Travel Team | Jan 25, 2023
With travel comes a lot of excitement and fun, but for some it can cause feelings of anxiousness, sadness, and other uncomfortable emotions. These feelings can range from mild homesickness to debilitating depression. The important thing to remember is that they’re entirely normal, and you can take steps to improve your mental wellness when you travel.
Planning ahead can go a long way toward reducing stress, especially if you’re someone who struggles with ambiguity or the unknown. Don’t think that you have to create a minute-by-minute calendar of what you’ll do on your trip. That might make things even more stressful. Instead, try some of these tips for how you can reduce travel stress before you even leave home:
Once you have a list of what situations could prove difficult for you, create a strategy for how you want to handle those situations. For example, if airport crowds cause anxiety, plan to fly on days or times when fewer people are there. Find out if the airport has quiet lounges or sensory rooms where you can decompress. If you’re afraid of not having what you need if your luggage is delayed, plan to pack the essentials in your carry-on instead of checking everything.
If getting lost at your destination makes you anxious, research addresses and directions and write them in a small, inconspicuous notebook before you leave home. You can do the same with bus routes, subway stops, and more.
If you’re worried about getting sick during your trip, invest in travel insurance. Not only will it help cover medical expenses if you get sick or hurt while traveling, but Seven Corners’ plans also come with travel assistance services. We’re available 24/7 to help you find medical care wherever you are, translation services, and more so you can relax and focus on getting well again.
If you have a history of mental health issues or are concerned about how you might handle your new surroundings, talk to your doctor before departure. They should be able to recommend strategies to help you cope.
You might also ask your doctor for referrals to a health care provider at your destination. This could be particularly helpful if you’re going to be traveling for a long time as a digital nomad or during a study abroad trip.
If you use medication to manage any kind of illness, make sure you have enough to last the entire length of your trip plus a bit more in case your return home is delayed. Talk to your doctor about managing your medications from afar.
Exercise releases endorphins, the hormones that make us happy. When you’re physically active, your brain releases chemicals that can lift your mood and ward off symptoms of depression.
The good news is that exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous or high intensity in order for you to reap its benefits. Activities such as walking, yoga, and simply playing outside can be effective.
If you’re someone who exercises regularly at home, maintain some of that routine. Simply returning to a familiar activity can sometimes be enough to beat any blues that might be creeping in.
The way you fuel your body affects how your mind works. Harvard Health Blog explains, “Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel.”
It’s easy to fall victim to poor eating habits, especially abroad when there are so many new, yummy foods to try. But by maintaining a balanced diet that is high in nutrients, your mind can stay in shape.
Get more tips for how to eat well on vacation from registered dietician and owner of Vibrant Nutrition & Fitness on our list of 10 ways to stay healthy while traveling.
Sleep is so important for mental health because that's when your brain gets to rejuvenate. The National Sleep Foundation explains the correlation between sleep and mental health perfectly: “When you don't get the 7-9 hours of quality sleep you need, it can heavily influence your outlook on life, energy level, motivation, and emotions.”
When you’re sleep deprived, you also tend to be less alert, potentially putting you in harmful situations, as well as making it harder to make decisions. And these things often lead to higher levels of stress, regardless of whether you’re traveling or at home.
Drinking decaffeinated tea, reading a book, listening to relaxing music, meditating, and exercising can all help you get a good night’s sleep.
It can be difficult adjusting to new cultures and people, and you're not alone if you get homesick.
Try avoiding these challenges — or at least lessening their impact — by bringing items that remind you of home. This could be a picture of friends and family, a stuffed animal, or a favorite t-shirt. Scents can trigger strong memories, so try packing your favorite person’s perfume or aftershave.
Isolation can make feelings of loneliness and anxiety worse. You may feel especially susceptible to this if you’re traveling solo.
Actively seek out other people, whether it’s another solo traveler at your hostel, the bartender where you’re having dinner, or a stranger on the street. Strike up a conversation with someone you meet at a concert or ask your Uber driver for recommendations about where to go. You might even check out travel groups on social media to meet up with someone else also looking for a temporary travel companion.
The goal isn’t to make lifelong friends, but rather to ground yourself through connecting with another person.
Simply listening to music has been shown to reduce stress and pain, and lift your mood. Before you travel, make sure you have plenty of your favorite albums on your phone or other device.
You might also seek out live music when you travel. Sing along at a concert in the park — singing can affect the hormones in your body, similar to exercise — or dance at a club.
Packing your itinerary full of activities might make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, but if it leaves you feeling rushed and overwhelmed, it’s time to reconsider your plan. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends building rest and relaxation into your schedule.
One way to do this is to adopt a slow travel mentality. This means you visit fewer destinations, perhaps only one city, and focus on having a deeper experience rather than merely seeing lots of sites on a surface level. You might find that you notice more things about your destination and get a better understanding of how the locals live.
If slow travel is a bit too restful, simply take some time each day to meditate. Calm your mind and breathing as you practice mindfulness before your next full day of adventure.
Focusing on others has been proven to lift our own moods. That’s why they say giving back to your community as a volunteer or doing a random act of kindness can have such powerful effects.
The same goes for gratitude. When we take a moment to recognize moments in our travels that we’re thankful for, we might find ourselves feeling a bit happier. You can do this by meditating at the end of each day, keeping a travel journal, or voluntouring.
Read more about why travel makes us happy through gratitude.
Mental illness is a real and serious condition that cannot be combated by the suggestions above alone. If you are susceptible to certain mental health conditions, you may want to consult with a doctor or counselor prior to traveling. Some medical professionals even offer telehealth services should you find yourself in a pinch abroad and needing to speak to a professional.
If travel insurance is a part of your plan for a low-stress trip, let Seven Corners help you choose the best protection for you. You can get a quick quote online at any time or have all your questions answered by one of our licensed experts.
Toll free 1-800-335-0611
The authors who contributed to this article are not doctors, and for a proper diagnosis or medical care, please see a doctor or licensed mental health care professional. These are only recommendations and suggestions that should be taken at face value.
Katherine Goens and Becky Hart contributed to this article. Both have written extensively about travel and travel insurance for Seven Corners.
Did you enjoy this blog? Get more articles like it before anyone else when you subscribe to our monthly newsletter, The Wayfinder.
Receive our monthly inspiration and travel tips from the travel insurance experts.Sign me up