10 Powerful Ways to Keep Mentally Fit When You Travel
Traveling can be enormously beneficial for your mental health, but balance is key. If you find yourself feeling fatigued or burnt out, it may be time for a mental health break. These 10 helpful coping methods will help keep you emotionally and mentally healthy wherever you are in the world.
Traveling is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself, particularly for your mental health. In fact, science says that travel changes you for the better, giving you opportunities for self-reflection that you wouldn’t be able to find at home.
But as exhilarating and mentally stimulating as traveling is, it’s important for you to remember to take care of your mental health. Whether you’re traveling with Remote Year or on your own, your mental health still needs to be nurtured!
Ignoring your needs while you travel – especially if you’re traveling long-term – can lead to the same struggles you experienced at home, like burnout and fatigue.
We care about your wellbeing, and we want you to prioritize your self-care when you’re on the road! That’s why we’ve put together a list of the ten best ways to stay mentally healthy as you explore the world:
1. Travel slow and take your time
As a remote worker traveling long-term, you can easily burn yourself out if you try to do too much all at once. Moving too quickly from place to place is a great way to become exhausted and miss out on the nuances of local culture.
That’s why we love our 1-month Trips and 4 and 12-month Journeys. When you spend a month or even more exploring a destination, you can soak up new experiences, get into a routine, and strike a healthy work-life balance when you’re not worrying about where you’ll be in the next three days. Instead of cramming lots of activities into one week, you can relax and explore everything the culture has to offer – which will do wonders for your mental health.
2. Check in with your loved ones
A wonderful part of traveling is meeting new people, but if you’re constantly making surface connections instead of meaningful ones, you might end up feeling isolated and lonely. Humans are inherently wired for connection, so feeling isolated can quickly make you feel depressed and anxious.
However, nurturing the meaningful connections you do make and checking in on people you love and trust will create a healthy sense of community. As you travel, you could set up a regular chat with important people in your life so that you can have a solid foundation of support wherever you are in the world. And if you’re seeing a therapist, keep those sessions going via video chat!
At Remote Year our community-focused travel programs also provide support, and our Community Leaders, though not trained mental health professionals, are always there with a friendly ear or to point you towards mental health resources. We have a dedicated mental health Slack channel, where you can find support from your fellow Remote Year community members, as well as a host of other resources that can help.
3. Engage with your community
Making a positive impact on the community around you and creating strong bonds with others is an amazing way to feel connected and help those in need. Past program participants have expressed a deep satisfaction when it comes to positive impact activities like building homes in Colombia and volunteering to work with LGBTQ+ youth in Mexico City.
If you’re feeling isolated, championing a local cause and opening up to your community about how you’re feeling will help you feel surrounded by support. Being connected to those around you will immensely improve your mental health and lead to a more satisfactory life overall.
4. Build self-care into your itinerary
Depending on what kind of traveler you are, you may enjoy packing your schedule with activities to experience everything a destination has to offer. FOMO, or fear of missing out, is especially strong when you travel since there’s a sense of urgency to these activities. What if you don’t get another chance? Aren’t new experiences what traveling is all about?
As awesome as new experiences are, if you don’t make time for self-care, you can easily start feeling fatigued and even resentful of your surroundings. Take some time for yourself during your trip! This might look like treating yourself to a spa day, staying in to catch up on TV shows and movies, or relaxing on the beach without worrying about work or activities.
Any activity that recharges you will keep you in peak mental shape, especially if you’re traveling long-term.
5. Stay hydrated
Studies show that 75% of the US population doesn’t drink enough water, despite the fact that staying hydrated is extremely important for both your mental and physical health. Many other countries around the world are similarly dehydrated. Even being mildly dehydrated can cause issues for you like low energy and confusion, and being dehydrated in general can make conditions like depression and anxiety worse.
The best way to stay hydrated (and the most eco-friendly) is to purchase a water bottle that you can bring everywhere with you. If you’re concerned about water quality, you could purchase a bottle with a built-in filter that can help. However you get your water, staying hydrated will boost your energy levels and just make you feel better in general!
