Mental health is an area of health people often overlook. And when you travel, you are constantly out of your element, experiencing new places, people, norms and environments. This can be extremely rewarding, exciting and fun, but it can also take its toll on your mental health. I asked my friend Jaime, who is a health and wellness therapist, to write a post giving some of her tips on maintaining mental health whilst on the road. So here it is..
By Mental Health & Wellness Therapist, Jaime Silk
Aloha fellow travel maniacs!
*Sigh* I can still touch the center of the initial blooming joy I felt looking out the window as the planes took off before my first independent travel experience. There I sat awaiting my boarding time, chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand and indestructible smile on face (literally, I don’t think a bulldozer could have leveled that grin). I was in bitter cold Toronto, Ontario but I may have well already been in the heart of the action right on the beach because in my mind, I was already there.
In my teen years I would watch National Geographic VHS’s of the Great Barrier Reef on repeat knowing that as soon as I was “grown-up” (still working on that in some ways) I would be face-planting into the beauty of that natural world wonder. When a good friend of mine planned to move to Northern Australia to complete his Masters in Education and said “You should come visit!”, I didn’t think twice. I shook his hand right then and there with a promise of showing up on his door step. Being freshly 18 at the time and almost two years out until the designated travel time, I know for a fact that he didn’t have 100% confidence in my claim and I really couldn’t blame him as likely every friend of his (and he had many!) said “I’ll totally come visit!”, most of them empty promises. Now years later he was the first of numerous friends to kindly extend an international invitation to me; every single one of them I RSVP to as “Heck yeah!”.
It’s been almost a decade since that first epic adventure I had across the land down under. Between then and now I have enjoyed ten years of living, studying and travelling abroad. I have learned a number of hard lessons on my journeys (Do you like knives at your throat? It turns out it’s not my favourite). My travel skills were completely under developed (if even existent at all) but now have evolved into an entirely different species. Travelling really requires adaptation to endure the hardships. There were a lot of growing pains but now in the last year of my twenties looking back on everywhere I have been and all I got to see along way… wow, was every second ever worth it!
There are great resources to keep up and informed with your bodies needs while travelling, such that, local markets with organic goods are often around every corner (Need to find one in rural Nepal? There’s an app for that). The world has revolutionized the information and access to good, fresh and nutrient dense human fuel but what about our mental health? It can be tough to keep calm and carry on when you’re sick, hurt, tired, broke, overwhelmed, disappointed or all combinations of these situations when far from home and possibly in a place that you don’t know a lick of the language. Depending on the kind of traveller you are, you will surely encounter some combination of those scenarios on whatever open road you’re on. I’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go but through all in my learning, here are my top five favourite lessons that help me keep healthy balanced thoughts and feelings while exposed to the challenging and vulnerable circumstances that travelling brings.
1. Learn to ask yourself “What do I want in this situation?”
Not “What does Suzy want?” or “What will Gary think?”. Often when travelling in groups – for short or longer intervals – we tend to blend our desires into a collective unit. Sometimes this is great because you want to be together and coordinate plans; however, when you get too enmeshed in a group or duo you can start to become short tempered or resentful because you neglect your desires and your needs. When our needs are too often put second string we start to burn out. Make sure that you put what you want to see or where you want to eat at the top of the list sometimes even if that means separating from the group. Plus, alone time does wonders for a little social breathing room. As an extension of this lesson…
2. Get comfortable being alone.
You are not a ‘loner’ because you are alone. For many people in their at-home-life eating or seeing a movie alone is not common practice. At first I felt weird about doing things totally solo but then it grew on me so much that I could say at many times I preferred it! Being alone forces you to walk to the beat of your own drum and creates opportunities to connect with others with only yourself to consider. Independence is an amazingly functional quality in life and there is no better time to really get into that groove when in a totally foreign environment totally alone.
3. You don’t have to do everything.
I think more often than not, no matter where people are they want to carpe diem (seize the day) the heck out of everything! Although a motivational approach can be great, it can be exhausting and straight up too much at times. It is important to give yourself a break even if you are on a short trip. Try to be mindful of balancing your approach to ‘taking advantage of the fact that you’re (insert place of choice) here’ with the fact that there is virtually a billion amazing things on this planet so pace yourself.
4. Debt really really sucks!
Aaron wrote a great post about how to save for your next epic trip. When I moved to study in the UK I got serious travel fever and was way too hot-to-trot all across Europe! Again, it’s great to be a “Yes” person but the word “No” also has to be a part of your vocabulary. The “Oh I’ll pay it off later!” attitude totally caught up to me after that year (in all fairness, I did have my bank account funds seized because I had my identity stolen internationally but still that was a dent in the overall financial crash). I learned the hard way by coming home and having to pay off every cent. It took me a while, but I vowed I would not do things I could not afford again.
Any traveller will tell you that every trip will cost more than you think it will so over-save, and be realistic about your financial capabilities while abroad. Your financial profile is crucial not only in travelling but pretty much every other choice you can make in your life going forward. Start early by making good financial decisions about what will add value to your trip and what will break the bank. (*Note, I bring my hula hoop everywhere which makes for fun access for free entertainment at anytime and it makes making friends uber easy!)
Last but not least,
5. Combine, diversify and leverage your travels!
“Are you travelling for business or pleasure?” Some of the best choices I have made in my travelling paths have been to combine both! Participating in activities that can contribute to your career, future and/or the well being of others while abroad is the best case of hitting two flies with one swat (I really don’t know why you want to kill a bird, let alone two). I am so happy I made the choice to study and work while exploring Europe. It allowed me to really diversify my CV and my professional perspective (working in construction in Sweden where people spoke little English was interesting to say the least but now I have conversational skills that occasionally come in handy when I meet Scandianvians, even if it’s only to laugh at my accent!). I also took the opportunity to do more extensive travelling while completing some schooling online so I was getting the adventures I so deeply longed for while not setting my career goals back. Traveling does not have to be mutually exclusive to the forward trajectory of your life. I’m going to stop here as on this groovy platform Aaron – with all of the awesome things he has going on personally, professionally and philanthropically – can take it from here.
Signing off with kindness and hope for every single person to live and travel their dreams,
Check out Jaime’s website here www.everydaywellnesstherapy.com.
Also feel free to follow her on social media