Travel can be unpredictable and may affect your mental health. However, there are lots of ways you can prepare to reduce the impact of any expected (or unexpected) disruptions.
Considerations when booking accommodation and travel
There’s a lot to think about when you’re choosing where to go and where to stay, and this can make the task seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Break the process down step by step, take your time, and think about what will suit you best, and you’ll have plotted out your ideal trip before you know it. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Don’t leave it too late
Give yourself plenty of time to decide on your destination(s) and plan a rough itinerary of your trip, allowing flexibility for any spontaneous activities. Leaving it till the last minute could cause you to rush, panic, and/or forget important details — spare yourself the stress (and potentially bag yourself a bargain) by planning and booking in advance.
Take it slow
It can be tempting to try and see as many different places as you can in one trip. It sounds good in theory; but, in practice you may feel as if you haven’t had time to explore each destination properly before moving on. Seeing fewer places will be less overwhelming and give you more time to adjust.
Know what makes your mental health better or worse
You can’t always stop your symptoms, but you can minimise their impact and put yourself in a better position to deal with them.
For example, if you know lack of sleep has a negative effect on your mental health, consider booking accommodation further away from the city centre, where there’s less noise pollution. If being social helps you, research hostels in your destination so you can connect with fellow travellers.
Reserve your seats
If you can, select your seat on the plane or train in advance. Many people prefer to be by the window (so they can see outside) or in the aisle seat (so they can move around without disturbing anyone), and often it’s worth paying the extra fee, if there is one, for your comfort.
The earlier you book your seat, the more choice you’ll have. Reserving seats isn’t always possible on trains, but is normally free, whereas you’re more likely to pay extra if you’re travelling by plane. If you’re a nervous flyer, aim to sit near the centre of the plane, where you’re less likely to feel any turbulence.
Many airlines allow business or first-class passengers to choose their seat for free, but don’t worry if you’re on a strict budget. Seats can often be reserved for free once check-in opens early. Airlines which do this include British Airways, Scandinavian Airlines Systems, Singapore Air, Air France and Emirates.
Dealing with key sources of stress while travelling
Knowing about potential stressors before you leave means you’ll be better equipped to deal with them if they arise. Here are some of the most common sources of stress while travelling and how to deal with them:
Jet lag can have a considerable impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing, and this is especially true of people with mental health conditions, particularly mood disorders. It’s caused by the disturbance to your normal sleeping pattern, which disrupts your natural body clock.
What are the symptoms of jet lag?
- Insomnia and/or fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability and mood swings
- Digestive issues such as diarrhoea or constipation
Although you can’t avoid jet lag completely, you can reduce its influence by getting plenty of rest before you travel, switching to your new time zone when you board the plane (including sleeping if it’s night time), and setting an alarm for your first morning in your destination. Allow yourself time to recover once you arrive.
Your usual routine and surroundings can be comforting, so it’s natural to feel a little lost without them. The best way to deal with feeling homesick is to build some kind of routine in your new destination, which will bring a sense of normality to your travels. This could include:
- Daily exercise
- Regular meal times
- Similar sleeping patterns
Remember: It’s okay to feel homesick. Even the most committed travellers feel that way from time to time. It’s better to accept how you’re feeling, wallow for a bit and then get back to exploring than it is to deny it and become frustrated with yourself.
Culture shock is the effect of being cut off from your familiar culture, environment and norms, After all, how people live in different countries around the world can be completely different to your normal life. The phenomenon can be reduced if you research the following before you go, so you’re not taken by surprise:
- Social norms and values
- Standards of living
Try to understand why the differences exist and avoid comparing the destination with your home country (easier said than done, we know). Keeping an open mind will help you adjust.
A language barrier can seem intimidating, but it will be less daunting if you learn a few basic key phrases before your trip. People will appreciate your efforts, even if your language skills aren’t perfect.
Useful things to know:
- How to introduce yourself and start a conversation
- How to order food and drink
- How to buy bus/train tickets
- Numbers from 1-10
- Directions (left, right, straight ahead) and how to ask for them
- How to ask if someone speaks English
Despite careful preparation, you’ll never be able to control every single aspect of your trip. Although this can be hard to come to terms with, it’s healthier to accept it before you set and put yourself in the best possible position for dealing with any inconveniences.
Be ready to adapt if things don’t go the way you think they will — you’d be surprised by how well you’re able to get around any obstacles that arise.
Running out of money
As soon as you know where you’ll be travelling, work out how much money you’ll need for your trip, and then save more. If you have unexpected costs, or end up doing an activity you hadn’t accounted for, your budget will cover them.
Not sure how to calculate a travel budget? Travel Made Simple have a step-by-step guide that you can adapt to suit your plans.
Getting to the airport on time is a major source of stress for many travellers and can be especially panic-inducing if you have mental health issues. You can combat this by giving yourself extra time to get to the airport, drop off your luggage, and make your way through security. Check in online beforehand, if possible, and download your boarding pass to your phone if you don’t have access to a printer.
If you miss your flight due to circumstances beyond your control, your travel insurance should cover the cost of your onward journey. Just make sure you have evidence of what caused your delay. If you do need to pay for further travel, the extra money you saved as part of your budget will come in handy.
The importance of scheduling
Many people find having a routine helpful when it comes to looking after their mental health. If the prospect of putting together your own schedule for travel is too daunting, why not sign up for a guided tour? With an itinerary already in place, all you need to think about is what to pack and your flights there and back.
Others might appreciate a bit more flexibility and freedom — everyone is different.
Whether you’re a keen planner or prefer to go with the flow, it’s important to take into account what works for you — are there any habits you have to manage your mental health that you can continue while you’re travelling? Do you keep a journal, for example, or are there breathing exercises you like to do?
While you don’t have to do everything at the same time every day, scheduling in exercise and regular mealtimes will go a long way to making you feel healthy and happy.
The benefits of exercise for mental health:
It relieves tension and stress, helping you to relax
It boosts concentration and energy
It releases endorphins, known as the body’s feel-good chemicals
It helps you get better-quality sleep
If you take medication, stick to your normal routine. Bring more medication than you think you’ll need — it’s better to have extra than to run out and struggle with your symptoms.
Advice for solo travellers
Travelling solo gives you the kind of freedom you simply don’t get when you’re with a group or even with one other person. However, you are also relying solely on yourself, which can be daunting to say the least, so it’s not an experience for everyone.
Not sure whether to travel solo? Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you happy in your own company?
- Can you budget for extra costs like single supplements?
- Are you aware of common tourist scams and how to avoid them?
- Are you happy to approach or socialise with fellow travellers?
- Are you prepared to listen to your instincts?
If your answer to all these questions was yes, congratulations — you’re ready to take the plunge and book your trip.
Top trips for solo travel
- Look up the phone numbers for the local police and hospital and put them into your phone, in case of emergency.
- Learn how to say ‘no, thank you’ in the local language, both verbally and non-verbally.
- Be kind to yourself and take a break when you need to. Travelling alone can be challenging, but you’ll be proud you made the trip and learned to deal with hiccups along the way.
- Remember there’ll be plenty of people to make friends with on your travels.