Avoiding burnout: Finding your pace during long term travel

napping on roadside“I’m tired, Mom,” Daryl mumbled as we pedaled a remote Oregonian highway. “I want to sleep.”

“I’m sleepy too,” Davy added.

John and I figured the boys were just whining – they were eight years old, after all. We figured once we arrived at a town park the boys would be off and running, because… well, that’s what kids do.

An hour later, we pedaled into town, and shortly thereafter arrived at the park with a fabulous playground teeming with kids. We parked our bikes, and John and I found a nice bench to sit on where we could watch our kids play.

The boys took one look at the playground, and another look at our laps. Davy crawled into my lap, Daryl crawled into John’s, and they both passed out. Thirty minutes later, both boys were still sound asleep.

“What are we going to do?” John asked.

“I think we need to let them sleep,” I replied. “I guess they really were tired.”

We pulled out our sleeping pads, and gently laid the kids down. Four hours later, they finally woke up.

sleeping in the park


Finding our pace

John and I, as we watched our children sleep in that park, realized that our pace was not realistic. Prior to leaving, John had insisted that we needed to average 50 miles per day. AVERAGE. In other words, if we took a day off, we needed to do a century to make up for it. As John put it, “It’s not even worth going if we’re going to ride less than fifty miles per day.”

But now, three weeks in, we realized that fifty miles per day was too much for us. I was exhausted. John complained of the knife blade digging into his shoulders. The boys were being pushed way too hard. This was simply not doable – for us.

We faced a choice that day. We could either revamp our expectations, or call it quits. We could hang on to that random number John had pulled out of thin air, continue to push ourselves beyond our capacity, and eventually burn out, or we could change our expectations.

We changed.

Over time, we discovered that for us, a workable pace was 30 – 50 mile days, with at least every fourth day off. Preferably, we kept the mileage on the lower side of that range, and we took even more days off. That worked for us.

sleeping on a picnic table

This was another one of those periods where we started pushing too hard. After a couple weeks of long, hard days, the boys fell asleep before we even got the tent set up. We realized we needed to back off. It’s a constant struggle to find a pace that works.


What’s your pace?

Regardless of how you are traveling, you’ll need to figure out your pace. Are you heading out on a bike tour? Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Or the Camino de Santiago? Or are you heading out for a round-the-world trip to experience the wonders of our planet? You’ll need to find your pace.

I know a lot of people who have headed out for long-term travel using various means of transportation. And every single one of them started out too fast.

Know that you will probably do the same.

You’ll know it when it happens, and you’ll face a choice. Call it quits? Or revise expectations? Ultimately, it’s up to you. Avoiding burnout is a challenge, but can be done.

hiking colorado trail


What if there is no choice?

Sometimes, there is no choice. Maybe your visa is running out, or you have to get to a certain place to meet someone. Maybe the seasons are changing, and you’re racing to try to avoid winter. There are reasons for moving quickly – many of them, in fact.

When you’re in that situation, you’ll move fast. That’s okay, just know why. And make sure your kids know why as well.

In general, we traveled slowly. Very, very slowly. There were times, however, when we simply couldn’t. When we first left Alaska, we knew that we had 5000 miles ahead of us that we needed to cover before winter set in. All four of us agreed that we would rather travel fast than to deal with snow.

In Colombia, our visas were about to expire and we needed to get out of the country. That resulted in a mad dash across the country, fighting infection in Davy’s toe. Read the whole story here.

In a perfect world, those mad dashes would never happen, but it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes, we mess up with our planning. Other times, stuff happens. We deal with it, pushing ourselves harder than we want, but as hard as we know we have to.

That’s okay – just don’t plan on that being your long-term strategy.

hiking colorado trail 2


What about mental burnout?

If you travel long enough, you’ll find yourself in a mental burnout situation. Maybe you’ve been moving slowly, so physically you’re okay, but your brain is on overload.

While I have no scientific studies to back this up, my theory is that our brains can only handle so much. If you’ve been challenged by your surroundings for a while, your brain needs some time to catch up. It needs to process what you’ve learned, figure out a way to make sense of it all, and “clear some space.”

The best way to deal with it is to lock yourself in a hotel room and vegetate. For days, if need be. Give your brain the time it needs, and you’ll be happier for it.

