When the Going Gets Rough

Seven tips to help you stay sane when travel gets tough.

Words and photos by Erin Sullivan

How many things could go wrong? Lots.

Here’s the thing. Travel isn’t always great. But nobody talks about the hard parts. We only show the good stuff. And of course, we should show the good stuff. But just because that’s all we show doesn’t mean that’s all there was.

I’ve been lost and scared. Gotten bed bugs. Made dumbass decisions to save money. One time I literally pooped my pants from bad dumplings in China*. Airport mishaps. Terrifying bus rides. Getting ripped off. I’ve dealt with heartbreak, loneliness, loss, fear, and anxiety on the road. I have felt like everyone and everything was against me—but I know that’s not true. All of those experiences were just part of a much bigger picture.

Obviously, we don’t always talk about the hard stuff. We are led to believe that our travel experiences should be utter magic, so it’s normal that we’re surprised when they are anything less than that. It is worth noting that our highlights do deserve to be highlights—but when travel feels more like challenge than beauty, here are my tips.

Slow Down (maybe just for a minute)

Stop what you’re doing and name what is happening. How are you feeling? Lonely, anxious, upset, stressed? Why do you think you are feeling this way? Determine if this is in or out of your control. See if you can figure out what the root of the issue is. I find journaling really helpful here, but for my non-journalers, try jotting a few things down on your phone. It doesn’t matter what you do it on, just give it a try—writing it out can be really helpful.

Treat Yourself

Knowing that you don’t feel great right now, ask yourself what would feel great. Sometimes this looks like taking a nap, going to see a movie, buying a new book, getting a massage. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking some deep breaths. Drink enough water. Get enough sleep. If I am feeling on-edge and like I need some space, I will splurge on a hotel room instead of a hostel and cut my budget elsewhere. Look into where it might be possible to compromise in the name of inviting more sanity and comfort into your life. Convenience over effort is gold when you need a little self-care.



Once you feel a little more grounded, take a look at the rest of your plans and the rest of your trip. How and where could you change your itinerary to meet the needs of yourself, knowing what is currently challenging you? Make these changes wherever possible.

Get Out

I’m an anxious person, and my anxiety doesn’t go away just because I go to another country. Most of the time, it’s amplified. My first weekend in Portugal, I was so anxious I didn’t leave my Airbnb for three days. Forcing myself to leave the house and be around other humans was a big deal, and once I did it, I realized it wasn’t so bad. Make a goal for getting out—going to the grocery store, going to a museum, going on a hike. Even sitting in a coffee shop is an improvement from locking yourself in your room.


Seek Community Where you Are

Set an intention of talking to a handful of new people every day. Solo travelers are often looking to say hello too—everyone just seems to think they are awkward at making friends, so they don’t say hi. So be the one who makes the first move. Just say hello, ask where they are from and how their trip is going. Hearing someone else’s story often helps us gain perspective on our own. Plus, you might end up with a new travel buddy.


Remember Your Support at Home

Phoning a friend can be a good choice for support, especially if you have a few friends who might understand what you’re going through. Anyone who has traveled knows fully that it’s not all easy and fun—they’ve been there! Communities of travelers are also found on the internet—reading the experiences of other people via blogs and Facebook groups can also help you feel less alone. Finding travel bloggers who were honest about their experiences really helped me know I wasn’t the only one.

“We are led to believe that our travel experiences should be utter magic, so it’s normal that we’re surprised when they are anything less than that.”

Be the Boss



Now that you have done some digging and some work, take responsibility for the success of your trip. Stay proactive in identifying and acting on your needs. Don’t procrastinate and don’t take the easy way out if you know you’re setting yourself up to be miserable. Be the boss of your own life. It’s YOUR trip—you decide where you go, when you go there, and how long you stay. It’s never a bad call to cut a trip short if it’s what you want to do. Fact: I’ve been to Paris, but I haven’t been to the Eiffel Tower. Some people might say that’s a shame, but it wasn’t their trip—it was mine, and I was exhausted, so I made a call that felt right to me. The only person who can decide what feels right or wrong for you… is you.

If you are feeling shitty while traveling, never judge yourself for it—being self-critical of your own feelings just leads to a never-ending black hole. You should never feel guilty for having a bad time—it’s normal. You’re not whining. You’re human. Travel, like life, has its highs and lows. So don’t get too down on yourself when the inevitable lows happen. And know that the highs will more than likely make up for it.

Because with travel, a better question to ask is, “what could go right?”—and indeed with travel, the answer is often: everything. Even the mishaps and mistakes. Even the challenge. Because those are the moments that shape you, and the story of your life.

*It was more than once.