Staying healthy while traveling goes deeper than diet and exercise. Taking care of your mental health on the road is just as important. Running through the airport to make your flight, struggling to order breakfast in another language, and missing the people you left at home can be stressful. Bouts of anxiety and homesickness can sometimes ruin an entire trip. Plus, it can be hard to dig yourself out of a mental funk once you’re there. So, here are some tools and tips to help you take care of your mental health while on the road.
1. Use meditation apps.
Meditation has be been proven to lower stress, fight depression, and stave off anxiety. Sitting still, taking deep breaths, and thinking about nothing isn’t as easy as it sounds. But, if you can sneak in a few moments before you set off sightseeing for the day, it can have major benefits.
Meditation apps can give you some structure and guidance to pull off a few solid minutes of serenity. Headspace is an app that makes meditation easy to understand and practice. Your guide has a soothing British accent and explains exactly how each practice can help you. It’s also accompanied by silly videos with fun graphics to make meditating more relatable.
Pacifica is another meditation app that also offers cognitive therapy, mental goal making, and journaling. You can check in, document how you’re feeling, and perform mental games that help you relax and gain perspective.
2. Get enough exercise by joining classes or Meetups.
Exercise is just as important for your mental state as it is your body. While you could head out for a jog, hit the hotel pool, or do body weight exercises in your hostel, classes can often be better. If you’re already feeling down, it can be a challenge to force yourself to exercise. Instead, find a local exercise class, yoga studio, or a hiking trip found through Meetup.com. Classes are filled with other people so you’ll get the mental benefits of being social too.
3. Splurge on a comfy hotel once in a while.
Backpacking and budget traveling can save you tons of cash, but long bus rides, crowded hostel dorms, and peanut butter sandwiches can be a drag after a while. If you’re feeling run down from all the energy you’re using to save money, splurge on a hotel. It can do wonders for the mind to have some alone time, a hot bath, and squishy bed to snuggle up in.
4. Make friends with expats and other travelers.
Making friends with the locals while traveling is always a great idea. However, it can be a drain on your mental energy to understand cultural differences, try to communicate in foreign languages, and have few relatable experiences after a while. Break up your social time between experiencing local life and mingling with other travelers and expats. You can find them in hostels, at Couchsurfing meetings, or through apps like Bumble and Tinder (people use them to make platonic friends, too). Sometimes you just have to vent about the local traffic rules or the fact that a country uses so many coins instead of paper bills. And, when you can find someone from your own country, it can make you feel more comfortable even in the most faraway places.
5. Video chat with friends and family back home.
There are plenty of digital tools that allow you to talk to friends and family back home. You can send Snapchat videos, use Facebook call, Skype, Google Chat, or Facetime. If you have a phone and an internet connection, you can see your family face-to-face. Make time for it no matter how busy traveling has you.
6. Have a spa day.
If it’s within your budget, treat yourself to a spa day. Lay down for an hour in Bangkok for a Thai massage or try a fish spa in Cambodia for your feet. Hang out in a traditional Japanese bath, or a classic hammam in Morocco. Try acupuncture in China or get a mani/pedi while traveling through Europe. Choose a method that helps you relax the most.
7. Find comfort food.
Sampling local food is one of the best parts of traveling. However, you can only eat pad thai and yellow curry so much. Sometimes, you just want a starchy, cheesy, or sugary meal from your home country. Most big cities around the world have foreign supermarkets. Try to find one near you as they’ll likely stock items from your home country. And, you’ll probably be able to find a restaurant that offers food from your country too. Cities in China have realistic British pubs, Hong Kong has a restaurant serving poutine and Molson, and Chiang Mai, Thailand has a restaurant offering southern-style American food (sweet tea included). A meal from home can almost always fix a bad mood.
8. Let yourself do nothing for a day.
Take the pressure off yourself to see every site and have every cultural experience. It’s not worth the mental burden, and dragging yourself to see The World’s Biggest Pez Collection just because you feel you have to isn’t going to help you when you’re depressed. Trying to do too much while traveling can leave you too mentally exhausted to enjoy anything at all.
9. Have an emergency fund that can cover a plane ride home.
This is especially important for long-term travelers who aren’t exactly sure when they’ll return home. Being abroad, wanting to return home, but not having the money to can cause extreme anxiety and depression. Always make sure you keep an emergency fund in case you just want to pack up and get on a plane. The sense of security can bring peace to your worried mind.
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