7 Tips to Travel as a Teen with Depression

by Published

So you’re getting ready to travel abroad as a teenager? That’s amazing! Congratulations on the adventure ahead. Travel truly is a wonderful journey that may change you and your beliefs forever. You are in a small cohort of fellow students who endeavor on this adventure and you should feel proud of the accomplishments that lie ahead. 

Smiling teen on cloudy day at Royal National Park, Australia

Don’t let your depression keep you from traveling as a teen!

When preparing for any big life transition, there are a lot of elements to consider as you set expectations and ready yourself for time spent away from home, loved ones and your normal routines. In the those preparations, have you considered how you will deal with some of the challenges? In the age of drooling over stunning Instagram photos, many young travelers don’t even consider the potential of having setbacks while abroad, let alone experiencing the big d—depression. 

Yeah, we said it. Teen depression. It is a definite possibility while traveling and it is more common than you might think. Don’t let this deter you from traveling abroad as a young person. With our insight and personal experience, we will help prepare you for how to travel as a teen with depression.

Why you might feel depressed while traveling abroad as a teen

Prior to departure for your time abroad, your program coordinator probably talked a lot culture shock and preparing to be out of your comfort zone. But, did they mention the possibility of experiencing mental health issues during your adventure? Most likely not. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but a real concern that we need to be talking . 

You won’t be the first or the last person to experience depression while traveling—it happens to a lot more people than you might think! Feeling depressed abroad, in no way, reflects on your strength or dedication to travel. Try to avoid stressing yourself out these feelings because they are a common part of the abroad experience that lots of people feel. You are not alone!  

Although traveling is an amazing experience at any age, there are many reasons why you might become depressed or experience some sadness while you’re abroad as a teenager. Perhaps you came into the experience with a history of experiencing depression or maybe you are in the throws of a intense bout of culture shock or you could be really struggling with feeling isolated because of the language barriers. These are all potential causes of travel depression, and while some may seem obvious, others can be more subtle. 

These potential depression triggers often present themselves during the first part of your time abroad so it is best to prepare prior to departure as if you are going to experience the worst case scenario. This way, you can have a few tricks up your sleeve for dealing with the potential depression right when you hit the ground! 

Know what types of feelings you might have

One of the biggest challenges in dealing with depression while traveling is the initial phase of recognizing that it is actually happening to you. Upon arrival in a new and exciting destination, you’ll be wrapped up in all sorts of new experiences and you may not even notice that you are not feeling like yourself. All the excitement and new energy could also be distracting you from potential warning signs of depression.

Teen boy writing in notebook

If you need to, take time for self-care and write how you’re feeling. 

It can also be challenging to distinguish between culture shock and depression, as many of the symptoms present similarly. Although there are a lot of similarities between the two, it is important to be able to recognize culture shock vs. depression and identify whether you are experiencing one or both of these challenges simultaneously. 

With culture shock, common symptoms that students experience while traveling include feeling overwhelmed, unfamiliarity with your surroundings, higher emotional reactions, or feeling constantly tired and sleepy. Going abroad, although an empowering experience, is a deeply challenging experience too and creates a lot of situational stress that can linger in your body for days or weeks. Culture shock is that situational stress. It is common for culture shock to dissipate over time as you become more familiar with your surroundings, but it can last several weeks or months depending on the person. 

In contrast, depression while traveling often presents itself in the form of loneliness, social anxiety, isolation, homesickness and prolonged periods of sadness or low energy. Depression can also be triggered by the situational stress of traveling, but unlike culture shock, it won’t necessary go away over time. Depression often requires students to do a little more work to manage, but with our helpful tips and a little careful planning, we hope you’ll be able to face depression head on if and when it happens to you!  

7 tips for when you can’t shake those travel blues

Although traveling abroad as a teen is a wonderful experience that will likely change your life forever, it is important to prepare yourself for the potential of depression happening during your adventure. It is nearly inevitable to avoid and there you are likely to feel blue at least for a few days during your travels. Here are our 7 best tips for shaking off travel depression when it happens to you. 

1. Celebrate small victories every day

When experiencing depression while traveling, it can be hard to recognize the good and positive things that happen to you every day. It is important to remember how far you’ve already come and celebrate the small victories that you experience on a daily basis. 

Try utilizing the GLAD technique, where each day, you write down something you are grateful for (G), something you learned (L), something that you accomplished (A) and something that delighted you (D). These can be small celebrations, such as having a short conversation in the local language or eating the best baguette of your life, but by recognizing the good moments, it helps take your focus away from the negative feelings you might be having.  

2. Get out of your room and immerse yourself!

One of the worst things you can do to combat depression abroad is isolate yourself further, although the temptation will be strong. Nothing sounds more appealing when depressed than staying in your bed and watching Netflix all day, but unfortunately, that will only worsen the long-term effects of travel depression. 

