It has happened to the best of us. We’re out there, exploring a foreign land, and suddenly we’re sick of our travel mates, we get gloomy thoughts about having to return home (or traveling longer), and we just don’t feel quite right.
It’s one thing to be on a week-long, energizing holiday, but for those travelers who are backpacking or living abroad, these negative thoughts may come to the surface.
The travel blues affect women in different ways.
We might not even recognize what we’re feeling. We are traveling, afterall. We SHOULD be uncomfortable. That’s what the experience is all about, right?
Even if you do recognize that you might need a little mental health reprieve, the GO GO GO mentality of travel and keeping up with the new and amazing people you’ve met may spur you to ignore your personal needs and perhaps cope with your bad feelings in less than healthy ways.
You can prepare for mental health ups and downs before jetting off, but you can also tackle the travel blues while on the road.
I’ve outlined a few simple steps for you to follow that will help keep your heart and mind in tip-top shape. Whether you don’t even realize what you’re feeling or you’re feeling really down, there are suggestions here for everyone.
1. Learn the local language.
From what I’ve read about culture shock, learning the language of a place helps you feel invested in the local culture. It increases your communication and can help bridge that gap of otherness you may be feeling. If you’re only there for a short time, you may not even get past the honeymoon stage of culture shock, but it can’t hurt to learn a few phrases that will enable you to decrease some of the stress you feel when interacting with locals.
2. Hone your hobbies and things you love to do.
When I’ve been on travel excursions, solo or with a group of friends, I have a hard time getting space for myself and setting time apart for just me to do what I love.
Whether your passion is reading, exercising, journaling, or taking photos, try to carve moments out of your day to engage in those activities. Not to get too new-agey, but there is a meditative quality to focusing on the things you love to do.
Additionally, practicing a hobby from home will help you feel more connected to yourself and your country. If you’re feeling a little homesick, this can definitely be a benefit.
Another big plus to pursuing a hobby while you’re abroad? Other people will be attracted to it. It’s a great conversation starter, so don’t ignore what you love to do!
3. Drink with a break in between.
I get it. Liquid courage is definitely something I’ve used to engage with new people and make new friends while I travel. Plus, it’s fun. No shame in enjoying the party with your new gal pals or dude buds.
But, I do have to say, alcohol is a depressant. And being hungover is the pits. Naturally, you can’t feel like your best self when you feel like death.
So, I encourage you to let your body rest. It can be difficult to not drink day in, day out with new travel friends (Backpacking bonding is basically solidified through this ritual.), but your mind is affected, as are all of your major organs. You’ll be dehydrated, unable to sleep well, and it can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety. I’m not saying to quit drinking altogether, but do take breaks, and try to give yourself a day off.
4. Nourish your body.
The mind-body connection is something to be aware of when you’re on the road. These two things are so intimately connected that when we feel physically bad, we’re more prone to depression and anxiety. The good news is that the reverse is also true. Take care of your mental health by eating well, drinking lots of water, exercising, and getting adequate sleep at night.
Of course, it’s HARD to eat well in a foreign country. And exercising, ha! You mean walking around the city, right? And getting good sleep? Hard to do that when you want to see it all! I’ve felt all these feelings, and I know the challenge that female travelers face in attempts to stay physically healthy abroad.
But you’re in luck. There are a plethora of resources out there to help you eat well and keep fit while traveling.
- Heading to Europe? Check out this article on eating healthy on the cheap.
- Backpacking around southeast Asia? Find the healthiest foods in the area here.
- Concerned about clean eating? Look no further!
- Looking to stay fit? I definitely suggest following these 5 tips and doing body-weight exercises, which you can do in the privacy of your room!
5. Find some interesting new people who are doing cool things that excite you.
I know this sounds like a given, but when you surround yourself with people who inspire you, it can bring a brightness into your life. You’ll feel motivated to be better and improve yourself. I think that’s the goal for many people while traveling, and a lot of that is because of the connections we make while we’re doing it.
I encourage you to take classes, learn to scuba dive, climb a mountain, or even take a free yoga class. These things will open your mind to new experiences and people in a way that you might not have experienced by sticking to the well-traveled path.
Another side to this is connection. We can sometimes feel lonely when we travel. The isolation of a new place might even feel overwhelming to the point that we don’t want to meet new people at all. I think the best thing to do when you have feelings like this is to not forget that it’s totally okay to be alone. Take time for yourself if you need it, but when you’re feeling stronger, invest yourself in activities that will help you meet some new people.
Volunteering has long been touted as an effective way to fight depression. It’s no secret that doing things for other people makes you feel good. It gives you a sense of purpose. There are times when the local communities that we’re visiting can benefit from more than just our tourism dollars. Help your mental health and the lives of people or animals in the country that you’re visiting by offering your time.
7. Avoid routine.
If you have an itinerary of things you want to see while you’re out in the world, this might not apply to you.
For those of you living abroad or on long-term travel excursions, there can be a kind of monotony in just visiting the sites and sampling well-documented food.
We can challenge ourselves to travel differently. I created a local travel challenge with gay girl powerhouse Autostraddle. While the miniseries is designed to get you out there exploring your local communities, it can work for international travel too! There’s even downloadable passport stamps to put into a DIY passport book!
If you’re looking for other options for changing it up while you travel, check out sites for geocaching or letterboxing. Both are like scavenger hunts! Use your GPS to find little letters or mementos left by others using the site. These can add amazing personal experiences to your travels and allow you to connect with strangers from around the world.
8. Work on your relaxation techniques.
If you find yourself wound up, and you’re not really sure how to help yourself feel better, a good place to start is with relaxation techniques. A great deal of research has been done on the effectiveness of these small activities.
And guess what? They really work.
They don’t just help with stress either. Suffering from an asthma attack, insomnia, or a headache? These little methods may work for you!
The idea is to create the relaxation response. Typically, when under stress, we feel the urge of fight or flight — maybe why we’re traveling in the first place? Sometimes we can even have feelings of paralysis.
Get back to your center by utilizing visualization or meditation techniques. They’ll help clear your mind, so you can make decisions without the overarching desire to run for the hills or punch someone in the face.
9. Talk to friends and family back home.
It can be easy to put off calling mom and dad when you’re on a remote island with barely functioning Wifi, but bouts of homesickness can hit hard — and unexpectedly — when you’re abroad.
Manage your feelings of isolation by keeping in contact with those who love you most. Be it for your besties or siblings, parents or mentors, break out the postcards and stamps. Write that shit out. Let them know you love them. SKYPE! SKYPE IT OUT. Seeing someone’s face from home when you’re abroad is an amazing feeling, and you’ll wind up asking yourself why you don’t do it more often.
There’s something really settling and comforting about talking to people back home. It will help ground you and make you feel less alone in the world.
Of course, there are apps for this now: Check out these seven communication apps to use while traveling.
10. Get help if you need it.
Sometimes all the mental help tips and tricks in the world aren’t going to help you feel better. If that’s the case, it may be time to break out the big guns. The great thing about being so connected in today’s society is that online counseling exists! You can speak to professional therapists by just using an app with BetterHelp.
There are a plethora of self-help books you can download. I recommend Dr. David Burn’s Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy because this book offers tangible practices to help curb negative thoughts and behaviors.
If worst comes to worst, please know where your embassy is located. They can help evacuate you should you need it.