As many of you know, I am currently in Asia. I spent the last five months in Thailand and have just arrived in Nepal, where I plan to spend two or three months.
A quick Google search for ‘travelling and mental health’ reveals countless blogs and websites touting the benefits of travel for mental health. Whilst I agree that experiencing new places and broadening your horizons in this way can be an amazing thing – life-changing, even – it’s definitely not all plain sailing. If you suffer from a mental health condition, travel can be destabilising and triggering. So here are some ways to mitigate stress and keep yourself in balance whilst on the road.
Without adequate decent sleep, our brains are much more vulnerable to getting anxious or depressed. When you’re travelling, it’s sometimes hard to take care of this. What with night buses, time zones, late nights, annoying roommates in hostels, noisy streets and so on, I have found it tricky at times to stick to some sort of regular sleep pattern, but it’s important to do so if possible. Or at the very least make sure you’re not burning the candle at both ends for several days in a row.
A useful tip for regulating your sleep when taking long haul flights is to arrive at your destination in the evening local time, no matter the time difference. Sitting on a plane for hours on end is always tiring, and if you arrive later during the day you can go to bed rather than having to force yourself to stay awake when your body clock just wants to crash out.
As much as I enjoy hanging out in hostels from time to time and meeting fellow travellers, one thing I’ve learnt about myself is that I need my personal space, and also a certain level of comfort. So these days I tend to book private rooms in guest houses and pay a little more in order to have a cosy bed, privacy and nobody snoring or sleep talking in the bed next to me.
So be self-aware on this front. Whether you prefer to sacrifice comfort and space for sociability or vice versa, it’s fine. Look after your needs here.
If you take prescription meds for mental health (or anything else, for that matter), it is incredibly important to keep on top of this. Make sure you have enough meds for your travels. If you’re on an extended trip, check in advance if your destination has your meds available, and if so, how much they cost.
You may need to ask a friend or family member to pick up your prescriptions for you back home and post them out to you. This is what my mum has done for me, and so far it’s worked.
I’m a very sociable person and I get lonely quite quickly if I don’t meet people. So when I arrive in a new place, one of my priorities is to find people to hang out with. Here are some ways of doing this:
⁃ Join the Couchsurfing app. There are often organised meet ups posted on this site and you don’t have to actually Couchsurf to join.
⁃ Check out meetup.com – social events organised by locals and travellers.
⁃ Facebook groups – search for ‘expats in …’ or ‘travellers in …’ and post a message asking if anyone wants to meet.
⁃ Join Tinder. Yes, seriously. Obviously you should take the usual safety precautions here – meet in a busy place, etc. But it’s an easy way to get chatting to people and you can say that you just want to make friends and hang out.
⁃ Stay in shared rooms in hostels.
⁃ Join a group tour.
⁃ Eat in a restaurant alone and strike up conversation with someone.
⁃ Go to a class, e.g. yoga.
⁃ Post on Facebook asking if anyone is in the place you’re visiting. Often there’ll be a friend of a friend of a friend nearby who will also be glad to connect. It’s a small world and all that.
6. Do stuff you like.
I know this sounds obvious, but often when I arrive in a new place I feel overwhelmed and stressed out with all the possibilities. I’m a keen rock climber, so one of the first things I do is to search online for the local climbing wall. Doing this is fun, familiar and brings me back down to earth (if you’ll excuse the pun). It’s also a good way to get chatting to people.
So whatever your hobby is, see if you can find a group or a class to go to. It will make you feel more at home and increase your chances of finding some friendly folk with interests in common.
If I try to do too much, I know I get burnt out and exhausted. So even during a busy day of sightseeing or whatever, I make sure I get plenty of breaks for coffee, or whatever, and pace myself.
Like sleep, this is another thing that is important to regulate in order to stay balanced and feeling good. Make sure you get enough to eat to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Eat healthy stuff when you can. When I was in Thailand my breakfast every day was a banana, a deliciously sweet and juicy mango, yoghurt and cashew nuts. This gave me some good nutrition to start the day, so I didn’t feel so guilty about eating Pad Thai and fried rice the rest of the time.
Be careful with hygiene, though. In Nepal or India, for example, don’t eat fruit sold in the street unless you peel and wash it yourself (in clean water, not from the tap). There’s nothing more dispiriting than getting sick.
9. Plan in advance.
Not everyone’s strong point, but you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary worry by doing your research in advance. One of the most stressful things I experienced when travelling was forgetting to apply for a visa for Myanmar and not realising until I turned up at the airport in Bangkok to board my flight. I ended up on a spontaneous trip to Vietnam for a fortnight while I waited for my application to be processed. It turned out okay in the end, but I was completely disoriented and frazzled when I arrived in Vietnam and ended up feeling quite depressed for a few days.
So, yeah, don’t leave things until the last minute, especially when dealing with visas, accommodation etc.
This is something that often gets overlooked when you’re on holiday or travelling. But, like good food and sleep, it’s important to keep up some sort of exercise routine when you’re abroad. Take your running shoes, or swimming gear, and aim to do a workout at least a couple of times per week.
If anyone else has any useful tips, please comment below!