Staying Sane on the Road

Long term travel can be one of the most liberating, refreshing, and consciousness-expanding experiences that you choose to undergo in your lifetime. But while it has so much positive potential, it can often take a toll on your mental health. Feelings of homesickness and culture shock can be overwhelming, especially when combined with the stress of always being on the move.

 

staying sane 1If homesickness is a big issue for you, you should take the time to recognize why that is. Do you miss specific people? Routines from home? Utilize Skype to keep up to date with loved ones. Bring a keepsake from home to travel with, or engage in activities that remind you of the life that’s on hold there. Write your thoughts down continuously, and then take some time to appreciate where you are. There was probably a good reason you decided to do this solo cross-Europe backpacking trip. What was it? Make it happen.

 

Excessive anger and frustration often arise in places far-removed from your normal comfort zone. The train is five hours late, the immigration office is inexplicably closed, the tuk tuk driver scams you, the street food made you sick, and the directions that every single person gives you are wrong. Most western cultures appreciate timeliness and demand logical explanations for policies. We welcome directness over saving face, and expect honesty over cheating. The same values are not necessarily held in all parts of the world, and you may find your temper rising when things just don’t run the way that they should.

 

staying sane 2To combat this, perspective is essential. Sure, the enterprising Turkish shopkeeper ripped you off for as much as he could—probably less than a Starbucks’ coffee worth. The bus to Dar es-Salaam isn’t running today for no apparent reason? Fine, walk around the village instead and appreciate that this is only a one-time inconvenience for you instead of a daily reality. My personal philosophy is to budget for these annoyances, as unfortunate as they are, and not let them bring me down. If it ever becomes too much, spend the little bit extra to treat yourself—a hotel with AC and a pool, a well-earned meal at a modern restaurant, or a spa day. You’ll feel much better for having done so.

 

staying sane 3But psychological stresses like these are often heightened by backpackers’ tendency to always be on the move. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, by all means, slow down. Drop some stops from your itinerary in order to appreciate the places that you most want to see and not feel like you need to leave on the same day. Take the time to explore each town that you like and try to get a feeling for local life as much as big tourist sites. Being flexible will allow you to adjust to the pace of each place, learn more of the language, find restaurants and people that you like, and feel much less stressed than if you are constantly running to catch the next sleeper bus.

 

If at any point traveling ceases to be fun, it’s time to take a moment to seriously evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Long-term backpacking is a release from the frustrations and cycles of life at home. It gives us a chance to explore totally new things, but by the same token requires that we be open to them.

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