The first time I ate McDonald’s abroad was in Rome during my semester there in the spring of 2014.

My “burner” Italian phone that I occasionally loaded with money was dead. My iPhone didn’t work in Europe. I had been sitting on the Spanish Steps for over an hour with an Eagle Eye out for my two girlfriends, who I was supposed to link up with to try a famous apple pasta.

They never came. There was a transportation strike I didn’t know about since I’d been in town all morning on foot.

I was hungry. I was irritated. I was lonely.

Then I saw them: the Golden Arches.

McDonald's in Italy

In that moment, I swear I saw a spotlight shine down from the heavens, or maybe it was just the glare from a passing Vespa, but I knew I was saved.

Since then, McDonald’s (and Burger King, Starbucks, etc.) has been an oasis for me on my travels. Especially as someone who experiences travel-induced anxiety, the ability to follow a routine, no matter where I am, is a lifesaver.

Here’s Why I Eat McDonald’s in Italy

McDonald's in Italy

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McDonald’s Isn’t Lonely.

McDonald's in Italy

You’re supposed to eat fast food alone. People do it all the time, even when they’re not traveling. At McDonald’s, I can walk in, order, sit down in a booth by myself, and no one gives it a second thought.

I’m not pitied and I’m not bothered. I’m just allowed to eat. While I sometimes challenge myself while traveling and eat at a local sit down restaurant alone, indulging in regional foods, I typically don’t feel like working through the social stigma attached to eating alone.

Grabbing a quick bite from a fast food place or grocery store is just easier. And that’s okay.

It Offers a Familiar Routine.

McDonald's in Italy

I know what’s expected of me at McDonald’s. I know how to order and how to find a table. I know to clear my place when I’m finished eating and place the tray above the trashcan to return it, because the routine is the same in each restaurant, no matter the country.

One of my pet peeves is restaurants whose structure and concept isn’t immediately clear; one’s that you walk into for the first time and are like, “Wait, how does this work? Do I wait to be seated or just sit down? Do I order at the counter or from the waiter? Where do I pay?”

So in foreign countries, where literally everything else is brand new and in need of decoding, I take solace in putting my brain on autopilot for a little while.

When my friend Smoky and I were in Budapest, we booked an 8PM dinner cruise, but at 6:30, as the sun dipped below the skyline, the temperature plummeted. Our teeth chattering, our bladders full, and our fingers growing stiff, we sought refuge in a nearby Starbucks — walking in immediately felt safe and familiar, so the time flew past.

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It Has a Familiar Menu.

McDonald's in Italy

The basis of fast food menus is the same in most countries. It’s also always combined with pictures of the food and numbers, so if I get stuck behind a language barrier, I can locate the picture of the food I’d like and hold up the corresponding number of fingers.

This method came through for me in France, Turkey, and Costa Rica. And I didn’t even have to mime my drink choice in the latter because the beverage station was on my side of the counter.

There Is Guaranteed Wifi.

McDonald's in Italy

I typically just put my phone on airplane mode when I travel and look for free wifi along the way. This is because I only recently got an iPhone that has a SIM, so the idea of purchasing a temporary SIM is a new concept for me, and I have Verizon, whose international coverage would cost me more than my soul. Because of this, I’ve gotten pretty good at winging it, but knowing that anytime I see the golden arches I can reload a map or call my mom is very reassuring.

It’s also nice to be able to catch up on social media or research destinations while I’m eating alone, instead of just staring out the window…which I do sometimes, or people watch, but I don’t always want to.

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I Can Always Charge My Phone.

McDonald's in Italy

I carry a portable charger in my purse, but I also carry a charging cord and adapter because my phone is my camera and my safety lifeline.

If it dies, I know I could finesse the situation, but I just prefer not to. At McDonald’s, I can sit down at a table and plug my phone in, no questions asked. You don’t even have to buy anything; it’s just a familiar place to sit for a moment and catch my breath.

Locals Eat There (Sometimes)

airline connections short connections tight connections

That’s the wildest thing about fast food. For locals, every single day of your once in a lifetime vacation is just another day. So why not eat at McDonald’s?

When I was in Costa Rica, I had been eating at mom and pop places, but everything there is so tourist-oriented that locals never seemed to be eating with us. On our last day, my friend Smoky and I ate at a McDonald’s in San Jose because we had to drop off our rental car at 1:00PM, but our Airbnb wasn’t available until 4:00PM. We needed to kill time, so to McDonald’s we went…along with every other young professional in the city.

