16 Ways to Stay Mentally Healthy When You Travel A LOT, From People Who Do It .

Trending Travel Topics

2 Views

        

I woke up in four different countries during the month of August. I started in the U.S.—California to visit my family, then back home to New York after that—followed by a trip to England, then India, and then Costa Rica. By the time I reached Central America for that last trip, I was both exhausted and exhilarated.

“How can I get your life?” people often ask me.

“It seems like every time I see you on Instagram, you’re in a new country!” others say.

“Seriously, are you ever home??” people write underneath my photos.

“Dude, you are living the dream.”

As a freelance travel and wellness writer, I’m no stranger to these sorts of comments. I do travel a lot for work—about twice a month, I’d say—and I also understand the allure of the peripatetic lifestyle that prompts people to inquire about it in the first place. And of course I feel fortunate that I’m able to make a living traveling the world, staying in amazing hotels, and doing something exciting and awe inspiring that I truly love.

But even though I know I'm lucky to have such a lifestyle, it's also true that traveling so much is not always easy. Most people know that frequent travel can take a toll on your physical health (what up, stale airplane air and boozy business dinners), but it can mess with your mental health, too. I have a friend who used to travel so much for work, she would often wake up in a dark hotel room and have to retrace her steps from the night before to remind herself what city she was even in—which, not surprisingly, started to throw her for a loop big time. While I’ve personally never had that extreme of an experience, I’ve definitely had moments of feeling unstable and a little shaky, like I was moving so quickly that I didn’t even have time to realize I was moving at all.

Fortunately, there are ways to sidestep the shakiness when your job requires loads of travel. I’ve developed quite a few good tactics myself over the years, which I’ve included below, but I also asked other frequent fliers in various professions for their advice on how to stay healthy while traveling, too. Consider this your ultimate guide to staying grounded, even when you spend a lot of your life up in the air.

1. Write in your journal as often as you can.

“In a life that moves so fast, it's important that I keep track of what I'm experiencing and stay aware of how I'm feeling—which is why I keep a personal journal that allows me to gain insight, process my emotions, and establish goals. Journaling also helps me reduce any stress and or anxiety that may come with a life that is often seen from the outside as being unstable. To make sure I never let my writing habit slip, I carry my journal with me everywhere, along with a good pen, so that I can write in coffee shops, airplanes, or anywhere else.” —Ciara Johnson, 25, travel blogger who travels twice a month

2. Engage the local community to create a sense of connection and routine.

“Have a conversation with the local barista, a shop owner or a waiter. I find myself feeling more grounded in these borrowed moments of human connection.” —Erik Oberholtzer, 49, Tender Greens restaurant co-founder who lives between LA and NYC and travels frequently between both places

“Oftentimes for work, you are provided unhealthy food, especially if you’re traveling for a conference or meetings. That’s why I try to get out of schedules that are set for me and sneak in some time to connect with the location I’m in—and I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is through local food.” —Linden Schaffer, 40, founder of the wellness travel company Pravassa, who travels often overseas for up to three months at a time

3. Remind yourself how fortunate you are to be able to travel at all.

“Having a sense of gratitude often helps me out of the ‘travel is a burden’ self-talk that can cause the inevitable micro-struggles of travel to appear more dramatic. Choose to celebrate the challenge of travel instead.” —Erik Oberholtzer

4. Develop an email system that works for you.

“I like to get at least three emails drafted each night and ready to send first thing in the morning. It makes me feel like I accomplished something and was productive even before getting out of bed, which is helpful when you're traveling and you don't have much control over timing.” —Elyse Eisen, 33, freelance publicist, travels two to three times per month, often internationally and across time zones

5. Embrace the joy of just...walking.

“I’m a Fitbit fanatic, and I try to get 12K steps every single day, no matter what I’m doing or where I am. When I’m at home, this goal often means I will take a night walk to the park near my apartment to ‘finish my steps,’ a term I both love using and also make fun of myself for using. And when I’m traveling, hitting this goal is a little easier, since I always make a point to explore the new city I’m in on foot. But while this Fitbit goal is certainly a good way to keep up my physical health no matter where I am, I’m actually more in it for the mental health benefit. It is oddly satisfying and soothing to look at my Fitbit chart and see that I am able to maintain consistency no matter where I am in the world. It makes me feel less nervous about not being home all the time when I see that I end up doing roughly the same thing no matter where I am.” —Annie Daly, 33, freelance writer who’s on the road about two times per month (and the author of this post!)

