The travelling blues are more common than you’d imagine and it’s time we started talking openly about how travel can affect mental health – both positively and negatively.
You see depression, anxiety and low mood don’t just affect us when the cards are turned. In my other job as a GP doctor, I see people every day who are suffering from mental health problems despite life being pretty damn good in just about every other department. This can leave them feeling frustrated, sometimes even guilty, as well as low.
Similarly, being on the trip of a lifetime doesn’t necessarily protect you from experiencing the travelling blues. Depression, low mood and anxiety can affect you at any time, in any country and sometimes being away from home can make it seem even more overwhelming.
Since I am passionate about travel health, I wanted to start a discussion about the travel blues. What are they? Why do we get them? How can we avoid them? How can we treat the travelling blues if they do occur?
I will also be touching upon the post-travel blues and also how travel can actually help cure depression and help us cope with trauma.
We’ll also hear from some other travellers about their own experiences with the traveller’s blues.
What you can expect from this article…
What are the travelling Blues?
We all have good and bad days regardless of our mental well being, regardless of our activities. There will always be days where we roll out of bed the wrong side and it seems like luck is just not on our side. That’s normal.
However, someone experiencing the travelling blues will find the bad days start to outweigh the good ones. Getting dressed and leaving their hotel room becomes a real effort. They may feel lonely, isolated, anxious… They may find themselves feeling sad despite being somewhere they’ve dreamt of visiting for many years. They should be jumping for joy but instead, they feel flat and apathetic.
What is the difference between the travelling blues and the post-travel blues?
More people are familiar with the post-travel blues. This post-travel depression occurs after you return home from a trip. Life back home has lost its gleam and readjusting to normal life can be a challenge.
The travelling blues by comparison occur whilst the person is away from home. They are more unexpected as most people imagine they will feel really happy whilst they are travelling. They are having once-in-a-lifetime experiences every day so the person may not understand why they feel so low.
But as you’ll see below, there are many reasons why a person might experience the traveller’s blues…
Why do we get the Travellers blues?
The most common reason for people experiencing traveller’s depression is loneliness. Sometimes travelling solo can actually help us make lots of new friends especially if you are staying in a hostel or taking lots of day trips. But if you are staying in hotels or are somewhere off the beaten track, you may feel isolated, especially if you don’t speak the local lingo.
“I regularly get the travel blues. I’m single and although I’m quite used to travelling alone, it can be really hard when I find myself in some stunning location with no one to share it with. It’s even worse when I’m somewhere incredibly romantic, surrounded by loved-up couples. In Santorini I must have seen about six weddings in a single day, while in Uganda I stayed in the most impossibly romantic luxury safari lodge where I sat on the veranda overlooking this incredible view and cried. But when this happens, all I can do is let it pass, remind myself how lucky I am to be there, and then find something to do to distract myself until the blues go away again.“ By Bella from Passport & Pixels
“Although travel has always been something that makes me feel happy and fulfilled, once my husband and I started travelling full-time I started to realize that I needed certain things in order to stay happy. We both work from home teaching English online, which has made our life of travel possible but also started to trigger my depression. It became difficult to leave the house except for grocery shopping when we were travelling long-term in Turkey. I didn’t have much of a link to the local community and felt pretty isolated and without much of a reason to go outside. After a while, I realized that in order to stay happy I needed friends and something to get me out of the house since that wasn’t required for work. Now when we travel to a new place, I have a personal list of things that help me avoid depression. This list includes things like joining a gym, going to a local church on Sundays, making sure to shower every other day, etc. Having a list like this has made travel so much more enjoyable and makes it possible for me to stay happy even while travelling for long periods of time.” By Dayna from Happily Ever Travels
Another super common reason is exhaustion. I’ve felt this myself. I have to fit my travel in and around my job as a doctor often meaning I’m short on time and have to travel quickly. I am very prone to trying to cram too much and moving too quickly between places. Constantly packing and unpacking and rushing between places makes me feel jaded and the gleam starts to wear off. Every time I tell myself I’ll travel slower next time. Yet it never happens…
“Everyone has their travel breaking point, it might be after 2 weeks, 3 months, or even a year, but everyone will get travel fatigue at some point! For me it came a couple of months after beginning long term travel. I suddenly wanted to do nothing more than stay in and watch Netflix, eat comfort food and Skype friends and family back home.
The worst thing I did was try and ignore it and push on! If your body is telling you it needs a break, take one! Sometimes you just need to lay in bed all day watching Netflix” By Ashlea from Dashing Around The World.
