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.

23 thoughts on “Travel, Exhaustion and a Change of Strategy”

  1. Sorry to hear you did too much, too fast. Something I expect from newer travelers. But it’s a good lesson for you, and for the rest of us who are doing the “regular” life thing and dreaming or planning for long term travel.

  2. Do the organizations that cram travel down your throat really care about your experiences? Who set a travel pace where you now feel sick? As a freelance writer I’ve been involved in simply awful travel schedules organized by travel pros and I’ve been involved in travel schedules planned by travel pros that are far and wide high above the bad plans. I do not understand this wide gap.

  3. Glad to hear you’re creating some work life balance.

    One suggestion – get an intern! Someone to help you with the website or tell them your stories so they can draft them up for you to edit. Delegation.

    Can’t wait to hear about your future travels.

  4. Although I haven’t traveled nearly as much as you, your comment ” my neglect in telling the stories of all the places I have visited and the things I have seen…” really resonated. If you don’t have time to reflect on where you’ve been, it’s time to re-evaluate, yes? I’m really looking forward to the outcome of your new plan. Best, Megan

  5. Good luck with the new strategy. It sounds very do-able. I look forward to reading more as you have more time to write about your travels.

  6. Good strategy change there Sir, its something I always think about doing on my travels, having a base for a few weeks, then moving on again. I’ve managed it for the last few years, but am going to hit the road hard again soon. Safe travels, Jonny

  7. I certainly know where you’re coming from! And I quite like the two month pattern you outlined. I decided to only travel once a month at the start of this year and to have a year long conference diet. I haven’t quite kept to my resolution but I’m definitely appreciating the slower pace…Shame to miss you at TBEX though ;-)

  8. I’m a couple of days behind on blog reading but found this post really interesting. I think your plan sounds great. You’ll still get amazing experiences plus have the time to explore cities in more depth plus have time for writing and to slow down.

    Next time you’re in the NYC area, I’d love to meet up. Maybe you’d like to visit Brooklyn?

  9. Hi Gary, I must agree with everyone. The work-life balance must be applied even when you are living life to the fullest and want to push on for bigger and better experiences. How can we all learn about your great accomplishments and experiences if you do not have time to write about them. You will find a way I’m sure of it. Best of luck to ya and happy travels!

  10. I think you’ve come to a healthy and needed realization. It’s possible to maintain and keep the wheels turning while traveling constantly, but very hard to get real work done, especially writing work that takes uninterrupted butt-in-seat time. Not to mention writing a book. I turn down loads of press trip invites because of this and am only on the move an average of 7-10 days per month. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but for me it has been a good balance. Like you say, that’s still more than most normal people manage in a decade or two.

  11. You’re right, slow-er travel is much better. I try to stay for two weeks anyplace where I know I’m going to want to savor the surroundings. Health is paramount, without good health you won’t be able to go anywhere.

  12. I think that’s always the Catch 22. If you’re traveling enough to have a ton of experiences to write about, you won’t have much time to write and if you’re not traveling, there’s not much to write about. I’ll look forward to hearing about your recent travels. Sounds like some great adventures!

  13. Staying in one place for 6 weeks and then travelling for 2? It looks like you found the ideal lifestyle!
    Have fun.

  14. Slowing down is never easy, but it certainly sounds like the right decision.

    I look forward to more stories, photos and tales from your adventures.

  15. As a newbie to this wonderfully weird world of blogging I have to say I am already starting to share your woes regarding successfully managing time and enjoying the memories you are making. I think what you’re outlining here sounds great and I wish you all the best with your new itinerary. Here’s hoping I can find a better work/travel/live balance! I can only imagine how burnt out you must feel after all these years, I’ve only been at it 5 months!

  16. Sounds like a better plan. I think the world is better enjoyed slow so you can really savour it.age

  17. Sounds like a better plan. I think the world is better enjoyed slow so you can really savour it.

  18. It’s good to read you will be slowing down and taking care of yourself. It’s always important to listen to your body when it says to slow down. Looking forward to your book, podcast and everything else to come.

  19. Hi Gary !! Greetings of the day.. I read your article and thought that i had to write what I felt about it..
    I’m a small freelance travel writer myself and feel that this article of yours is a milestone of sort in a travelers life.. Travelers would do anything to reach the stage you are in and write this article themselves but the truth is that most of them might not reach where you are right now.. This is a milestone Gary and I hope you cross more milestones ahead :-)
    P.S. If you come to New Delhi it would be really nice to meet up.. Peace.. :-)

  20. Hi Gary,
    Good luck with the new schedule. Looking forward to the fresh content. Let me know if you an intro to the Belgian tourism folks when you are ready for that trip.

  21. Hi Gary
    Right decision. I went through a similar curve years back. You need time to process it all and work out what you want to say about a place. One place just begins to look like another after a while otherwise.I used to try and do one trip a month… and get a few more pieces out of each one. Travel for the sake of travel… a bit pointless ultimately.
    You just get jaded with it all…

  22. Sounds like a workable system to me, and similar to one we should adapt as well. You are so right about the actual traveling interfering with the writing and photo editing. I run into the same conundrum every day. And the problem is, as you say, we love the traveling and hate to stop it just to keep up on the blog. I hope we can soon come up with a solution as reasoned as yours.

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