10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue’s Ass

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

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There was a time a little more than a year ago, when I hated traveling.

After doing it for more than five months, being sick for what seemed like the millionth time, being cramped into a dorm room in blistering heat with no air-conditioning, fearing for my life in Turkey and nearly falling to my death, I was pretty over it as I sat in an outdoor cafe in Varna, Bulgaria.

At that moment, I wanted to be done.

It hurt me deeply to admit that to myself. This trip was supposed to be amazing. An experience of a lifetime. And, instead of planning my next steps, I found my mind wandering to the comforts of my bed in Maryland.  To not having my backpacking weighing me down. To a home-c0oked meal. To breathing in private.

To make things worse, I hated myself for hating traveling.

I was so mad. So disappointed in myself for even letting that awful thought cross my mind. I was embarassed. This funk had embraced me, sucked me deep into the recesses of my mind I didn’t want to touch, and left me feeling cold, alone and sad.

Oh, Travel Fatigue.

When I was going through it, it was the worst thing in the world. I felt like no one knew what it was like. I felt like no one could be of any assistance in pulling me out of it.

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

A sign of Travel Fatigue: feeling depressed.

I was wrong. Entirely.

After being home and having relationships with other people who are/were on the road, I know this Travel Fatigue awfulness wasn’t exclusive to me. It happens to the best of us. And, fortunately, only lasts for a brief period of time.

It took a few things in my life to help snap me out of this funk.

Are you experiencing Travel Fatigue? Here are some steps to help kick it’s ugly ass and get back in the game.

1. Communicate your misery

No, don’t have a huge pity party (no one likes those), but talk to someone you trust about it. Someone you know can make you feel all better. For me, I was messaging with my lovely Anthony, who wrote words that were oh-so true: You’ve got to have the funk to have the fun. That was the start of my recovery.

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

Sometimes you just need to change your perspective.

2. Change your scenery

Nothing can quite snap you out of a rut like waking up somewhere new. There’s just a feeling of possibility that wasn’t there before. It can revitalize you. Abby and I had been seaside of nearly two weeks, so the mountains was a nice change of pace. And totally different and beautiful scenery.

3. Get comfortable

I was tired. I was hot. I wanted to not drip sweat every night after I had showered. Abby and I found an adorable hostel in the hillside town of Veliko Tarnovo. It had gorgeous air-con and a remote so we could make it as cool as we liked. That first night, we both slept with thick blankets on us. In the dead of summer. It was awesome. Naturally, the next day, the remote disappeared from our room. I can still remember the cool air kissing my face that blissful night.

4. Stay put

Even after Abby left VK, I stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

5. Relax

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

How can you not relax with a view like this?

When I was back in the solo realm of travel and feeling better, I treated myself to doing absolutely nothing. I would wake up in the morning, pad  upstairs to the kitchen and enjoy the complimentary breakfast, then head outside to the little balcony overlooking the ravine of green trees across the street. I would chat with the hostel owner, the other guests, and just ease into my morning. Then, when I got hot, I would go to the room, open my computer and write. Not because I felt I had to, but because it felt good. And, I would read. Then, a little nap in the cool room. At night, I would go with the other travelers to dinner, then back to my room for some more reading and then sleep. I did this for three days.

6. Don’t plan until you have to

On the third day of doing nearly nothing, I decided I was almost ready to head out and continue with my trip. Almost. I pondered my next steps. I spent a good deal of time looking at the giant colorful map of Eastern Europe on the wall in the common room. I consulted my guide book. I did research.

10 Ways to Kick Travel Fatigue's Ass

Take off your shoes, kick your feet in the H20 and BREATHE. Deeply.

7. Go somewhere you really want to go

Not somewhere along the way. I was planning on going to Budva, Montenegro. The long route would take me through a few cities of interest along the way. So, I had to make some decisions. Head to Sophia, Bulgaria? Stop in Belgrade, Serbia for a few nights? Finally, I let my heart win this one instead of my mind, which was saying “heya, Buddy, go to all three cities because you can!” I was craving the sun and the Adriatic. I knew deep down that the sea would help me feel better. So, instead of doing the stops for a few nights in these cities, I plowed through them, getting me to my ultimate goal — Budva.

