“No More Rocks” or Knowing When to Take a Break


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One of the most important lessons you can learn when traveling is when it’s time to give up. It’s not always easy to admit to yourself that you’ve hit the wall, but it can be a valuable part of your travel experience- and not necessarily the end of it either.

The second or third time I found myself crying in my guest house, alone, I realized something wasn’t quite right. I loved Cambodia- everything from the friendly people to the beautiful blue beaches to the smiling people. I enjoyed traveling alone and I was doing some of my best writing all trip. I should have been having an awesome time, but for some reason I just wasn’t.

Too burned out to enjoy this? Just wrong.

Describing my symptoms to my dad over Gchat one evening he said very knowingly, “Oh yes, I know what you mean. No more rocks.”

You see, when I was 11, my parents bought an RV and took my brother and I on a three month road trip all over the United States. It was my dad’s dream; he’d taken a sabbatical from work, poured over guidebooks and planned an itinerary that included all the great highlights of the American West. It was the trip of a lifetime, which is why he was shocked about two months in when we reached the Badlands, South Dakota and everyone refused to get out of the car.

“What is even here?” My brother and I asked, lazily.

“There are these really beautiful rock for-”

“We’ve already seen rocks! Lots of rocks! No more rocks.” My dad was dumbfounded. Here we were at one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country and all his kids wanted to do was ride their bikes and maybe go swimming. After two months of non-stop sightseeing we were totally burned out.

mesa

photo credit: Wolfgang Staudt


It took a little bit longer this time, but I had reached the point of No More Rocks. I was tired. After 6 months of spending no longer than a week in any given place I was exhausted. It didn’t matter how beautiful the scenery was, my brain had reached capacity and all I really wanted was to take a break.

Here are the symptoms of No More Rocks Syndrome:

  • More Down Days Than Up- Anyone who reads this blog regularly can probably tell I was starting to slow down. Just look at my breakdown in Vang Vieng a couple weeks ago   over pretty much nothing.
  • Extreme Laziness– There’s a ton of really exciting stuff out there to see but all of a sudden all I really wanted to do was lie in bed and watch CSI reruns. I was actually physically exhausted.
  • Homesickness– I started thinking about home a lot more than usual. The things I seemed to be missing most were stuff like having a routine, having a drawer to unpack in, and sleeping in the same bed every night.

Luckily the cure for No More Rocks syndrome isn’t just to give up and go home (at least not always). What was bothering me wasn’t the act of being abroad, it was the constantly moving around. The solution then, was simply to stay in one place for awhile.

In another live I would have found myself a bar job in Sihanoukville and become a beach bum. As things were I had a far better option. It was time to go back to China.

In China I could live with Mike, work on my website all day and actually unpack my damn backpack for awhile. I’d have a familiar face, I’d have a routine, and I’d be able to actually save some money instead of hemorrhaging it everywhere. I’d already been planning to come back to china in April, so this was only a matter of pushing my flight up a few weeks. The perfect solution.

My stuff looks kinda sad actually, all laid out like that.

So now I’m back in Xi’an and happy as can be. I’ll be using this as a home base for the next couple of months while doing some travels within China and to Hong Kong. I’ll also be working on some top secret projects which I can share with you guys really soon…

In the end it’s about knowing yourself and your limitations. Sure I could have pressed on for a few more weeks, headed up to Northern Thailand like I’d originally planned. It wouldn’t have killed me or anything. But I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as it deserves to be enjoyed. It wouldn’t have been worth it. Thailand will always be there, but right now I am doing what’s best for me.

Article by

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.
  1. Hey Steph

    I totally understand what you mean by No More Rocks. I had this in Turkey last summer…I was in a beautiful city, but I was sick, there was nobody to talk to, and all I wanted to do was go home and spend time with my family before coming back to Korea. Which I did. Now, I look back on that time extremely fondly because I listened to myself and did what felt right for me.

    My younger, more impatient self had this in Moscow. Another church? THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. Me and a few of the other surlier teenagers would sit on a bench and talk amongst ourselves, oblivious to what the guide was saying.

    You’re right, the best cure is to have a homebase for a while and have a familiar face or two foating around.

    Also, I’m intrigued by these top secret plans! Can you give us any clues?

