Mental Health on the Road: 10 Things Only Experienced Travelers Know
You can run away from your problems without ever leaving the couch.
I have a confession to make.
Here it is.
I have mental health issues. *Gasp*
What? Not the revelation you were expecting?
That shouldn't be shocking. We all have our stuff. We all know it. Let's just accept that bit now, okay?
Now, here is something else we all kind of know already: everyone, and I mean everyone, has spent time running away from their problems and anyone who protests is lying. Sorry, no one is THAT well-adjusted.
So, having accepted that 1. Everyone has problems and 2. Everyone runs away from their problems, I have a question: Why do we vilify travelers for "running away from their problems"?
I have spent years running away from my problems and it has never had anything to do with my physical location.
Humans are more than capable of running away from their problems without ever leaving the couch. We drink, we take drugs, we get passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, we watch too much television, spend too much time online, spend too much or too little time alone, bake and then eat entire cakes while the rest of the household is sleeping. There are endless creative ways to run away from your problems.
In my experience, those who are literally on the move are actually more likely to be digging into their emotional drama, travel forces us to examine ourselves!
So, if your issues are keeping you from indulging your travel bug, forgot what others have said and go pack your bags, literal and figurative.
Just remember, finding the guts to deal with your (figurative) baggage is hard and being on the road isn’t going to make it any easier (or maybe it will, who am I to say?), but it is possible. With that being said, here are 10 ways you can take care of your mental health while you travel.
#1. Online Therapy
I think everyone should be in therapy.
I mean, who couldn’t benefit from a little help in the self-awareness department?
Having a therapist feels like having a cheat sheet to life and having an online therapist feels like having a cheat sheet to life that fits in your pocket.
There are certainly some drawbacks to the slightly impersonal nature of a therapist who's couch you will never sit on, but there are some huge benefits too.
For one thing, as anyone old enough to remember chat room can attest, it can be markedly easier to talk about your most personal problems online!
Online programs also tend to be cheaper than traditional therapy, so you can save your cash for airfare!
If your reaction to this suggestion is a dramatic eye-roll, I don't blame you. I meditate and I'm still over the internet's love affair with 'mindfulness'.
The thing is, the science is there and, personally, my own experience falls in line.
I also find that it is especially useful for long term travelers. Why? Well, mediation requires exactly no gear to lug around. Sure, you can deck a room out with pillows and singing bowls if you want, but, I promise, all you need is a quiet moment every day.
#3. Self-Help Media
Man, I love a good podcast, almost as much as I hate a bad self-help book or any fictitious book in audio form (That’s just me. If you want to digest your Zadie Smith through headphones, go for it).
I did recently discover that, for me, listening to non-fiction audiobooks feels a lot like listening to a really long, well-researched podcast. Sweet.
I specifically like the audio format for traveling because what the hell else am I supposed to do while enjoying the Spanish country out the window of a train for nine hours?
If you are looking for somewhere to start, check out “Other People’s Problems” which lets you sit it on other people's therapy sessions and “Personal Best” in which two unqualified guys try to help people ditch their worst habits.
#4. Self-Help Apps
I find self-help apps to be generally annoying and intrusive. They send me too many notifications and I still forget to check in with them.
Okay, I see it. it’s possible (but unlikely) that the problem is actually me.
I do feel justified in snubbing anything that offers me a shitty trial and charges for anything useful and, unfortunately, this is very common in the self-help app world.
What I do like is any app that will ‘gamify’ all the boring stuff I’m supposed to do every day (drink water, go outside, blah, blah, blah) because I have the attention span of a small child and need constant motivation.
My personal favorite is a cross between online therapy, AI friendship, and a self-improvement app: Wysa. Wysa's free version is absolutely brimming with useful tools for your mental health and its AI friend is alarmingly easy to get attached to.
#5. Keep in Touch
Okay, this one is absolutely crucial for mental health in general, but especially while traveling.
