Seoul came at the right time to make me realize how far I had gone off the rails.
If you caught my previous post you may have sensed the low point I hit in Seoul last week. No Mad Song was written one morning in a little park near my hostel, after a particularly bad nights sleep. I was done with hostels a long time ago but that last night, plus the return of general travel burnout (Seoul was my tenth city in 4 and a half months) combined to leave me feeling exhausted and hopeless. The song was an effort to pull myself together and a wake-up call to make some changes in the way I travel – or don’t travel.
But writing the song caused other changes to crystallize too. As soon as it was done I ran off to use the free WiFi in McDonalds to publish it, urged on by the thought that my words might help someone else, whatever their situation. This sudden sense of purpose, of being of service, was probably the best thing to get me out of my own head and stop thinking about my “situation”. And it led me to think about the direction and motivations of my travel blogging over the past 7 months.
I started blogging as a way to document my adventures from the previous year. I realized I had a huge resource of travel information, like accommodation, budgeting tips and other observations in my head that I wanted to share. And there was a bigger purpose too, I wanted to somehow provide encouragement and inspiration for long-term, perpetual travelers who like me, often depended on the emotional and motivational support contained within others’ travel blogs.
At the start I wasn’t writing in real-time but recalling where I’d been and what I’d learned. It was a lot of fun. Then, as people began responding to what I’d written, I started to worry about things like attracting comments, choosing the correct tags and timing my posts to reach more readers. I went to work on building my social media profiles to drive more visitors. Through Twitter, I became aware of what all the thousands of other travel bloggers were doing and the ideal, upbeat, work anywhere, climb every mountain lifestyle many were presenting (and often selling). I began to try to brand myself and make my tweets and blog posts more “poppy” and frequent to keep up with everyone else. And this is where the fun stopped.
I think Seoul came at the right time to make me more deeply aware of how far my travel lifestyle and also my blogging may have gone off the rails. Seoul is an amazing city, colorful, vibrant, clean, efficient and incredibly safe. However, after about a week and a half, my physical and mental tiredness caused me to feel out of place. There’s a huge emphasis in Seoul on being well dressed and looking immaculate, as well as a “boutique” focus to most of the shops, cafes and bars. People socialize and go out to eat mostly in groups. As a scruffy feeling, solo backpacker these things began to wear on me.
The upside of all of this was how it caused me to turn inwards and look at what I had done to place myself in this situation. What was I repeatedly doing, or not doing, that lead to travel burn out? Was my preference for slow, unplanned travel backfiring on me? How could I recover the original sense of purpose behind my blogging and in turn give myself more direction?
This post is way longer than I’d intended. But then that’s perfectly in alignment with the path I want to get back on, that is, to write what needs to be written and when, without concern for being snappy or hitting the perfect word count. No more top ten lists or how-to guides – the whole fun of travel is working things out for yourself! I’m not saying I’ve totally figured this out and won’t ever write that sort of content again but if I do it needs to come from a place of more authenticity and not solely for the purpose of fulfilling some sort of travel blogger role.
Most of all, as I sit here at 2.35pm in Fukuoka, Japan, I want to get back to creating, which I used to do so effortlessly, before I started thinking about it. Not just creating in terms of writing or art, but other stuff too, big stuff, things that I have yet to bring into the world but want to. I’ve a feeling the real cure for my burnout might lie there.
Has this post resonated with you in any way? Please feel free to leave a comment below.