8 Ways to Stay Emotionally Centered While Traveling

Huanchaco Beach in Peru

Traveling is an exhilarating, enriching experience, but it can also be incredibly draining, too! There were quite a few times on my recent long-term trips (my two-month road trip and my 3 1/2 months backpacking in South America) that I found myself having a complete emotional breakdown.

My most recent meltdown, in fact, was just yesterday.

I’ve had bronchitis for the better part of a week, yet still decided to take a bus into the high peaks of Peru, where I went hiking 2 days in a row and swam in a glacier lake (-3 C/26 F), which was fun, but did NOT help my cough! Once I returned to the coast, my ears took half a day to pop from the altitude, which combined with my wheezing breath made me feel like I was a mummy bound in gauze and unable to hear anything. The hostel I had booked turned out to be a bust (despite our 4:30 a.m. arrival, they managed to wait until 2 p.m. to make a bed available for me, so I had to take a nap in the kitchen) and the WiFi didn’t work at all. My bed was uncomfortable and at that point I was in no mood to talk to the many cheerful surfing backpackers around this hostel.

All travelers will eventually have those days where we feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, over-aggravated, or just plain DONE. Those days when we get lost in a city with all our bags in tow, or get overcharged by a swindler taxi driver, or experience a myriad of other things that can go wrong when traveling. Or sometimes, we have those days when we just suddenly feel sick of traveling and long for the familiarity of home, friends and family. It’s completely normal.

For me, part of the point of traveling is to use these unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations to facilitate emotional growth. Bad days and emotional meltdowns are going to happen, at home or on the road. The challenge is to recognize and accept them when they happen, and make a conscious choice about how to deal with them.

Here are 8 things you can do to stay emotionally centered on your travel adventures!

1. Use a Meditation App



Taking even five minutes to sit, close your eyes, and breathe can make a huge difference in your mood, but sometimes with the bustle of travel it’s hard to find a quiet space to do so. I rely on meditation apps to provide me with some soothing music or a guided relaxation so that even if I’m in a dirty, crowded bus station, I can close my eyes and picture myself on a grassy knoll with the sound of birds in the background. My two favorites are the Calm app and Headspace.


2. Allow Time to Veg Out



Particularly for long-term travelers, planning activities into every single day is a recipe for disaster. Plan downtime into your itinerary, whether it’s a few hours or a few days. Get to know your personal rhythms and preferences, and schedule this time for when you know you’ll need it. For example, when I take a flight or a long bus ride, I’m almost never in the mood to go exploring as soon as I arrive. I know personally that I will want to take a nap, catch up on my emails, or just lounge around with a cup of coffee and start fresh in the afternoon or the next day. Knowing this about myself, I give myself permission to do just that, without feeling guilty about it.


3. Take a Yoga Break



I’ve found that even if you’ve never done yoga or you don’t practice regularly, it’s still an amazing way to get a mental and physical refresher on the road. Look up yoga studios where you’re traveling (I’ve noticed that tourist-heavy areas will often have some kind of yoga service nearby) or use a yoga app to try a few poses alone in your room or in the park. If you have good WiFi in your hotel, the website Do Yoga With Me has a huge library of free full-length yoga videos.


 4. Have a Mental Dialogue With Yourself



I’m one of those batty people who talks to herself (out loud!) constantly. Sometimes I’ve found it to be really helpful to take the reigns of this crazy-lady conversation and start a constructive dialogue with myself about how I’m feeling. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you feel emotionally off-balance:

  • Am I reacting appropriately to this situation, or are other factors at play here? (For example, am I really upset at this person, or am I also hungry/tired/etc.?)
  • What would make me feel better right now?
  • Is this situation really as bad as I am making it out to be?
  • What can I learn about myself from my reaction here?

Give yourself the opportunity to process what’s happening that’s throwing you off balance, and think about what options you have to relax in that moment.

You can also pretend the voice in your head is a friend and give yourself a little pep talk, too. “Maybe you should take a nap. I’m sure you’ll feel better once you’ve rested up. Everything’s fine.”


5. Drink Water



It’s so easy to forget to drink water when you’re traveling, if nothing else because it seems less accessible. Being from the US, I’m used to free water with my meals at restaurants, and water fountains near public bathrooms. I have to be a lot more conscientious about buying and drinking bottled water when I’m traveling, but it makes a HUGE difference in my mood and overall well-being. When I notice myself feeling cranky or withdrawn, drinking water will almost always give me a mental boost.


6. Spend Time Alone



This might sound funny coming from a solo traveler, but I really don’t spend that much time completely alone! I meet people while volunteering, couchsurfing, or staying in hostels and almost always go adventuring with my new friends. Combining this with the crowded buses, airports, and restaurants that I spend so much time in, it’s entirely possible for me to go days on end without any time to myself at all.

Yet I think all humans, whether introverts or extroverts, really need some mental space to themselves at some point throughout the day, or at the very least every couple of days. If you’re not staying in a private room, you can still find some privacy while traveling. Take a walk alone in a park or down a quiet street. Find a coffee shop during non-peak hours and stake out a corner to yourself. Rent a bicycle and take a solo ride around for a little while. With a little creativity, you’ll find a way to get in some much-needed me-time.