“I try to go on lots of long walks to clear my head, whether I'm listening to a podcast or trying to institute some silence/non-noise in my day. When I'm at home, I walk my dog a few times a day, which is really good for my mental health: It helps me get away from my computer screen and reset if I'm having a tough day or dealing with lots of deadlines. When I'm traveling, I remind myself to go on walks even when I don't have a dog to force me to!” —Christine Amorose Merrill, 30, account executive who travels domestically for work weekly and internationally for fun a few times a year

6. Develop a consistent bedtime routine that works both at home and on the road.

“I try to drink chamomile tea every night before bed, whether at home or away. And I also try to be strict with myself and ban phone time while I’m drinking the tea. The combo of the routine, the lack of screen time before bed, and the tea itself really calms me and helps me unwind. If I’m being particularly on point, I’ll read fiction on my Kindle while drinking the tea—it helps me gain perspective and get out of my head.” —Bex Shapiro, 25, managing editor of Intrepid Travel, travels once a month for work and play

“I'm very dedicated to my sleep routine when I'm at home and when I travel; sleeping well can make such a huge difference in my mood and energy levels. So no matter how light I'm traveling, I always pack a super soft and luxurious eye mask. I also listen to either the same classical CD that I've listened to to fall asleep since I was a kid (my mom played it at my nap times!) or the Sleep With Me podcast, which is a newer discovery but can be helpful for me when I'm in strange environments.” —Christine Amorose Merrill

“I've been doing more or less the same thing every morning for about five years, no matter where I am in the world. First, I do a little stretching, and then I write in my dream journal (sounds cheesy, I know). I tend to write about my mental and physical state as well, which then acts like a log that I can go back to and read later. Then, I meditate for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on my schedule. If I'm feeling really out of it and wonky, I do breathing practices to quiet my mind (which is where I tend to live, especially when tired).

In doing this routine, I know that no matter where I am or how mentally or physically tired I feel, I can find a way to return to myself and know that I'm still me, just in a totally different place—and there's a strength in knowing that. It helps that when I'm home, I still do it, so there's always that sense of continuity in my life, which I think is what makes it so stabilizing. Having a routine is especially important in the face of constant change—something I think everyone experiences on different scales, whether they travel frequently or not.” —Yasmin Fahr, 35, founder of the membership club Loka Pack, travels about one to two times per month

7. Pack as lightly as possible.

“This sounds like a practical tip but, for me, it’s about feeling free. If I have a lot of stuff/ a suitcase with wheels, I find travel far more of a stressful faff. But the second I have a carry-on that’s light and easy to carry, I feel far less worried about travel logistics. I’m currently away for two weeks and have a small rucksack that makes me very happy!” —Bex Shapiro

“I have go-to travel outfits that I bring with me no matter where I go. I always wear the same thing on the plane, for example: black leggings, this stretchy black tank top that I’ve had for years, and a deep purple hoodie from Lululemon that has really good pockets. And then I have my go-to “night out” dress, which is blue and doesn’t wrinkle, and my yellow travel scarf, which I use as both a blanket on the plane and an accessory to dress up basically any outfit (pro tip: a yellow scarf matches anything). And even though that sounds like a plain old packing tip, it’s more than that because it’s about not having to think about packing. Thinking about packing can stress me out for days if I let it, so having a travel uniform eliminates the need to waste my precious mental energy on my wardrobe.” —Annie Daly

8. And once you arrive at your destination, unpack immediately.

“No matter how short my stay in my destination or hotel, I always fully unpack my suitcase and put away my clothes right away.” —Linden Schaffer

9. Bring little remnants of home with you when you travel.

“I always decant a bit of my favorite shower gel (LUSH’s Lord of Misrule) and bring it along just in case I luck into a good spot for a bubble bath. Its patchouli-peppercorn-vanilla smell and deep green color creates a little cauldron of home when I’m on the road.

