How to take care of your mental health whilst travelling

Image courtesy of Simon English on Unsplash

In light of World Mental Health Day which took place earlier this year, I have been thinking about how our mental health fares when we travel. Although travel is, for a lot of us, an incredibly exciting prospect and an opportunity to sunbathe the stresses of university away, it also presents its own challenges.

From stressing about achieving the perfect 'beach body', to ordering at a restaurant in another language, or missing your friends and family, our mental health can fluctuate wherever we are in the world and it is important to know how to look after ourselves. Here are a few simple things that you can do to have an easy trip.

Get to know the culture and customs in the country you visit

Any country you travel to is bound to present you with some form of culture shock, whether you’re spending a weekend cycling in Amsterdam or taking the classic gap year route through Australia or Southeast Asia. In my experience, the best way to minimise the culture shock you may experience is to do your research into the country you are visiting. This could be getting to know local customs or even learning some simple and useful phrases in the local language. Even when travelling to destinations which you’d assume are relatively similar to the UK, there can still be things that catch you out. For instance, in the USA you are expected to pay a 10% tip rather than the odd pound coin you might leave for a waitress in the UK, and in Germany instead of just waltzing across any street you must wait for the pedestrian light to be green. Be prepared, and hopefully you won’t run into any unpleasant surprises.

Be open to new things

You’ve spent all of this time and effort getting to your destination so why spend your first evening tucking into a Big Mac? Keep an open mind and try local foods or practice. Although this could seem a little overwhelming for some, eating and drinking alongside locals can actually make you feel more at ease in an unfamiliar place. Give it a go, you never know what lovely international connections you might make just by stepping into a restaurant.

Accept homesickness, but try not to focus on it

For longer trips, or if you are undertaking a Year or Placement Abroad, homesickness can play a big factor in how you experience your travels. Keep in regular contact with your friends and family but try not to rely on them or dwell on things that you’re missing out on. After all, I’m sure they’d absolutely love to be wherever in the world you are! Try to build friendships and connections wherever you are. Some ideas for doing this could be simply socialising in your hostel, joining a local gym or club, or attending social events organised by your host university, or workplace. This will help you feel well-established in your new home and build up your support network and friendships.

Existing mental health problems

For anyone travelling with a pre-existing mental health condition, be sure to prepare for your trip by making sure you have the correct support available. Advice and support should always be available to you no matter where in the world you are. Make sure that you buy the correct travel insurance before you go and check that any medication you take is legal in the country you plan on travelling to. You can find more info on all of this here:

If you can manage to do just a couple of these things, hopefully your trip will be as stress-free and enjoyable as possible!