My Top Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling: Stress Management On The Road

travel stress

Because you don't have room for stress in your carry-on..

Generally we travel to relax, escape, adventure, experience and learn. Although we hope to unload a wheelbarrow of stress, unforeseen circumstances, language barriers, unfamiliar territory, lost belongings and surprise cleanses can add a dose of stress that we don't anticipate.  Jet-lag and dehydration can make stress even more difficult to endure.  Over my last 4-months of travel in Southeast Asia I lost two debit cards (one on my own accord and one taken hostage by an ATM), I suffered a terrible toe infection from a piece of coral in Koh Samui, I was nearly taken out by a motorbike while crossing the street on a daily basis during my month long stint in Vietnam, I watched helplessly as two friends endured (thankfully) minor motorbike accidents on separate occasions, I sprinted through the airport in Cambodia barely catching a flight to Thailand with the rest of my Remote Year group and I adjusted to a new culture and geographic location on a monthly basis.  I've learned a lot in these last 4 months like how to expertly pack a carry-on and dance my way through an endless sea of motorbikes.  I've also become pretty adept at managing travel-related stress.  Like any healthy habit, it's an exercise in self-care.  

When your baggage is too heavy..

When left unchecked (no pun intended), stress can have lots of negative consequences. Here are a few reasons it's important to check yo' self before you wreck yo' self.  

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain 
  • Chest pain 
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive 
  • Stomach upset 
  • Sleep problems 
  • High blood pressure

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus 
  • Feeling overwhelmed 
  • Irritability or anger 
  • Sadness or depression 

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating 
  • Angry outbursts 
  • Drug or alcohol abuse 
  • Tobacco use 
  • Social withdrawal
Sunrise Rooftop Meditation in Cambodia.  Photo by:  Kathrin Peters

Sunrise Rooftop Meditation in Cambodia.  Photo by: Kathrin Peters

Unload some baggage...

These all sound like terrible travel companions, am I right?  So what can you do on the road to drop the unwanted stress baggage?

  1. Focus on nutritional (nomadic) nourishment.  Believe it or not, what we eat directly contributes to our levels of stress.  Limit common stress inducers including caffeine, spicy food, soda (diet included) and candy, processed food, alcohol, and french fries. Increase intake of magnesium rich cortisol-busting foods that calm the nervous system such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans. avocados, figs and bananas. 
  2. Sweat it out.  Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Strive for a minimum goal of 150-minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. 
  3. Sleep it off.  Inadequate sleep raises cortisol levels and reduces our ability to manage stress. 
  4. Pack a travel size essential oil. Aromatherapy with a travel size essential oil is a great way to soothe your nervous system.  Lavendar, Bergamot, Rose, Chamomile, and Vetiver are all particularly useful for stress.  Dab a few drops on your wrists or behind your ears to start de-stressing in no time.
  5. Massage it out. Massage can be a really affordable stress busting option in certain parts of the world.  I've been taking advantage of great massage spots in SE Asia ranging from $5-30 USD for 60-90 minute sessions.
  6. Meditate or breathe it out.  Meditation and deep breathing exercises can be performed anywhere for any length of time, which means this is probably the most accessible and quickest way to combat travel related stress.  If you have trouble meditating on your own, find a local temple with meditation services, head to the rooftop or pool at sunrise for some ambient motivation or use an app such as Headspace, Insight Timer or Calm.
  7. Turn to Mother Earth. Sitting in a park, going on a hike or interacting with nature in any other way provides me with immediate calm. 
Giant stress relief courtesy of Mother Nature.  Photo courtesy of  Jay Harrison . 

Giant stress relief courtesy of Mother Nature.  Photo courtesy of Jay Harrison