Guest Post: Bill Ethridge on Travel Burnout

It all started with hitchhiking to Alaska from Texas when he was 18. (I normally don’t condone hitchhiking for safety reasons, but when you’re 6’8” (203 cm) and of substantial proportions, safety rules tend to shift.) Since then, Bill’s wandered around all the continents except Antarctica. But this isn’t about any laundry list of countries visited, but how Bill’s completely over it. Sick of traveling. (At least for now.)

Un-bitten By The Travel Bug / Bill Ethridge

I’ve been traveling since September. I started in London and Paris, and then walked the Camino Frances in Spain. I crossed Europe by train, made my way down to Turkey where I got an Indian visa and flew to Mumbai for a few days. On to Nepal for some trekking, then flew to Bangkok and across Cambodia by bus, then a boat here to Vietnam, where I’m locked in my hotel for the night. I guess they worry about people stealing the motorbikes parked in the lobby.

I’ve always traveled a lot, but this is my first experience with burnout. It really snuck up on me. It started in India, where everyone I met was gushing about how “beautiful!” everything was and the “wonderful!” food and “Oh, the people!” All I could think was “Are. You. Serious?”

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to see, do and eat in India (as with most places, really.) But those things hardly make up for the bucket of water substituting for toilet paper. Or the knowledge that the guy handing me my naan (bread) with his bare hands had no soap last time he went number two. With every tasty meal in India comes the inescapable question, “Is this going give me diarrhea for the next three days?” Far too often, the answer is “Oh, yes.”

For the most part, people all over the world are lovely and Indians are no different. Of course understandably, the ones who most of us travelers encounter, see Westerners as little more than cash machines. And I get it; I’m not expecting to become an honorary member of anyone’s family or anything. Just after awhile, the money-motivated, self-serving “kindness” gets to me. But on to Nepal.

How long I could stay in Nepal is in direct proportion to how many days in a row I could eat Dhal Bat (curried veggies and a huge plate of rice.) The touts (street solicitors) persist the entire day, “Taxi?” “Hashish?” “Girls?” “Taxi?” “Hashish?” “Girls?” “Taxi?” Yes, I see you have a taxi. You are standing right next to it. You pointing that out is not going to make me suddenly need one. No offense.

In Cambodia the sun doesn’t shine, it pounds. One thing the striking photos of Siem Reap don’t include: a man taking his shirt off, wringing out a few cups of sweat and putting it back on again. I saw it and I did it. Angkor Wat is impressive, wondrous and makes great photos for facebook (if you’re that type.) But know, the photographer was sweating buckets.

In Cambodia I kept thinking, “I wish I could trade that umpteen-hundredth temple for a hotel with a pool.” Now, here I am in Vietnam locked in and being eaten by a family of mosquitoes. The last seven months have given me enough “authentic” travel experiences to last awhile. Now I wake up in the morning and think, “What the ___ am I doing here?!” Maybe it’s time to go home.

I want to share the reality of travel with friends, but many of them are too busy exclaiming, “I wish I had your life!” I want to say, “You know, the planes in the sky? They fly every day.” Many of them would gain a lot from travel, but “other things” are more important. To paraphrase a quote I heard once: You can tell what someone values by what they spend their money on. Any “reality” from me would surely invite the “Then why’d you go to begin with?” which misses the point. I do love travel. All said, the pros outweigh the cons. But there’s an “enough is enough (for now)” point one gets to and it looks like I got there a few countries ago.

Bill does not have a blog of his own, but welcomes comments and questions below. Have you ever gotten burnt out from traveling or just been ready to get home? (Tell us in the comments!) Mouse over pics for a description. Click to enlarge or to launch slideshow. 

For another post on travel burnout, check out Nomadic Matt’s The Downside To Long Term Travel

9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Bill Ethridge on Travel Burnout

  1. I hear you, Bill. I am ever grateful for all my travel. Still, it isn’t a parade of fairy godmothers and magical carpet rides. Life is life everywhere, and we know that life isn’t always pretty, and it is often really uncomfortable. So is travel. A brilliant, enlightening, perspective-shifting view of life. Enjoy it while you can, then go home to appreciate your familiar discomforts 🙂

    • I love people–I love new places, new faces, new experiences–but like Sarah said, reality is at times going to rise up and smack you in the face. You learn and you go on. And strangely you end up longing for the places and life you thought you were escaping from. What is making travel unbearable for me is the ordeal that flying has become, especially when the American airlines treat you like an inconvenience and not a customer. (And Bill is right when he says that some people in some countries treat you like a cash machine.) I too am totally burned out at the moment. There is so much in this world that I still want to see, but the thought of getting on one more airplane or going through one more airport gives me a headache.

      • Seems flying’s only getting worse. One big reason I didn’t return to the US right after my Hong Kong job ended was not being ready for that LONG day of crossing the Pacific. (About 24 hours door-to-door.)

  2. Having travelled to the Philippines four times in the past two years, I can tell you it’s at least another 7 hours of travel from a small Philippine island to get to Hong Kong!

  3. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this,
    like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics
    to drive the message home a little bit, but instead
    of that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

    • You’re joking, right? There ARE a few pics. But thanks for the unsolicited advice (and for what I assume is a copy/paste comment. For what reason, I don’t know…)

  4. Hmm it appears lie your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I aas well amm an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new
    to everything. Do you have any points for newbie blog writers?

    I’d certainly appreciate it.

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