Travel, Exhaustion and a Change of Strategy

I am writing this somewhere over the Atlantic ocean between Brussels and New York.

I’m returning to the US (briefly) after 4 of the most hectic months of travel I’ve experienced since I began traveling full time in 2007. In just the first 5-months of 2013 I have been to 16 countries, 69 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (including repeat visits), and I estimate I’ve stayed in between 50-60 different hotel rooms.

..and I enjoyed almost every minute of it

Nonetheless, I am physically and mentally exhausted. If you haven’t noticed, I have been very lax in updating my website the last few months. Every day I was visiting a different city, taking photos and visiting different historical sites. At the end of each day I’d go back to a hotel room, usually one that I just checked-in to, and attempt to rest and recover. This didn’t leave a lot of time for writing, photo editing or reflection.

I find myself six and one-half years into my travels like a glutton at an all you can eat buffet. I love traveling as much now as I ever have, and that is exactly the problem. The opportunities I am given running a popular travel blog mean that I can indulge in as many travel opportunities as I want. If I so desired, I could extend the last four months out to infinity, continuing to move from city to city, exploring the world…..and killing myself in the process.

At several points during the last few months I’ve found myself really sick. Despite this, I’ve kept on without any real rest, even though I knew it wasn’t the best thing for my health. In addition to getting little rest, my diet has gone to hell. I eat every meal at restaurants and often end up eating junk food because I don’t have time or can’t eat much of what is available (Try having a wheat allergy in Italy). I’ve also been passing up many professional opportunities because of my travel schedule, which isn’t really helping me either.

The biggest disappointment, however, has been my neglect in telling the stories of all the places I have visited and the things I have seen. I could stop traveling today and probably still have enough photos and stories to post every day for several years.

I’ve had think long and hard about how I am going to manage my travels going forward. I have no intention to stop traveling. I love it too much. However, I can’t keep going at the pace I’ve been going. It isn’t sustainable and eventually I’m going to burn out.

The problem of how much time to devote to exploration vs expository has always troubled me. Travel blogging involves two mutually exclusive things: traveling and blogging. I described it several years ago as Gary’s Paradox. You can be out climbing a mountain or exploring a medieval European city, OR you can sit at your computer. You can’t, however, do both at the same time.

I’ve had to ask myself some hard questions about what it is I want to do and how I should move forward. They haven’t been easy because all the answers involve traveling less.

Eventually, I realized that in the last four months I’ve probably traveled more than most people will travel in their entire lives, and certainly more than almost everyone will travel in a single year. If I took those four months and spread them out over the course of an entire year, everything would actually be fine. I can go hard for 2-weeks of solid, away from my computer exploration, but It is difficult to go beyond that without other parts of my life suffering.

I’ve met many accomplished travel writers and photographers who travel a fraction of the amount that I do, yet have enjoyed very successful careers. Clearly a travel schedule like the one I’ve been on is not necessary for success.

The compromise I’ve settled on involves breaking up the year into 6, 2-month blocks. During each 2-month period I’m going to go on one, 2-week expedition. This could be a road trip, a train trip, or a G Adventures tour or something else entirely. The remaining 6 weeks I will be living and working in a different city somewhere in the world.

It may not always work out to a perfect 2-week, 6-week rotation, but I am going to try and stick to the general principal. I might do a 3-week expedition sometimes or maybe 10-days. Likewise, I might just stay in a place for 3 or 4 months before moving on.

What sort of expeditions am I talking about? Are are some of the things I have in mind which I will eventually do at some point:

  • Explore Northern Canada. I really want to visit Nahani and Wood Buffalo National Parks in the Northwest Territory. I’m hoping to do that in the summer of 2014.
  • Visit Greenland and the Faroe Islands
  • Take the Trans-Mongolian Railroad from St. Petersburg to Beijing
  • Do a road trip through Belgium and France visiting world heritage sites.
  • Go down the Amazon River
  • Visit some of the Pacific Islands I haven’t been to as well as revisit some I haven’t been to in several years.
  • Explore the countries of the Caucuses.
  • Tour India and China.
  • Take the mail boat to St. Helena Island

There really isn’t a limit, it is more a matter of mentally breaking down my trips into discrete parts and not thinking of it as one giant trip where everything just blends together.

I am hoping this new system will result in several things:

  • My book. I’ve been talking about my book for almost 3-years now and it has become my equivalent of the Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy album or Duke Nukem Forever. I know what I want to say, and now I just need the time to sit down and write it. My travel has been so continuous for so long, I just haven’t had the time or focus to sit down and write it.
  • The Blog. I hope significantly increase my writing on the blog. I have a massive case of blogging constipation and I need some time in one spot to serve as a laxative. I have a lot of things I’ve been dying to say, but I just haven’t had the time to sit down and say it.
  • Writing for other outlets. I have many opportunities to write other prestigious outlets, both online and offline. To date I have done very little because my travel has interfered with my travel writing.
  • Video and podcasting. I’ve been working on a podcasting project in the back of my mind for a while now, but haven’t had the time to pull the trigger on it.
  • More meet ups. I really love meeting with my readers in person. Whenever I go to a major city, I usually end up meeting with one or two of them if I have the time. However, doing more organized meet ups usually requires planning and scheduling, which is difficult when you are moving around every day. Hopefully I can meet more of you in person if I come through your area.

By doing fewer things each year, I also hope to do them better. If I have a set expedition with a beginning and and end, it will be easier to explore doing video, bringing along extra photography gear or even bring an extra person or two as a support team.

I probably could have just adopted this system and most people would have been none the wiser. Staying in multiple countries every year would meet most people’s definition of traveling. However, I wanted to give some of the background and explanation behind what I do and why I’m doing it. Traveling for a living presents a unique set of problems which require unique solutions.

My hope is that by adopting this system with more time between expeditions, I will have better quality experiences and improve the quality of what I am presenting to all of you. If I can balace traveling with the rest of my life, I should be able to continue to do this for years to come.