8. Get out of your shell

When I arrived to Montenegro, I was exhausted. But, there was the Adriatic. The sea I had spoken of for almost a year to anyone who would listen. Just knowing it was there made me smile. And, put me in a better mood. The first day of being in Budva, I sat outside, under grape vines, and was social. I met a group of other solo travelers and we instantly formed a bond.

9. Remember what it is like to Adventure

When I was with these new friends, we planned a day trip together to the gorgeous little sea town of Sveti Stefan. Well, one guy planned it. The rest of us nodded our heads in agreement and walked down to the bus stop with him. It was so warming to be with other people again, to go somewhere. Then, the next day, myself and one of the guys from the group took our adventuring even further and got on another bus and headed to the stunning town of Kotor. It was not planned. It was fun. It brought a smile to my face. It had been a long time since I had done day trips instead of moving, moving, moving.

10. Find some new, non-Travel Fatigue-y friends

After Montenegro, I decided to go to Sarajevo. Another game-time decision. But, it ended up changing the entire rest of my trip … and my life today. When I was in Sarajevo, I met Katie. We spent a few days together in Sarajevo, and then met up with each other a few days later in Mostar. We planned a trip to Croatia together. When I was in Mostar, I met Dave. Together, the three of us embarked on a week-plus adventure, spending time in Brela, Split and our island paradise of Solta together. The two of them were blissfully happy in their adventures. They woke up every day and embraced their trip, and in turn, made me embrace mine. [Katie came to visit me in Las Vegas in June, and I am visiting her in September in Thailand … see … meet friends!!]

Have you experienced Travel Fatigue? Where were you? How did you overcome its grasp?

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Escape of the Week: Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

It has been just about one year since Abby and I bounced around Istanbul and Bulgaria together. Poor Abby saw the worst of me during this time — I was in the full clutches of Travel Fatigue, mixed with being sick.

We didn’t really have any set plans other than meeting in Istanbul. From there, we tried to do Eastern Euro Exotic. After doing a search for top Black Sea beaches, I came across Sunny Beach. If you’ve been to Sunny Beach … well … it is a beach. Whether it deserves the title of “best Black Sea beach” is another story (read my Sunny Beach experience).

It’s fun. It’s rowdy. It has an international flavor (I am pretty sure we heard more Scandinavian and Russian than Bulgarian). From the resorts lining the sandy beaches, to the all-night parties, to the boardwalk complete with little trinket shops, Sunny Beach is the ultimate let loose vacation spot in Bulgaria.

It may not have been my match, but it was certainly gorgeous. Especially when the sun started to sink in the green rolling hills.

Here, a parasailer catches the sunset from a different perspective: above the Black Sea

 

 

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Trains versus buses — which is better? (The List)

A look at train versus bus travel

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Given the fantastic experiences I had on the trains through the Balkans, I decided to write-up a pros/cons list of taking the bus versus taking the train through most of Europe.

Both can be good.

Both can be bad.

Often times — at least in the Balkans — trains are the less expensive option, so when watching the budget, they are the only mode of transport that can work.

So, travel by train or bus? Which is better?

Why opt for a bus?

1. They don’t have to stop at an entrance to a tunnel for 40 minutes so a train going the opposite direction can pass through.

2. Most times (except in the Balkans), you have an assigned seat. That means the person next to you has an assigned seat, too. You don’t have to sit and silently pray to be the lucky couchette that doesn’t fill up. (Every train I have been on has had one couchette, for some reason or other, that has remained blissfully near-empty).

3. There aren’t sliding glass doors where people in the small aisle can glare at you while they think you are sleeping or reading your book.

