Expat Focus Mental Healthcare Update May 2022
In this month’s roundup, we’re going to concentrate on how to maintain good mental health while travelling solo. Recent surveys by travel experts suggest that an increasing number of people are planning solo voyages in 2022, as part of a developing trend. But travelling alone can be stressful, and you may experience various challenges. We’ll take a look at some potential difficulties and how to surmount them.
Advantages of solo travel
In many ways, travelling alone can be good for your mental health, even if you encounter setbacks. For young people, it can stretch them, enhance their experiences and their understanding of the world, and set new limits. It’s one of the best learning experiences. Even if things go wrong (by which we mean minor hiccups rather than major disasters), finding that you are able to cope can be a big boost to your confidence and your faith in your own ability to problem solve. Independence and self-reliance are additional benefits.
Travel experts believe that the increasing spread of WIFI and Smartphone coverage has contributed to more people travelling on their own. They can remain in touch with family and friends, and therefore also feel more protected.
Solo travel gives you a break from your everyday life, and that can help you change your perspective. It can assist young people in overcoming shyness, insofar as they are forced to interact with new people and experience what may be radically different cultures.
However, solo travel can lead to mental health issues, too. Loneliness is one of the drivers of this, and it’s thus important to realise that being alone is part of the experience. There are ways to alleviate this. For example, don’t disappear into your screen, but instead go out and talk to local people or fellow travellers. This could be in bars, cafes or on tours. Most cities offer walking tours, and there may be opportunities for hiking in the countryside, too.
Rather than using Air BnB or a hostel or hotel, consider staying with a local person or family. This can make you feel part of the community, and locals can offer a wealth of information. Remember that feeling lonely does not mean that you are somehow ‘failing’. Treat it as a normal psychological part of the process and try not to dwell on it.
Catering for basic needs
Make sure your basic needs are catered for. A shower, a hot meal and a decent night’s sleep can make all the difference to your mood. If you need medication, make sure you take it. Travel can disrupt your usual medicine routine, and travelling across difference time zones can exacerbate this. Budget for doing something nice for yourself – in many countries, massages or foot massages are cheap as well as relaxing.
Making a travel plan can also help you feel more in control. Make sure you have the relevant phone numbers of local authorities – the number to dial for emergency services, for instance, and addresses of local hospitals and clinics, particularly if you have existing mental health issues. In many cities, there may be English-speaking counsellors or psychiatric services, and researching details of these before you go will give you a psychological safety net.
Schedule your activities – not to the point of micro-managing yourself, but in order to provide yourself with structure. Feelings of aimlessness can exacerbate depression and anxiety. But also allow yourself time to relax, and don’t exhaust yourself by feeling that you must see every sight there is in a place. Sometimes, focusing on one or two major tourist sites and spending a few hours by the pool in the hotel or in a café can provide a necessary balance to your day.
Writing a travel journal and taking photographs can also be beneficial. If you have aspirations to write, then keeping a journal can give you notes for any writing you plan to do when you get back, and it will also provide you with a record for your trip. Try to find positive things to include every day, especially if your trip is undergoing hitches. A journal or a camera can be a friend, particularly if you are experiencing travel delays. Some travellers also suggest digital support in the form of e-books or downloaded Netflix shows, which can be especially useful on long flights or when you’re stuck in an airport or a railway station.
Exercise is a mood-booster. If your hostel or hotel has a pool and/or a gym, make the most of it. Walking is good exercise as well, and if there is an opportunity to get (safely) out into nature, then immersion in the natural world can lift your state of mind. If you are a spiritual person, you may want to find local services at a church, temple, mosque or other place of worship – also a great way of meeting people and plugging into the local community. Anything that makes you feel more grounded can be an anxiety-buster.
Finally, remember that undertaking solo travel makes you an adventurer. Even if you don’t always enjoy it, part of the point is to take you out of your own comfort zone. So, give yourself a pat on the back for having the courage to take this brave step out into the world.
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