I know the feeling.
You’re living the dream . . . traveling the world, visiting new countries, experiencing new cultures, having the time of your life. You’ve saved up your money, planned everything to a tee and did all your research . . . so why do you feel like this? Well, there are many reasons for catching the backpacker blues:
- Your comforts and loved ones are far away
- People are constantly trying to rip you off
- Navigating language barriers is mentally exhausting
- Everything is go-go-go but your body is saying no-no-no
- It’s difficult acclimatizing to the heat, humidity, dirt, bugs, rain, etc.
- Not-so-epic long flights, train rides, bus rides and car rides are the pits
So how do you shake the feeling of utter discouragement and hopelessness?
Like anything in life, you learn what it is that’s making you feel that way, and you fix it. Here’s how:
1. Check yourself in to a nice(r) hotel.
Just for a night or two. Sleep is our bodies way of healing itself and if you’re constantly on the go and sleeping on buses or noisy hostels, you’re eventually going to get worn down or even sick. If you can’t afford a hotel, try getting a private room at a hostel and let yourself sleep in a couple of days in a row. You need to pay attention to what your body is telling you and feeding it what it needs. Don’t let yourself get down and depressed because you’re trying to do too much and neglecting your health, sleep is nature’s medicine.
2. Go on a traveling ‘vacation’.
Of course you’re already on vacation, but backpacking and touring can take its toll. Try taking a week off to lay in a hammock on an island or beach along the way without much sight-seeing or strenuous activities. This is essential, especially when you’re on a long trip. If you’re constantly going from place to place don’t be surprised if by the end you’re completely drained and feeling blue. When you’re planning your trip, be sure to schedule in some down time so you don’t run yourself to the ground. Take this time to clear out your backpack, do all your laundry, clean your gear, reorganize, refresh and get excited to do some more exploring.
3. Treat yourself.
Splurge a little and get something that you find comforting or relaxing. Budgeting is great and saves you loads of money, but save that little extra for those times when you just want a treat. Go get a massage or treat yourself to a spa day. Go to a proper restaurant rather than eating street food. Buy that specialty food from the expat grocery store. My treat in Vietnam was buying brie from the corner store, it was expensive and not always easy to find but what can I say, I love my cheese.
4. Go for a run.
It’s no secret that exercise releases dopamine to the brain making us feel happier, but it will also leave you feeling calmer, more relaxed, more energized and you’ll even sleep better. The best thing to do is exercise regularly and since your traveling you’re probably getting plenty of walking in but running will get your heart rate up and release those good hormones to your brain leaving you with that euphoric feeling. It’s a great way to explore streets you haven’t been down and if you own a smart phone try using the RunKeeper app to track your running routes all over the world. Whenever you feel blue, try running it out and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results. Keeping fit is a sound way of staying happy!
5. Find a yoga class or meditate.
Yoga is practiced all over the world, and I for one always feel happy after some sun salutations. Ask at your front desk, bulletins around town, or check online for drop-in classes happening in that area. If all else fails, get yourself somewhere quiet, sit, close your eyes and breathe deeply, clearing your mind of all your worries and welcoming the oxygen into your bloodstream. Your new-found Prana (vital life energy) will leave you feeling, well… full of life! Zenning out is rejuvenating and leaves your body feeling great.
6. Let loose.
Stop being so stressed and have some fun! Have (safe) sex, go to a party, drink a few drinks and dance the night away — not in that particular order. Get your mind off it and shake things up a little bit. Party the way the locals do, immerse yourself in their culture and make yourself feel more at home. Accept that things are different and embrace it, open your mind to change.
7. Write it out.
Some say that writing soothes the soul in the same way a long walk or meditation can. I’m a big advocate of keeping a travel journal for recording all my thoughts, questions, facts I pick up, places I’ve seen, people I’ve met, and so on. I don’t only write in my travel journal, I draw pictures, paste brochures, tickets, pictures, foreign money, etc.. It doesn’t have to be long, you don’t have to do it every day, but one thing I can say for certain is that you won’t regret it when you’re trying to remember the name of that cute little cafe with the panoramic mountain view. You’re never going to remember everything from your trip, and on days that you are feeling blue you can look back and laugh or reminisce at the great things you’ve done thus far. If you’re not into journaling, write a letter home to a loved one or a postcard to a friend, it will have the same effect.
8. Look for the positive.
Your not going to LOVE every place you visit. In fact, you may even find yourself hating some places. It’s important not to focus on the negatives and try to find that little bit of positive everywhere you go. The city may be dirty, over-crowded and loud, yet the people are lovely and kind. The restaurant might be over-priced with bad service while the atmosphere is warm and comforting. Never dwell on the negative, it will only induce more negative. For every negative thought you have, try to think of something good, something you like. You may find that your mental state improves drastically.
“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” – George Eliot
9. Reach out.
Skype a loved one or call a friend back home, sometimes a friendly voice is all you need. Feeling homesick is normal and it’s highly likely that your friends and family are going to support you on your crazy adventure and know just the right thing to say to perk you back up so you can carry on your merry way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, it’s called a support system for a reason.
Maybe you’re feeling isolated and alone? Try reaching out online or at your hostel to find a travel buddy who’s going the same way you are. Don’t make any commitment in case things go sour, but having someone who is going through the same things you are is great for morale. Making friends on the road is often such a quick and painless process because you already have so much in common by being on the opposite side of the world.
When all else fails, ask yourself the question — ‘why’? Why are you doing what you are doing? What is making you unhappy about it? It might mean that you need to change your course of action, and jumble a few things around but if that’s what you need, then go for it. Heck, I did it more than a few times while traveling. It’s not usually all that difficult to re-arrange flights and travel arrangements, it’s worth looking into and seeing what you can do.
It’s possible that you don’t want to be going to a different city every second day, you would prefer to travel slowly and thoroughly, or you want to set out alone rather with a buddy. These things happen and it’s okay to make changes. Not everything needs to go according to plan. Remember why you are doing this in the first place and make the necessary steps to get yourself back on track so you can experience your trip happily and satisfactorily.
You want to look back on your trip and remember what an awesome time you had, so make sure that you live every day to its fullest and when you get yourself down, just get right back up again. Traveling is a huge learning experience, it is inevitable that you are going to have a few bumps along the way. Keep your pecker up and enjoy the ride because the world is a GREAT place!
How do you keep your spirits up on the road?