4. No one can come into your little bus aisle. On trains, people come into your couchette in the middle of the night.

5. There (most of the time) is air-con.

6. There are stops for food and drink.

7. The toilets aren’t from the 1970s. Yes, most buses don’t have the toilets on-board open, but when you stop for #6, you get to use a REAL restroom. Granted, you have to pay, but is a small fee to know you won’t get some rare disease or have to dodge the grime and gross that comes with toilets that are never cleaned on the train.

8. The lights on the buses turn off at night. You don’t have to wait for everyone in a couchette to finish reading, word puzzles, etc. to turn the light off. The bus driver does it for you. And then, if you WANT a light on, you have your own little light you can turn on.

9. If you stop for a long period of time you can get off of the bus, and tell the driver you are doing so. On trains, good luck finding the conductor.

10. You don’t have to lift your heavy bag into the storage compartment above. It won’t fit. Instead, it goes below (sometimes for a small fee), but you are gloriously rid of the extra baggage until you arrive at your destination. (Just keep your valuables on you, not stowed away.)

11. You don’t have to worry about avoiding eye contact. No one is sitting in front of you and facing you. The only thing you can stare at is the scenery out your window, or the back of the person’s head who is sitting on front of you.

12. The guy in the food car can’t blare his loud polka-style music so everyone the next car over can hear. There is no food car on the bus.

13. At stops, you have a selection of food. On the train, you have a choice of a few very overpriced sandwiches, none of which are actually filling or tasty.

14. Unless there is a problem with the bus, every time you stop, or go down a hill, or wind around a mountain, you don’t damage your ear drums with the high-pitched scraping of the brakes.

15. Buses take less time to get to the final destination than trains.

Why travel by train?

1. You can walk around.

2. You can’t watch the conductor and hope the person doesn’t fall asleep. You just have to assume the person won’t.

3. You can use the toilet on board. At your own risk. And wash your face … if you trust the water coming out of the faucet. If there is water coming out of the faucet.

4. You get off of the road and get to see some beautiful and untouched parts of the world.

5. If people speak your language in your couchette, you can have a conversation. Or a party.

6. Trains are cheaper (at least in the Balkans).

7. You don’t have to worry about traffic.

Which do you prefer and why?

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Midnight Express

The women on our couchette looked straight out of Halloween Eve … long, eggplant dyed hair, small beady eyes, long hairs sprouting from her upper lip next to a large mole with more hair protruding, and on her chin, whiskers spreading down towards her neck. She was dressed in a long black dress and from time to time, would lower her voice to a whisper to chat with the other older ladies sitting in the seats next to me.

She was the perfect Halloween witch.

I had boarded the train from Sophia to Belgrade early, at least what I thought was early, but by the time I arrived to my couchette, there was only one seat remaining, excluding my faded green window seat.

I sat down and surveyed the scene.

Two French guys who later told me they had an inter-rail pass and were exploring the continent, and two older women, the witch and another, more regular looking woman.

The two ladies spoke in hushed tones, occasionally closing the door to our car, trapping in the smoke-filled air of our non-smoking room, to talk about something they clearly did not want anyone else to hear.

This was going to be a long trip from Sophia to Belgrade.

I could feel it.

That, and the nice Serbian gent in the couchette next to me told me.

“These trains run two hours late. Always. I don’t know why you would choose to take a train in Eastern Europe. They are shit.”

I looked around. Windows covered in spray paint. Fake wooden paneling. My couchette’s light didn’t even function. And the toilets … I don’t think they had been flushed since the 70s.

But, it was my place of rest for the night.

If I could do that.

I was concerned at first by the lack of air con (naturally), but as soon as the train started from Sophia, causing sparks to fly from the wires above, I was struck with the late summer breeze catching my face.

I’m no stranger to overnight trains. I often take them since it is more cost-effective than taking a day train and then sleeping in a hostel. I had taken one from Budapest to Brasov, from Cluj to Prague, from Prague to Berlin. I hadn’t slept beautifully, but I had slept.

This train might be a different story.

Instead of just sitting in the car, I decided to get out … even in the dark, the Bulgarian countryside seemed peaceful, serene.

I crossed the narrow corridor to the open window and stuck my head out, getting whipped in the face with the cool wind.

