach again when I settled down outside the US for the first time for more than six months. When I participated in a tradition so “local” that my Spanish teacher, who’s been here 15 years, hadn’t even heard of it, etc. I have all of these firsts that would be odd to explain but, hey, I got the spark back. I can’t wait to read how you get yours back, Matt!

NomadicMatt

I like the marriage analogy. Yeah, me and travel need to rekindle our marriage a bit.

Cris Campos

Carlo’s second paragraph here says it all!
Just like you, Matt, say you’ve been to Athens before (and don’t feel excited about it because of that), there are places I have been several times and, believe it or not, I still have the same feeling of awe of the very first time.
Wonder is not necessarily about something being new, it’s on the inside.

The first time I traveled in Europe, Rome just rocked my world. I wonder if I’ll feel like that again. I mean, I was running around that city with a perma-grin and years later it’s still one of my fondest memories. The first time you travel it is magical. There’s nothing like it. I brought my friend to Cancun (his first time outside the country) and I had been there so many times before — there’s just no way it’s going to be the same for me. I mean he’s like, “Holy Crap! You’re speaking Spanish and people understand you!” Yeah, I’ve been studying and living in Spanish speaking countries (at that time) for a year. And I’m like, eh, it’s Cancun.

No advice here, but I do like the advice up thread about having babies. I hear it’s the hot new travel accessory. ;)

I recently interviewed Robin Esrock of Word Travels and asked him how he stays enthusiastic about traveling after 5 years? He said, “I try to remember that most people would kill to be in my position.” Pretty wise, and any new person I meet and talk about my travels with remind me of this gift constantly.

kbok

actually, i think that your description of loss of ‘awe’ in travel is not limited to travel alone. many of your readers may echo similar sentiments since they too are travelers, but you said it quite well.. travel for you has become a job, a lifestyle, so it no longer gives you that shock and awe value as it may have in the beginning. i think this can translate to other careers too… maybe food writers used to be excited to try new restaurants in the beginning, but after years , eating is simply their job and it has lost its awe as well. i dont know what the solution is, but perhaps taking a break or exploring a different routine or lifestyle for awhile may peak your interest in a different hobby, or renew your awe and lust for travel again.

NomadicMatt

I think a lot of it has to do with the whole travel is a lifestyle. I plan on staying put in one place for awhile. That helps a lot and it’s time to recharge the batteries.

I’ve been on the road for over 7 years and haven’t lost the wonder yet. I think it has a lot to do with pace. Whenever I travel quickly (as I did in Thailand this year) then I tire myself out and even the prettiest scenery can be just like the last one since I’ve seen so many in succession.

However, with 3 month stays I get to live the normal pace of life with locals and then in my first week I am back in travel mode again and arriving in a new city I am in awe of its beauty and of all the amazing new things going on. Awe is so hard to maintain, if you feel it every day it doesn’t become awe any more! Making sure it happens just every few months helps me make it feel real ;)

This is the same in any field, not just travel (as pointed out above). You simply cannot keep up the awe continuously. The solution of taking a break is the best one by far. You can take a break but still be a traveller though :)

Christina

I’ve been backpacking for a year. I’ve lost my sense of wonder since a few weeks. This feeling is legitimate when you’ve been on the road for a while in my opinion. You need to find a balance.
I think it’s time for a proper break… at home. But I’m scared of going home! I’ll miss the road after 2 weeks. I’m afraid of getting stuck and never travel anymore if I don’t do it NOW. But I don’t enjoy my travels as much as I should now.
Like you, I couldn’t think of doing anything else than traveling! I just feel like a vagabond at heart.

Awesome article Matt, I can totally relate. I’m home now after 15 months backpacking, I’m glad I only did a few countries as it leaves big continents still open for exploration in my future, a lot of people try to see every main attraction in the world in a year and I think this can be a mistake.

As for a suggestion I’m going to advise you challenge yourself, something that makes you a bit uncomfortable and seems adventurous, travel isn’t this for you anymore, but the term ‘travel’ is so broad there is plenty more opportunity.

For example if I told you I won a NASA competition to go to the moon and asked you to come with me, you’d be excited right? But after 3 months staring (literally) into space in a small pod, we’d both be pretty bored and desire a Big Macsome familiarity. That’s just natural.

Well people and learning about cultures is the first interest for myself. After awhile all those sites are just stone and foundations. And, a city is just that a noisy city with cars honking and people overly busy.

Ariane

Um Matt, I would gladly trade places with you. Just say when.

pam

Matt, I don’t really know what your days look like, but my sense is that you don’t really take time off from whatever it is you call “work” to do whatever it is you call “play.”

