Students practicing self-care while traveling

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10 tips for mental wellbeing & self-care while traveling

One of the most exciting and enriching aspects of educational travel is when students get outside of their comfort zones. These moments provide incredible opportunities for personal growth. However, they can also lead to feelings of anxiety or stress. As EF’s Director of Behavioral Health, Barbara Kamholz, says, these feelings are completely normal and can be better managed if students plan for them ahead of time. That’s why she’s put together 10 ways you—as parents and guardians—can help your students focus on their mental health and practice good self-care while traveling. 

Barbara Kamholz, EF's Director of Behavioral Health, speaks to the importance of self-care while traveling

A little more on the author:

Barbara has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Miami and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University School of Medicine. She is certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology and was on faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine for over 20 years.   

  1. 01

    Suggest a self-care routine before tour even starts

    Remind your child to get enough sleep, eat well, and hydrate. If they’re feeling nervous, encourage them to talk to people in their support system about it. It’s natural to be nervous, and these practices help build resilience prior to departure.

  2. 02

    Check in with a healthcare provider

    If your child has a history of physical or behavioral health concerns, check in with their healthcare provider to make sure they have what they need to travel (such as a wellness plan and any medications). Additionally, be sure to discuss any concerns with your traveler’s Group Leader, and fill out and share EF’s Health & Medical Profile form with them between 60 days and 30 days before departure. Please note: This form will not be shared with EF, and is solely meant to help the Group Leader be prepared before and during tour.

  3. 03

    Review the itinerary together

    Before traveling, make sure your child is familiar with the tour itinerary. While plans and activities might change, this general information should help them feel more confident as they’ll have a better understanding of what to expect.

Students playing card games and drawing as examples of self-care while traveling
  1. 04

    Normalize homesickness

    There might be times when your child feels homesick or stressed on tour. This is completely normal—and simply reiterating this to your child can help them feel better. Encourage them to recognize that these moments can come up, and discuss ways they can stay focused on the present so they don’t miss out on their adventure. Brainstorm ways they can connect with others on tour or discuss how they can contact someone at home if needed. However, make sure they know to stay flexible when trying to speak with someone at home, as there can be communication challenges based on time zones, access to Wi-Fi, and tour schedules.

  2. 05

    Encourage your traveler to pace themself

    Your child is going to be “on” for a lot of the trip. They’ll be sharing their room and space with friends and new people, meaning they may not have as much time to themselves as usual. Many students have had a single night sleepover with a friend or small group, but not week-long educational adventures. So, have them think about what they might need to feel replenished and rested—whether that means bringing music, taking a break, starting a journal, etc. Also, for travelers who might not know how to tell their friends they need downtime, brainstorm sneaky ways for them to get some space. For example, they could put earphones in without playing music, or go to the bathroom for a break. It’s important students find ways to rest when they feel worn out. And of course, they need to prioritize getting enough sleep so they can fully appreciate their trip.

  3. 06

    Discuss how to manage jet lag

    When traveling internationally, jet lag will happen. To help combat this, your child should try to get on a sleep routine as soon as possible, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and minimize excess sugar and caffeine. Remind them it will take a couple days for their body to adjust to the new time zone, and that exhaustion can sneak up—especially after the excitement of the first day wears off.

Three students with EF badges who are committed to self-care while traveling
  1. 07

    Clarify that culture shock is a good thing

    This may be the first time your child is traveling outside the country or away from family. It’s common for things to seem strange or for them to miss home. However, remind them that experiencing different things is the point—if they wanted everything to be the same, they would have stayed home! Still, these experiences can be uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. If your child feels this way, remind them that these feelings are normal. Encourage them to connect with the people around them—both old friends and new ones—and to try to take in the adventure and appreciate the moment. After all, they’ll be heading home before they know it!

  2. 08

    Express the importance of staying flexible

    Travel can be unpredictable and changes in schedules do happen, so remind your child to be open to changes and embrace the unexpected. By cultivating a positive and flexible mindset, they’ll be better prepared to move through these situations with resilience. Plus, if they approach each situation with optimism, they might just find that those unplanned events can make for the most impactful memories. 

  3. 09

    Remind your traveler that they know themselves best

    Ask your child to think about what they need when they feel stressed, tired, or hungry. Maybe their answer is to talk with someone, write down their feelings, take a nap, or have healthy snacks. Now, help them brainstorm the best ways they can advocate for themselves and their self-care while traveling. For example, if your child is tired, they might not be able to take a nap in the middle of a busy tour day, but they could relax on the bus ride to a new activity as they listen to a favorite song or meditation app.

  4. 10

    Champion mindfulness

    Your child should pay attention to the experience they’re having by noticing everything their senses are taking in: What are they seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and physically feeling? This can help them learn, remember, and truly make the most of their educational tour. They should also look for the cultural differences in the country they’re visiting as well as within their own tour group. Remind your child to practice kindness and respect. We all come from different backgrounds and perspectives, and the EF tour is an opportunity for your child to learn from others they may not have been able to otherwise. By doing so, your child might also walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves.

One last note for parents:
You know and love your child best. You know some advice can be met with an eye roll. So, think about which person this conversation about self-care while traveling would be best coming from (ex: you as your child’s parent or guardian, your child’s fun aunt or grandpa, their favorite teacher) and plan accordingly!

Two students with EF backpacks, all practicing self-care while traveling

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Barbara Kamholz, PhD, ABPP

Barbara Kamholz has over 25 years of experience as a behavioral health professional, with expertise in mood, anxiety, and trauma-related difficulties, as well as an extensive background in educational programming. Dr. Kamholz is on the Board for Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest at the American Psychological Association and the Board of Directors for the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies . Dr. Kamholz is currently Director of Behavioral Health at EF Education First.