Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

Dealing with travel fatigue

Hello everyone, I am back from Tunisia – 8 days in north Africa and I am glad to get home at last. The extreme heat (it hit 39 degrees in Kairouan), crowds, constant haggling and lack of rest made me quite exhausted from this trip actually and I am going to address the issue of travel fatigue. Now you know how in Amazing Race, the contestants can end up having huge arguments and shouting at each other out of frustration? The same thing could happen to you if you are too way ambitious on your travels. We’re not just talking about being physically tired – I’m talking about being mentally exhausted, totally stressed out, when you are no longer enjoying yourself and become miserable on holidays.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

At the amphitheatre of El Jem

Let me tell you the situation I had found myself in: SNCF Tunisia (the national rail company) had an offer for tourists – pay a flat fee for a carte bleue and you can get unlimited rail travel for a week anywhere in Tunisia. The cheapest ticket worked out to be 30 TND or about £10.50 or S$21.40 – it is a really good deal, when you consider that a one day travel card in London zones 1-3 costs £10.60 already. So about the same price, you can get unlimited travel for a whole week in a huge country, that is a good deal. So for the first few days, I was waking up very early, getting several trains a day to try to see as many places as possible and it totally wore me out. The intense heat (high 30s), the lack of air-conditioning on some of the older trains, the crowds on the trains and the unpredictable delays meant I actually regretted pushing myself to make the most out of my carte bleue.

I wasn’t just physically tired – I got frustrated and irritable. I was miserable from the long hours spent either on packed trains or waiting on platforms for yet another delayed train; I got stressed out when the train broke down in the middle of nowhere yet again. The fact is that I didn’t enjoy a lot of my travels because I had simply been way too ambitious about how much of Tunisia I wanted to see. Travel fatigued had kicked in, big time. This kind of travel fatigue is often self-inflicted and it is not a question of simply “oh just man up and stop complaining”, it gets to the point where you have to realize, hey, I’m on holiday, I’m not rushing around to try to win a million dollars like on the Amazing Race, why am I pushing myself so bloody hard when I am not enjoying it anymore?

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

In the Medina in Tunis

Travel fatigue can ruin your holiday. It is important to have a good balance between making the most of your trip and not punishing yourself when traveling, so here are a few useful tips for you to follow when planning your trip.

1. Ensure that you have enough sleep.

Do make sure that you get at least seven solid hours of sleep a night when traveling – it is quite common to suffer from insomnia when traveling: that can be the result of jet lag or simply trying to sleep in an unfamiliar environment (too hot, too noisy, lack of privacy etc). Trying to push yourself the next day when you have not had enough sleep will mean that you are too tired to enjoy yourself and your body will protest even if the will is there to push on. If you have a continuous period of insufficient sleep, you will fall ill from the lack of rest and that will definitely ruin your holiday.

The remedy is simple: plan ahead. If you know you need to get up at 6 am the next day, go to bed very early just to make sure you do get enough hours of sleep. Be flexible – if you do find yourself totally unable to sleep for whatever reason, then turn off that 6 am alarm and allow yourself that vital two or three more hours of sleep that your body needs. You should also be willing to pay a bit more money to buy a better class of accommodation so that you do get everything you need (air-conditioning, privacy, a comfortable bed) to ensure that you do get a good night’s sleep.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

Do not underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep!

2. Eat well, drink enough water

When you are traveling, always make sure you eat well – it can be tempting to miss meals or simply turn to unhealthy snacks like chocolates, crisps and ice cream instead of having proper meals. If you must snack, try to have healthy snacks like fruits instead of junk food. If you are traveling in hot countries, always make sure you have some water with you – you don’t want to be dehydrated. The lack of good food, regular meals and/or water will punish your body, upset your digestive system and can contribute to travel fatigue. I try to always carry some fruit with me when I have a long day. Use mealtimes as a chance to rest as well – pick a nice restaurant where you can relax and recharge yourself not just physically, but mentally as you can relax away from the bustle of the city.