There’s a huge difference in trying to run your business while roaming, keeping your blog updated all the while, and just going free fall into the pure joy of travel. The shine is off of Athens maybe not just because it’s not new, but because it’s another day at the office. There’s a lot of well intentioned snark above about three months in a cube farm, but when the world is your cube farm, well, you’re in a cube farm. Maybe you just need a vacation, a real old fashioned vacation.

Matt, it’s like anything. You do it long enough, it can get old.

Honestly I’ve had the same thing happen to me with living on the boat. I dreamed about living on a sailboat and then when it happened I was over the moon. When I tell people they are always so amazed and say things like “wow you are living the dream!”. In my head I’m thinking, yeah but I have to hand pump my own toilet, sometimes I slip & fall on the rounded floor and sometimes I have to avoid the crazy, nut job security guard here that takes his job what too seriously. That’s how I know, i’ve become jaded to it.

But then a mama duck decided yesterday to make the dinghy next to our boat home for her and her 9 little babies (now only 7 :( ). Some of the babies got stuck and I had to help them out.

Suddenly the spark was back. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t living on a boat. Now all the babies are floating around our boat – it’s so cute!

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes you need a break and sometimes you need a fresh perspective. After your NYC break maybe tackle travel on a different level. Do something you haven’t done before travelwise – and i don’t mean just go somewhere new. Do something totally unique. I’m not sure if you’ve volunteered in the past but that could be a huge change for you. Or maybe pick up a new hobby you can take on the road – like sailing. then give it a go sailing to different ports.

These are just ideas but my thought is if you look at it differently you might be able to get a bit of a spark back.

Buck up friend, things will get better. :)

A valid point and a great post. While I get inspired by places, I am such more in awe when I meet new and interesting people. Travel is just one way that that can come about, especially if you are traveling alone. However, I have never felt any inspiration akin to that of meeting amazing, awesome and interesting people. Maybe it’s just me. Are you getting to know lots of people on your travels? Maybe that can add some wonderment back into your travels?

NomadicMatt

Sometimes I feel like I’m meeting too many people! When you backpack through hostels, you meet people every day.

Dan

I know that feeling about meeting so many people! After a while I came to know them as disposable friends, the people that you genuinely connect with yet realise you may never see again. Not in a harsh way, there just isn’t enough mindshare to stay connected with everyone you meet! They can last a day, weeks, or even last months. I would go through cycles of meeting new people all the time and then either stay in one place for a bit or go off on a tangent with someone for a while. It can be hard work meeting new people all the time and going through the inevitable first meeting questions every day!

NomadicMatt

Ahhh the first meeting questions. I should wear a shirt that says where I’m from, what I do, where I’ve been, how long I’ve been traveling, and lastly, my name!

I think breaks are essential to anyone considering travel as a lifestyle – otherwise, as you say, it becomes unexciting from day to day. I think your time in NYC will be good, and you’ll again feel the excitement of travel when you leave.

Roaming Ross

I agree with Matt above me, a break will do you good. Staying still a while, seeing the same faces, meeting with friends in the same places and waking up in the same bed will really charge those batteries.

After a while those travel juices will start flowing again and you will be back out on the road, fresh and ready to go :)

Ant

Nice piece of honest writing, Matt. As you know, I’ve been travelling a while and I’m still hungry for more. When I was reading this, it did strike me that you perhaps needed a break, or a change of scene.

It reminded me of the type of comments a person who’s been in a cubicle for thirty years might talk about their job.

My big advice. Which will give you a jolt on every level is this: snag yourself a respectable young Swede to join you on your way. I used to travel solo, and the highs and lows really took their toll; whereas my girlfriend added a constant to my life, and a change of scenery on an emotional level.

Suddenly things seemed brighter and lighter (and I began talking to small birds, and dancing along railway tracks).

I’m talking very black and white, and I realise things are easier written as blog comments than they may be in reality. Hey, I was looking for a Swedish girl too but I ended up with an Englishwoman!

Hi Matt. Just stopping by to let you know that your post was one of my favourites this week in my Friday Five. I could really relate to this feeling of losing the wonder, although it is only with some things for me so far.

Do you have a solution? How should we get the wonder and excitement back?

Thanks for another great post!

Are you getting to know lots of people on your travels?

NomadicMatt

I get to know a lot of people in my travels.

