How to Beat the Travel Blues

Depression, anxiety, loneliness - these are just some of the feelings that long-term travelers might have on the road. Here are some tips for staying sane and getting back to enjoying the journey.

“You’ve got to help me, I… see… things.” There’s no doubt that long-term travel can impact on your mental well-being. In today’s Western society it just isn’t natural to be so darn free. We develop into skins pre-programmed to set alarm clocks, eat fruit and shower daily. This is arguably why traveling is so popular; it’s one of the safest rebellions we can perform.

Depression. Anxiety. Loneliness. The shadows that crawl through the alleys become a physical torment. Stranger’s eyes pierce you. The restaurant tried to poison you. The rickshaw-wallah tried to kill you! The internet café tried to electrocute you. The monsoon tried to drown you. Your roommates tried to molest you! The shopkeeper tried to con you. The street kid tried to rob you. On and on, your once revered world drains itself of all familiar things and you’re left standing, alone, amid the dry scurf of solitude.

There are a number of ways you can avoid slipping into insanity. Slipping into insanity. Slip. Slip. INsANiTy. Here’s my non-slip top five:

1. Don’t forget who you are

You’re going to grow dreadlocks; Scoff ‘shrooms; Marry an Icelandic; Travel naked with your sitar; Buy a VW Campervan; Get tattooed; Stretch your earlobes; Save the Ganges dolphin. Wonderful. Good on you, we’re fully behind you. Just don’t forget the passions you left behind. If cross-stitch, alchemy and a Horlicks before bed were once-loved vices then lead yourself into temptation and deliver yourself from evil. (Oh, and skip the drug experiment - that might be a catalyst to releasing the cuckoo-cuckoo).

2. Don’t forget where you’re from

It’s no coincidence that the hostels of the world become factionalised. The “je parle Français” hunker in one corner, the “hablo Español” in another, the “ich spreche Deutsches” barge to the best one, and the “私は日本語を話す” shuffle to the last leaving us “one speaks English, don’t you know” to gather en masse in the centre. It’s no secret. We’re erecting a fence, inside which we feel safe, loved, understood, and connected. While outside it we’re unveiled, vulnerable, and vexed. It’s ok, go and sit inside the gate for a while. We won’t tell.

3. Keep a diary

A private diary is a great way to offload thoughts and fears that you’d rather not share with the world (or your uncompassionate Israeli bunk-buddy). If carrying a flowery pink diary isn’t your thing then the outbox of your mobile phone is a useful alternative to store your mental notes. “OMG f dat kid duznt stop humming Om Mani Padme Hum I'm gunA go Nsane. I jst wnt my pillow n a mlky horlx”

4. Stay a while

Routine is an ingredient most of us agree with - even wild, footloose travellers. By withstanding the strong currents of the major RTW trails and taking roots for a few weeks you’ll soon become familiar with your surroundings and things will seem a little less alien. Friends will flourish; Smiles will sway your way; and courage will cultivate. Doesn’t that sound more energising than a three-week test of wills along the raging routes of your guidebook?

5. Phone home

No, I don’t mean ring your mum (or to watch E.T.) Ring your best mate and ask them what’s new, then cut to the chase and ask what’s different since you left. Things have probably hit rock bottom because, lets face it “you were the life and soul of the weekend and the glue that held everything together.” Modest? No. Feel better? Well and truly.

Above all, remember that while travelling will cleanse you of certain hang-ups it has a remarkable ability to surface some of your most hidden flaws. So before you reach for your flexible friend to forge an express route home, take a minute to ask yourself “what am I missing?” You’ll often find the remedies within reach.

About the Author 

Written by the footloose Englishman, Ant; World Nomads very own guest blogger and the solo scribe of the charismatic travel blog Trail of Ant's currently drenching a thirst for travel during his third year of dragging a smudged and odorous backpack around the world.

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  • Big D said

    I just wanted to say that this article cuts to the heart of the true travel blues. I am a little over two months into a planned year-long RTW trip, and this week the gnarled face of "traveler's depression" hit....and it hit hard. I have read some other folk remedies on various other travel forums, but they seem be filled with pat answers that seem to miss the core point of the emotional battle. Your advice is candid, witty, and--most importantly--effective. Cheers.

  • Ant Stone said

    That's most probably because the web's travel sites, are mostly written by non-travellers, Big D. <br><br>Sorry to hear you've hit the wall, and glad my article helped a little. Rest assured, it's inevitable to feel like this. Especially for those travelling alone. <br><br>I had a tendency to avoid the main tourist hotspots of any country. I was there to mix with the locals, not the louts. Things soon become lonely, without familiar surroundings your shadow becomes frayed at the edges. <br><br>Perhaps consider heading to the party capital of your current destination?<br><br>But wait. If you're the type that doesn't find it easy to integrate with large, rowdy crowds, then perhaps don't. That's not a weakness. I can relate. <br><br>A few years ago, I split up with a girlfriend. I was in Indonesia, so I headed to the Gili Islands (famous for beers and beaches). Not one person understood my agony. I spent almost the entire time, on the empty side of the island. Sat on an empty beach. Staring at an empty horizon, trying to avoid the problem and the supposed solution.<br><br>Other remedies could include Couchsurfing. The hosts are often just friendly, unassuming souls and not caught up on every belt and buckle in your backpack. They just want to be friends, and you can often leave inspired.<br><br>Two months is a natural amount of time to start feeling like this. If you think about time as a tangible 'thing', like a rope. You're dangling a long way for the secure platform of your home life. But rest assured, there's a platform beneath you — just take your time, and don't rush.<br><br>Feel free to look me up in private. You're not alone.

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