Travel Paralysis: Problem Deciding On Your Next Adventure?

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The Problem

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed a reticence in our travel planning. There’s been an ever growing list of places we’ve put off traveling to, even if the places are near the top of our bucket list. We’ve finally isolated it and are now trying to make sense of it all. If you travel a lot, it’s even possible that you yourself have it and you don’t even realize it.

Old Globe

The Wonder

In two months, we’re flying from Mexico to Madrid, Spain. Seeing that neither of us have been to Southern Europe we thought it was finally time to make it happen. Considering that we’ve been to a ton of places around the world, you’re probably asking yourself why it’s taken us so long to visit such a rich and colorful area.

That question is both simple and complex. I could blame it on cost, but in reality it has to do wonder. You see, whenever we start to look into places like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece or Turkey, there are so many things we want to see and do that we’ve felt that a few months (or even a few years) wouldn’t suffice.

With a thousand random facts and bits of trivia already lodged in our brains, every new picture or story about any of these countries just lead to further indecision. Where would we go, where would we stay, how could we afford to see everything we heard and dreamed about?

Worse, how could we travel to this area and not see everything? The planning and logistics alone boggled our minds. The result of it all was putting off this trip for as long as possible. Truthfully we never gave much thought about it until recently.

We had come to a roadblock that I call travel paralysis.

Travel Paralysis

Have you ever been hit with travel paralysis? Is there an area you’ve heard so much about that you didn’t want to go for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype? Were there just so many things to see and do there that you constantly pushed off going until you felt you could see it all in one giant trip?

Travel Paralysis Signpost Directions

Where to next? Credit

Then there are also size and time constraints. Constraints like large countries with two very different areas and the distance between them too great or the cost of flying too high to afford. Australia is a perfect example. With Perth, Darwin and Uluru being practically a world away from the rest of the big cities and Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney hundreds of miles away from each other how do you settle on only seeing a few of them at once?

Canada is another great example. I can remember a few years ago a friend of ours was expecting family from Europe. Before getting here they made of list of things they wanted to see and do in Canada. The list only contained four places they’ve always dreamed of seeing, however their family obviously never bothered to look closely at a map. The list contained Montreal, Niagara Falls, the Rockies and Vancouver. The kicker? They were only in Canada for a week.

Montreal is over 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) from Vancouver and they would have spent the better part of the week sitting in a car without much time for sightseeing. They ended up flying into Montreal, renting a car to drive down to Niagara Falls, then jumping on a plane from Toronto to Calgary. In Calgary they jumped on a train that took them through the Rockies all the way to Vancouver. They had a great time, spent a small fortune, quickly learned how big Canada is and swore that next time they visited they would just concentrate on one area.

This brings me to one of my own embarrassing facts: I’ve never been to the east coast of Canada. To be honest, I’ve never been east of Toronto and I’ve only seen a very small portion of that city to begin with. I have many friends that have only left the country a handful of times however they’ve all spent much more time on the east coast than I have. Niagara Falls? Nope, never seen it. Catching a show or eating poutine in Montreal? Negative. Fresh lobster in Newfoundland? Never. Seeing the the green fields and cliffs of Prince Edward Island? Never happened. The closest I ever came was watching Anne of Green Gables on television as a kid. It’s not like I don’t want to see it all – it’s that I know so much about it that a few weeks wouldn’t suffice to take it all in.

The Dilemma

In truth, that’s been one of our greatest dilemmas since beginning this Barefoot Nomad thing. With a whole world out there waiting to be seen and explored, where do we go first and what should we do? For most of you in a regular nine to five job and wishing for an opportunity to see the world, this might seem like a trivial thing, however it’s a reality for anyone who makes this their life.

If you have any trouble deciding on where to have supper or which movie to watch next, imagine having to decide which country or even city to do it in. Now factor in the fact that we’re not independently wealthy, that we still need a place in which we can do work for 4 to 10 hours a day, is safe enough for kids, getting there doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, it’s not too remote that internet access is unheard of and preferably warm while we’re there. Not as easy as it sounds right?

Like most people, we have a bucket list of places we want to go. We’ve changed the order on a lot of those since we’ve had kids simply because the timing isn’t right or that we truly want them to remember their time there. This also brings us back to Southern Europe. Jordan is finally reaching the age that she might actually remember some of this trip as she gets older. On top of that, we’ve also realized that even four months won’t allow us the time to see and do everything we want in those countries.

We’re not just about checking off places on a map to say we’ve been there. Our focus has always been about seeing each place for what it is. As a local and a tourist both.

We still need to understand that sometimes this takes more time than we allow ourselves and most places can take a lifetime to see all there is to see.

Travel paralysis is more than just a decision phobia, it’s knowing there’s a great big world out there to see and explore and that we need to be judicious with our time and energy. We’re only granted a finite amount of time on this earth and the reality that we’ll experience it all is an illusion at best and detrimental to our mental health at the worst.

Travel paralysis can be as small as having trouble deciding where to eat out, or as large as deciding where to go next. It’s the problem of having too many perceived choices with the desire to try them all at least once. In some ways it’s the greatest problem to have.

Where shall I go?

