Traveller's depression is real. Could a trip to the local market be the cure?

March 1, 2019

With travel marked on the calendar, most focus on the positives of an excursion abroad: the much-needed relaxation time, the adventures that await once disembarking from the plane. Ahead of a trip, it’s those luxurious accommodations, blissfully hot beaches and exotic animals that occupy daydreams ... not confusion, pickpocketing, getting homesick, or getting lost. Looking forward to travel is only normal (even if we may romanticize the upcoming experience a little bit…) but in the excitement of counting down to takeoff, it’s easy to overlook mental-health preparations.

Whether spending time abroad for three days or three months, traveller’s depression is a real and common downside of spending time on the road. When away from home comforts, familiarity and routine, those backpacking blues can sneak up seemingly out of nowhere. Luckily there are some reliable fixes and they exist in local food markets around the world. Below is a breakdown of farmer’s market goods that will do your brain and mood a whole lot of good during your adventures abroad. Just note that these can’t be bandaid solutions either: If dietary and lifestyle habits are out of whack, these won’t be a quick fix. Aim to eat whole foods while satiating your wanderlust and for an extra punch, add any of all of the below the mix. And if you suffer from clinical depression, food won't "cure" you — speak to your doctor about more long-term treatment options.

Lavender: Lavender is praised for its soothing, calming characteristics. It’s a popular scent for essential oils, candles and incense for good reason: it smells heavenly and, as a recent study written about in The New York Times has indicated, it has been scientifically proven to have calming benefits. Researchers at Kagoshima University in Japan observed what happened to a group of lab mice after they sniffed this purple flower and saw that they acted more calm, less anxious and, especially applicable to travellers, more curious. Further research indicated that these effects are thanks to linalool, a prominent ingredient in lavender. This is all great news for folks roaming abroad, and even better is that this flower won’t at all be difficult to find while wandering through a market.

Turmeric: When many think of inflammation, they may not first think of brain or gut inflammation. Both are common, both stem from eating the wrong foods and both cause problems with mental health. If depressed feelings seem to have come out of nowhere while away from home, this could be the culprit. Turmeric is a powerful, widely available and natural anti-inflammatory ingredient that is simple to use in a smoothie, hot beverage or stew. Oftentimes this ginger root family member goes by its other name, Indian saffron, and is one of the favourite ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine. Travellers who find themselves in India, South Asia or Central American will have no problems finding it as it grows naturally in these parts and likely it will already be included in local dishes.

Valerian root: Great for stress and anxiety, valerian root is an herb that is native to parts of Europe and Asia. Many a local pharmacy will carry it in capsule form so it’s easy to stash in the luggage before takeoff. If finding it sold abroad at a market, it can also be brewed into a tea. Many praise valerian root for aiding with relaxation and solving turbulent, sleepless nights and on vacation, you can’t go wrong with a little extra chill time. In fact, that’s usually encouraged.

Lean meat: Greasy burgers and processed meats are not the way to go… especially if the mood has taken a dive while away from home. Eating fresh, lean cuts of meat benefits brain health because they’re rich in vitamin B, and low levels of vitamin B can drag you way down. Look for meats like chicken breasts or lean cuts of steak fresh from the market.

Dark leafy greens: Vegetarians and vegans won’t be consoled by that last point but the good news is that vitamin B benefits don’t exist only for your carnivorous travel partners. While lean meats are a great source of the vitamin, dark leafy green vegetables are also a top way to give your system a B boost. These powerful foods can be found at any produce shop, vegetable stand or market in any corner of the world so you have no excuse not to load up.

Avocado: By now, avocados are basically synonymous with “healthy fats” and travellers need not question their goodness. These tasty green fruits may be expensive while at home but in countries in Central and South America, they grow aplenty and come at a cheap price, too. Their taste and versatility make them too easy to include in any daily diet since they go well in salads, smoothies, as a side of guacamole or sandwich topping. If travelling to a place where avocados seem to grow everywhere, take advantage because, from a health perspective, good fats support brain health. Eating an avocado a day is definitely not going overboard, so that’s one craving you can definitely give in to whenever you want.

Fish or fish oil: If you're travelling to a coastal region, there is absolutely no obstacle between you and tons of fresh-from-the-ocean fish dishes. Fish (and specifically its oils) is a food loaded with a healthy dose of omegas which are fats that do wonders for brain health and in turn, a person’s mood. If possible, even track down fish oil and take it as a supplement to help improve your mood over time.

Fresh herbs: When suggesting to up to vitamin C levels, many may be tempted to go crazy with the oranges and grapefruits. Oranges are a great way to boost the vitamin C levels but some underrated sources of the substance can be found in herb gardens pretty much everywhere around the world. Fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley and basil are chock-full of vitamin C, easy to get a hold of and a cheap find for budget travellers or folks on vacation. So why is vitamin C necessary to cure the travel slump? It’s an essential ingredient for cognitive performance and has been found to have a direct relationship with mental function. What’s more is that insufficient levels of the stuff have been linked to depression and fatigue. Fatigue is a slippery slope too because giving into it (it’s so hard not to) only worsens conditions.

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