In order for people to feel good, they need to feel connected. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to feel a connection to other travelers or people you meet on the road, but the sustained connections one can only form over time are the most important.
There’s just something about friends who know all the embarrassing things you did in high school, isn't there?
I’m not gonna lie, keeping in touch with your loved ones back home while you are beaching in Bali is not going to be easy (if I were you, I would avoid mentioning all the cheap massages you’re getting), but it can help keep you grounded and stave off homesickness.
The fun part about staying in touch while abroad is that you have to find more interesting ways to do it. My favorite way to keep in touch? Postcards! Everybody loves mail and postcards are the easiest (and most charming) thing you can send!
#6. Know When to Rest
This should probably be at the top of the list, but that would require me to carefully edit and, hey, I’m not that kind of gal.
The thing is, travel is the enemy of rest. Sure, vacations can be synonymous with relaxation, but generally if you are not parked on the beach enjoying mojitos at an all-inclusive resort, you’re probably familiar with that little voice in your head that says, “You’re wasting time.”
Sure, maybe it has a small point. You are in that amazing country with all that interesting culture, exquisite food, and those gramable views.You should take advantage of that, but you know what else you might want to do?
ENJOY YOURSELF! And if enjoying yourself on YOUR trip means that you travel more slowly and take whole days off from doing anything at all, go for it and don't let anyone make you feel bad about it!
If you are a long term traveler, this is even more important.
Relax, you will still see what you really want to see and be rested enough to enjoy it.
Tell that voice to shove it and make taking care of yourself your number one priority, no matter where you are.
#7. Take Time for Yourself... Or Not
This tip is two sides of the same very important coin. Contrary to popular belief, you need human contact. Then again, you can also have TOO much human contact. It's likely that you have some idea of what ratio is best for you, but (and I speak from personal experience) travel than throw that all out of whack.
If you are traveling with another person, you should know now that you will spend an inordinate amount of time together (try every waking moment). Before you start arguing about who took a wrong turn while you were wandering aimlessly, TAKE TIME ALONE. Trust me on this. Go your own way for as long as you can manage and you will be so much happier to see one another on the flipside.
If you are a solo traveler, you will have the opposite problem. You will spend almost all your time alone and it may be freeing, but remember, SEEK COMPANY. Seriously, find someone to hang out with occasionally and you will be better for it in the long run.
#8. Experiment with Healthy Living
Let me be clear about one thing: I would never dare tell you to be healthy. I’ve been telling myself for years and it has done exactly nothing, so I wouldn't think for a moment that anyone else would listen to me.
Besides, only you know what healthy means for you and it’s your damn prerogative if you feel like taking that up.
That being said, one of my favorite things about traveling is the ability to reinvent yourself as many times as you want.
If there is anything that you want to change about your life, your first day in a new country might be the perfect time to start.
Want to quit drinking for a while, wait until your plane lands on foreign soil and pretend you never did to begin with.
Want to get into tai chi or capoeira? Check into your new space and start practicing every day as though you always have.
If you want to, stick with it, if you don’t, accept the experiment for just that. Worst case scenario, nothing changes *shrugs*.
Here’s a no-brainer. What’s a great way to get involved in the community, stay active, make friends, and make yourself feel good? Volunteering!
It’s cheesy and it’s true: doing something nice for somebody else will make you feel good and help you put your problems into perspective or at least onto the back-burner for a hot sec.
Just make sure you are volunteering ethically or you risk doing more harm than good. If you can’t commit enough time or mental energy then look for another way to be nice.
Doing good doesn’t have to be official. Give up your seat on the subway to someone who needs it, donate money to a local (or just plain worthy) cause, leave someone who looks cold the extra sweater that’s been weighing your bag down, smile just to make someone else feel good. At least if it doesn’t help you, it’ll help someone else, right?
#10. Know When to Ask for Help
This is critical. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Find a friend, a family member, or a stranger and do what needs to be done. It’s scary and it’s worth it.
If you are hesitant, imagine a friend in your place. Would you want them to reach out to you?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Matilda Woods