Monotony and travel should not go hand in hand
It’s something few people get to experience. Both long-term travel and travel monotony. The latter has rarely been written about and is perhaps experienced even less frequently. But it’s there, and it’s better to know about it than be caught off guard.
I’ve dealt with both and can tell you travel monotony comes at you from many different sides.
An unexplored condition of the long-term travelers mind
And to a lesser extent people living overseas.
What is travel monotony?
It’s that forgettable shadowy passenger that follows you around to each town you visit. The one that makes your bags that bit heavier on any given day. The passenger that hugs close to you when it’s just that bit too hot of a day. The passenger that pulls at your temperament when someone local either doesn’t understand you or is possibly trying to cheat you.
It’s when you arrive into a new town and don’t want to get up in the morning to explore it. It’s when you lose interest in talking about new cultures.
It’s when travel isn’t fun any more. It’s when inspiration is no longer there. It’s when travel becomes a routine.
Travel monotony or monotonous routine?
There’s a key element here that one needs to comprehend.
Many long-term travelers work to sustain their travels.
While many people think of long-term travel in terms of a forever vacation. Or a life without responsibilities. The truth is if you are working to sustain your long-term travel then you are probably doing what everybody back home is doing too. You are working; and most likely working in a day-to-day routine.
So yes, you guessed it. The routine monotony of work is one of the key elements in understanding travel monotony and long-term travel.
There is another key factor which needs to be addressed before knowing how to deal with all this. And that is the “been there done that” mentality.
Long-term travel means you’ve seen it all
The airports, the overland crossings, the taxis, buses, reception desks, language barriers and the packing. No matter the country once you encounter them all on a regular long-term basis it all gets rather repetitive and dare I say monotonous or boring very quickly.
There you are looking at another guide-book page of must see places in the big city and day trips out-of-town and all that goes through your mind is “what an effort.”
The mere idea of another new food to try sends your stomachs taste memories of a plain old beef burger or fresh salad rattling to your brain.
This is quite simply the psychological effects of routine clashing with new experience. It’s rare to see them go hand in hand let alone experience them. So we need to learn how to deal with it to avoid becoming depressed or at best bored.
Breaking the monotonous routine
So you’re traveling long-term or living abroad and working to make ends meet but frustrated at being pinned down with the same old 9-5 type slog. Or in the case of many long-term traveler occupations that involve communicating with different parts of the world in other time-zones: the 2am-10am schedule. Or perhaps the delightful time-zone work-shift of 10pm-1am, and then 6am- 10am. Adding 4pm to 7pm for the early birds depending on where you are.
Then mix it all up whenever you move into a new zone.
Who needs a regular sleep pattern when traveling long-term? And if you have a partner traveling with you then there’s a whole new balancing act to consider …
Meanwhile here are a few ideas based on what I’ve done to break the monotony:
Hide away for two weeks at a time working non-stop. Then spend four weeks traveling. Or work one solid month, and then travel for three. It’s like shift-work but for long-term travelers.
Get a real job. Yes, stop your insistent internet related work and do something else. It doesn’t matter what so long as it breaks your routine up and puts food on your plate.
Example: work at the front desk of a hostel. Terribly unexciting I know but if you’ve been cooped up staring at a laptop for months every night it’s very refreshing!
Offer to teach someone conversational English for a week in exchange for money, food or lodging.
Find some people from your own linguistic region and talk to them about anything other than travel or work. Yes, a plain old conversation about nothing can break things up.
Remember these aren’t career paths or money-making ideas. These are simply things that will break the monotony of your long-term travel workload.
Breaking the monotonous “seen it all” routine
Go outside your comfort zone. The only reason you feel like that castle or temple is so boring is probably because you’ve been visiting castles and temples for the past few months.
It’s call being “templed out”.
Yes, my phrase. And to get over it means you need stop visiting temple after temple!
Go visit a hospital for sick children, it’s a reality check. Visit a prison or a refugee camp. You might need to get the name of an inmate but it shouldn’t be too hard and again it’s one big reality check.
Don’t like these things? Tough. Go visit another temple and tell me who had a more interesting day. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t make it less interesting. And guess what, you’ve just shattered your monotonous day.
Visiting the same old sites
Tired of meeting people who are excited by a day trip to climb a nearby mountain, village trek or yet another museum? Me too. Happens all the time. I do one of several things. I try to find at least one interesting person in a group that can converse about anything other than where we are going. The conversation alone will be worth it.
Or I simply opt not to go. Simple as that. Just because everyone else is going, doesn’t mean I have too.
Here’s an example. The Everest Base Camp trek is no big deal in the peak season for many people. I’d absolutely hate to do it in peak season though! With the trails full of people and with only the odd challenge of finding a good tea house to stay in it’s simply not my thing. So I opted not to go during peak season and went during the off-peak winter season.
Any regrets? None whatsoever.
Making life exciting
Even with travel, if we’ve been doing it a long time, it can become routine. And just like people back home we need to add a little extra excitement or adrenaline rush into our day-to-day lives to make us feel alive. This is normal, and natural.
Our DNA is set up a little differently to how we live our lives today.
Where once we might have encountered a mountain lion while out hunting for dinner, today our biggest challenge is finding a good parking spot.
So we now most commonly counter all this by injecting some adventure into our lives in the form of hobbies. Be it watching a movie, playing a video game, going on hikes or whatever we feel gives us that feeling of being alive!
This is very much a neglected part of long-term travel.
Embrace pet projects when traveling long-term
You’re long-term traveling or living abroad. One of the things that a regular lifestyle has that’s often neglected in long-term travel are indeed hobbies. Yes those things we do for enjoyment at weekends or in the evening to make us feel good. These things that are so often put on the back burner when traveling.
Used to play computer games back home? Feel guilty having them on your “work” laptop or playing them instead of embracing the new culture you’re around? Don’t be. Install a game and enjoy a night of blowing the heads off aliens.
Find a local gym. Yes, find a gym. They are everywhere and if you are long-term traveling the chances are you’re really not that fit anymore. Walking around a city all day doesn’t count. And being fit makes you feel better anyway.
Go and make a big deal out of movie premier. Yes, just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you can’t go and watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster and escape from reality for a while.
Urban Exploration. Yes well okay this is my own portable hobby. I like to explore abandoned buildings. And yes there’s a lot of us out there. It’s really a great way to break up the monotony of long-term travel as every place is new and unexplored.
What’s more you’d be surprised how searching for an online forum for your hobby in a new country will bring you many great and new friends!
Had a hobby back home? Great, now either kick-start it again, or if that’s not possible find a new portable hobby.
All of the above takes a little effort. You’ve just got to weigh up the balance of which is more important: monotony or breaking it.
Linking routine and the seen it all mentality to overcome monotonous long-term travel
The solutions I adhere to work for me. Why? Because the solutions involve going outside ones comfort zone. It’s not easy to encounter monotony when you start to do things you don’t normally do.
Give it a chance. Hate it, love it, embrace it. You’ll soon appreciate your old travel ways again. And when the monotony sneaks up again, you’ll know what to do about it.
This is an additional feature article dealing with long-term travel monotony