    • I remember being burned out by the churches in Italy after awhile. It’s strange how the most amazing things can lose their wonder when you are just not IN the mood.

      Top secret plans involve big project for this fall… Should have more to say sometime this month!

  2. Fontaine says:

    Good to see you taking a break. It sounds like you definitely need it.
    After all the traveling you’ve done, are you still using the REI Venus 65L? Do you have a recommendation for something different?

    • I am still using it although I think I may replace it when I come home this summer. It’s totally sturdy and keeping together nicely but I want something a little more compact.

  3. I’ve had No More Rocks Syndrome myself a few times!
    Sightseeing can be so tedious…I don’t know how people do it for months and months straight without taking a rest in the same place fore a while.

  4. This is why I recommend that folks stay in places for longer. It allows you to relax and helps you to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

    • madhuri says:

      I totally agree here….I guess women get tired more of constant moving as compared to Men….I had a similar experience when I was on tour to Goa (India) right after my marraige. I was tired of seeing beaches, the sand and salty water everywhere we went.the waves didn’t amuse me any longer and the shels were no longer attractive !! I wanted to remain indoors relaxing in bed watching silly tv shows and enjoy my food in the room doing nothing….but it was just the opposite with my ex husband !! I wanted us to know more about each other rather than seeing more number of places and beaches….

  5. 6 months – that’s exactly where I hit my breaking point around South America. Was so tired of waterfalls, jungles, and yes! Rocks.

    I did a little cryin’ myself in a really crappy hostel in Colombia when I was so exhausted because I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep on the rock-hard bed and potato sack for a pillow. Made plans that night to finish Colombia and then head back to a cozy town in Ecuador for a few month stay, instead of heading up to Central America. It’s a tough decision to make, but totally understandable.

    Traveling is hard work! I don’t think many people realize that.

    • Traveling can be really hard work! It’s so rewarding but man, after awhile you really need a sanity break.

  6. As always, I admire your honesty. No More Rocks Syndrome is one part of long term travelling I’m obviously not looking forward to, but hopefully like with you there’ll be a decent solution. I have already told myself not to rush around places to pack more in, which I usually have a tendency to do and I will try to travel at a slower pace so hopefully this will help. Enjoy China and re-charging your batteries!

    • Try to avoid the compulsion to “sightsee”. Instead, just stay in one place for a couple weeks and rather than “seeing” life, actually just live it, instead.

  7. Well said. I reached my backpacker expiry date on some beach in Thailand a few years back, I couldn’t even last two weeks, yet the year before I could have happily chilled out there for a summer.

    ‘What was bothering me wasn’t the act of being abroad, it was the constantly moving around. ‘

    Exactly, traveling without moving. These days, I prefer to work/ live in countries and just go about my usual day. I still travel, I just don’t move a lot once I’m there..good luck!

    • Yep. Choose a location and stay there awhile. Sure, you risk not getting to see certain “sights”, but your mental health is worth it. I spent a year in South Korea and never saw even half the things most folks do when they visit for a week, but I never felt bored with the country. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  8. I just started reading your blog not too long ago and could tell you were down in the dumps! Glad to hear you’re taking a break 🙂

  9. I’ve been getting the same feeling lately. It’s hard to be in constant sight-see mode. Sometimes it just gets…overwhelming. We’re thinking of heading to Ireland to work on a farm for a month or two before heading to Asia. It will just be nice to not have to worry about where we’re going next, how we’re going to get there, where we’re going to stay…
    And like you said, it’s not about going home. I don’t feel like I want to go home yet. I just want some sort of permanence and the relaxation that comes with that…even if it’s only for the time being.

  10. Allison says:

    I can totally relate to “No more rocks” (perhaps also hit at the same location on a different cross country trek). Glad you’re taking some time to relax and enjoy a different form of travel

  11. I definitely agree. Funny – your part with your dad reminds me of a Bill Bryson story where his dad would drive them out from Iowa to somewhere flat and dusty out West, they were always exasperated with him!
    I think too many people take really long trips – gap YEAR etc – just because other people do or it sounds impressive or whatever. As for just traveling, I think a few months at a time is enough. You need time to enjoy a warm bath, being with family, not doing anything, to absorb and reflect on the experience I think. Also, I get bored just traveling, I prefer to volunteer or somehow join a local community than just go from place to place.