For any of you facing this quandary, realize that seeing and exploring everything isn’t possible and limit yourself to what you feel is the most important to you. If you feel someplace is calling your name, go. On the other hand, if we hadn’t opened ourselves to possibilities we’d never have listened to those five wild Danes we met in Malaysia and visited Indonesia on their urging, so realize it’s not always about the destination, but the journey as well. Open yourselves up to possibilities and remember that the first rule of travel is to leave your negativity behind.

Make a decision, go with it, enjoy yourself while you’re there and don’t focus on what you might have missed. Be thankful for everything you had the pleasure of experiencing and know that there is still more in this world for you to explore and enjoy on your next adventure. Don’t let travel paralysis hold you back from making decisions. Just rejoice that you have those options in the first place!


8 Responses

  1. Lyn Midnight

    Decisions have been known to paralyze me. Great post! I’m in a similar dilemma myself, but I still have a few months to decide. I like your approach to travelling. It’s all about experiencing places fully, making memories, and connecting with people. Travel shouldn’t be about being a tourist for a couple of days; it should be living as a local for a while. 🙂

    • Charles Kosman

      Lyn, I love all aspects of travel. If I could I would live like a local for a time in every area that interests me. However that isn’t always possible and my list of places I want to go is a mile long. I think true happiness as a traveler is enjoying both those times as a tourist and as a local equally. Like most travelers, sometimes that’s the toughest struggle to overcome.

      Good luck deciding on your next adventure and I hope you have a great time wherever you decide on going!

  2. Nora - The Professional Hobo

    Yep! Been there! In fact, your post has an uncanny similarity to a similar “paralysis” (that’s even what I called it) that I wrote about a couple of years ago! (

    It’s okay. Breathe. You don’t have to conquer a country/experience on your first visit, or even your second or third. You can go back! This is the luxury – and sometimes the agonizing amount of choice we have!

    • Charles Kosman

      Nora, I just read your post and I definitely see a similarity. (Nice post BTW). I hadn’t seen any other blogs out there talking about the paralysis of choice and it’s nice to know that the problem isn’t unique to us. I actually figured that most avid travelers run into this problem every now and again and that’s why I thought a post about it was a good idea.

      It all boils down to the old saying “Ignorance is bliss.” The less you know, the less choices you have in life. It’s once you rip off the hinges of closed doors that you realize all the world has to offer.

      The problem is no one ever tells you that there is great big huge world out there with so many possibilities that it can sometimes be overwhelming. I think the trick is just making a plan based on what information you have at the time and go with it. Be open and flexible to change and just enjoy yourself. If another opportunity opens up or you learn something new, be prepared to alter your course as needed.

      Thanks for the words of wisdom and the confirmation that we’re not alone in our paralysis!

  3. T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries

    I think, for me, this is largely a reason I’ve been staying 2-3 years in the places I visit. I’m passing the 2.5 year mark on Cancun just now, and it’s looking like Mexico is going to serve as a semi-permanent base of operations for the winter months for the time being. At least for the foreseeable future.

    But with our retreats coming up, I’m going to be going back to places I’ve been before, to see some more. I want to get back to Bulgaria again, even though I lived there for 2.5 years and explored for 6 before that through multiple trips, and I really want to get more of Colombia under my belt.

    That being said, I do have two more immersion guidebooks planned with Marginal Boundaries…I was thinking Brazil or Chile next, or perhaps Argentina, or I might even go to Spain somewhere for a 2 year immersion and another guidebook. But it also depends on where my significant other wants to head =P She’s been on the outskirts for the past couple of years with the brand, but she’s helping me run the retreats and stepping up into social media in Spanish for me.

    Anyway….I can see your dilemma! It’s the difference between skim reading a destination as opposed to reading the whole novel. When you can set down for a while, a couple of years, you can have a home base, security, no need to pack a bunch of things, and explore the surrounding countryside at your leisure. So much more to see/do, pick up the language, live like a local, go native. I am *very* passionate about cultural immersion 🙂 Love it!

    So I definitely second this post 🙂

    Also, since one of yours is getting to the point where she’s going to start remembering bits and pieces of the travels…that’s awesome 🙂 If you go somewhere for a longer duration now…year, couple of years…that’s a perfect opportunity for your young one to start picking up multiple languages as well. And the cultural memories/experience will last a lifetime.

    Great post! I certainly recommend putting down roots somewhere for a longer spell 🙂

    • Charles Kosman

      Thanks for the feedback T.W. It’s nice to see that cultural immersion still exists in the traveler repertoire. Seeing that we’re loving Mexican life in the Yucatan just down the peninsula from you we can totally understand your desire to spend time in this area. It is gorgeous and there’s so much to see and do here that a week or two just won’t cut it.

      We’ve thought about making this area our winter base a lot in the past few years. We’ll see how Spain and Southern Europe compare to it before making the plunge though! 😉

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Despre Bulgaria

    It is also great to visit a country, for a second time, after a long period, to see how things changed. I visited Bulgaria in 1991 and in 2012 and it was really interesting.In 1991 people seemed to be slightly cautious and it was a bit more difficult to communicate then, as many didn’t speak English or German. In 2012, that had changed completely. Bulgarians seemed more outgoing, especially the young people. And the country is so beautiful,the beach resorts are very popular, the old towns are very interesting and the local food is delicious.

  5. Ghid Grecia

    I totally agree with the fact that you can not fully understand a country after only one visit. Take for example Greece, it is so wide, so divers, some even call it five continents in a country…i think not even after a third trip there you cold say that you know the country.


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