3. Quality, not quantity

Instead of rushing to see many places in a day, take the time to relax and appreciate the places you visit. One of the most amazing places I saw in Tunisia was the amphitheatre of El Jem (as featured in Amazing Race USA Season 1) but I spent only about an hour there because I had wanted to do three cities that day – that is something I regret because El Jem actually turned out to be the most amazing place in all of Tunisia that I have visited and I could have easily spent two or three hours there just soaking in the atmosphere. Instead, I was running around, constantly checking my watch. I remember thinking, “oh no, I have another twenty minutes and I have not seen the other side of it yet, I have to hurry!” That was when I hit my head on a doorway coming out of a stairwell and drew blood – the Romans were a lot shorter in 3rd century AD when it was built. More haste, less speed.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

That’s me at El Jem.

Rushing through places like that will not give you the best possible experience – whether you are visiting a historical monument like a castle, an archaeological site like El Jem coliseum or a museum, do give yourself at least two hours to explore the place. If you think you’ve done it justice in 60 minutes, then great – you’re ahead of schedule and can stop for a cup of tea and have a break.

4. Have an ‘off’ day to recharge

When I was in Greece earlier this summer, I was advised that having too many early starts would simply wear me out and I would not be enjoying myself. Thus I was advised to avoid putting two demanding days back to back, that means having an ‘off’ day when you wake up a bit later than usual, maybe spend a few hours by the beach or the pool relaxing or simply visiting something fairly local rather than doing anything too ambitious. That would allow you to charge your batteries both physically and emotionally – it isn’t just the physical punishment your body takes, stress can take other forms too.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

At the Carthage archaeological site

I remember sitting on the platform at Sousse, waiting for about 75 minutes for the train back north and as it got dark, I got worried whether or not I would ever get back to Hammamet that night. As I spotted a member of staff, I asked him, “Excusez moi monsieur, savez vous quand le prochain train pour Tunis va arriver?” (Excuse me sir, do you know when the next train for Tunis is going to arrive?) Without even making eye contact with me, he just said, “Je’n sais rien.” (I don’t know anything.) Talk about stressful – I may have been just sitting around on a train station platform but my anxiety levels were through the roof. That is the kind of stress you want to spare yourself of when having your ‘off’ day.

5. Do your homework, know what to expect

If you are traveling in a third world country, you ought to do some homework and understand exactly what you are getting yourself into. That way, there will be no rude shocks and unpleasant surprises when you get there and you will be prepared to deal with these challenging circumstances. Do consider investing in a travel guide for the country. There is plenty of information on the internet for you, but also do speak to friends who have traveled to that country and ask them what their experiences have been, what they enjoyed doing there and what mistakes you should avoid. It is not about turning up dressed appropriately or having insect repellent – it is about preparing yourself mentally and emotionally to deal with potentially stressful and difficult situations you may encounter.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

At the museum of Carthage

I may speak French – one of the two official languages in Tunisia – but I was amazed at the number of people who spoke little or no French at all there. Thankfully, I am able to speak some Arabic as well (Tunisia’s other official language), which did get me out of some very tricky situations when I encountered taxi drivers who spoke virtually no French or English at all.  Do some research, if you are going to a country where you don’t speak the local language – then do your homework and go prepared!

6. Do not cry over spilt milk

Things can go wrong and when they do, whining and complaining about it will not change anything. Let me give you an example – last week I met a British man at my hotel who claimed that one of the local shopkeepers had given him the wrong change earlier that evening. The difference was about 1.5 TND (£0.52 or S$1.07) and he was kicking up a big fuss. “That Tunisian shopkeeper was distracting me by asking me where I was from, how long I was in Tunisia and all that and all that time, I was trying to count the change he was giving me. He conned me, he gave me the wrong change.” I offered to accompany him back to the shop and speak to the shopkeeper about the mistake since I do speak French and some Arabic, perhaps I could help him overcome the language barrier to resolve the situation – but he refused, he said that he had already left the shop and couldn’t prove that he was given the wrong change.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