“It was after winning a travel award and being overwhelmed by press trips that I first experienced homesickness. I’d been to India, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Spain and France. I had one more invite that I was really looking forward to. A health and fitness gulet cruise around the Mediterranean with just a few other members of the press. The itinerary took us from Rhodes to Marmaris around a stunning coastline, stopping off in deserted coves and small village harbours, kayaking, hiking and swimming in the sea. Idyllic. But, I couldn’t stop crying. It was beautiful and yet I wanted to be home – in my own bed. I understood for the first time that phrase ‘the company of strangers’. And though I’ve made a lifelong friend from that trip I know it just didn’t work for me. Through no fault of the tour company – and through nothing more than inexperience on my part. Now I pace myself and try to avoid overbooking!” By Fiona from London Unattached.
Often going travelling means extended time away from our loved ones. Whether that’s your parents, friends or a partner. Sometimes we don’t realise how much we rely on these people until we can’t lean on them. Even with decent wifi access, we still rely on being in similar timezones to be able to stay in regular contact. As well as our loved ones, we may miss home comforts such as familiar food, a comfy bed, a more comfortable climate…
I experienced homesickness when I was living in Australia for a few years. Although I visited home regularly, it really hit me how far away I was when we lost my grandfather and I couldn’t get back for the funeral. Around the same time, my Mum also had some worrying test results and I couldn’t be there to support her. (Don’t worry, she’s fine now!)
“The first time I travelled overseas was for 6 weeks through France, Germany and Poland with my now husband and his family. While it was the most amazing first international travel experience, with my first time seeing snow and celebrating a white Christmas, it was also my first time away from my own family for Christmas. By this point, we had been away for almost a month and I really felt the distance over those festive days. Sometimes I needed to take time out and read a book or something else on my own when the homesick feelings kicked in. However, I am completely grateful for that trip and we have done many as an extended family since.” By Holly from Four Around The World.
“It was some time in my second year of travelling with my daughters in East Asia, when one morning I woke up with the realisation I cannot do this any more. I cannot have another portion of rice, I cannot have another deep-fried chicken and sleep in another hotel bed. I was living exactly how I wanted to live and it was a strange thing to complain about, but I just simply and suddenly got tired of travelling and had to go back home. I called my husband and in 3 day’s time, I was back home in Muscat. The next day I went to the doctor and it turned out that I had anaemia. Soon enough I was back up and out. Now I’m ok and have been back to travelling for the past three years – but paying more attention to stay well-nourished when we travel.” By Ania from The Travelling Twins.
“My best friend and I once ditched traditional British Christmas to spend Christmas in Lagos in the Algarve, Portugal, eager to escape the mundane reality of family Christmas as single ladies. I’ve been to Lagos a few times and it’s always bustling, but this was late December and it was a ghost town. Many bars and shops had closed for the season and come Christmas Day, although we did get to devour a mouthwatering three-course Portuguese meal, it wasn’t the same as a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Walking back to our hotel, we peered into warmly wit windows to see families huddled around their tables eating Christmas dinner. A wave of sadness came over me and at this moment, I knew I’d never spend Christmas away from home ever again.” By Kacie from The Rare Welshbit
Strain on relationships
If you are travelling with someone, it can feel really intense. You will be in each other’s pockets 24/7. This can put pressure on relationships and you start to worry that means there are cracks beginning to show. This can lead to problems with your mood or anxiety.
I once travelled with a friend who wasn’t an experienced traveller. When things went wrong, she needed to moan and vent. My approach was to laugh it off and cope using humour. We clashed in a way we never clashed back home. When things went wrong like the airline losing our luggage, it was harder to cope with as I was already feeling sad that my friendship was suddenly so precarious.
When I was in Peru, I got really sick. I very narrowly avoided admission to hospital and spent an entire week confined to my hotel room. I was so dehydrated but I was too sick to leave my hotel room to collect water. When I eventually did, I felt like I’d climbed Everest.
I’m usually a really independent person and I cope with sickness without leaning on other people. But when I knew that there was no one to lean on and I had to rely on myself despite being so sick, it was pretty scary. I just wished I was at home being looked after by my Mum like when I was a child!
Unresolved Conflicts back home
Sometime’s we travel to avoid problems back home. Sometimes that can help us gain perspective and improve our mood as we will discuss shortly. But if there is a big problem you are avoiding back home, this can hang over you like a big black cloud. Make sure you are travelling for the right reasons.
When things go wrong on holiday
Travel does not always go smoothly. It may be dealing with lost luggage, dirty accommodation, sickness, problems with tour guides or disagreements with your travel companions. You may even experience something much worse like a natural disaster. Things that you may cope with well at home, may feel a lot harder when you are alone and away from your loved ones.
