• Volunteer and Adventure

Seven ways to manage your mental health while travelling

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: August 29, 2022

6 min read


Travelling overseas can mean carefree, barefoot days by the beach. It can also mean anxiety-riddled hours as you navigate an unfamiliar country. From the moment you step into the departures area at the airport, you can be swamped in confusion and stress. Do you have all the right documents? How safe will you be? How will you get to your accommodation? What if things go wrong?

Between time zone changes and jet lag, or stressful situations such as delayed flights or scams, travelling can take a toll on your mental health. When you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, where you don’t speak the language, even ordering food can feel overwhelming. 

If you’re a first-time or jittery traveller, or simply know all too well what anxiety and panic attacks feel like, here are seven ways to manage your mental health while travelling. 

1) Plan ahead



Planning thoroughly is one of the best ways to counter anxiety. Confidence comes from what you know, so more preparation means a greater feeling of security. 

Plan for each important step. Preparing for arriving at the airport means checking all of your documents and making sure they aren’t due to expire, making copies of important documentation, checking the visa requirements of your destination and whether or not you need to show proof of onward travel, or proof of vaccinations. 

For your arrival in another country, save screenshots of any important details, like the address of your accommodation. You can also download offline maps for your destination and pre-book a transfer from the airport to your accommodation. 

If you can, prepare for your time overseas by asking people who’ve been there. This is when travelling with an organised tour or joining a volunteer program can be helpful.

GVI’s programs make sure volunteers and interns are safe and supported before, during, and after travelling. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask pre-departure questions which can help you to feel more prepared, and remove some of the stress around travelling overseas. 


2) Create a routine



Having your normal routines disrupted is one of the reasons travelling can impact your mental health. As such, it can help to stick to some kind of routine, even if each day is different. 

That might be waking up and going for a short walk or meditating to start the day. Making time for exercise is particularly difficult when travelling, but setting a routine such as ten minutes of movement before your morning coffee can help you get your endorphin hit and feel more centred. 

You can also create small routines such as unpacking your things so you feel more comfortable as soon as you arrive in a new place, or journaling for 15 minutes before bed to process the day. 


3) Stay social



Travelling with a friend or group can be a great way to manage your mental health while travelling. As well as being able to share the decision-making responsibilities, you might feel safer and more secure, you’ll have people to laugh with when things go wrong, and getting a good dose of social interaction is good for lifting your spirits when you’re low.

For solo travellers, this part can be tough. Travelling can be isolating. The easiest way to tackle this is to book into a hostel where you can meet other travellers, or join the occasional group trip or volunteering program. Sometimes just a day or two of enjoying time with others can reinvigorate you, and can be a chance to connect with like-minded people from around the world who are likely facing the same challenges you are! 


4) If you manage a mental health condition with medication, find out if you need to take any extra precautions


If you take medication for any mental health conditions, check in with your healthcare provider before you leave to make sure you have enough to last throughout your trip. This can sometimes be tricky, depending on your destination and the length of your trip. 

In some countries, certain medications used to manage mental health conditions are listed as controlled substances. This means there might be limits to the amount you can take or requirements like a written prescription from your doctor. Your healthcare provider will be able to help you navigate this and make sure you are equipped with the right knowledge for your trip.


5) Slow down



Travelling can sometimes feel like a competition to see and do the most. 

Trying out slow travel, or basing yourself in one spot for longer, can help you feel more grounded and avoid the stress of constantly being on the go. Frequently packing and unpacking, having to think about booking tickets to the next place, and having to find new places to eat every day can all add stress to your trip. 

With more time in one place, you might be able to try a local yoga class, pick a favourite cafe where you can get your coffee each morning, and have more time to relax. 

Slow travel experiences are just as enriching, even if you end up seeing fewer attractions overall. 


6) Include time in your itinerary to just do nothing


Travelling can come with pressure to make the most of every moment and feel like you’re living life to the fullest. This can make you feel like you’re doing it wrong if you’re not full of euphoria all the time. But overloading your days with activities means you’ll get tired more quickly, which leads to more stress and anxiety.

Plan time into your trip for doing absolutely nothing except relax. Sometimes you need to hole up in your room and watch some movies, or spend a day doing nothing but reading by the pool. Making sure you get a solid sleep each night, even if that means turning down the odd cocktail, is important. 


7) Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences with others


Travelling can bring up a range of emotions. Yes, you’ll probably have moments of bliss, but you might also be surprised how homesick you feel, or how strong the culture shock of being in another country is. Seeing social injustices such as limited access to healthcare and education, and gender discrimination can increase your chances of feeling alienation, and readjusting your perspectives of the world and your place in it can be confronting. 

It’s easy to convince yourself not to “burden” other people when you’re experiencing anxious or unhelpful mental thoughts, but you don’t have to stick out mental health challenges by yourself. When volunteering with GVI, the staff are your safety net – you can always seek help from them. On base, the GVI team will be able to offer support if you’re feeling homesick, scared, or anxious. They can always provide the chance to talk through your experiences or seek further help from the appropriate sources. 

Experience the wonder and growth of overseas travel with less of the stress when you join a GVI volunteer program or internship. Explore our international programs today. 

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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