Outside the El Jem amphitheatre

So instead, he was going to just sit there, whine about how crooked and dishonest the locals are and be miserable – over a sum of 1.5 TND. Well, even if I had gone back to the shop with him, it was really his word versus the shopkeeper’s word and there was no way we could have proven anything. The sensible thing to have done in that situation was to simply chalk it up to experience and promise oneself never to make that same mistake again – always take your time to check your change before leaving the cashier, especially when dealing with an unfamiliar currency. But never cry over spilt milk – that British tourist was not achieving anything by simply prolonging his misery by sulking over the matter. Take responsibility for the mistake, then let it go (or as the French say, laissez-tomber) and get on with your holiday.

7. Be sensitive and supportive of your fellow travelers

Even if things are going very well for you, please take a moment to check up on your fellow travelers – are they tired? Unwell? Upset? Stressed out? Are they appropriately dressed for the weather? Remember, some people cope better than others, so if you are lucky enough to be one of those who are coping well, is there something you may be able to do to help others around you? Sometimes, all it takes is a listening ear to make the difference, otherwise if say you have someone in your group who is extremely tired or falling ill, you may have to alter your schedule with his/her condition in mind. If someone is upset or complaining, do not simply dismiss their misgivings – take a moment to listen and find out what the real issues are.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

At the Kelibia Fort

8. Speak up: be honest but always be constructive.

Lastly, if you are genuinely unhappy with something during your travels, do speak up. Sometimes even I am guilty of not speaking up – I don’t want to upset my fellow travelers by complaining or even simply by showing a lack of enthusiasm. I hate to cause anyone any inconvenience or be seen as the troublemaker, so I often just keep my feelings to myself even when travel fatigue is setting in. If you are traveling in a group, you should always have an agreement amongst the group that anyone and everyone can speak up no matter what the issue is. I have made the mistake of bottling up my feelings until the last straw breaks the camel’s back then I just have a break down – don’t wait till that situation happens before you speak up!

So here’s the rule: by all means be honest, but always think of something constructive to add to your comment. For example, if the weather is really hot, by all means say mention that you’re feeling very hot – but then follow that up with a suggestion to deal with the situation. “I’m really hot, why don’t we stop for an ice cream?” “The heat is really exhausting, can we visit the museum first and then go to the park later in the evening?” “It is going to be really hot tomorrow, shall we leave a bit earlier at 6:30 am so we can explore the fort during the cooler hours of the morning?” Now compare that with someone who is just complaining non-stop about the hot weather without being constructive. “It’s too hot. I hate this stupid weather. I’m sweating so much, why did we choose to come to this horrible place, it’s hot like hell here.” Someone who is simply whining and moaning is stating the obvious and that will achieve nothing but annoy everyone else around. So by all means, if something is indeed bothering you, speak up and say something but you have to try your best to be constructive at the same time.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

What do you say when you feel like that?

So that’s it from me on this issue. Even experienced travelers like me do succumb to travel fatigue from time to time. It is important to spot the signs and take the necessary step to deal with it when it sets in. Ultimately, holidays are meant to be fun, you are meant to enjoy the experience, not count the days before you get to go home. Do leave a comment below and share your travel experiences – have you ever had a bout of travel fatigue when on holiday? How did you deal with it? Thanks for reading.

Dealing with travel fatigue - Alvinology

Enjoying a traditional Tunisian meal



  1. Super detailed! I am one of those travelers who is guilty of always trying to pack too much into my itinerary. In the end, I would wind up seeing less than half. Planning is really quite important, but it’s a fine balance. Plan too much and a holiday don’t feel like a holiday.

    1. Oh good planning definitely helps makes sure that your holiday goes according to plan, but trying to do too much will wear you out and you may end up not enjoying yourself if your schedule is too demanding. I really do regret not having taken my time at El Jem, which was undoubtedly the most beautiful, awesome, incredible place in all of North Africa that I have seen – I rushed through that in about an hour, only to then wait 45 minutes at the train station for the delayed train. So by all means, do plan – but also plan to rest and relax!

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