6. Eat healthy food and snacks
Similar to staying hydrated, eating healthy as you travel will also be incredibly beneficial for your mental health. However, that’s much easier said than done. Sometimes it’s simpler to grab unhealthy snacks from a train station, or you spot something on the menu that looks absolutely delicious, but isn’t exactly nutritious.
The good news is you don’t need to deprive yourself of anything! Life’s all about balance, and all you have to do is make smart decisions around eating. Instead of reaching for chips and candy at the station, try buying almonds and fruit or dark chocolate. Indulge yourself in that delectable meal, and simply balance it out with a lighter breakfast or lunch.
Another way to eat healthier as you travel is to visit local markets to stock up on fresh ingredients. We encourage everyone to explore the food markets in each destination, which helps limit how much you dine out without compromising on experience. Taking advantage of your kitchen facilities to prepare a meal with your new travel companions is not only a great way to eat healthy, it’s also a wonderful way to engage with locals and practice new languages.
7. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the concept of being focused on the present moment and creating space for yourself mentally and emotionally. It helps you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and be aware of them without feeling overwhelmed.
Being mindful can help relieve your stress, lower your blood pressure, and reduce any symptoms of anxiety or depression you’re experiencing. It’s especially important to remember to be mindful while you’re traveling, particularly when you’re going through anything stressful.
The best part of practicing mindfulness is that you can do it anytime, anywhere! You can be mindful through meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and more. Many people enjoy going on organized retreats as a way to be mindful alongside a welcoming community.
The easiest way to start being mindful is to simply sit quietly for a few minutes and become aware of your present thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge them without judging them, and simply let them go as you center yourself.
8. Create a mental health plan
Before you embark on your trip, you should consult with your therapist and/or physician to come up with a mental health plan for any serious situations that occur while you’re abroad.
If you have a mental health condition that requires medication, you should also check in with your physician to talk through what medication management will look like as you travel.
If you regularly see a therapist and are traveling for multiple weeks or months, it may help for you to see if your therapist will see you virtually, or you could sign up for an online mental health platform to get treatment from anywhere.
If you’re heading on a Remote Year program yourself, our safety advisor has some info below:
As a participant, you have full access to our safety advisor, International SOS, included in your program. They will help give you information on prescription availability, the legal status of your prescription in each destination you will be visiting, as well as specialist medical centers. We also recommend you speak to your embassy and Travel Insurance provider for advice before you travel.
9. Create a new travel routine that works for you
Whether you’re catching the sunrise in Croatia or logging off in Cape Town, having a regular routine can be beneficial for your mental health, and at the same time, shaking up your routine can benefit you too. While most people view traveling as a break from your normal daily schedule, you can still reap the rewards of having a routine during your time on the road.
A good morning routine can help you feel like you’re in control, even if your days look wildly different from one another. This is especially true for people living who struggle with their mental health. Research has shown that consistent routines reduce anxiety and alleviate depression symptoms.
Your morning routine when you travel probably won’t be the same as the one you do at home. It doesn’t have to be a complicated – all you have to do is create consistency in your mornings. This might mean brushing your teeth at the same time everyday, eating the same type of breakfast, or waking up at a certain time no matter what.
10. Be present and live in the moment
This is so much harder than it sounds! With our smartphones keeping us connected to everyone all the time, your attention can easily be pulled in a million different directions. Even something as simple as posting a gorgeous sunset to your Instagram story can distract you from appreciating the beauty right in front of you.
Of course you want to capture all the incredible experiences of your trip, but if you put down your phone and live in the moment, you’ll start enjoying yourself even more. These memories will last for a lifetime – and they’ll be sweeter if you’re fully immersed in them.
No matter where you are in the world, your mental health should be a top priority! Taking care of yourself will benefit your entire life – you’ll be happier, more productive, and feel more fulfilled when you put yourself first.