In front of me, homes whizzed by. Small dirt roads holding cars came and went next to the tracks. Lights from the little train-track towns twinkled. I could just make out mountains behind a slightly glowing dark night with only a crescent moon to illuminate the scenery.

At passport control, I was first greeted by Bulgarian immigration, asking me how long I was in Bulgaria. One officer directed his flash light towards my backpack, stowed above the witch lady’s head.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

I almost laughed.

Sure, a bunch of clothes, a tiny bottle of absinthe I always forget I have that I have been carting around since May when I stopped in Prague …

“No,” I said.

Then, it was time for Serbian customs.

Again, they directed a light towards my belongings, this time my bag containing my laptop.

“Who’s is this?” Another uniformed officer asked.

“It’s mine.”

Please don’t make me take it down and open it.

“No problem.”

“Ah, your accent is your passport,” said one of the French guys.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of it, and then I understood.

They didn’t ask me any further questions.

They never do.

As soon as I open my mouth, they leave me alone.

The witch lookalike wasn’t so lucky.

A woman officer looked at her plastic bag, likely carting her belongings, and emptied it on the seat, taking out each article of clothing, one-by-one.

After immigration, we stopped at the border, a train stop where, inside and in our car, people were being penned until the inspector gave the all-clear.

One girl ran off the train and into the arms of her beloved, embracing, kissing, loving.

Outside, families waited expectantly for people they knew to disembark from the train.

I wanted someone to be waiting on that platform for me.

Instead, I just sat and watched, marveling at the interaction of people, and how it doesn’t change based on what country someone is in. Yeah, that love thing is universal.

I kept my head out of the train window for a long time, watching people, listening to the crickets, trying to let sleep take over my body.

By the time we left the border, so had the older women in my car.

The two French guys had made friends with someone in another couchette.

I had the car to myself.

I kicked my flips off and stretched out on the soft and dirty seats and threw my caridgan over my torso and eyes.

Come on, sleep. Let’s do this.

I laid there for a few minutes and thought to myself.

Music would help.

I dug through my purse for my iPod. It wasn’t there.

Oh, shit.

I dug through my messenger bag.

It wasn’t there.

Oh, shitty shit shit.

I looked through my purse again, dumping its contents on the seat.

Wallet. Knee brace. Tickets. Food. Camera. Phone.

No damn iPod.

Gone.

Now, normal D would have freaked. Cried. My music!

But, the only thought running thorugh my head was “Thank God I still have my laptop.” Now, losing that would be catastrophic.

So, I came to grips quickly that my soundtrack for my trip would now solely be the one in my head, and again closed my eyes.

This time I slept.

At some point in the night, a girl came into the couchette and took court across the seats from me. And then, later, around 3:30 a.m., an older gentleman came in, slapping my naked ankle to get me to move my feet so he could sit down.

Three hours later, we arrived to Belgrade.

Leg One of my 26-hour journey from Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria to Budva, Montenegro: Complete.

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Hanging in VK

Veliko Tarnovo is an easy place to get sucked in. Well, more specifically, Nomads Hostel IN VK is an easy place to get sucked in.

It’s a lovely hostel. The owners are amazing. The travelers who stay there are nice.

I ended up staying in the little town for five days.

The first full day, Abby and I went to the fortress and walked around for about an hour. Of course, it was ridiculously hot, so after that we decided we would eat. And drink.

“It’s our last meal,” I said, feeling suddenly very lonely and sad Abby was leaving to catch her flight in Istanbul in only a few hours.

Over a lunch of “diet pizza” and rakia, we sat and talked about the future.

I didn’t want Abby to leave. I was just starting to feel better. Now, I wanted to go out. But, it was too late.

As we sat at the train stop a in the early evening, I was sad. I had felt like such crap during Abby’s trip that I didn’t get to enjoy the company as much as I would have liked.

When she got on the two-car overnight train to Istanbul, we said our “see you soons” and then she was off.

For four more days, I stayed at the hostel, venturing out daily to explore, take photos and breathe in the fresh (and hot) mountain air.

