¨Sightseeing is the art of disappointment.¨
Robert Louis Stevenson
What is Church Overload Syndrome?
I have met many Fifty-Plus Nomads who have travel burnout. Almost every one of these Nomads reports that one cause of travel burnout is church overload syndrome.
After seeing the great churches, museums, and sights of an antique-rich country like Italy for several days, they all begin to look alike.
One Australian tourist told me that he felt like he was on a perpetual strip-tease tour of the continent after spending a month on a whirlwind European tour. He kept seeing enough of the continent to get excited but not enough to feel satisfied.
While this is a bit of a crude description, I have frequently felt the same way. I call this process ” Church Overload Syndrome.” It occurs whenever I don’t want to see another church, even if it is supposedly a “must-see” part of every tourist’s itinerary.
Church Overload Syndrome can happen whenever you do too much of one activity that is not truly interesting to you. It is usually a sign that you haven’t learned how to make that activity enjoyable to you. (Generally, because either unconsciously or consciously, you are doing what you think a tourist is supposed to do).
Steps to Address Church Overload Syndrome
If you find yourself experiencing Church Overload Syndrome, here are some steps to help you overcome it. If it lasts a while, you may have a bit of culture shock.
Many Fifty-Plus Nomads think the only way to avoid church overload syndrome is not to see certain sights because they do not think they’ll find anything interesting. I think this may also be a mistake. Everyone can learn to enjoy these sites if they follow the steps below:
- Visit fewer places for more time. Slowing down helps you to absorb what you are learning better. It also allows you to relax and explore alternative activities better.
- Spend enough time at big tourist attractions to get to know them well. When I was in Florence, Italy, unlike most tourists, I spent the first two days just at the Duomo (cathedral) exploring all the different buildings and museums. The exploration of the Duomo gave me a sense of why Florence in the sixteenth century was such a remarkable place. It also whetted my appetite for two more weeks learning all about the Florentine Renaissance.
- Check out a few off-the-beaten-path sights in each city you visit. I have been to Washington DC three times to see some of the City’s lesser-known museums. (Some of my favorites include the Postal, Spy, Building, American Indian, African Art, and the News museums).
- Carve some time out to explore something you love in your destination. If you like to cook, enroll in a cooking school. Love to eat and drink wine? Find a fabulous gourmet restaurant or go on a tour of wineries. Unless you break up your vacation, you may grow to the point where you no longer appreciate what you see anymore.
- Take some time to do things that locals do. Such as walking around a non-touristy city neighborhood, taking a public bus, and visiting the local market, etc.
- Learn about the period when the city where you are visiting was most significant. I learned to appreciate Florence, Italy, by reading three well-researched books about the city in the Renaissance:
- Tim Ward’s The Medici’s Money.
- Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King.
- Charles Nicholl’s book, Leonardo da Vinci
- By doing this research, I got a real sense of life in Florence in the Renaissance. As a result, rather than rushing to see the view from the top of the Duomo, I marveled at the tremendous skill and effort that Brunelleschi put into the dome.
- Subscribe to the Great Courses Plus before any more extended trip abroad. The Great Courses provide short versions (usually around 20 hours) of college classes about ancient cultures. I particularly like their courses on the history of ancient Egypt, India, and Mesoamerica.
- If you are going to travel to Europe for an extended period, I would also highly encourage you to read Rick Steves’ Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler. It helps give you a context for what you see that helps bring the sights of Europe to life.
- Find some way to learn about what you see in every place you visit. Look for guided and audio tours. If these guides aren’t available, buy a small book about the site from the bookstore and read it as you walk around. Take walking tours of cities. If you are interested in a particular place, invest money and time into hiring a guide, even if it is costly.
- Spend some time to learn about current life in your destination. Before you leave, read a couple of books about the country’s culture, history, and politics. These books will help you to have grist for conversations with the locals and to appreciate the daily life that goes on around you more. (I have a list of some of my favorite books on My Favorite Travel Memoirs Post ).
Some Additional Posts About Lessons I Learned While Traveling Round-the-World for Five Years
- Fifty Plus Nomad’s Exclusive Traveling and Living Abroad Seminars: Let Me Help You Put Your Dreams Into Flight (Coming Soon)Take one of my two Fifty-Plus Nomad seminars in my home in Merida, Mexico. Benefit from my sixteen years of experience traveling and living around the world. Learn how to travel around the world long-term and live in different countries.
