Kotor Revisited, and How to Deal with a Travel Slump

Kotor was moody and fickle. Storm clouds – dark and heavy – threatened to ruin our hike, but midway up the mountain, the temperature had surged five degrees, leaving me sweaty for a picture proclaiming I’d reached my 30th country.


But, joder, she was worth the wait.

I’ve always traveled with a heightened sense of awareness – most notably, with my five senses. I can nearly savor the fried grasshoppers in Beijing or hear the call to prayer in Marrakesh (maybe those are just the annoying church bells at my local parish). In Kotor, though, I felt nearly numb to anything else but sight.

Emerald water and beet red roofs contrasted the ominous grey mountains that wrapped around the bay and the slate houses. Small boats bobbed as the waters lulled and lapped against the port. The mountains seemed hung from the sky.

picturesque Montenegro

Our road trip around Europe’s newest country had very loose rules. From our base in Herceg-Novi, we spent a few days doing our normal travel thing:  wake up, drive the car around until something pretty caught our eye, gorge on cevapi sandwiches and local beers (and the addictive JOST! snacks). 

The weather turned from bad to worse as we descended on Montenegro via Dubrovnik, including a hail storm and power outage once we reacher Herceg-Novi on empty stomachs. Each day, we’d simply drive out of town on the main road, keeping the Bay of Kotor on the right hand side of the vehicle and tick towns off the map: Perast, Tivat, Budva.

Fog over Kotor Montenegro

The undisputed jewel of the Montenegran Adriatic is Kotor. An unblemished Old Town, traces of Venetian, Ottoman and Napoleanic prowess and a varied population make it a popular destination and UNESCO World Heritage city.

2013 was a red-letter one for me as a professional and as a traveler, but only now, two years after our trip, do I feel like I found Kotor to stir up some weird feelings in me.

Historic Center of Kotor

Arriving in the early morning, we were told to take the stairs out of town that led to the old fortifications and a smattering of old Via Crucis and roadside temples. The 1350 steps were steep and the humidity hung heavy over our heads. Layer by layer, I took off my scarf and blazer as we climbed closer towards the castle and the gradually lightening sky.

Always privy to climb to the highest point of any given city to see it from above, Kotor didn’t disappoint. I probably blinked a few times. Like Dubrovnik, the views were storybook, like something I’d seen on social media and had dreamed up. 

The Bay of Kotor and mountains

The rain held off enough, but the dark clouds of the morning seemed to have cleared up in the sky, but were beginning to cloud my thoughts. I took my obligatory picture at the top, under a red flag emblazoned with a black eagle. Thirty countries, jaw-dropping views…and I was rather blasé about it.

Back in town, we tucked into a cheap local beer and greasy pizza slices before wandering the small but stunning well preserved old town. I can’t recall many details from the afternoon, save the pristine city streets juxtaposed with the jagged rock face of the surrounding mountains, the cats leaping onto café chairs, the domes of the Orthodox churches. My sight prevailed, but I failed to catalogue sounds or smells or even a local taste.

Nothing exciting, nothing unordinary, nothing particularly great or not great describes my day in Kotor, and even the way I’m beginning to feel about travel.

Historic Kotor, Croatia

Kotor marked a beginning and an end, in a way. Since I was 20, I’d longed to travel to world and learn a language or two. I told myself 25 by 25 would suffice, and pulling into an abandoned bus terminal in Prague at the break of dawn before my 25th birthday meant I’d have to rethink my goal.

Afterwards came Romania, Turkey, Andorra, and Montenegro (and then Slovakia and India), and I surpassed that goal before turning 28. A beginning to more mature travel and an end to constant moving.

Boats on the Bay of Kotor

I’ll be 30 in less than two months, with a mortgage and a new husband to boot. Travel hasn’t lost its sheen completely, but my preferred web sites are decidedly devoid of budget airline sites. I still get delight out of pinning places and reading blog posts about travel gear and news apps and far-flung destinations, but I’ve strangely not had much urge to travel.

A close friend asked me recently about my upcoming travel plans and I realized I hadn’t been on a plane sine January, and that was to Barcelona. That my airline miles on AA had expired from disuse. That my rolling suitcase had collected dust. I’m not packing up my passport, but then again, I’m not 100% certain as to its whereabouts.

St Tryphon Cathedral Montenegro

Since money again became a concern after the house (those things cost a lot of money to maintain – who knew?), my trips have been limited to weekends and any place I can reach by car. That’s meant a bachelorette party in Málaga, a solo hike on the Caminito del Rey, scattered weekends in Madrid or San Nicolás. For someone ready to comerse el mundo, it’s a weird – albeit welcome – feeling.

