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10 Essential Tips For Staying Sane While Backpacking


Meditation can keep your mind at peace on the road. Photo courtesy of Giuseppe Chirico.

For those who travel two weeks of the year, travel is often planned in the context of a “vacation”; however, for those of us who have backpacked we know it can be anything but. Backpacking is tough. While extremely rewarding, it can also be draining. That being said, there are a few things you can do to help yourself stay sane on the road, such as:

1. Travel Slower

Bouncing around from city to city and moving every other day can be exhausting. Instead, slow down and spend more time in one place. This allows you to really get to know the city you’re in as well as relax and take a deep breath. Bonus: Slow travel is a much more eco-friendly travel option than rapid travel.

2. Adjust Your Attitude

With that being said, the phrase “attitude is everything” holds a lot of truth. If you’re having negative thoughts, find a way to think positive. While not every situation you’ll face will be absolutely perfect, you can learn to focus on the good things and make the bad things less apparent. For example, on a recent trek on the Inca Trail in Peru, I was bummed when I found out my group for the ensuing four days was all couples – and single me. On the bus to the start of the trek, I found myself feeling lonely as I watched the couples snuggle into their bus seats, while I occupied the back by myself; however, as soon as I adjusted my attitude and told myself to focus on the incredible journey — and get to know the other participants as individuals — I ended up having an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Journaling in a peaceful place can calm the mind. Photo courtesy of Walt Stoneburner.

3. Keep A Journal

Keeping a journal while traveling is a good idea for many reasons. Not only does it allow you to have a conversation with yourself and process your thoughts and feelings; it also gives you something to look back on when you reminisce about your trip in years to come. When something is driving you nuts, instead of lashing out or having a break down close your eyes, count to 10 and pull out that journal.

4. Stay Organized

It’s easy to get frazzled when you’re constantly rummaging through you luggage, unable to find what you’re looking for. If my backpack is unorganized during my travels, it makes me feel disoriented. It’s amazing how unpacking and repacking everything in a more organized fashion can really calm you down and make you feel more centered. To help with this, buy suitcases and backpacks with many compartments, separate toiletries in plastic bags, keep similar items together, place items you’ll use often in an easy to reach place and, most importantly, pack light. The less you have, the easier it is to organize. For more on this, check out Smarter Travel: Tips For Flying With Just A Carry-On.

5. Eat Your Favorite Comfort Food

Eating street food and local meals is great for immersing yourself in local culture; however, sometimes you just need a taste of home. Take the day off from navigating foreign menus and trying to figure out exactly what’s in that rice and find the nearest pizza or burger joint. Sometimes, you just need some comfort food to take you out of the foreign world you’re inhabiting and give you pleasant reminder of home.

6. Keep Yourself Healthy

Being sick would drive any traveler nuts, backpacker or not. Keep illness at bay by taking steps to keep yourself healthy. Get plenty of rest, keep a positive attitude, drink lots of water, walk as much as possible, get out in the sun (but wear sunscreen), choose nutritious meals and wash your hands after using the restroom.

Decadent desserts can sometimes also be smart indulgences when trying to keep sane on the road. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman.

7. Indulge

When backpacking, there’s a lot of penny-pinching and cutting corners that goes on. You dine on street food, stay at cheap hostels, opt to see sites on your own instead of taking tours, walk and takes buses instead of taxis and generally steer clear of anything that costs more than $15. While backpacking and budget traveling can be a great way to save money and experience local culture, sometimes in order to stay sane you need to indulge a little. When you’re starting to feel crazy pamper yourself with a spa treatment, dine at an upscale restaurant, book a comfortable bus tour or spend the night in a hotel room. Splurging once in awhile won’t hurt and is good for your mental health.

8. Address Signs Of Travel Fatigue

You know the feeling. Your excitement about exploring a new city begins to disappear, getting out of bed seems like a chore, the hostel seems too crowded, the streets are too loud and you just feel…done. These are all signs you’re experiencing travel fatigue, a perfectly normal side effect of long-term travel. The important thing is to address these issues and not let them ruin your trip. Take a vacation from you vacation. Hole up in a comfortable hotel room and an entire day sleeping, watching TV, eating comfort foods from home, emailing friends, reading for pleasure and just vegging out and taking a day off. You’ll be back to your excited, curious self in no time.

9. Read About Extreme Journeys

Whenever I’m feeling stressed while traveling, I like to read about other nomads and adventure-enthusiasts who are also on the road, but doing crazier things than I am. While huffing and puffing my way through the Inca Trail, it was comforting to hear about Appalachian Trail expeditions, or climbs up Mount Everest. If you’re in a hut in a remote village where there is no running water, read stories about people who are living in the forest with no running water and no roof over their heads. Not only will you feel less overwhelmed about what you’re doing, you’ll feel inspired by other brave travelers.
spring flowers

Spring flowers. Photo courtesy of Rick Leche – Photography.

10. Spray Your Favorite Scent

The sense of smell is very powerful, and spraying your favorite scent can help calm your nerves and center your mind. Especially in foreign cities where unfamiliar odors are everywhere, it’s nice to smell something you’re accustomed to. Because I don’t like carrying perfume, I always make sure to bring at least one shower product with a smell I love. Then, when I’m stressed, I simply take a shower and clear my head with vanilla and sugar or wild citrus sunflower. It may sound simple, but it works. This article was adapted from an article originally published on Gadling. Do you have tips for staying sane while backpacking? Please share in the comments below.

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  1. Marge on at 1:21 am

    Great list! When I started I thought that the organization and preparation was done before the trip. Over time, I’m learning more and more that it’s more of an entire process throughout, with changes along the way.

    • Jessie Festa on at 4:40 am

      @Marge: Couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

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