Mental Health and Travel
As someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder, it’s of the utmost importance to me and to my life with Chris that I take extra care of my mental health while traveling. If that means staying inside some mornings to focus on extra self-care, writing in a journal while on the road, or admitting to myself that I just need a break, we make sure do it. This not only ensures that neither of us suffer from traveler’s burnout, but also makes sure that when we are out and about, we are enjoying every minute of our time together. It makes both of us braver, more inspired, and more energetic while traveling. This in turn means we come back with better memories of our time spent traveling. Here are some of the things we keep an eye on to make sure we’re continually feeling like happy and healthy travelers:
1. We eat (relatively) healthy on the road. Most people (ourselves included) use vacation and traveling as a chance to unwind. This tends to encourage a mindset of “I can eat whatever I want! I’m on vacation!” And while the two of us are big on indulgences (I love a good plate of french fries and he’s got a big sweet tooth,) we also find that we function just that much better as people and travelers if we keep those indulgences fairly limited. That means filling up on fruits and vegetables as often as we can and being sure we drink enough water every day. After all, keeping our bodies functioning well means that we can live longer and see more of the world :)
2. We exercise (even on vacation.) I read in Murakami’s book on running once that he runs because he wants to live life to the fullest. And I completely agree. When we go for runs, it helps combat my depression, gives me more energy and makes my confidence sky-rocket. It’s also a really great way to see a new place and a great way to spend time with one another. We have some of our most meaningful conversations just after a run. When we take too long of a break from exercising, I always see a noticeable drop in my mood and self-esteem. We bicker more, we view ourselves in a different (and lesser) light, and in general the world starts to turn grey. By making sure we keep up our daily habit of exercising, we also (just like the first one on this list,) ensure we live longer and can see more of the world.
3. We take breaks. I wish it didn’t happen this way, but there are some mornings when we just don’t feel like being travelers. And when this feeling hits, I think it’s important to respond to it unless we want to experience burnout later on (which is much harder to recover from than a slow start to the morning.) If we find ourselves feeling this way, we listen to our bodies and use the day as a chance to rest and relax. In L.A. this meant reading for a couple hours on the beach. In New York it meant heading to bed early and enjoying Indian takeout in our Airbnb. In Portland it meant heading back to our Airbnb to use the in-room sauna occasionally (yes we had an in-room sauna.) Whatever the case, it is important to listen to your body and to recognize when it’s craving comfort over adventure.
4. We make sure we are getting enough sleep. A little lost sleep here and there never seems to hurt us, and sometimes it’s the best feeling in the world to stay up all night to see the next day’s sunrise, but eventually lack of sleep can make you cranky, irritable, and unlikely to see the beauty in your surroundings. If we stay up late one night, we make sure to balance it with totally uninterrupted sleep the next (if possible!) so we don’t end up being our own worst enemies.
5. We journal. Or, uh, I journal. I function best if I can spill my frustrations and inspirations into a notebook at the end of the day. It helps me learn what I love best about a place, learn how I responded to being in a new situation, and helps me make better and different decisions the following day. It also ensures that I have a really cool timeline of everything we did, saw, and ate while in a new place. Journaling can function as both a cool souvenir and a way to find gratitude in your daily life away from home.
6. We talk to each other. We are exceptionally lucky in the fact that we get to do most of our traveling together. This means we have a built in support system wherever we go. If one of us is feeling awkward and anxious one day, the other person can pick up the slack. If one of us is sad, we have another person to vent to. This all ensures that our feelings have a place to go so we don’t have to hold everything inside. It also means that we get to talk about our dreams together, our future travel plans, the people we meet, and our favorite places all the time. Like I said, we are lucky. But if you aren’t traveling with a partner, I think it’s still important to find a support system wherever you go. Whether it comes in the form of emailing your siblings whenever you get a chance, forming friendships with fellow travelers, or talking to your hosts in a foreign country, find a support system! Having the support of Chris has gotten me through some of my worst moments I had while traveling.
7. We make sure to do creative things whenever we can. I firmly believe that most people have a creative spirit. My mom is creative when she creates games for my niece to play. My dad is more obviously creative because he’s a painter. Chris is most creative with his photography and social media accounts and I’m most creative when I’m writing or doodling cartoons. Creativity is something that is necessary to indulge as often as you get the chance to do it because it reaffirms our connection to life. What I mean by this is that when we are creative, we see the world in a new and interesting light. We make ourselves more connected to fellow human beings, to the natural world, and we see ourselves in a new perspective. That’s why whenever we travel, Chris and I each need our own outlet for creativity. When we were in New York, I went to a book convention and met some of my favorite authors while Chris went walking all over the city to take photos. By doing this, we created a space for each one of us to feel inspired and creative. By the time we met up at the end of that day, we were each feeling creatively fulfilled in our own unique way. We were nicer to each other, had more fun together and found magic everywhere.
8. We get outside. This one is extremely important to us. Since most of the places we’ve traveled have been to larger cities, we always make sure we are able to escape on a day trip to somewhere a little more outdoorsy. We love going for hikes, longer runs, or to beaches, and the time spent out of doors and away from people refreshes us so we can enjoy city life a bit more by the time we return.
9. We allow ourselves to be angry and hurt and sad whenever necessary. I think there’s a common misconception that because we are living our dreams and getting the chance to travel, that we have to be happy all the time. And yes, what we are getting the chance to do is absolutely incredible, but honestly, who is happy all of the time? Trying to be happy all the time only leads to frustration when you don’t feel that way and/or shoving your emotions under the rug in an effort to seem grateful. If you’re hurt or scared while traveling then let yourself feel that! It’s important to know that while traveling can make you feel inspired, happy, creative, and feel many different wonderful emotions, it can also make you feel negative, lost, lonely, and homesick other times. Be honest with yourself. If you’re having a bad day, the last thing you want to do is force happiness. Recognize you’re not feeling the best, give yourself a break, and move on from there. Or, if you don’t feel like moving on, go hide in your room, watch a sad movie, cry, and try it again the next day. It’s okay to travel with a whole spectrum of emotions. That, after all, is what makes you a human being. That being said, we also…
10. Practice gratitude. Each and everyday we find a few things to be grateful for. It’s a good practice and can make you a happier person, but for us it’s all about making sure we are being mindful of the moments we get to spend traveling the world. Not everyone gets to travel the world, a fact we are constantly reminding ourselves of, and though we worked very hard for the chance, we are also extremely lucky to do what we do. We are thankful for each and every day we get to spend traveling.
What do you do to ensure your mental health stays on track while traveling?