Loving Latin America

walking down the street in san jose, costa ricaOver the last six months or so, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with traveling. I still love it and don’t want to do anything else, but in some ways I’ve become tired of it. It’s become a routine, which is an unhappy thought.

Fortunately, planning my trip to Central America has changed much of that. Before I left, I got that nervous excitement back again. That kind you get when you’re about to take the leap on your first trip. I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself here. San Jose was a bit of a dump, but traveling down the Caribbean coast was everything I remembered—lush jungles, beautiful beaches, tons of wildlife, and friendly locals. Now, I’m in Bocas del Toro in Panama and relaxing in what is the coolest place I’ve been in a long time.

Latin America has a certain feel to it that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. There’s a fiery sense of life and friendliness to the locals here. It’s exciting, and there’s a constant sense of movement and passion all over the place. (Note: This isn’t my first time to this part of the world. I went to Costa Rica on a tour in 2003 and spent a month in Belize and Guatemala in 2005.)

After a few weeks of traveling around Central America, I can say that I’m suffering from “plan too much-itis” all over again. I feel like I did when I embarked on my first round-the-world trip. I’m having a blast, and my mind’s racing again with potential places and trips I want to take. Can I squeeze a trip to Japan in before I go to Eastern Europe? Should I skip NYC and stay here longer? How can I add in a trip to Vegas for my friend’s birthday? Should I go to Ireland or Scandinavia? How can I get down to the Darien region of Panama and still have time for Costa Rica’s remote Osa Peninsula? And most importantly, how many plantains can I possibly eat?

torteguero, costa rica

I think I just needed something new to revitalize my love of travel. When things become routine, they can often become a bit boring, and when things are boring, we lose interest in them. Variety is the spice of life, and when we travel to the same places over and over again, those places become a part of our routine, and we lose a bit of that excitement that drives us to travel in the first place.

The same thing can be said about life back home. Think about your job. At first, it’s great. It’s new, exciting, and fresh. But after doing it for a while, day in and day out, it gets tedious and becomes boring. You start dreaming of life elsewhere, of traveling, or of gardening. We’re at work, but we checked out long ago. Even if we love what we do, we still have days that feel like the grind. When I worked in the corporate world, many of the people I knew loved what they did. They never wanted to do anything else, but they would have loved a little break from it from time to time.

beaches in costa rica

Variety is what keeps life interesting. When you travel for a long time, especially for a long continuous stretch of time, you can get the “just another” syndrome. It’s just another waterfall, just another city, just another temple. It happens to the best of us. One of my favorite parts of the travel movie A Map for Saturday is when many of the travelers interviewed also talk about getting burned out from traveling and how they have to “take a break” and stay put somewhere for a bit.

That’s exactly what’s happened to me. I was traveling to the same places over again, doing the same activities, seeing the same sites, and going to the same parties. But now, it all feels different. Yes, Tortuguero is another jungle, San José is another city, and where I am now is just another beach. But they’re all different from what I’m used to, because they’re all new places to me. They’re my variety.

sailing into the sunset in belize

When something loses its luster, you need to make a change, especially when you still love what it is you do. Traveling is great, and I never want to do anything else. But if you don’t make a change, your negative feelings will grow, and you’ll hate the thing you love.

When the burnout comes, when the “just another” feeling arises in us, we need to stop, relax, and take a break. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Burma or Boston, in a hostel or in your office. Take a vacation from whatever it is you’re doing, or do something new to spice things up. Maybe that means learning a new language, volunteering somewhere, working overseas, or heading to an area of the world where everything is different and everything is fresh again.

  1. You nailed it, variety IS the spice of life. And who likes bland food?

    This is also why I probably couldn’t be a vagabond for the rest of my life. You need to settle down at times to appreciate being on the road.

  2. I’ve been traveling all over Europe and North Africa for a couple of years. And even tho I love it so much, it does get boring after a while. So I’m soon off somewhere far away from the Old continent to vary and feel the excitement again. Know exactly what you mean, Matt. Good post!

  3. Great post, it really is true whether you are traveling or have decided to stay put for a while. If you get that feeling, you gotta mix things up, and you don’t actually need to travel to do it, you can do it in many ways as you said, learning something new like a language is a great example.

  4. Totally agree, I would also recommend that if you become bored with the same old traveling, try volunteering in another country! It can be te best experience and a little different from the everyday traveling! Plus you give something back! Did you see any dart frogs in Bocas! Got to love the wildlife in panama!

  5. yea..variety is what keeps us going right..am hopping on a train tomorrow heading from one city to another and I hope to travel more this month..let us see ..

  6. Nina

    It’s true that too much routine can make life dull, and for most people travel is a break from routine. However, if travel becomes just another routine then it’s going to be dull too.

    It’s a bit depressing to think that the thing you love now won’t be what you want to do forever actually. I guess it is important to keep exposing yourself to new things and keep pushing your limits.

  7. Skott and Shawna

    Hey Matt – great post…if I may say, this sounds like the more inspirational and positive side to your much debated “Life Is Boring” post :) (sorry for bringing THAT one up again)

    We like this perspective much better….looking forward to your future CA updates…

    Keep up the great work!