It is important to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself to immerse yourself in the local culture. A good rule of thumb is to try and leave the house at least once per day, even if it is just to walk to the corner coffee shop. This will help you build a healthy routine, but will also help you become more and more familiar with your new surroundings through immersion. 

group of students sitting on ledge looking out at valley

If you feel comfortable, talk to friends in your program. Maybe they feel the same way!

3. Practice some good ‘ol fashioned self-care

What do you do when you have a bad day at home? Maybe you take a nice bubble bath or maybe you like meditate or perhaps a long run through the country is what makes you feel better. Whatever it is, you should practice that same self-care while you’re abroad. It can be easy to forget all the small things that make you happy, but you shouldn’t forget your hobbies and passions because those are the things that will help lift you out of your depression. Make time each week to practice some self-care in whatever form is best for your body and soul. 

4. Be patient with yourself

Traveling to a different country is a major life decision and allowing yourself an adjustment period is a necessary and healthy way to manage all the changes you’ll be dealing with. The adjustment period varies in length depending on you, so don’t feel like you are in the race with your fellow students to be the “best foreign exchange student” possible. 

Expecting to be the perfect exchange student from day one is unrealistic and those false expectations can be really damaging to your self-confidence, which often triggers travel-related depression. Give yourself a break over your first few weeks to adjust. Patience really is a virtue! Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to be and feel awkward, and to take the time you need to settle in to life abroad. 

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5. Try new experiences or cultural activities

Immersing yourself in the language and culture of your new country is presumably one of the main reasons you traveled abroad in the first place right? Check in with yourself during your time abroad to make sure that you are achieving those goals, because it can be easy to fall into a habit or routine and not try new things. 

Regardless of the destination, there is bound to be festivals, ceremonies, celebrations, and activities that you can get involved with during your free time, and you should never use the excuse of “There is nothing to do here” to avoid getting out of your comfort zone. The endorphins and adrenaline that come from new experiences can be the perfect antidote for depression!

teen girl with brown curly hair looking at her phone

Maybe put the phone away, if your FOMO is contributing to your travel depression.

6. Put your phone down

You are probably really, really sick of hearing this advice from adults in your life, and hey—we get it, it’s annoying. Smartphones are a part of our world and our society at this point, but in the case of depression while abroad, putting the phone away is actually sound advice. Your phone is like a comfort blanket. It is your portal to your life back home and a way to hide yourself in plain sight. 

While scrolling through instagram or checking your snaps, you might see your friends hanging out after school or your family having dinner together which can be deeply upsetting when you’re already feeling isolated in a country where you don’t necessarily speak the language or have a large network of friends. It creates the FOMO (fear of missing out) effect, which is not helping you cope AT ALL. Set boundaries for yourself and your phone, such as only one hour of social media use per day or only calling home twice a week, and actually adhere to those boundaries. 

7. Contact your program coordinator

Regardless of which provider you used to coordinate your program, you probably have at least one local program coordinator available for support during your program. Use them! They are the people who can help you with depression while traveling. Program coordinators offer a wealth of knowledge and resources that they can share with you to help manage your depression symptoms, and they have probably helped other students with similar issues in the past. Sometimes they are even more comforting than talking to family or friends because they are a third-party source that can be just the type of cheerleader you need to help you overcome your challenges!

Additional resources to support your mental health while abroad

Taking care of your mind and body is a vital part of life regardless of location, but good mental health is particularly important during periods of travel. There are bound to be a lot of distractions and setbacks from creating a healthy life abroad, but don’t allow your mental health to be pushed to the sideline. It may be more important than ever!

When you experience culture shock or depression abroad, you might find yourself asking “who can help me with depression while traveling?” Here are some additional resources to help you cope with, and understand, the journey that lies ahead of you. The resources listed below are just a few to get you started and there are many more resources available to help you deal with depression while traveling. 

Always remember your well-being as a top priority and you know yourself better than anyone. Trust your feelings and believe yourself. We are not medical professionals here at GoAbroad, so if you ever feel like you need medical help, support or crisis management, please reach out to a healthcare professional right away to diagnose and treat your mental health issues. 

Now you’ve got the know-how to travel as a teen with depression

Smiling teen girl with two buns on her head

One more time for the people in the back: Feeling depressed abroad, in no way, reflects on your strength or dedication to travel.

The key to traveling with depression is to finding healthy coping methods that allow you to manage your bad days and embrace the good days. Whether it is celebrating your small victories or getting out of your comfort zone, our tips can help mitigate unhealthy feelings that you might experience abroad. Being aware of how your body and mind responds to challenges in a new environment is an incredible skill that you can carry with you for the rest of your life.

Experiencing depression while traveling a teen is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of us! You are never alone in those feelings, but you also shouldn’t let the possibility of depression hold you back from the experience of a lifetime. Traveling abroad as a young person is transformational, and offers you the opportunity to experience a new country, form lifelong relationships, and develop new skills to help you in adulthood. Take the leap and go abroad! 

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