7. Stay Connected With Your Loved Ones



Keeping in contact with your friends and family is so important! Between gaps in WiFi and sketchy Skype connections, sometimes it seems easier for me to just update my Facebook page and rely on my news feed to see what’s happening with my friends and family. But this is an easy trap to fall into, and sometimes I realize that what I’m really missing is an actual conversation with someone from home! I have a really good friend at home in Portland and we talk regularly about everything from work to our writing goals to our love lives. My friendship with her helps me stay connected to home, to the bigger picture of what I’m doing with my life, and the cathartic effects of a good Girl Talk. Don’t forget to stay in touch with the people in your life who give you this kind of support!


8. Keep a Journal



Journaling might be a lost art, but when I’m sitting in common rooms of hostels, I see people writing in them all the time. I don’t put any pressure on myself to document my experiences in my journal; mine instead is a place to vent my frustrations, to celebrate my joys, and to continue that inner dialogue ‘offline.’ My journal isn’t about the things I saw and did but how I was feeling on any given day, what I learned, what disappointed me, and what I’m dreaming for the future. It’s just another way I try to stay connected to my emotions, and it can be a really relaxing exercise when you’re feeling overwhelmed or aimless.


What are some of the ways that you stay sane while traveling? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, if you loved it, please pin it! We’ll be friends forever. 😉

8 Ways to Stay Emotionally Centered While Traveling

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  1. Ahhh yes, too much stimulation can overwhelm you but I think you’ll be glad that you swam in glacier water even with that bronchitis. Great tips on staying emotionally calm :). I haven’t been that overly stimulated yet but I find that just sitting away from people and enjoying a cup of coffee/tea keeps me grounded. And you’re absolutely right that drinking water can definitely help.

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely glad I did it – I would have always regretted it if I didn’t! Thanks for reading, Hung. 🙂 Happy travels!

  2. I went travelling for six months a few years ago and definitely felt exhausted and overwhelmed at times. Devoting time to vegging out is definitely a good tip – it’s tempting to want to cram in as much as possible in every place you visit, but sometimes you just need a few hours to relax and do nothing!

  3. This reminds of being in a midnight bus from Boston to New York, with a really high fever, arriving at New York at 4.00 am with nowhere to stay, waiting around for our next bus to Philadelphia to start our backpacking adventure… I definitely felt like I was done, all right! Very good advice overall. Specially, I find that just taking some me-time is always key in these kind of situations!

    1. I would love to go to India for both of those things! Luckily, until then, they’re available all over the world! 🙂

  4. Glad, I found this article. Great tips on holding your emotional nerves. Family & Water works for me the most 🙂

  5. Oh, these are just excellent tips! I never knew that there are Meditation apps. While I was reading this post, I started breathing deeply and grabbed to get my water! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks! Definitely check out some meditation apps; I’ve found the relaxing sounds help a lot or you can do guided meditations where the speaker will guide you through relaxing various parts of your body, etc. Happy traveling! 🙂

  6. Wow i’m jealous you had a 3 1/2 month trip! Couldn’t agree more. I always rush rush rush on trips as I don’t get much time off to travel and try and cram in as much as possible. I land then go straight back to work, need to allow time to veg out.

    1. It’s hard to resist trying to cram everything in..there is so much to see! Thanks for reading the blog, happy travels to you! 🙂

  7. Such good ideas! I especially like number 2. I think there is nothing worst than feeling hassled and you know that you are the one hassling yourself. I would add – spoiling yourself once in a while especially if you travel longer and on a budget. Sometimes you need this really good hotel bed to take an extra long nap with too many pillows 🙂
    Will check out this yoga website – I have been looking for online videos, thanks!

  8. I love Headspace, Andy has the most calming voice in the world. I use it either when I wake up in the morning, or just before bed. I also have a few saved YouTube videos of binaural beats, they really help center me when I’m stressed!

  9. Down time is a MUST when traveling long-term. You will burn yourself out and just want to stop if you don’t make yourself stop every now and again for a break.

    Don’t feel bad about talking to yourself…I do it, too. I’m completely normal (or so my other self tells me – just kidding). When you spend a great deal of time alone, you just start doing it. You should only worry when you argue with yourself for more than 5 minutes aloud… lol

  10. Awesome tips! I’m going to download a meditation app for my upcoming flight. I need lots of time to recharge when I’m traveling. These are perfect.

  11. I can relate to this a lot and you’ve totally hit the nail on the head with these points. I think the things that really helped me were journaling, having as many real-time conversations with my loved ones as possible and allowing myself to rest. Travel can be so draining that you need to allow yourself to replenish your energies 🙂

  12. Great tips here. I used some (esp. mental dialoguing and emailing friends) during my solo backpacking trip to my birth country of Egypt. Left and right I was experiencing a wannabe scam after scam after scam (it was just never ending). I was so ready to go home at the end of my vacation.

    1. Oh, wow! I’m sorry you had that experience. That definitely makes traveling less pleasant! I hope your next trip is more enjoyable! 🙂

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