  8. Hey Matt,
    I agree with you and with the comments – everything needs to be in balance. Central America was the first “different” destination of my life (back in 2006!) and I can imagine how it would be refreshing to go there again after some hints of travel falling-out!

  9. Great to hear you’re loving it! As you say, there is something very special about Latin America that is very different to anywhere else I’ve been – and like you, it was in Central America that I first fell in love with travelling, and I’ve never looked back

    Hope you enjoy the rest of your time and looking forward to reading more!

  10. Leaving tomorrow for – eventually – Pavones. We come through San Jose mid-afternoon. Gave you a shout out on my blog about my first Costa Rican surf trip. Love your appreciation of the nervous excited feeling travel can offer. I’m right there tonight!

  11. Jeremy B

    I have more to share on this later but is there really such a thing as plan too muchitis? I would think that is a good disease to have! :) I see where you are coming from though!

  12. I know what you mean. I lived in Shanghai for 4 years and eventually the city, and China, lost it’s excitement to me. Luckily, there are tons of great travel destinations nearby that kept things new and interesting!

  13. Wow, I can’t imagine travel ever becoming routine! But, I’m glad to hear that you’ve found the sparkle within traveling yet again. Hope you can hold on to it!!!

  14. Jeremy B

    I can understand the burnout from traveling. I think no matter what you do in life, you can get burned out by doing and seeing the same things over and over. You are right about the job thing – it is fun and exciting at first but then gets boring after a while. It’s why people acquire new skills, get promoted, change jobs, or take on new projects. They need something to keep it exciting.

    If you get bored traveling in the same area, go somewhere completely different with a culture that’s far different from where you’ve been. I think burnout or boredom is a call to evaluate our lives. And whether that is traveling or work or whatever it may be, we need to challenge ourselves to find something new and exciting or else we become boring.

  15. Yup, it’s true. Can happen to anyone doing anything for long enough – even if they love it. I have an idea and I think you are in a position where you could actually do this.

    What if you seriously put up a map and threw a dart at it? I mean, that would be a crazy adventure! You have to go where you land on the map! Leave it totally to chance and see where the world sends you! Or you could grab a globe and spin it and have someone else close their eyes and then put their finger on it somewhere – bam! a new destination.

    That has always been a dream of mine and I think it might be great for burnout because it makes it fun, and almost childlike and new again.

    The other thing you could do is something totally random like for instance there is a marathon (and half) that is raced on the Great Wall of China or something else cool would be to learn how to sail in the Caribbean. These are just ideas but something like that would give you a purpose for traveling and something unusual to look forward to. I notice that I enjoy traveling a lot more when I have a purpose. Whether it’s volunteering at something random when I get there or going somewhere for a specific purpose, it is just more enjoyable and it gives me something to think about and more importantly wonder about. I think there is only so much you can do with a few weeks in one location, without a real goal. I mean, it just gets old hanging out, working and sightseeing. Ok, that actually sounds awesome but in real life, like you said, it can turn into the same ole’ grind.

    If I linger around for too long I get a little bored, then I get a little bummed out. Which sucks because being able to travel is a gift and it’s something I know not everyone has the ability to do with ease.

    I say, try 100% random or try a purpose (could be anything at all) and then see how you feel.

    • NomadicMatt

      One of my goals when I accrue some more miles is to simply walk into an airport and take the next flight to where ever it goes!

  16. Jill

    New experiences is the spice of life. Unfortunately when you’re already down in the hole of boredom and funk, it can be tough to dig yourself out to look for these new experiences. I’m glad you’re enjoying Latin America.

  17. The actual act of getting there is routine, bus, airplane, wait. bus airplane wait. The actual act of going to see things is also that way. But when you are able to see such unique things around the world I wouldn’t call that the same.. just the act of doing it is the same

  18. My wife is fond of say “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
    This applies to travel as well as to everything else, it sounds like you have found a new way of looking at your travels. And I am glad you did!

  19. I think taking a break from travel — as in settling in one place for a month or so — is a great way to recharge and reacquire passion. Otherwise you do, as you say, just head to burnout. It’s what we’re doing right now. And it’s lovely.

  20. Hi Matt!
    Great article.
    I spent 8 months travelling in South America. I loved it.

    I then went to New zealand and somehow nothing could compare to SA. People kept saying to me “but New Zealand is beautiful, you must love it” but somehow I lost my travel mojo. Yes the mountains and lakes were wonderful, the hiking second to none, the wildlife incredible but I just didn’t feel the same love for New Zealand that I felt for South America. Everything in South America was so different..the food, the culture, the music, the vibe..It really made me question why I travel and I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this along my route. I decided to just get myself really in shape in New Zealand by trekking loads alone, reading, thinking, breathing the fresh air, drinking the fresh water. I’m now in Melbourne and the lively culture and the fun and atmosphere of the tennis open has given me my travel mojo back…

    i’ll continue my trip but maybe one day return to the magic of South America…certainly for me nothing compares to that, so far…

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