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7 Tips for Maintaining your Mental Health while Traveling

Travel is supposed to be a fun, carefree experience. But with the stress of navigating airports, being away from home, and not being able to do your daily routines, it's easy to feel lost, anxious, and even afraid.

Here are some tips to making your vacations as smooth and easy as possible:

a woman in a bikini sits and faces the blue ocean in a meditative state on the beach

1. Budget, plan, and research

One of the most terrible experiences during my travels happened on my first solo international trip. I got off the plane in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and immediately felt stress consume me. How do I get through an airport where I can't read the signs? How do I get to where I need to go?

a notebook labeled "field notes" laying on top of a map. There are little boxes that are pink and green next to it.

I knew I needed a taxi but didn't known how to find one. A man approached me, telling me he was a taxi driver and that he could take me to my host family. As a lost, bewildered, girl traveling alone for the first time, I followed him.

By the end of the thirty minute drive, he charged me the equivalent of $50. I knew it was expensive, but I gave him the money because I didn't think that there was another option. I got out of the taxi with a terrible feeling in my stomach. Later, I learned that I should only have paid $2-$4 for a ride of that distance. I broke down in tears, calling myself stupid and feeling the weight of a $50 hole in my already tight budget. My mental health became deteriorated for a few days, I remember feeling scared to go outside and talk to locals out of fear that they would take advantage of me.

a woman with long, dark hair wearing a green shirt looks over a mountain range

And I blamed the taxi driver so much, but the truth is I was not free of responsibility. If I did more research beforehand, I would've known to get their local transit app beforehand. I would have known how to look for an official taxi, and I would have NEVER followed a stranger out of the airport (an important lesson to apply to any place you go to).

So one of the most necessary parts of maintaining your mental health while traveling is this beforehand knowledge -learning about local apps, transit, dangerous places to avoid, and expected prices. This kind of planning will come in handy in your destination and will help get rid of that "what do I do now?" situation once you land.

2. Journal about your mental health while traveling

The point of traveling is to make memories for a lifetime. In addition, it can be a great way to learn more about yourself.

I used to not be excited to travel. My dad being a flight attendant used to urge me to take trips with him all the time, but the thought of it never excited me as much as staying home. I would think things like, "why would I go all the way to Paris just to see a big metal tower?" It wasn't until taking the time to truly reflect on my surroundings and myself when I learned to love traveling. I still think the Eiffel tower is overrated, but what I truly loved was people watching while sipping on hot chocolate. I loved admiring the intricate, ornate decorations in the architecture of apartment buildings. It's the little things I like that I remember on my journeys -the people, the food, and architecture. And I never would have known that about myself if I didn't take the time to learn.

a travel journal with a blue pen laying on top of it
my beloved travel journal

Adding journaling into your travel routine is a great way to do this. One of my favorite things to do is jot down three highlights of the day, every day. When you've returned from a trip a while ago, it's a fun method to re-rememeber the little travel moments that you've forgotten about.

It's also a great way to dive into yourself more. Jot down questions like, "how does it make me feel being away from home?" "what kind of things about this new destination bring me joy?" "what kind of struggles did I face when embracing a new culture and way of life?" Putting yourself in a new location, whether it's a relaxing beach trip or an adventurous backpacking trip, is a test of your character, Being in unfamiliar places challenges the notion of yourself and your self-reliance.

4. Set time aside to do the things you truly love

Being away from your daily routines can oftentimes mess up your mind, especially if you're a homebody. Not having your own bed, your own home, can make it hard to still feel like you. Whether it's bringing your favorite book or bringing your favorite running sneakers, it's important to incorporate your passions into your travel.

A book, a coffee, and a white rose is laid out on a white bed as a woman touches the pages.

Every trip I take I make sure to bring my Ipad so I can create digital drawings of my surroundings. My favorite thing is going to a little park and just sitting down and drawing, which you can basically do anywhere. Also, the fact that I'm getting fresh air and feeling the sun on my skin helps too.

There are also various activities you can do to incorporate your hobbies and bring you joy while you're there. You can do things like taking a cooking class, an art museum, a history tour, finding a nearby goat-yoga retreat, etc.., All in all, there is truly no need to sacrifice your passions for traveling.

5. Make note of simple pleasures

 In the bustle and hustle of a new place, it can be easy to get caught up in all of the excitement. But I believe that on some level, we still need some sort of consistency from the rollercoaster of adventure. Chasing new sights and journeys are fun, but we must also take the time to love the "mundane" things around us.

A warm bath, a cup of aromatic tea, the sound of a bird chirping in the distance. These are all things not innate to travel -they can be done at home too, but it's these things that give our bodies the stability that it craves deep down.

I have a little quote up on my wall that I love to look at. It's a little sun and in the center, I wrote:

"Make anywhere you go feel like home"

It's true that I do get homesick sometimes on long journeys, but for the most part I'm able to create a new home wherever I am, It's all thanks to indulging in these little simple pleasures of life.

6. Keep your self care routines

Traveling should NOT involve sacrificing your self care practices, no matter how elaborate it is. If you're a high maintenance person with a 12-step skin care routine, it's worth it to spend extra money to check a bag with every lotion that you need. It may cost more but will save you so much stress and a bad taste in your mouth.

a woman wearing jean shorts reads an open book by a window with striped curtains

And this doesn't only apply to skin care. There was a point in time where I actively avoided traveling because I was so addicted to making music, I couldn't bear the thought of being away from my musical instruments for so long. But after putting in the effort of checking bags to make room for my ukulele, I felt so much more at peace.

Whether it's a guitar, a yoga mat, a hula-hoop -whatever! Bring what makes you happy and continue doing it away from home. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you should skip out on your daily habits. Traveling is supposed to bring out more of your essence, not supress what it needs to thrive.

7. Connect

I remember how frustrating it feels to be in opposite time zones from your loved ones, not being able to spend time with them or even text them throughout the day. It can feel lonely and isolating. But it helps when you make yourself feel less like a stranger in the new place you are staying at. Also, I find that locals are often very curious and enjoy chatting with travelers. Most of the time people would love to share their cultures with you.

There are many great ways to connect with people abroad. It can be making conversation with your taxi driver, staying in hostels that offer group activities, or using great websites like Workaway which allow you to connect with locals and other travelers.

An Important Conclusion

Don't be so hard on yourself. After being ripped off of $50 for that taxi drive, I was so angry at myself and the world. But I shouldn't have been. The truth is, it's okay to make mistakes. Being ripped off, running late at the airport, having plans fall through, etc... all happen. It's a pain and should have the proper steps taken to be avoided, but it will be okay in the long run.

a red and yellow sunset full of clouds. There are silhouettes of people in the bottom left corner.

Maybe that's truly one of the most stressful parts of travel -adaptability. It's normal for things to go wrong, but the true test is how good we are at adapting to these kind of things.

I once flew from Florida to New Mexico for one day, just to see the Albuquerque balloon festival. It turns out, the one day I went was the one day when the weather was so bad that the balloons couldn't fly.

But being in that field, the spot where I should have been seeing hundreds of air balloons gracing the air, I instead watched the most beautiful sunset of my life. It was disappointing at first, to know that the whole reason I came on the trip fell through, but I ended up being so grateful for that beautiful sunset that it made the whole thing worth it. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

So at the end of the day, remember what traveling is really about -enjoying life. Whether you're at the top of the Burj Khalifa with every detail of your trip going perfectly, or stuck in a hotel because your tropical beach trip got rained on, take the time to be mindful and make the most out of your limited moments, no matter how spectacular they are,


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