“Sightseeing is the art of disappointment.“
Robert Louis Stevenson
What Happens When Long-Term Travelers Can’t Stand More Sightseeing?
I have met many Fifty Plus Nomads who have travel burnout. Almost every one of these Nomads reports that one cause of burnout is when you can’t stand any more sightseeing.
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 “Sightseeing Overkill” or “Travel Church Overload Syndrome.” (Church Overload Syndrome can also refer to becoming exhausted from going to church too much).
Sightseeing overkill occurs whenever you don’t want to see another tourist sight, even if it is supposedly a “must-see” part of every tourist’s itinerary.
Sightseeing Overkill can also refer to burnout that occurs when you overdo any activity that is not truly interesting to you. It is usually a sign that you haven’t learned how to make that activity enjoyable. (Generally, because either unconsciously or consciously, you are doing what you think a tourist is supposed to do).
Steps to Address Sightseeing Overkill
If you are experiencing Sightseeing Overkill, 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 Sightseeing Overkill is not to see certain sights because they do not believe 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. Exploring the Duomo gave me a sense of why Florence was such a remarkable place in the sixteenth century. It also whetted my appetite for two more weeks of learning all about the Florentine Renaissance.
- Check out a few off-the-beaten-path sights in each city you visit. I have visited 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.
- Take some time to do things that locals do. Such as walking around a non-touristy city neighborhood, taking a public bus, visiting the local market, etc.
- Learn about the period when the city you visited 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
- This research gave me a real sense of life in Florence during the Renaissance. As a result, rather than rushing to see the view from the top of the Duomo, I marveled at Brunelleschi’s tremendous skill and effort into the dome. 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. Subscribe to the Great Courses Plus before any more extended trips abroad.
- 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 ).