April 26, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

Traveling has countless benefits: learning, exploring, trying new things, to name just a few. As the quote goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” Every adventure can be a life experience, worth the time, money and even the potential conflicts.

When leaving your usual routine and entering new territory, challenges might come up. One challenge is that traveling may cause symptoms of a mental health condition to flare. Even though being symptomatic isn’t completely avoidable, here are a few tips on how to reduce stress and manage symptoms during a trip:

Be prepared and plan ahead

Being spontaneous while traveling is part of the fun, but a little bit of planning can save a lot of hassle. Stress can trigger symptoms, so trying to prevent stressful situations is important. Here are a few ways to prepare:

  • Ensure that you have the proper paperwork, visa, vaccinations and any other necessity in advance.
  • Be sure your passport is current. Also, if the passport is close to expiring, double check that your destination doesn’t reject passports within six months of expiration (some places do this).
  • Know at least a little about the place you are visiting, especially if you might experience major cultural and linguistic differences.
  • Book your hotel before you arrive and keep a copy of your confirmation with you.
  • Check in to your flight online the day before the flight and leave extra time at the airport to get through security.

Find time to relax

Plan time in your itinerary to rest and recuperate, especially if you are packing activities into everyday. This will allow you to process your new experiences and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Also, many major airlines offer day passes to their lounges for a fee. Lounges provide a much quieter, more relaxing experience than waiting in the hustle at the gate.

Keep your medication with you

Whether you are strolling around a museum or lounging on the beach, you should keep your medication with you. People tend to lose track of time when they are on vacation, especially when entering a new time zone. Having your medication on you ensures that you don’t have to skip a dose or alter your normal medication schedule. Also be sure to pack your medication in your carry-on bag to avoid problems if your checked luggage were to get lost.

Bring your favorite tunes

Music is great for reducing anxiety when travel becomes stressful. Listening to your favorite songs can have a huge difference on your mood. Music reduces stress and can help ease you into sleep, so download plenty of music onto your phone or iPod before your trip.

Squeeze in a pre-travel workout

It’s beneficial to get your blood flowing before sitting for a long period in a plane, train or car. Working out can reduce stress, restlessness and insomnia during a journey. If you are feeling apprehensive about the trip, exercise can rid you of nervous energy and make you feel more at ease. Also, studies show that exercise strengthens circadian clocks, which helps to reduce jet lag when crossing time zones.

Stay hydrated

Even mild dehydration can affect mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly, so remember to pack a reusable water bottle. Also, avoid alcoholic beverages before or during a flight, which can increase dehydration.

Pack healthy snacks

While trying new foods is an essential part of traveling, try to maintain healthy habits during your trip. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.” Bringing healthy snacks can help hold you over between meals.

Practice mindfulness

Don’t forget about your surroundings while experiencing new things and being in a new place. Being mindful reduces stress, boosts memory and has many other benefits. If your mind keeps wandering, try to remind yourself to come back to the present. You may not get to travel often, so make the most of it while keeping your mental health in mind.


Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).