Mariano

hi,

i can absolutely relate to what you wrote, i travelled a lot(and i still do),a couple of days ago i was thinking that i could go to mars,meet the aliens and i wouldn´t be surprised or in awe…….

but still too often i see a map and off i go,”i would like to go there”,and i get my next plane ticket:)

That’s happen to me already as well. I ended up staying in Buenos Aires for 4 months to chill for a bit. After 4 months, I got insanely excited to get out and travel again.

I can totally relate to this post. About 6 years ago I left to travel in Asia with no set agenda or time schedule. I told myself that unlike previous longer term travel experiences I had had that this trip would just find its own length. It ended up being about two years of travel, and it was two of the best years of my life. But the reason I finally ended it was what you spoke about in this post. I had lost that wonderment, that excitement, that sparkle in my eye. When that happened I literally looked into the mirror and said to myself, “well, I guess it’s time to go home now.”

I have taken several shorter trips since then, but now I am trying to build a business that will allow me to travel or live on the road a good 3 or 4 months out of each year. Luckily my girlfriend is like-minded, and she is already a relatively established travel writer. I actually quite enjoy where I live (Austin, TX!), but I want to try to incorporate travel and the new experiences it brings more into my life but perhaps not so much travel that it becomes a little mundane. I guess every traveler needs to find the right balance, and I wish you well in finding yours.

All the best,

Keith

I guess this also serves as a warning for travelers like me. I feel totally awed everytime I travel, and it feels a wonderful experience (at least for now!)..

NomadicMatt

Taking a break is a good way to gain back the wonder. I’m doing that now.

Jenna Francisco

It sounds like you’re doing the right thing by taking a long break in NYC this summer. I can relate on a more simplified level because I go to Brazil every year, and I lost the wonder of visiting this country a long time ago. Every time I tell people I’m going there, they say things like, “Wow, that’s awesome, you must be so excited.” Not really. But it is what it is.
Your point about doing anything for a long time is valid. I think I have one of the best jobs in the world– I teach ESL to immigrants at a college in California, I have a lot of freedom in my work and get 4 months off a year. However, after 8 years of doing it full-time, it’s lost its wonder, too. But again, it is what it is. I just make the best of it and look forward to the bright moments that make it so rewarding, even if for a moment.
I look forward to seeing where you go after NYC and if your break helps get the travel spark rekindled.

haidang

you will realize that no matter where you are in the world, it’s the people who will make it or break it. maybe settle down and find an significant other and then travel with that person everywhere again. it will be a new experience. trust.

James Craven

Pencil one in for the future, but be ready for it to change everything in your life…wander on!
JSC

Great post Matt. Very honest and real. And one I totally relate to.

I traveled first for 15 months straight, but kept it interesting with variety…different jobs, volunteering, long stays, etc. Then I came back to the US and recharged a bit, but still living out of a bag and staying with various friends and family. Then I left the US again for 6 months and traveled with less different activities/breaks and definitely started to feel that ‘burn out’ feeling – just the exhaustion of what you mentioned–always moving, always meet new people and talking, talking, moving, moving. It’s truly exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

The last thing I wanted to do was totally burn out so I returned home and have planted some roots back in Chicago for now. But, you’re right, I too am a traveler and know now, that I can leave anytime for months at a time and be fine. It feels easier than ever and the break and ‘re-charge’ will definitely do you good. :)
How’s it going in NYC? It’s a pretty amazing place….might be hard to leave!
LL

After two years as a staff reporter in a travel section – and lots of backpacking before that – I get that feeling too.
And you know what? I don’t really mind. Sometimes it even gives me fun that I never would have appreciated before. Like when overhearing someone say: “Oh my, over a 140 years old, that’s ancient!” at a lighthouse on Door Peninsila, WI.
And I still get blown away, by Machu Picchu, by the Italian mountain village Pietrapertosa, or by unforseen magic like the old fisherman on the Amalfi Coast, who almost stumbled in my viewfinder before laying down to sleep in one of the boats I was photographing.

GG

Get out of your comfort zone. I think that you are too comfortable when you travel. I have been traveling to learn languages, rock-climb and do some mountaineering for the past five years and I have never been bored doing these things. I am always out of my comfort zone because I am either trying to communicate with people in their language, trying to scale peaks in remote locations, or climb are more challenging rock face which has the potential to be risky.

Go back to the states for a few weeks, recharge, realize how good you have it and then find ways to get out of your comfort zone.

wow! travel to learn languages! how long do you need to pick up a new language when you are traveling ?

It’s been said, but I agree, a rest might be what you need. That being said I get what you’re trying to convey – any “job” becomes a job if you do it long enough :-) Taking the bad with the good and keeping a positive view of things is all we can strive for.

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