“You can get the travel blues even when you’re visiting a world wonder. I had dreamed about visiting Machu Picchu in Peru, but my experience was far from being perfect. Getting to the town from which you take the bus to Machu Picchu requires a 7-hour van ride from Cusco and a 3-hour walk, and the same goes for the return on the next day. With such horrible weather on both days, nightmare van rides, and the worst guide in the world, it didn’t matter I was looking at an iconic piece of history. I was completely miserable, and I was so happy to go back to Cusco.“ By Or from My Path in the World
Travelling invariably costs more than you initially budget. There are always unexpected costs involved although there are of course many ways you can save money on travel. But running into money worries on the road is not uncommon and can cause travelling blues and additional anxiety.
In this day and age where social media is an integral part of most people’s daily lives, there can be a lot of additional social pressures. People upload photo’s of them ‘living their best life.’ This can put pressure on people to feel like they need to compete and showcase that they are able to do the same.
Reading about other people’s experiences and seeing their heavily-photoshopped photos can build a certain amount of expectation. It’s possible the trip will not live up to your expectations, leading you to compare your experiences resulting in frustration and the travel blues.
How can we prevent the travel blues?
The travelling blues often strike us when we least expect it but there are ways we can try to prevent them.
Set realistic expectations…
Firstly we need to set realistic expectations. If all we know about a place is from the photos from Instagram, you may have a biased view of a place. Instead, read blog articles, join in forum discussions and speak to friends who’ve been to get an idea of what reality is.
Keep in touch with loved ones…
Find a way to keep in regular touch with friends and family. Work out what the time difference is and let them know when the best times will be to contact you. Make sure you have all your loved one’s numbers and email addresses stored somewhere safe. You could set up a Whatsapp group to keep people updated or get yourself a skype account so you can ring home on the wifi.
Allow yourself rest days…
Allow yourself time to rest and don’t try to travel too fast for too long. Factor in rest days, especially either side of long flights and travel days. Sometimes you need a day to just relax and read a book or watch a film and that’s okay.
Avoid spending too much time on social media. Seeing what’s going on at home can make you feel homesick and lead to travel blues. Instead, focus on ‘being in the moment.’ You can tell all your friends all about it over a pint in the pub when you get back!
Make new travel friends…
Look for ways to meet people when you travel. Stay in the occasional dorm room or hostel, take day tours or join a group tour (I always recommend G Adventures.) You can also use websites like Tourlina and Backpackr.org to find travel buddies or use meetup.com to connect with locals with things in common.
How can we treat the travel blues
If you are unlucky enough to experience the traveller’s blues, there are various ways you can start to feel better, quicker.
Get plenty of exercise
Exercise is a brilliant treatment for any type of depression or anxiety and I recommend this to all my patients regardless of the cause of their low mood. Often it’s easy to incorporate exercise into your travels. You could hire a kayak to explore the coast, hike up a mountain or join a cycle tour around a city. Even just going for a brisk walk can help increase your heart rate which in turn gives you a little serotonin boost.
Learn Mindfulness skills
Try some mindfulness. Based on relaxation, meditation and breathing techniques, Mindfulness can help improve sleep, regulate moods and reduce anxiety. You can access Mindfulness via apps on your phone, websites, youtube videos or you can buy yourself a Mindfulness workbook. This makes it one of the easiest ways to manage depression and anxiety when you are travelling.
Try some online CBT
Another great resource for persistent travel blues, especially for those who are travelling longterm, are CBT websites such as Moodgym or Moodjuice. CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy encourages us to analyze our own patterns of behaviour, identify vicious circles and make changes to improve our wellbeing. You can do this anywhere as long as you have access to the internet.
Get some rest and look after yourself
Get plenty of rest. This might involve taking a break from travelling to stay in one place for a while until you are feeling better. Avoid drinking too much alcohol as it’s actually a depressant and make sure you fill your body with nutritious foods. Take time to enjoy the things you love such as curling up with a good book.
Get in touch with your loved ones
A quick chat with a loved one can make you feel so much better. So send them a message to schedule a time which works for you both with the time difference and have a good chinwag with someone who knows you well. Often they can offer some words of wisdom to help put things in perspective for you.
Make some friends
If loneliness has been one of the triggers for your travelling blues, then get out and meet some people. It can be hard when you are feeling low as you may be lacking motivation. But it will be worth it. Join a group tour – either a day trip or an extended tour – or find a sociable hostel where you can meet new people.
Find a community which will understand
If your friends and family don’t travel much, they may find it hard to understand why you are feeling low when you should be having the time of your life! But remember there are plenty of people out there who will understand. There are lots of online communities which you can look to for advice and support or just to get some reassurance that you’re not alone. Girls Love Travel and The Lonely Planet Traveller’s Group on Facebook are a couple of my favourite places to connect with like-minded people.
Seek professional help
If you’ve tried all the above suggestions and your mood is still not improving, it may be time to seek professional help. Sometimes the traveller’s blues can progress into a full-blown case of depression. Make sure you have travel insurance so that you can always get medical advice when you are abroad if you need it. I recommend World Nomads for insurance.