- My Temporary Home Base in Montreal: 10 Reasons I Loved Coming Home During My Five Year Trip Around the WorldDuring my round the world travels,, I was glad to spend tree months every year at a home base in Montreal. Not only did I grow very fond of Quebec and Eastern Canada but it was fun to just do day-to-day activities with friends.
- How To Avoid Loneliness During Your TravelsWhen I was traveling around the world as a young man, I frequently got lonely. When I was able to travel around the world again long term, I deliberately participated in group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations to avoid loneliness. It worked wonders for me.
- How Too Much Togetherness May Ruin Your Long-Term TravelsWhile too much togetherness hasn’t been a serious problem during my travels. I have met couples who had problems with too much togetherness during their long-term, round the world travels.
- Justifying Your Fifty-Plus Nomad Lifestyle: An Unexpected ChallengeI was surprised how often I had to justify my existence when I traveled around the world. Here are some tips in case you find yourself in the same situation.
- Paying More than Locals As a Foreigner: How to Deal with and Avoid ProblemsWhen I was younger being charged more for things than locals used to piss me off. Now I simply acknowledge it as part of traveling in third-world countries. I find the less it bothers me the less I attract aggressive vendors, too.
- Culture Shock: The Greatest Challenge for Long-Term Travelers and Expats?By far the biggest issue I had while traveling around the world as a younger man was culture shock. It even resulted in me making some major decisions, most of which I regret in retrospect. In my experience, many people suffer from culture shock while traveling around the world or living abroad but most don’t even know they are suffering from culture shock.
- Backpacker Syndrome: Why Travel Burnout is Usually Part of a Nomadic LifestyleI think every long-term traveler regardless of the budget will occasionally suffer from backpacker’s syndrome. I deal with it by slowing down, staying in my hotel for a day or two, or scheduling some new activities.
- Church Overload Syndrome: When You Just Can’t Stand Seeing Another ChurchDuring my five years traveling around the world. I occasionally suffered from mild travel burnout. Only once did I succumb to church overload syndrome because over time I have learned how to appreciate churches. However, church overland syndrome used to bother me frequently and it seems commonplace among other long-term travelers.
- Consider Resorts, Cruises, Festivals, and Amusement Parks in Your Long-Term Travel PlansWhile many travelers pooh-pooh resorts, cruises, festivals, and amusement parks, I enjoy them in small doses. It is fun to see the creativity of the developers and event planners. It is also a nice break from more serious and intellectual activities.
- Learning Vacations and Volunteering: The Most Overlooked Travel OptionsMy favorite type of group travel is volunteering and learning vacations. No aspect of group travel has so influenced who I am as a person and how I view the world.
- Independent Travel: Advantages and DisadvantagesDuring my five years traveling around the world, I spent about half my time traveling independently and the other half on group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations. I love the freedom to explore things in depth that comes with independent travel. However, I find exclusively traveling independently to get exhausting and lonely if done for months at a time. I also love the diversity of experiences.when I mix group and independent travel.
- Don’t Avoid Group Tours and Cruises During Your Round-the-World TravelOne of my biggest surprises in traveling around the world for five years was how much I enjoyed group tours and cruises. It is nice to have other people deal with arrangements. Many of the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. My fellow travelers were usually kind and interested in learning.
- Traveling in Developed Countries: Why it is a Myth that Traveling to Western Europe and Other Developed Countries is Boring and ExpensiveOne of my biggest surprises when I traveled around the world for five years was how much I loved traveling in the developed world (USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Singapore, Japan, the UAE, etc). Until I began to travel around the world for a long term, I always thought the developed world was less interesting than in the third world. Now I find both equally interesting and enjoyable.
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Third World TravelI believe that everyone who has the opportunity to travel round the world should visit countries in both the developing, third world and the developed world (Western Europe, USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, etc.). This post outlines the advantages and disadvantages of third-world, emerging country travels.
- Round the World Travel: My Top 4 LessonsI learned four lessons from my five-year journey around the world: 1) Mix group and independent travel; 2) Travel to varied parts of the world; 3) Avoid travel burnout, and 4) Have a home base.