It was 5am and I was sat upright in bed looking like an extra out of a zombie apocalypse movie. My friend was trying to stuff the last of her things into her oversized rucksack somewhere nearby in the dark room. We were in beautiful Sarajevo, where we’d already spent an amazing two days wandering the tiny backstreets and listening to the call to prayer ring out over the city. But we had to get a train at 7am to Mostar, so that we could then spend the day sightseeing and the evening bus to Split, Croatia. This was the InterRail itinerary we had planned and although we were loving it, the pace was punishing.
This wasn’t the only time that we had to get up ridiculously early in the trip. In a week or so we’d be getting up at the crack of dawn to leave Zadar for Zagreb, then getting up early the following morning to disembark our overnight train in Venice. It was amazing but exhausting, colourful but draining.
Why did we do this to ourselves? Well we only had a 10 day trip, but wanted to make the most of our InterRail pass. We wanted to get round three main countries; Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia. But we had to finish up somewhere where we could easily fly home. For me that was to Paris where I could get the train home to Poitiers, and for the friend I was travelling with it was the UK. After checking out cities in the area we could fly back from on the cheap, Venice popped up as the clear winner. I could fly to Paris from there, and she could fly to Leeds Bradford, which worked perfectly.
We knew that the travelling would take its toll, so we tried to spend at least two days in each place. Two days is fine, we reasoned, we’ll get in on the first day, spend it exploring, have a fun evening, then do the rest of the sightseeing the second day before moving on.
Sometimes that happened. Other times we turned up in a new place, sat in a café nursing a mug of whatever caffeine was available, then repeated on day two. In Mostar our carefully planned timings were scuppered by a bus that had dropped off the schedule, so instead of spending a full day there we had to jog through the sights in four hours.
Yes, the lack of flexibility was stupid. We did get the picture eventually, and once we found that slice of heaven that is Split on the Croatian coast, we couldn’t bear the idea of getting up for another day of travelling. We cut a day off our stay in Zadar and stayed in Split to chill on the beach and explore Diocletian’s Palace. The best decision of the trip. Venice was brilliant, but we were so shattered at that point that we weren’t too fussed we’d only have about 36 hours in such an amazing place.
I know that travel by its very nature – even if you do organise plenty of time to rest – can be exhausting. Travel is uprooting, it’s moving and it’s diving into new things. All of these things can be emotionally draining as well as tiring. There is no way to completely avoid the feeling you need to catch more z’s; after all if you are a budget backpacker it’s usually the 6am flights that are in your budget, rather than the civilised mid-afternoon ones. And there is a big difference between tired from travelling and tired of travelling. I think we got tired from travelling quite quickly; but I only got tired of travelling when I eventually crashed into my seat on the plane from Venice back home.
I look back now at that speedy itinerary and balk at the idea of ever doing something like that again. How did we manage? I’m not good on little sleep, how was I even standing by the end of it?
Even though I will never, ever cram that much into a trip again, and I have learnt some valuable travel lessons, I’m pretty proud of that trip. For starters it was the first trip abroad my friend and I had done independently of our families. That we managed to organise it all and not fall off the face of the earth along the way is quite heartening.
It also makes me much more confident looking ahead to any travel I’ll do in the future. Because I know that on my very first travel adventure I managed to get around on public transport in a country where I didn’t understand the language (or, for a lot of it, couldn’t read any of the letters in its alphabet), with an enormous rucksack, at a seriously fast pace, with nothing going terribly wrong; and all of it completely sleep deprived. If I could manage that then, if I organise a trip properly with a bit more time and get some good nights rest, I don’t have anything to worry about.
Have you ever suffered from travel exhaustion?