Home Travel Travel is both joyful and stressful. Here’s how I overcome anxiety on the road

Travel is both joyful and stressful. Here’s how I overcome anxiety on the road

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Travel is both joyful and stressful. Here’s how I overcome anxiety on the road


Mental Health Awareness Week: How I keep depression and anxiety in check while travelling.

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As a long-time sufferer of mild depression and anxiety, I find travel bittersweet. Lost luggage, delayed transport, navigating an unfamiliar environment… the risks and hurdles can be especially triggering for those, like me, who are less resilient.

From crippling homesickness in Sarajevo to angst in Azerbaijan, I’ve had some very low moments across almost three decades of globetrotting.

Yet despite these pitfalls, travel has also been a vast source of joy. Spanning a rite-of-passage summer in Salamanca (in which my Spanish and self-confidence soared) to an eye-opening festival in India (involving coconuts and a group of holy nude men), my trips in over 55 countries have truly enriched my life. Refreshing and resetting, thrilling and wondrous, they’ve often conversely been a saving grace.

So, in light of the UK’s upcoming Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), I’m sharing a few tips I’ve discovered on managing mental health when travelling.

Medication mistakes can ruin a trip – I’ve learned the hard way

Ten years ago, my parents invited me to join them on an amazing trip to New Zealand. Unsurprisingly I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, though, I made a blunder; just before this journey-of-a-lifetime, I came off the antidepressants I’d been taking since my teens. My mild anxiety and depression seemed to be better, my dosage was low anyway and I’d weaned myself off gradually as per the doctor’s advice. Surely I’d be ok? Wrong.

No sooner had we got to Singapore (our outward stopover) than I was having panic attacks, worsened by the time difference and new surroundings. I muddled through the holiday with erratic mood swings and a persistent sense of dread. It was a massive shame: not least for my parents, who’d kindly invited me along.

The lesson: try to avoid major medication changes just before going away, no matter how confident you feel. Other tips include checking how to access medical facilities in your destination and being aware of any relevant rules; for example, certain countries require a doctor’s letter for prescription drugs.

Always disclose any health conditions on your travel insurance (although several insurers allow you to choose not to be covered for these if you feel it’s not necessary).

How I lessen anxiety while travelling

Get anxious easily? Develop contingency plans to lessen the risk of stressful situations. I no longer book an airport connection of less than 90 minutes, in case of a delay with the preceding flight, and download plenty of escapist entertainment beforehand to make waits more bearable.

Group tours are another consideration if you’re solo and worry about logistics, though ensure the format’s right for you. I’ve found a happy medium in options like Intrepid’s ‘Original’ and G Adventures’ ‘Classic’ trips, which attract a wide range of like-minded travellers via comfortable lodgings and a mix of cultural inclusions and downtime.

Groups are typically capped at 16 people, and my companions have spanned twenty-something Europeans to middle-aged Aussies and a lively Canadian couple in their seventies. I also pay for a single supplement, as I find my own space invaluable. 

One last pointer if you suffer from post-trip blues – plan a treat for after you return, maybe a day trip or meal out. If you have the luxury, book one or two days off work too, to help you ease back into daily life.

How to make travel more meaningful

Bungee jumping over a Nepalese ravine, spending time with Chinese yak herders, meandering around Europe’s fairy-tale cities… I’ve had countless enriching travel adventures. Some have even helped me make sense of my own life at home.

That said, travel can also feel draining and disappointing. In an age when so much is already known, and there’s endless content telling us what to see and do, it’s easy to lose curiosity and purpose – which in turn can affect wellbeing.

I enjoyed reading Stephen W Brock’s ‘Hidden Travel’ for handy hints on making trips more rewarding, from connecting with locals to stepping outside your comfort zone. One of my favourite suggestions? Having a goal, whether that’s seeking out Riga’s Art Nouveau treasures or brushing up on your Spanish in Mexico.

As well as boosting mental health generally, things like talking to a friend, journaling or a few minutes of meditation can help you find greater meaning in your experiences as well. A ‘digital detox’ could also be beneficial, if you dare.

How I manage my expectations when travelling

I love author Alain de Botton’s dry observation in his book ‘The Art of Travel’: that when we travel, we bring ourselves with us. Your partner’s untidy habits will no doubt still annoy you, and that unresolved work issue will still niggle.

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Add to this all the boring (and sometimes stressful) minutiae involved in travel, from the long wait at the baggage carousel to the mundane outskirts of that picture-postcard town, and it’s clear those curated Instagram feeds and colourful travelogues don’t tell the full story.

As I’ve found myself, travel can be escapist and often triggers moments of huge joy and wonder. But, as with life in general, there’s a lot of humdrum among the highlights. So try and be positive but pragmatic; manage your expectations accordingly, avoid comparisons with impossible ideals and anticipate things won’t always go to plan.

Remember to look after your physical health too

Robust mindsets and a sense of meaning are all very well, but they’re hard to maintain if you don’t feel good physically. Once, failing to drink much in hot weather, I became quite dehydrated – something that took several litres of water, rehydration salts and a long rest to rectify. Needless to say, until my headache and fatigue shifted, my mood was pretty poor.

From activities and time zones to cuisine and climate, going away can mean many variations on your usual environment. Most of us know to wise up on specific advice for where we’re going, whether that means getting certain vaccines or swerving the tap water, but might forget that the usual health advice applies too.

Fresh air, exercise, healthy eating and drinking, a regular sleep pattern – they all still boost physical and mental wellbeing, wherever you are in the world.

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