  12. Being from one place to another for less than a week can really be exhausting. Then you’ve seen a lot and the next thing wouldn’t be as exciting and beautiful anymore. Good luck in China!

  13. Sometimes I feel like this at the opposite time.. like when I first leave home. I get the bit of home-sickness etc out of my system, then I’m ready for anything! haha

    Great post :]

  14. No more than a week in each place for 6 months?! No wonder! I don’t know if that ever works for anyone, but I’ve learned a long time ago that this type of travel definitely isn’t for me. Add to the mix a young relationship…
    Staying put for a while isn’t giving up or even necessarily “taking a break”, it’s a different kind of travel. It’s still a cool experience to explore a foreign city for a year instead of a week, and you see things under a different light too.

    Are you thinking of getting in the ESL business yourself?

    • Not sure the ESL business is for me- at least not right now. Have some other plans on the horizon- to be revealed soon!

  15. Steph what a fantastic post and a really important message for anyone considering long term travel to consider. It’s been some time since I’ve been on the road long-term -the last being 8 weeks in SE Asia- yet I’m a huge proponent for slow travel. It’s too easy to get burnt out when you’re moving around day by day, or even week by week as you said – sooner or later, you crave a bit of normalcy, even if that normalcy is far outside of what would normally be normal. Glad to hear you didn’t press on as while you said it wouldn’t have killed you, there is no point in traveling when traveling becomes work.

    Pardon any typos and I hope my message is (relatively) clear, I’m exhausted!

    Let us know you to secret plans!

    • Thanks Matt! 8 weeks in SE Asia is definitey enough to be quite tiring. I think I hit around 12 weeks there? It was enough. For now.

  16. Totally know where you’re coming from here, and kudos for calling it out in this post. Sometimes (in fact, most of the time these days) while travelling I just need to stop for a while. Maybe only for a couple of weeks, maybe for a month or more.

    Hey, if the fork in the road had gone left instead of right I could still be hanging in Chiang Mai with the rest of the cool kids now instead of being back in Melbourne for a while. It’s easy to get so caught up in the feeling of having to see and do everything that you forget that this isn’t a holiday, it’s a life. We don’t need to rush from place to place, ticking things off the must see list and getting exhausted in the meantime. Unpacking our bags and grabbing onto a routine for a while … getting to know the lady at the bakery and the guy that makes your coffee each morning … you know what? It’s quite ok. In fact it’s more than ok, it’s totally necessary.

    Enjoy China! 🙂

    • Exactly- it’s not a vacation, it’s just life and we owe it to ourselves to treat it as such.

  17. I got this feeling in Penang, of all places. For me, the fact that I felt like I should be having the time of my life just exaggerated that fact that, right then, I felt awful. I just wanted to go home and crawl under my duvet, eat beans on toast and watch sex and the city. From home (where I am now) it’s hard to remember how strong that feeling is. Rose tinted glasses always come out when dreaming of paradise and it’s important to remember that there will be down times as well. Thanks for sharing and reminding me of that fact!

  18. Cailin says:

    I wrote a post similar to this the other day! But at that point I had been only traveling for 2 weeks and moving every couple of days I had won a stay at a swanky hotel so I stopped there for a day and had a “me day”. I wore a bathrobe all day, had room service, watched TV and used the computer. It was wicked. I’m glad you aren’t going home! 🙂

    • MM there are very few things a swanky hotel can’t cure, or at least help!

  19. Been there, I was in Cairo at the end of 3 months of backpacking when i was always on the go. I was so ready to get back in my bed and just relax. It’s funny that i say relax when I’m supposed to be on “vacation”. It’s good you know yourself well enough to know what the problem is.

  20. I love it…”NO MORE ROCKS” that is so damn cute… I think for me when the day comes its going to be “NO MORE HOSTELS”…lol!!! I am glad you decided to head to China and settle down for a bit. Its going to be nice to regroup and refresh for whatever the next leg of your trip is going to be.

    • The lovely SE Asian guesthouses are the only thing that kept me from yelling the same thing! Still, it’s nice to sleep in a real bed and to have it be the same one each night.

