Jan 20

Backpacking is good for mind, body AND soul

by in Adventure, Outdoors, Sustainable Tourism, Top Tips

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


Photo by Chantal Forster

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

Pt. Reyes backpacking Wildcat campground.

Photo by Derrick Story

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

Backpacker & flowers

Photo by Chantal Forster

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

The hills

Photo by Chantal Forster

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.

The article is brought to you by Greatvine, a team whose sole focus is finding the best experts in anxiety, depression and other related health and wellness issues, so you don't have to!

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13 Responses to “Backpacking is good for mind, body AND soul”

  1. From Zoë Dawes:

    Just make sure you have got the right rucksack – or better still, someone to carry it for you 😉

    Posted on January 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm #
  2. From Jane Hafren:

    Hi Zoe,
    I love your article about getting out into the great outdoors as a cure for depression, or ‘the blues’ if you don’t have the full blown thing.

    When I was walking in Spain last summer someone told me the human body is designed to walk 20kms a day! If that’s true, then living the way we do today is going to make us down and ‘blue’, as most of spend our working lives sitting, at computers.

    And whether or not it’s true about the 20k, it’s worth thinking about. In my experience I don’t need to walk anything like that amount, but when I walk regularly, even if only 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week, I feel so much better, more able to get things in perspective, and better able to function.

    Last summer I walked the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route, for 2 weeks (covered 268kms in 13 days). Not for everyone I know, but for me it was the most joyful 2 weeks I can ever remember. I quickly had truly terrible blisters… But the days had a simple format and I just walked a bit more each day, because I could and I wanted to. Get up, shower etc, re-pack the rucksack (a very light, spare one when you have to carry it all the time), wriggle painfully into my boots, 2 ibuprofen, pick up my walking poles – Pacer Poles (I used these because of back problems), a nod to whoever I was walking with and off we went. Stop for breakfast after about an hour and walked between 20 and 30kms each day. I felt so relaxed after about 10 days. Just fantastic. (And I only ever took 2 painkillers for my blisters, because once I was walking the pain eased…)

    And the evenings were sociable because everyone was walking in the same direction for a variety of different reasons – for the walking, to make a pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons. Mine was a mix of walking, spirituality and wanting to prove to myself I still had what it takes to go travelling alone. Would anyone talk to me?!!! For all these reasons – highly recommended!

    But it was the walking itself that was the most uplifting – and having a daily goal.

    On the way home I read a book, ‘Walking Your Blues Away’ by Thom Hartmann, recommended to me by Adam Shaw, which made it all make sense. In short, it works! Just do it… Not necessarily in that brand of footwear…

    Thanks again, Zoe. It’s so important to take responsibility for our own health and walking is just a very easy thing to do for most of us.

    Posted on January 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm #
  3. From Zoë Dawes:

    Thanks so much for sharing those thoughts Jane. As you say, it can help so much with ‘the blues’ and is a great way to get fit in a holistic way. How great to be able to do the Camino de Santiago. My son got me the film ‘The Way’ for Christmas – looks a beautiful route. Maybe you could write a post for us one day? Not heard of the book – will check it out.

    Stay healthy & travel quirkily!

    Posted on January 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm #
  4. From Keith Adams:

    A special article Zoe. The great outdoors and a backpack is the way to beat the blues – and I just love Jane’s “Stay healthy & travel quirkily” which brings me to the “Walkin Talkin Tarn to Laughter Yoga” event on Saturday 3rd March 2012 at 2pm. Laughter yoga releases endorphins, giving us the “feel good” factor. When we are walking and laughing at the same time, we are going to get oodles of happy feelings in the great outdoors.

    So if you feel you are stuck in the wrong grove, perhaps glum because of the economic climate, or a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sufferer, why not join me and my friends from the Carlisle Laughter & Happiness Club at Talkin Tarn, near Brampton, Cumbria on Saturday 3rd March – cost by donation! Details can be found on http://www.laughteraspirations.co.uk/Carlisle-Laughter-Happiness-Club-?r=1327059472

    And you don’t have to feel gloomy. Come along for the fresh air and a chuckle!

    Posted on January 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm #
  5. From Zoë Dawes:

    Glad the article touched you Keith and the work you do sounds very beneficial to many. Fortunately I am so enjoying my quirky travels that life is quite bright just now – but we all have darker times. Good luck with your programme :-)

    Posted on January 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm #
  6. From Mike Law:

    Another insightful article for the QT readers to think about!

    Personally I find walking is a great way to clarify things that may be praying on your mind. That might be a work issue, something in your personal life or a decision you have to make but have been putting off.

    The walk doesn’t have to be a hike either…a simple walk around your local park or even exploring your own city centre will help clear your mind.

    Better still, if you are near to any kind of countryside the fresh air, birdsong and views will help you see things in a different light and, for me anyway, issues do seem clearer and that all important decision is soon made.

    Give it a go and see if a simple walk works for you.

    Posted on January 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm #
  7. From Catherine Cousins:

    At this time of year – I do notice that I am more prone to feeling ‘down’ and lethargic – it’s an effort to get coats and boots on and get out. But when I do make the effort it really does make me feel a lot brighter – blows the cobwebs away – not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. You don’t need to climb a mountain or have access to wide open spaces – taking a brisk walk around the block or down to the shops for some chocolate works just as well for me!!

    Posted on January 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm #
  8. From Zoë Dawes:

    Very true Catherine – you have hit the proverbial nail on the head with the effort needed – so worth it when we do get out.

    Posted on January 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm #
  9. From Zoë Dawes:

    Cheers for your comment Mike – as you say, it doesn’t have to be a big hike to clear the cobwebs and lift the spirits. I often go for a stroll along the local canal – just being out in the fresh air can really make a difference.

    Posted on January 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm #
  10. From Nomadic Samuel:

    I certainly agree with you! I find getting out into nature or even exercising can make the world of difference for me at times.

    Posted on January 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm #
  11. From James - Ouroyster.com:

    I love getting out into the countryside and going for a hike.

    Posted on February 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm #
  12. From Zoë Dawes:

    Always good to get out and about James!

    Posted on February 15, 2012 at 10:19 am #


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