Mental health is something very important to me, whether that’s a mental illness or just taking care of yourself when times get tough. As much as we would like to believe it, travel is not the answer to all of our problems. When we travel, we take ourselves with us – including our mental illnesses and general stressors.
While I do plan on writing more on how to balance mental health and travel, particularly on how my depression effects my location independent business and travel, I haven’t gotten there yet. Instead, I decided to ask several of my travel blogging colleagues how they practice self-care on the road. And note, these tips aren’t just for those of us struggling with a mental illness — self-care is for everyone!
1) Schedule In Some Down Time
When we’re traveling, it’s easy to get carried away and cram way too much into a week, or a weekend. You can probably manage that.
If you’re traveling for longer, though, the best way to avoid travel burnout is to take some time off of travel. I hear you asking if I’m crazy, but hear me out. When I spend a week or two sightseeing every day, I get tired and everything starts seeming uninteresting, or more of the same, kind of a blur. If I take a day off here and there to stay in my PJs, watch a movie, eat in, read a book, and just do nothing, really, the world starts to show its colors again.
Taking days off is the best way to avoid travel burnout. Trust me, I’ve been traveling for sixteen months now – with kids. -Thais, World Trip Diaries
2) Keep In Touch With Your Support Network
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterised by unstable emotional surges, self destructive behaviour, intense fear of abandonment, extreme black and white thinking, and chronic feelings of emptiness. It is a difficult disorder to live with, but even more so to travel with, when the environment is unstable and I am far away from my emotional support systems.
I use several self care techniques to minimise the effects of BPD while I am travelling. Maintaining contact with loved ones back home is essential, especially in times of emotional distress. I schedule times for regular phone calls with my boyfriend because he is my main support system. When he is unavailable, or if my distress levels are very high, I need to use diary writing as emotional release, or use self-soothing techniques. Some of my favourite self-soothing techniques are taking long hot showers, rubbing my inner palm with my fingers to calm myself down, and focusing on slowing my breathing.
Travelling with BPD is very difficult, but I cope by planning ahead and knowing what I will do if I become distressed while far away from home. It hasn’t stopped me from travelling so far, and I know that it won’t stop me in the future. –Kate, Her Travel Therapy
3) Prioritize Self Care As A Mom
When you travel with kids, especially younger ones, you can get easily stressed out. I realized this on my first trip with my two kids, a toddler and an infant, to Lake Tahoe. I was always on my toes and eventually very stressed out.
That is when I decided to plan my next family trip carefully by allocating time for myself. Self care is so important to enable you to actually enjoy the trip instead of getting burnt out. My favorite tips are:
– Always get enough sleep. Only when you rest well, you can function well. Else you can get cranky and stressed.
– Have any healthy snacks like granola bars in your hand bag along with your kids’ snacks. Hunger can make you “hangry”. Snack when they snack.
– Pack a book to read or take your iPod for relaxing when you can, when the kids are asleep, when you are on the road and not driving.
-Delegate anything your family can take care of when you have the opportunity, do not try to do everything by yourself. And don’t expect everything to be perfect. Take it easy. –Priya, Glorious Sunrise
4) Go For A Run
For me, self-care on the road involves going for a run every day or two. Or, if I’m staying somewhere where I’m not sure I’ll be able to run, checking into a hotel that has a gym.
It can take a while to make exercise a habit, and making anything a habit on the road is extremely challenging, but the rewards are worth it. It took me several months to make going for a run a habit but, after a while, I realized that I felt better after I’d been for a run. Knowing that it was effective meant it felt less like a chore and more like something I might want to do.
If there’s something that’s bothering me, I can escape it for a while. If I’m angry about something, I run harder and that can help to get any pent-up rage out. If I’m overwhelmed, and sometimes I don’t even realize this at the time, going for a run can be meditative and can help me unwind. – James, Portugalist
5) Give Each Other Space
My wife and I have traveled around the world together. Been stuck on long bus / minivan rides, thigh to thigh. Taken a 17,000km epic road trip across Canada and the US. While we can’t always help how closely we’ll travel together, we do what we can to give each other some space once we arrive.
A few examples:
-Ensuring we each have a key to come and go as we like (you’d be amazed how frequently we have to ask for a second key!)
-Having at least one room with a door. We both work from our computers while we travel, and it’s nice to play some music or watch a video without feeling like you’re disturbing the other person.
-While we may go grocery shopping together, we’ll just as easily go for a walk on our own
-When Laura has her translation program open, I take that as a do-not-disturb sign. Random webpage in Chrome? See how she’s doing.
-At the end of the day, there’s always some cuddling and reconnecting. We may look like we’re joined at the hip sometimes, but we’re still very much individuals. -Chris and Laura Backe, One Weird Globe
Mongol Rally crew, photo from Alice
Travelling full time is such a rewarding and exciting experience but you must look after yourself in order to come out the other end in good health mentally and physically. I’ve made plenty of mistakes: not eaten enough vegetables, drank too much alcohol, not taken enough rest and just pushed myself too far so that I’ve crashed and burnt out.
Driving from the UK to Mongolia and back on the Mongol Rally last year was one of the most testing experiences I’ve put myself through. There was lots of little tricks and techniques I used to try and keep my mind and body on the straight and narrow. My biggest technique being meditation.
If you’re in a car with 4 other people 24/7, it’s hard to escape but meditation WILL allow you to escape. Just like riding a bike, it takes practice but persevere when you start to give yourself one of the best gifts for your mind and body. Meditation reduces stress, improves concentration, enhances your self-awareness and most importantly for me at this time – helped me increase my acceptance. To start out, I recommend trying out some apps: Headspace and Stop, Breathe & Think are my favourites! –Alice, Teacake Travels
How do you practice self-care on the road? Tell me in the comments!
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