This is a guest post by current gap year traveler Ella Clute. It forms part of our blog series “A New Age of Travel: How to Navigate Travel in a Changing World” which supports our #TravelReset movement.
These times of chaos and uncertainty have made us more aware than ever that mental health fluctuates, and this is true even when you’re in “paradise”. The idea that while traveling you will be happy 24/7 needs to be erased. Mental health does not magically improve with a change in location. In fact, changes in location can sometimes bring issues to the surface, so it’s important to plan trips and experiences that give you the space to take care of yourself. This could show up as bringing a journal on your journey, setting up therapy sessions via Zoom, or even bringing your favorite tea for a sense of comfort and familiarity. The most important thing is to allow yourself to go through the emotions you’re feeling. At times, travel can be overwhelming and we can end up craving familiarity. Personally, I find meditation practices to be the most helpful in grounding myself and calming down. They allow you to be fully in the present moment, focusing on your breath, remembering to be kind to yourself.
The global pandemic has brought about a new level of awareness of not only our own mental health, but also the mental and physical health of those around us. Traveling in a post-pandemic world may look very different than traveling before corona. Aspects of this are important to understand before booking your next trip. Language barriers become harder to navigate when everyone is required to distance and wear a mask. People heavily rely on facial expressions and body language when communicating across languages, and this form of nonverbal communication has been almost entirely removed due to the pandemic.
Feelings of loneliness are another mental health challenge to anticipate. We are all living in fear of the virus, which in turn can lead to fear of human connection and interaction. You may feel removed from the culture due to the lack of large gatherings and social events. Locals may be less willing to closely interact with tourists, and tourists must begin to think about whether or not their travel plans are ethical. Nonetheless, people will still be traveling and seeking out experiences, so in your own travel plans be sure to take care of yourself and the health of those around you.
Building a routine while traveling can help to keep our minds and bodies grounded. There are constantly changing variables when traveling, so building a loose schedule for when to exercise or take care of your body is important. You don’t need to be strict, but making sure there is time in your day to take care of your body will create a happier and healthier travel experience.
Another aspect of taking care of your body is making sure you’re getting enough nutrients while traveling. This can be difficult, especially in cultures that don’t necessarily align with your dietary needs. Your eating habits may need to be altered, such as eating snacks throughout the day and having protein-heavy meals. Cooking for yourself is another way to make sure your dietary needs will be met. A bonus to this is that it saves money and you don’t need to worry about asking waiters dietary restriction-related questions that may be difficult to translate. Cooking for yourself can also be a good way to take care of your mental health by giving you time alone to decompress.
Sleep is crucial to traveling in a healthy way. It’s easy to forget about creating a “normal” sleep schedule when traveling. Getting enough sleep is important, especially if you’re living an adventurous lifestyle in your time away from home. Make sure to set aside rest days for yourself to recharge. Remember that rest days can show up as a slow day at the beach or a movie marathon during a rainy day, they don’t have to mean you’re missing out on the travel experience. You can also create a bedtime for yourself on certain days of the week to ensure you get enough sleep.
Finally, it is important for us to examine our privilege and approach travel opportunities with an enormous sense of gratitude. Many people across the world are experiencing similar mental health issues, but only some of us are able to travel during this time. Awareness of this allows us to travel and interact with others with humility.
In the post-pandemic future of travel, we must remember to take care of the mental health of ourselves and others. By allowing ourselves time to eat, sleep, recharge, and grow, we can gain the most out of our travel experiences. These tools will help to ground our minds and bodies and keep us afloat in a forever changing world.
Ella Clute is from Boulder, Colorado. She is an aspiring travel writer who is currently on a gap year experience in Puerto Rico. She is passionate about ethical travel, outdoor adventure, and creative writing. She hopes to share her experiences through written word and inspire people to live a life of fulfillment and adventure.