Back in Kotor, we bought and wrote postcards, sipped free beers as we checked our emails and caught up on Facebook, occasionally popping into a shop or craning our necks for a photo. But, as a destination, it garnered a mere, ‘meh.’

Shutters in the center of Kotor

I didn’t have any profound or life-shattering epiphanies upon reaching my 30th country before turning 30, just as I didn’t find enlightenment in India (just a stomach virus and a love for tuk tuks) nor did I figure out the meaning of life on the Camino de Santiago. For the woman who vowed to never feel tied down, I found that I needed a limit, a destination that failed to wow me, a place that made me choose how to spend my money. Kotor was undeniably beautiful, but lacked spark. 

I have no big trips on the horizon, and even our post-wedding road trip to New Orleans is an afterthought for me. Walking back over the Triana bridge on a balmy late spring night, I felt tears fill my eyes as the sun was setting. The gentle buzz of traffic, the smell of churro grease, the cobblestones under my feet.

As it turns out, my senses feel most alert in the very place I live, so I think I’ll be sticking around here for a while.

Have you ever experienced a travel slump? How did you overcome it?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Man I wish I had had access to a car during my time in Europe. seems like you got to check out a lot of off the beaten path places.

    Now in Seoul my vacation days are a lot more limited and granted on much shorter notice. In fact, i am now waiting to hear from my boss about when my 8 summer vacation days start. i get 8 days of the students given month off… and summer break is only 4 weeks away.

    Needless to say, I cant really plan much so flights are outrageously priced on top of the already high Korean airfare prices. There are a few airlines for us but nothing compares to Ryanair or Vueling.

    After leaving Spain finally I went home and did a few weeks of travel in the USA but since entering Korea, over 9 months ago, I have left Seoul on only a handful of occasions and only once did I cover more than 150KM. I haven’t minded really. I have been involved in my hobbies and life has taken on other priorities. But finally i’m starting to get antsy so this weekend is a puente and I am headed to the east coast to camp on Hajodae beach.

    Maybe now your trips don’t have to be so far flung or so extensive. Once you travel a lot I think it takes a different approach to get that novice traveler feeling. You have to dig in to places most overlook and connect with locals in some way.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s a feeling we all get after a while from what friends and I have disused.

  2. Nice post Cat!
    I think it’s normal to have ebbs and flows when it comes to the desire to travel. It’s certainly changes as we get older, at least it has for me. I’ve also noticed the things I was willing to do in my early 20’s (read: travel for 9 months in Africa by local transport), I wouldn’t choose to do now. I’m still curious to see new places but I prefer slow travel vs. cross as many places off a list. Then again, I’ve never preferred that type of travel. I felt guilty when I had time on my hands to travel in Europe this summer (read: laid off my job) but instead I choose to visit friends in Northern Spain…Travel takes energy and I have to be in the mood for it.

    I’m returning to Spain to the same city as before, unlike your love for Sevilla, I feel neutral about this city but it’s a great place to live. It doesn’t exite me. It’s not BCN, Sevilla, Granada, Donosti or Lisboa so opposite to you, I’ll be getting my fix of discovery and seeing new places on weekends or day trips to reignite my senses. It’s been an interesting process in making my decision to come back because I’m one who thrives on the feeling of a city, places to visit, things to see but every thing has it’s timing.

  3. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling like you’re in a travel “slump”—you’ve found your sweet spot and you love Triana, which is hardly a terrible place to be in right now! :)
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Photo Post: The Galician Resort Town of Sanxenxo, SpainMy Profile

  4. Melanie Murrish says:

    I wouldn’t call it a travel slump, I would call it being content (for the moment). 😉

  5. It’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels ‘blah’ about travelling, while it doesn’t happen often, I do feel guilty when that feeling takes over.
    Ashley recently posted..A Quick Guide to Celebrating San JuanMy Profile

  6. This post sums up so perfectly how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m excited to actually “settle down” for a bit somewhere, even sans house and husband, and I know that when I do regain the urge to travel, I’ll enjoy those future trips so much more because it won’t feel like I’m running around chasing numbers or sites to Instagram. I love travel, but traveling indefinitely could never be for me.

  7. I wouldn’t say I’m in a travel slump, since I still have a strong urge to travel, but being in a city this far from other countries while also working full time has really slowed down my travel pants. I am enjoying being settled in one place for a while, but I can’t wait to get back out there.

    I felt more or less the same about Kotor. We only spent a day there, and I really enjoyed it and found the city beautiful, but I wouldn’t be rushing to head back.
    Kirstie recently posted..The Patriotic Expatriate: Fourth of July in Croatia and AustraliaMy Profile

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