Culture shock is something most backpackers and travellers will deal with at some point, but if not recognized and dealt with properly it can really ruin your trip, or at the extreme even lead to some serious mental health problems. So how can backpackers deal with and beat culture shock on their gap year?
The trick to beating culture shock is recognising when you are experiencing it in the first place. Culture shock can present itself in a variety of emotional and psychological ways and isn’t always identified as such, especially when you are already dealing with the confusion and disorientation of new cultures, new norms and new everything. After that, the key is to have a variety of tools and ways to help you deal with it.
As time goes on and you get used to your new surroundings you will probably need to call home less and less, but for the first couple of weeks of your gap year adventure there is absolutely nothing wrong with making a few extra skype calls back home.
Take it easy.
One of the biggest contributors to culture shock is trying to do too much too soon. When you are already feeling overwhelmed, confused and disorientate by new norms, customs and cultures, trying to cram a load of sightseeing and doing into that mix will just make it worse, so take it easy for a while. Take a few days at the start of your trip to rest up after your flight and acclimatize to your surroundings, take a day or two off from travelling to have a ‘you day’ from time to time.
Indulge in the familiar.
When everything is new it can be really comforting to have something familiar to hand. This isn’t anything specific, it can be a favourite well thumbed novel, a photo of loved ones, a favourite playlist on your phone, whatever. It can even be searching out a restaurant with your favourite comfort food (local food is always awesome but there isn’t anything wrong with variety either). Remember that what you are feeling is absolutely normal and staying grounded with familiar things can help you feel more normal again.
Exercise is a well documented and long proven way to lift your mood and is always a great way to combat any stress and negative thoughts, all feelings that contribute to culture shock. Fortunately being out on a gap year is a great way to get fit and keep fit, with so many jungle and mountain treks on offer and so many beaches to run on and go for a swim at.
Remember that it is normal and it is a good thing.
Feeling a little culture shock is absolutely normal when you first start travelling, and everyone will experience it to some extent. It isn’t just you.
The best thing about culture shock is the fact that it is a good thing in the long run, it is a vital part of your personal development and growth. It can challenge your own perceptions, make you rethink and even change your paradigms as you are faced with norms and cultures very different from your own, and you will come out of the other side of it with a much broader world view than when you began.
As time goes on you will need these comfort tactics less and less as you will become increasingly comfortable in your new surroundings and get a lot better at adapting to your new backpacking lifestyle, but at the start of your trip when everything is new and culture shock is threatening to settle in, use these tools to help smooth the transition into the awesome, world travelling, professional adventuring backpacker that you will become.
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