Nomadic burnout

When I first started traveling, I was excited about my new lifestyle where I would get to travel wherever I want and whenever I want.

I’ve been living out of my backpack and carry-on for almost two years now, and I have to admit, I’m getting a bit tired of it. Call it a travel burnout of some sorts. In fact, I feel entitled when I tell people that I’m tired of traveling at this point because I traveled too much. Most people I meet say that I have the perfect lifestyle, where I get to travel indefinitely while earning a good income. And yes, it’s a fantastic lifestyle where you get to see parts of the world that most people wouldn’t.

I’ll try to explain why I’m having this feeling in this post.

Too much of a good thing

I believe that there is such thing as too much of a good thing. For example, I really like coffee. Not just for the caffeinated buzz it gives you, but the taste of coffee. I’m in Kiev, Ukraine right now and one thing that I really like about this city is that every cup of coffee you buy, they brew it fresh for you rather than pouring an already brewed cup like they do in the United States. So every cup you buy tastes freshly brewed and is delicious.

My morning routine at the moment goes like this. I wake up at 6:30AM, study Russian for an hour, go to a coffee shop to drink a large black coffee with additional caffeine thrown into it, and then go to my Russian class which starts at 8:20AM. On the way to my Russian class from the coffee shop, there is this small hole in the wall coffee shop that sells excellent espressos. I’m already buzzed from the caffeine by this point, but sometimes I buy a double espresso shot with a splash of milk because I want taste more of that coffee. If I drink this, I always end up feeling slightly anxious during class with a slight headache due to caffeine overload.

Traveling perpetually like I do has a similar effect. For example, I used to get a rush of excitement when I arrived at a new place. I no longer get that rush of excitement anymore. I think it’s because I’ve went to too many new places and I’ve become a bit desensitized to arriving at a new city.

When I go somewhere new, I usually stay in that city for a few months, because I believe that that’s the only way to really get to know the country you’re staying at. After about 2 – 3 months, the place starts to feel like home. And every time I have left a country, I always felt a slight pang of pain, feeling that I’m leaving a home and a group of friends I made and good people I met in those months. It never felt right. Speaking of…

Lack of “Ah, I’m home” feeling

Our culture, at least the one back in the United States and the western world, constantly seeks out the next new thing. I think that’s one of the reasons why this “digital nomad” movement is getting more popular day by day. It gives people the ability to see new things and have new experiences.

However, after traveling for awhile, I’m starting to think that there’s also value to longevity in relationships you have with people and places. Having those long and lasting relationships with people around you is what creates that “I’m home” feeling, and I believe that this is one of the requirements for true happiness.

Because I keep moving around once every few months, I haven’t had the feeling of being home in awhile. In fact, when I arrived in Kiev, I was depressed for about two weeks because by this point, Medellin felt like home and I had just left it again. Now I was in a new city, having to start all over again like learning a new language, meeting new people, and etc.

Language barriers

Speaking of having to start all over again, the language barrier is getting pretty tiring. I’m blessed that I speak English which is arguably the most useful language you can speak, but a lot of places in the world have poor English levels. For example, the English levels in Tbilisi, Georgia was really poor. Same as Kiev, Ukraine, where I am now.

Some people might say “Well, you can just learn the local language”. Well, this is probably said by people who’ve never attempted to learn a language to a fluent level before. Sure, you can learn the basics of any language to “get by” pretty quickly, but learning to a level where you can have real conversations with people is something that takes months to a year (or years) depending on the difficulty of the language.

For example, I’ve been taking Russian classes intensively for about 2 months now. The most I can do at this point is order coffee, understand numbers, and read the metro signs. And this is after studying for around 4 – 5 hours every day taking private 1 on 1 classes. Some languages like Spanish are easier and doesn’t require this much effort, but some languages like Russian are extremely difficult.

Finally, investing 4 – 5 hours every day learning a language are hours that I can’t put into advancing my career as a software developer. Not only am I hindering the progress I can make in improving my programming skills, it’s also a lot of income that I’m forgoing to learn a language. Learning a language has huge opportunity costs in terms of income unless learning that language advances your career in a meaningful way. English is the de-facto language in the software development world, and so learning more languages doesn’t really advance my career in any way.

In Conclusion…

After my 3 months in Kiev are over (one more month!!!), I’ll likely be picking a home base. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop traveling, but I’ll likely stop traveling long term like I am now. I believe that a lot of other nomadic people have done the same after a few years of traveling non-stop. They “burned out” from traveling so to speak and they either return to their homes for awhile or they pick a home base. So, no more going to a new place and living there for months at a time. My future travels will probably be more short term, like a week or two at the most.

About the Author Chris Jeon

Software developer currently focusing on Android development.