Remember that long term travel is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to see and do everything. Take advantage of the time you have, but don’t burn yourself out to the point where you’re not enjoying it.

Find your pace. You’ll be happy you did.

bike touring


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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15 Responses to Avoiding burnout: Finding your pace during long term travel

  1. Deia @ Nomad Wallet February 28, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Wow, even 30 miles a day is quite a lot of ground to cover! This is great advice. Life is short etc., but seeing as many things as possible in the shortest time possible is not the way to do it. When we were in Montreal, we spent a lot of time being lazy at our AirBnB accommodation and it did feel like a waste sometimes, when there was so much going on in the city, but when you need a downtime, there’s no arguing with your body.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel March 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

      @Deia @ Nomad Wallet, Yes. Give your body time to relax. If you don’t, you’ll pay the price. We often said that Mother Nature would make sure we took the time off – the only question was if we would take it on our own terms, or if we would get sick.

  2. Nomadic Justin March 8, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Excellent and timely advice, Nancy. Thanks so much for posting this!

    I am presently in the final stages of preparation for riding the TransAmerica Trail with my black lab. We are heading out in approximately 10 weeks to do the ride for charity (read more about it here http://nomadicjustin.com/transamerica-trail-2014/).

    One of the struggles I’ve had is deciding what an appropriate daily mileage target is. The weight of my dog and trailer, gear, weather, terrain and more are all factors.

    As the day of departure approaches I’ve decided to not have any mileage target at all 🙂 I will know by the time I reach Pueblo, CO whether it’s reasonable to expect to reach Astoria, OR before I start getting snowed on. If it looks like that’s not possible I’ll adjust my route.

    At the end of the day I think an enjoyable experience is far more important than meeting any predetermined daily mileage or even a particular destination. As bicycle tourist we must remain utterly flexible and attempt to take each day as it comes.

    “The pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal and it’s not measured in crank revolutions.” ~ Przemek Duszynski

    Thanks for the effort of putting such a great resource on the Internet. I understand and appreciate all the hard work behind this blog as well as your books.

    Blue skies and tail winds!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel March 11, 2014 at 9:51 am #

      @Nomadic Justin, YES! Don’t set a target at all – just take it one day at a time and see how it goes. You will find out soon enough what works for you. Trust me when I say that you will try to go too far too fast and will end up wiped out. Just take it for what it’s worth and adjust your pace.

      Most importantly – have a great time! It’ll be great!

  3. Wendy Sewell March 11, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    So true!! Even when we go for just a month, there’s no question we, and particularly our kids, need days “off”. There are only so many “museum behavior” days they can manage before it’s time for a water park or similar. I think your point about mental breaks is totally valid too. You need some down time from learning or it’s all just a blur later.

  4. Ross March 13, 2014 at 3:12 am #

    Great inspiration. I haven’t done anything as cool as a few thousand mile cycle but I did travel for a year and you do need to find your own pace. We were gungho to see everything at once at the beginning but after a few months we were so wrecked we had to slow down the pace so that we could enjoy everything and not fly by it.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel March 17, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

      @Ross, Absolutely! You can push yourself for a couple weeks, or maybe even a couple months. But beyond that, you just can’t. Your body needs a pace it can handle.

  5. ben March 16, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Just do the things you enjoy with and be happy! 🙂

  6. Steven Garrett March 18, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    Man that sounds like a cool way to travel and also extremely tireing. Dunno how you do that.

  7. Marie @Budgeting for Travel March 29, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    While travelling it’s very important that you enjoy your time and I think no need to hurry. Planning would be the first important things to do when you are planning to go for a long term travel.

  8. Echo Santos April 22, 2014 at 11:03 pm #

    Good read! I love it! I always prefer travelling long term over shorter ones. For me I don’t really feel being burned out. I always see to finish the journey.

    But then I do finish the journey I have this feeling that I don’t wanna see my backpack again for quite sometime. 😀

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel April 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      @Echo Santos, I think our brain has to do that. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m ready to go home no matter how long the journey is. If we are traveling for 4 days, I am ready to go home after 4 days. If we’re out for 3 weeks, I’m ready to go home in 3 weeks. And if we’re out for 3 years, I’m ready then. I think our brain starts preparing us even when it’s not a conscious thing.

  9. MACH May 7, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    Great solid info and sound advice. I admire your journey. Thanks for sharing.

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