You might feel stuck in the wrong groove & feeling temporarily glum, or perhaps you’ve been struggling with unhappiness all your life; many of us feel caged in at some point. While it’s always worth seeking professional depression advice if you’re suffering, backpacking offers many of the lifestyle changes that are typically prescribed for anyone who’s feeling low.
Exercise & fresh air
When you’re at home, it’s easy to get into the habit of staying there, especially if you live in a rainy country, or in a city whose parks contain more urban grit than trees & ponds. Exercise stimulates the production of seratonin, the brain chemical that makes us feel good. It burns off tense energy that’s hanging around unused in your muscles, & gets oxygen pumping further into brain & body, making us feel more alert & generally healthier.
It also increases your metabolism – nothing like a little weight loss to cheer you up on a grey day. Backpacking, especially on a budget, necessarily involves much wandering around, be you sightseeing in a city (where, admittedly, the air might not be quite so fresh) or clambering through the jungle. Exposure to nature, a well-known mood-enhancer, is another excellent side effect of backpacking in the rural and wilder countries
Meet new people, & observe different lifestyles
If your colleagues are a bunch of pessimists & your entire family is addicted to X-Factor, it might be time to seek out some alternative points of view. There’s nothing quite like making new friends on the backpacking trail, be they fellow travellers, folk who make a living running hostels or selling supplies & trinkets, or the everyday people you meet on the bus. It’s infinitely refreshing to discover genuinely friendly & helpful strangers. Always follow strong personal safety measures – confidence that you’re self-protected from sad or annoying accidents will let you enjoy your travels – but try to engage with people, & venture further than the English-speaking bars & cafes so common on the backpacker trail.
The chance to help others
Working for a good cause helps you too – from the self-esteem that comes with experience gained, to the friends you’ll make in the process. If something about the world upsets you – orphaned orang-utans, habitat destruction, girls who can’t get an education – then it’s undoubtedly been bothering some of the rest of us, too. Seek out charitable or voluntary organisations where you can spend time working directly with those in need, for all or part of your backpacking trip. If you can’t commit enough time for this, or you’ve yet to encounter a convincing “cause”, look out as you travel – many excellent endeavours are too local to achieve international fame, & you might be able to make an impromptu contribution while you’re out there.
Constant change of scene
It can sound a little trite when a perpetually chirpy person suggests that “perhaps you all you need is a change of scene”. But don’t go underestimating that change of scene. There’s nothing like staring at the same workstation every weekday for several years to really grind a person’s spirit. Discovering that the world does not look like your home town is one of the most liberating experiences available; backpacking, especially when you step off the tourist trail and encounter daily life, provides a fabulous string of new scenes, which will fuel memories, inspiration & conversation for months, if not years, on your return home.
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