“I also keep a plastic animal or two in my purse. Being the millionth person to take a photo of a vista or monument doesn’t feel very special, but snapping one along with, say, the little fennec fox my nephew gave me a few years ago is the best. He’ll often send me a photo back, with his matching fox perched wherever I am on his globe. Those little ‘hey, I'm thinking of you’ shout-outs are an ongoing mental connection that collapses physical distance, and a reminder that I control my emotional geography; if I love my people and they love me back, we're close no matter where I am.”—Lauren Oster, 40, freelance writer, travels once a month, frequently overseas

10. Or seek out the same souvenir wherever you are in the world.

“Whenever I travel, I make a beeline for the nearest bookstore and ask if they have a copy of George Orwell’s 1984. I have 15 at the moment, in languages and editions from all over the world. It’s an odd title to collect, perhaps, but it always starts a conversation, and I love meeting the people (and shop cats) keeping print alive. Plus, I love how that glorious smell of a well-loved bookstore is the same around the world, as are many of the things we worry about and hold dear. And sharing a literary cultural touchstone is lethal to loneliness. ” —Lauren Oster

11. Make a point to catch the sunrise or the sunset on the first few days of your trip.

“Not only does this help reset my circadian rhythm—not sleeping is one of the fastest way to ruin your mental health!—but it shows me the beauty of the place I’m visiting.” —Linden Schaffer

12. Stay in touch with your community as much as you can.

“It can be easy to isolate yourself when you're constantly traveling for work, but I make an effort to put my relationships first. I'll call friends whenever I need advice, and I go out of my way to build meaningful relationships in the places I visit, too. Knowing that I have bonds both at home and abroad brings me a lot of relief, especially in moments where I feel alone.” —Ciara Johnson

“I FaceTime with my loved ones as often as I can when I’m on the road. We often underestimate the role that community plays in our mental health, so connecting face-to-face whenever possible is a key way for me to keep loneliness at bay.” —Linden Schaffer

13. Use your time on the plane to take care of yourself.

“Before I even get to my destination, I check in with myself on the plane. How? I carry a ‘stuff’ bag (the bag literally says ‘stuff’ on it), which contains spa-like items to sooth me on my journey. It includes eucalyptus oil, which I’ll rub into my hands and then breathe deeply, cupping my hands over my face; tiger balm to relax my muscles; lip balm; hand lotion; and yes, even some crystals. Plus, most people around me tend to love the smells, because who doesn’t love feeling like they’re in a spa?” —Jessica Wade Pfeffer, 34, president of JWI Public Relations, who travels about once a month

14. Actually do something with your photos when you get home.

“One of the things that is both the best and the worst about the iPhone camera is that there is so much storage, you can let your photos just sit in there and not really think about them except for when you are at a bar and want to show someone a photo from that trip you took two years ago. I know a lot of people do that, but I find that making the time to load my photos onto my computer and edit them there—even if they’re just from a business trip!—helps me process the whole experience on a deeper level once I return. Taking time to go through your photos is a great visual reminder to think about your past experiences and intentionally remember what you learned from each trip, rather than letting those lessons just slide into your memory and hope that they make their way to the surface at some point.” —Annie Daly

15. Try, as much as you can, to actually live in the moment.

“The one thing that’s helped me stay sane when I travel so much is to just be where I am. I try to submerge myself in the experience completely, and try to not think about what’s going on anywhere other than where I happen to be. To make this happen, I try to be as organized with my time as possible when I’m at home, so that I don’t have any loose ends floating around out there when I’m on the road. And I have a daughter, so staying connected to her is key, as well, and the only way I can do this. A daily phone call or a few texts will do it.” —Maria Luisa, 41, interior designer at Pegasus Hotels, who travels every other week between San Francisco and New York, and internationally every 10 weeks

16. And in the end, instead of thinking of travel as an escape from your routine, try thinking of it as a time to create a new routine.

“As the PR director for the digital nomad brand Selina, I am on the road more than I am at home. And that’s why I think it’s best to create a routine when you’re traveling rather than trying to recreate the one you have at home. For me, my on-the-road routine involves making a point to meet new people, trying to work in as many remote locations as I can, and taking the time to walk around and explore each new city I’m in. I still get tired and long for home, of course, but doing these things really helps a lot.” —Maca Capocci, 28, PR director for Selina, who travels twice a month


Annie Daly has written about travel for BuzzFeed Travel, Yahoo! Travel, AFAR, United Hemispheres, Cosmopolitan, and more.