After recently returning from a trip to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been reflecting on how traveling is one of the best ways to improve your mental health, yet it is often underrated. Traveling can help reduce your stress and anxiety and has the opportunity to help you feel rejuvenated and well-rested. It’s a great way to practice slowing down and being present, and focusing on caring for yourself. Here are some tips for how to make the most of traveling!
Don’t bring work with you
Although it may be tempting to bring your laptop with you during your travels, do your best to unplug. Just because much of your work may be accessible, stay true to your travels and take time away from your inbox. Work often distracts you from being present and can hinder your ability to relax, and having time away helps you to be more productive when you’re back. So set your vacation responders, turn off any work-related notifications on your phone, and know that nothing is too urgent that it can’t wait until you’re back in the office.
Loosen the calendar and enjoy the experience
This isn’t as simple as it sounds. When we’re vacationing, we tend to be thinking about where we’re going next, what time we need to be at a specific place, what we need to bring with us, etc. We may end up becoming even more stressed out since we’re not in our typical daily routine or a familiar place! It’s helpful to plan ahead as much as possible to reduce stress. If we’re caught up in the stress of the whats and the wheres we can quickly lose the ability to enjoy one of the unique things about travel: new experiences. If you catch yourself becoming stressed, try practicing mindfulness, bringing awareness of what you sense and feel in the present moment. Notice the scenery, the sounds, and the smells. Do yourself a favor and pack a journal to record what you notice throughout your new experiences.
Notice new things about yourself
You might be surprised to realize just how much you can learn about yourself through travel. When you’re not thinking about work or other day-to-day details, you have more space and time to reflect on your life. When I was on my trip, my friend and I spent many hours in our rental car driving around. We spent some of this time talking about our lives. Other times we enjoyed comfortable silence. You’ll also learn more about yourself through exposure to a new environment. Driving a rental car, navigating a new city, and exploring national parks have all made me more confident in my abilities. Traveling provides opportunities to increase your problem-solving skills and teach you resilience.
Don’t overbook yourself
It’s natural to savor every moment while traveling. We want to see all the sights, eat all the food, and do all the things! However, don’t overbook yourself to the point of exhaustion. Traveling is undoubtedly a time to explore being somewhere new, but it’s also a chance to rest from the busyness of work and everyday life. Think about which kinds of activities are restful for you and how you can work them into your vacation. My friend and I are both avid readers. We chose to spend a few afternoons sitting in a coffee shop enjoying our respective books during our trip. This intentional downtime was a great way to break up our day, kept us from feeling physically and mentally exhausted. If you are on the go 24/7 during your trip, you’ll come home feeling even more burnt out and tired from what was supposed to be a vacation.
Get creative in how you travel
Traveling is a privilege, as it can be expensive and requires taking time off work. It looks different depending on one’s season of life. If you can’t take off work, consider using a day off on the weekend to go on a scenic drive for a few hours or find somewhere nearby to explore. If, perhaps, an entire day is out of the question, even a couple hours in a new scenic place can do wonders to your well-being. There are many cost-effective ways to enjoy somewhere new. While in the Pacific Northwest, I took a road trip near Olympic National Park and was content to simply enjoy the drive and see how beautiful the mountains were. Go outdoors where you can listen to different sounds, see different things, and take in new stimuli.
A healthy vacation isn’t really about where you travel so much as how you travel. Make a plan so you’re able to leave work behind, and take time on your trip to slow down, practice being in the present, and find ways to enjoy restful activities. When you do this, you’ll find that traveling is an enriching way to learn more about yourself and improve your mental health!
If the thoughts of traveling stirs up anxiety, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual and in-person sessions.