So this is where they’d been hiding.

Men in suits. Women with fancy purses who looked like they just ran a board meeting. Moms with kids. Couples who probably had been married for 50 years. All together. At McDonald’s.

So go ahead. Judge me while you eat your artisan cheese in “the cutest little place that you just stumbled upon where nobody speaks English.” I’ll just be over here enjoying my french fries and memes. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

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McDonald's in Italy


The first time I was tired of traveling was in Paris in May of 2014.

I had been in Europe since January on a semester abroad in Rome, taking weekend trips and seeing iconic cities like Venice, Athens, and Istanbul for the first time.

When my semester ended, I met a family friend in Germany, stayed with my brother-in-law’s family in the Dutch countryside, and linked up with friends in Copenhagen before welcoming my sister to the other side of the pond for two weeks of travel in England and France.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Giverny, France. May 2014. A broken woman.

By the time we got to Gare Du Nord station in Paris, I was done.

But I was in Paris! And my sister was so excited to be in Europe! And we had already paid for our trip!

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What Is Travel Burnout?

Travel burnout is a temporary combination of exhaustion and depression. It can happen to anyone on a trip of any length and is usually triggered by the consistent stress and fatigue that existing in an unfamiliar environment can bring.

Travel burnout can be embarrassing to admit, as it seems like such a first world problem. Oh, you’re on a vacation and it’s too hard for you? You’re on sensory overload, exhausted, and want to go home? Well, yes. That’s exactly it.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Seesters in London. May 2014. Everything was still fine at this point.

My sister and I had dreamed for years about taking a “Seester Trip” together in Europe and now I didn’t even want to be there.

I didn’t have enough energy to get up before noon. My skin broke out and I got cold sores on both sides of my mouth. I was irritable. My stomach hurt. I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower for the first time, seeing it sparkle against the Parisian sky, and I might as well been staring at a giant dumpster for all I cared.

And I felt so guilty about feeling this way on top of everything else. Like I was such a brat for not enjoying Paris.

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How Do I Know if I Have Travel Burnout?

Well, if you’re reading this post, I’d say that’s a pretty good indicator that something is up. But, travel burnout manifests itself differently for different people.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Aachen, Germany. May 2014. When things started going wrong on that trip. You can tell I was starting to slip away by the lack of coordination and effort in my outfit. WHAT IN THE WORLD LITTLE EMILY. WHY.

You might be tired of traveling if you:

  • Put off planning the trip — like it’s two days out and you have no accommodations booked.
  • Can’t get excited about an upcoming holiday — you regret even booking it in the first place.
  • Don’t want to leave the hotel once you’ve arrived — it’s too overwhelming to think about going anywhere.
  • Have an overall feeling of anger or apathy about your location and the people in it.

Tired of Traveling? 6 Ways To Get Over Travel Burnout

If you are tired of traveling, here is a list of ways you can begin to work through your feelings and begin to enjoy yourself again.

Realize How You Are Feeling Is Valid

The feelings of guilt created by travel burnout can exacerbate the problem far beyond its original scope.

When I was in Europe in the fall of 2017, I had a run in with bed bugs in Amsterdam. I also was shooting for a “cool Euro girl” vibe with my wardrobe, so I only packed two pairs of chic booties instead of good walking shoes.

That bit me in the butt. By the time I arrived in Prague 10 days later, I was covered in 70+ bedbug bites and had blisters the size of my toes on each of my toes.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Smiling in Prague (October 2017) because my friend Smoky let me borrow a pair of her shoes 🙂

I fell in love with Prague and had planned on climbing to multiple vantage points around the city for the most bangin’ Instas of all time, but instead felt like crying every time I looked at stairs because of how tired I was, how itchy I was, and how much my feet hurt.

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I knew I was not in the best shape to experience Prague the way I wanted to, but after my experience in Paris 3 1/2 years earlier, I now had some perspective. I know that it’s okay to not always be having a good time on vacation.

I understand that I will have good days and bad days, just like I do at home. Because as much as it seems like a fairy tale cut off from the rest of reality, traveling is still real life.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Prague, October 2017. Czech out the shoes that betrayed me.

To get over feeling tired of traveling, you first have to acknowledge how you feel and accept that it’s okay.