The afternoon’s at the hostel included snacks of organic, home-grown sprouts, rose flavored water, homemade rakia and stories of life in the town.

I knew I had to leave and weighed my options. Belgrade? Pristina? I didn’t know.

Soon, I grew antsy and finally made an impulsive decision.

I wanted to go back to the Adriatic.

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Attempting culture

Growing up in America, I was taught that during thunderstorms, to seek shelter. Don’t stand under trees. Don’t stand under anything metal.

In Veliko Tarnovo, that little juicy bit of warning was completely unheeded.

Abby, our new Italian friend and I had learned “Carmina Burana” was being performed at the Tsarevets fortress for 15 LV so we decided to go and get some culture.

It had been a beautiful and sunny day in the little mountain town. But, as we ate dinner, clouds began to spill over the mountains surrounding us.

Ominous black clouds.

“I am really excited to see the ballet,” Abby said. She had grown up seeing ballets and this experience was a unique opportunity to catch a performance under the open sky in a fortress that was hundreds of years old.

It had such a romantic allure.

We purchased our tickets at the gate to the fortress.

I looked over the mountains to the black clouds hovering above the peaks.

“What happens if it rains?” I asked the girl who handed us our tickets.

“If the performance is rescheduled, you can go tomorrow night or if it is canceled, you can get your money back.”

OK.

We began to walk up the stone path towards the fortress towering above us on the hill.

Then, I felt it.

A big, fat drop of rain.

Damn.

We kept moving towards the hill.

Another drop. And another.

As soon as we reached the venue, for the second time in two weeks, the skies opened and let loose all of the water it had been storing.

Accompanied by wind, thunder and lightening.

We were on top of a hill. We were waiting for the show. We weren’t going to back down from the storm.

Instead, we looked for shelter. Under a tall metal umbrella crowded with people underneath.

This isn’t good. This isn’t safe.

But, we had no choice.

For 45 minutes, the storm wailed, pounding us with sideways rain, assaulting our ears with thunder over our heads and inching away at our lives as lightening struck around us.

Then, it stopped.

Maybe the show will go on.

An announcement came over the speakers in Bulgarian.

Nope. Not happening.

Everyone sighed as they moved from under the umbrella and began to inch their way back down the stone path towards town.

More rain.

Thankfully, no thunderstorm.

The three of us walked back towards Nomad’s Hostel and decided to go and get some drinks.

We found a bar with a covered terrace overlooking the city, our hostel 160 steps below, and warmed up with some rakia.

I had never tasted the strong liquor before.

Instantly, it’s sweet flavor trickled down my throat, warming every part of me.
We sat for a couple of hours, sipping our drinks and chatting.

Then, exhaustion crept in and I went home to dry off and to sleep in our dorm room.

I crawled into bed and let the rakia and the sleep do their thing as I looked forward to the next day and exploring the charming town of Veliko Tarnovo.

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Leaving the Black Sea

After nearly 10 days seaside, Abby and I boarded a bus to Bulgaria’s interior — the can’t-miss-town of Veliko Tarnovo. It’s not big. It’s not glitzy. But, it is breathtaking.

Little stone homes line old cobblestone streets. Stairs climb up the hillside, leading people to the main street packed with stores and delicious (and inexpensive) Bulgarian restaurants.

Abby and I arrived in the afternoon to VK and were immediately captivated.

“I wish I didn’t have to go back to Istanbul tomorrow,” she sighed as we arrived to the city. I didn’t want her to go, either.

We were picked up by the owner of Nomads Hostel, Georgi, and he drove us the quick distance to our hostel, a gorgeous and quaint home on the Gurko, a historic street, and overlooking the gorge which splits the city.

It was serene.

We entered the hostel and dropped our bags in our dorm room. With air-con.

It was a unique hostel — not only did our dorm have a bathroom en-suite, it also had bunk beds stacked three high. Different. And cool.

As we walked through the hostel, we learned it was one of Bularia’s green hostels.

From there, we made plans for the evening — a cultural experience …


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