Over 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 José 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?
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.
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.
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 fresh again.