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.

5 Tips for Traveling with a Partner

Traveling with a partner 1Solo long-term travel can be a very lonely business. While some people may find this to be a preferable, it is generally more common on the backpacker trail to see groups of friends and couples. Traveling with someone with whom you are in a relationship can be an endlessly rewarding experience, but it also carries with it some potential pitfalls. Here are five tips for making the most out of your trip and your relationship:

1. Get some time apart
Living together, eating together, seeing sites together, taking the bus together…you may easily find yourself doing absolutely nothing without your partner. For a short trip, there’s generally nothing wrong with this. But after a certain point, you need to allow at least a little bit of distance. Constant contact with a person drives both people crazy, especially in situations that are at times stressful (like navigating the logistical, financial, and emotional pitfalls of extended time on the road). It’s also good to establish your own impressions and relationships with a place. In other words, every memory that you have of this trip afterwards should not be dominated by your partner’s presence in it.

2. Make collective decisions
Many partnerships are dominated on some level by a personality that is more assertive. While this person may not rule every aspect of the relationship, the extensive planning and logistical work inherent in long-term travel may all fall to them even if neither of you realize it. Make sure that you are making decisions together, so that both of you get to do what you want and no one feels overworked or under-appreciated.

Traveling with a partner 23. Meet other people
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your comfort zone. This prevents many couples from expanding their social experience by meeting other travelers or locals. If you are traveling with a partner, it is important to make an extra effort to be social with other people. If a group of people is going from your hostel to get dinner, join them. If there are other foreigners on the local bus, talk with them. It’s especially easy to link up with other couples and find good travel partnerships in that way.

4. Keep a blog or email list
Between the two of you, there are likely a million people back home that are interested in what you’re up to. Coordinate together to send an email update to everyone at once, or better yet, keep a travel blog. Review the best hosting accounts available so you can host your own blog to track your journey. This will allow you to keep everyone at home abreast, but also act as a journal and place that you can put photos to words for your own future memory-keeping. It’s much easier to keep up a travel blog if you alternate posts rather than one person writing everything.

Traveling with a partner 35. Communicate your feelings
This is relationship advice that applies under any circumstances, but it can be especially important when traveling because of the extra stress, proximity at all times, and distractions. Make sure that you are on the same page, and if you aren’t, make sure your partner knows. Be honest, even if it leads to conflict, and then focus on solving any disturbances.

Traveling with a romantic partner can be an immensely strengthening experience, but it has risks. Follow these tips, and hopefully you can avoid any potential pitfalls along your path.