  21. This is exactly why I know long term travel is not for me. After 6 months bouncing around Australia and New Zealand (and 2 years in total overseas) I was so ready to come home!

    That is the first thing I recommend to everyone when they start to burn out, but don’t want to go home. Sit down for a moment (or a few weeks!) and reassess yourself:-). A year is a long time!

    • 2 years overseas is a lot! I don’t blame you. After 6 months I knew that hte answer had to lie somewhere in between business as usual and going back home.

  22. I’m in the same boat! After Thailand and Laos, I’m staying put in Greece for a while. I want the grass to grow under my feet a bit. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one =)

  23. This really is an important message, Steph — you seem to be full of travel wisdom lately! It’s good that you were able to recognize your burn-out, and give in to it. Many people would probably try to ignore it and push on, because who wants to admit to being tired of the travel itself?

    But it’s great that you just headed to China early. I’m sure you won’t regret it!

    And I, too, am curious about the secret project!

    • Thanks Amanda! It’s a hard realization to come to, but I’m learning to be honest with myself and to be more forgiving.

  24. This post resonates strongly with me. I have just had 3 months solo travel in South America and reached my “no more rocks” moment in Santa Marta, Colombia. Things were so bad that I wasn’t even impressed with Parque Tayrona.

    All I could think was, “i’ve seen better beaches in Thailand and Australia”.

    Back home for now working out my next move.

    • Yeah, when you really just can’t appreciate the great sites, it’s time to call it quits.

  25. Week two in Bangkok has just begun for me and, like most people who have commented, I am happy to be stopping for a while after three months of travelling through India. But I do wonder whether all of the above examples are cases of being tired or burnt out, rather than cases of ‘the grass is always greener’. I fantasized about being able to live in England or Cape Town again during three years working in China. And when I go back to South Africa in a year or so, I am quite sure that nostalgia for the good old China days or anticipation for future travels will, once again, overwhelm my ability to fully ‘be’ in the present.

    • It’s definitely true that when i’m home I can’t wait to get moving again- but for now I’m appreciating being in one spot.

  26. Dan and I were just talking about this tonight. We’ve been on the go almost constantly for the last two months. The intensity of travel in Bangladesh has taken its toll – we’re exhausted. I’m trying to figure out where our next place to recharge batteries and work may be.

    Glad you recognized what was wrong and did something about it instead of keeping going because you feel like you “should.” Have fun in China – jealous of the food right now!

  27. Way to listen to your self, use your loved ones to process and ask hard questions… Good post and very inspiring to see the honesty of your journey. Good luck on the super secret projects!

  28. Wow, your post came in just on time. We had been wondering what was wrong with us lately. Just wanted to watch movies all day and do nothing. We have been on the road for 7 months today, and it really has taken its toll on us. We hit our No More Rocks syndrome after spending 2 weeks in a rented apartment in beautiful Palau. We almost cried when we left, and getting back to horrible Manila just hit us hard. We are now taking it slowly for the last weeks of our trip. Thank you for your honesty, and also to everyone who commented.

    • Glad I could help! I think that 6+ months is really a turning point for a lot of people. Stuff just gets harder.

  29. Llyne Foy says:

    I know I’m coming late to the comment party, but I just happened across this. 🙂

    While lots of folks have said they do better settling in somewhere for a while, when I did a 4 month study abroad in London, I also got the “no more rocks” feeling. “OMG, I feel guilty because there’s all this England out there and I have a limited time to enjoy it. . . but man, I just want to sleep in today and read a novel”. I wasn’t homesick, just oversaturated.

    A weeklong trip to Wales also taught me to vary my sightseeing – too many castles and Roman museums! I really couldn’t care less about battlements or hairpins someone dropped down the drain in the baths by the time I got through my checklist.

    • Yeah I have that problem as well- too long in one place and I get restless, too much moving around and I get burned out. Have to find the middle ground!

  30. I am getting kind of addicted to your blog! I’m a twentysomething gal as well about to start an extended backpacking trip in the fall, and I can totally see myself getting to the “no more rocks” stage. Your blog is helping me to keep in mind that some days on the road will just be a bit tough. Thanks for the post 🙂

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