And finally, just be kind to yourself…
How to cope with Post Travel blues
Let’s take a moment to talk about the post-travel blues. They are even more common than the travelling blues. They can range from mild apathy following a brilliant holiday to full-blown post-travel depression.
It’s common to feel a little lost when you get home. Nothing feels quite as exciting. You’re friends don’t want to chat travel 24/7 like you do. Household chores, food shopping and returning to work replace hiking up mountains and relaxing on beaches. You feel like travel has changed you and yet nothing has changed back home.
There are various ways to cope with the post-travel blues. Here are just a few suggestions to help you get back to normality;
- Keep busy and surround yourself with people you love.
- Explore your local area like a tourist, travel doesn’t always have to involve an international flight…
- Reflect on your trip by building a scrapbook or photo album.
- Start planning the next trip even if it’s just writing out an adventure bucket list and sticking it to your fridge door.
- Take up a new hobby to keep you focussed and excited about life.
- Cook your favourite foods that you missed whilst you were away.
- Write a list of all the things you missed whilst you were away and work your way through the list.
“I’ve never experience the traveller’s blues whilst travelling but certainly coming back from long term travel can be difficult! Travel represents everything I love in life; excitement of meeting new people, seeing new things and experiencing the sites and sounds of a new place! Coming home to the monotony of route and work and household chores can be tough! For me the best way to get over these blues is to book more travel. But if annual leave, bank balances and life gets in the way, I find exploring things closer to home and having home adventures can be a great tonic!” By Leona from Wandermust Family
“When I came home after a year in Australia I was definitely not prepared for all the emotions that came with it. I was excited to see friends and family but somehow I felt like I’m not in the right place. No one seemed to notice how much I had changed in the past year and I couldn’t understand what was going on. Thing is, back home things aren’t moving so fast and often people are jealous of our adventures. Even if they don’t admit it. My journey of getting over this post-travel depression taught me gratitude and acceptance. And I discovered a whole new love for my hometown. Basically, you just want to treat your life back home as if you were still travelling. Having a happy and exciting life does not depend on the place we physically live in, it starts in our head.” By Valerie from Valeries Adventure time.
How travel can actually treat depression
It’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, travel usually lifts the spirits and can in some case help you heal after a personal trauma, recover from a breakup and can even help beat depression.
Travel gives you something to look forward to. Your increased activity levels can help lift your mood. Achieving goals like climbing a mountain at high altitude can give you a sense of purpose.
Two of my extended trips abroad were soon after a breakup. I didn’t exactly fly out the next day to avoid grieving my relationships but I did start planning my trip a month or two afterwards which helped give me something fun to think about rather than dwell on what had happened. Travelling solo built my confidence and made me realise I was okay on my own and that life as a singleton had its perks too.
“In 2012 a close family member passed away and I was left in a state of grief for over a year. During that time my partner decided to do something nice by booking a trip to Belgium for my birthday. Whilst away, I was happy for the first time in a long time. Experiencing a new culture and activities was what I needed to help break out of my depression. I wasn’t ‘cured’ by any means but only weeks later I felt well enough to come off antidepressants. Travelling helped me see the joys in life again and gave me a new sense of enthusiasm for the things I was passionate about.“ By Rio from Opposite tourists
“4 years ago I broke up with my first love. It was a difficult decision but essentially we drifted apart. He wanted to stay home and I wanted to travel. Shortly afterwards, I started to have panic attacks on every subway station I associated with him. Good thing I didn’t forget why we broke up. That summer I went to France and Serbia. Once I was on my way I was very sceptical that I made the right decision – maybe I should have settled down? Once I arrived at the hostel I got to speak to new people who were also traveling solo. We talked about our broken hearts and funny stories and so on. After that, I knew that I will be alright.” By Albi from Ginger Around The Globe.
“When my father passed away suddenly in 2017, I was destroyed and unable to handle the grief so I booked a trip. I had my first taste of healing in a cemetery in Mixquic, just outside of Mexico City, Mexico during Dia de Los Muertos. I watched silently as families all came together washing, repainting, and decorating the tombs with food offerings and bright orange Marigolds. There were some tears but there was joy and laughter as the children ran around as children do, memories were shared, songs were sung and the air was thick with love. Travelling as it had many times in the past, saved me yet again. Bringing me back to myself by showing me the beauty of the Mexican culture’s time-honoured tradition of remembering and cherishing those we have lost and miss so dearly.” By Courtney from Coco Betty.
I hope that if you are reading this whilst suffering from the travelling blues, that you are feeling more positive about ending the cycle of this travel depression. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it happens to all of us from time to time. But you will need to be proactive to get yourself back on track and enjoy your trip in the way you deserve to!