Do Something Familiar

I ate at McDonald’s in Istanbul and Burger King in Amsterdam. I sat in a Starbucks in Salzburg, Austria for over an hour playing Temple Run on my phone because I was lonely and wandering aimlessly around the city wasn’t appealing to me anymore.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Dublin, July 2015. I had been in England for six weeks visiting my sister who was living in London for a year when we took this weekend trip. I was starting to get tired…as you can see by my outfit.

And you know what? This behavior is okay! Sometimes you can find comfort in retreating to familiar spaces in foreign countries. I know that when I see the Golden Arches, or that little green mermaid lady that Starbucks has, I can expect a place to sit and rest, free wifi, and a familiar menu.

Travel burnout can manifest itself in the inability to make choices in an unfamiliar environment. You might get stuck in your hostel because you are just overwhelmed by the task of finding somewhere new to eat amid all the new choices.

So if you are tired of traveling, take a shower and go to McDonalds. You need to eat!

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Check Your Nutrition

I’m not contradicting myself with the McDonald’s advice, I promise. When we travel, our schedules and habits are sometimes put on hold to experience the local way of life, but experiencing a sudden, consistent change in diet can often throw you all out of whack.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Monteverde, Costa Rica, May 2017. SO tired after a hike, but still having a blast.

If you begin to feel tired of traveling, try eating more like you do at home. If you tend to eat junk at home, gravitate towards fresh vegetables and lots of water for a few meals while on the road.

Don’t drink alcohol as it’ll only make your feelings of being overwhelmed and isolated even worse.

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Avoid One Night Stands

If you are on a “short” trip (i.e. less than two weeks or so), it can be tempting to try and cram as much in as possible. This leads to being tired of traveling. A 10 day vacation can seem like an eternity when you’re exhausted. To avoid this, I always try to spend at least two nights in each location so I can settle in and take a breather.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica May 2017. I got so sunburned this day that even looking at pictures of the beach the next day made me want to puke. My friend Smoky and I did a couple of “one night stands” on this trip and I was SO TIRED AND DONE by our last day.

Yeah, yeah okay, Emily you say…scrolling past this advice. Please. My “see everything at once and be constantly on the go” trips are the worst ones I’ve had. Sometimes travel burnout is inevitable, but you can put it off my allowing yourself some room to breathe in your itinerary.

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Take a Day Off

It’s okay to watch Netflix in Paris. It’s okay to spend the day lying in the park in Argentina. It’s okay to spend a night soaking in a tub in Bangkok instead of going out dancing. When you start to feel apathetic about your travels, allow yourself one night (and one night only) to take a step back and fall into your familiar routine.

Sleep in. Take a bath. Do your laundry. Watch a movie.

travel burnout tired of traveling

Leeds Castle, England. May 2015. At the beginning of my six week trip to see my sister. Feeling great.

After your day off, test the waters by wandering around a supermarket or chatting up the friendly girl in your dorm. See if you feel any better.

Go Home

Sometimes it’s okay to abandon ship and go home early. You know yourself, so trust yourself to make the best choice for your health and finances.

Feeling tired of traveling, but your flight home is in three days? Weigh the pros and cons of the flight change fee and canceling your accommodation before trying to stick it out. Do you have four months left on your working holiday visa, but you are desperately ready to go home and get back to your routine? Go for it!

Study Abroad Bucket List: The Ultimate European Scavenger Hunt

Edinburgh, April 2014. I was actually having a blast on this trip to seem my college roomate during our semesters abroad, despite my grumpy face.

If you are traveling long term, it’s important to note that there will be some reverse culture shock when you get back to your hometown, but occasionally the return to “normalcy” can help you get out of your funk.

Final Thoughts on Travel Burnout, Anxiety, and Depression

This post is meant to help those who are experiencing a temporary combination of exhaustion and depression brought on by the sensory overload of traveling.

If your feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness, or depression extend beyond your travels, or if you simply feel overwhelmed and want someone to talk to, I’d like to recommend Better Help. It’s an online counseling service where you can video chat, talk on the phone, or even just type to licensed counselors. It is $35 to $70 USD per week for unlimited access to your counselor and you can cancel at any time.

Study Abroad Bucket List: The Ultimate European Scavenger Hunt

Paris, May 2014. Not feeling it.

I’m not affiliated with Better Help and I don’t get any commission if you sign up. I just think it’s genuinely useful.

Feelings of travel burnout can also be heavily linked to homesickness and culture shock. You can read more about how to overcome that here.

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