I must confess, on many a sun-filled day I’ve sat alone in hotel rooms, skimming mindlessly through stations, desperately in search of Animal Planet. AC on, curtains closed and Pringles crumbs scattered carelessly about the bed… probably. This is the side of travel that people don’t talk about, don’t blog about; the days that aren’t spent living your best life, but simply getting through life.
There’s a somewhat unvalidated expectation that travelling catapults you into a carefree existence, on which you survive solely on sunshine and candy bars. Admittedly, it does give you a beautiful backdrop to experience your problems by most of the time – usually gaining some inexplicable new ones on the way. Because: life. Travel can be ultimately therapeutic, and it can help us gain a better perspective on issues at home, but it can’t wipe the slate clean, not completely.
For some of us managing our mental health is simply taking care of ourselves day-to-day, listening to what our body tells us and trying not to kill too many brain cells with unregulated rice wine. For others, myself included, managing mental health while travelling is about having the strength and preparation to go out and see the world in spite of our issues and cope with them along the way.
– More common mental health issues such as depression, ADHD, OCD, anxiety and PTSD are conditions that can be managed in part with daily medication. With a bit of extra planning, these type of mental health issues can be controlled quite reasonably on the road. For those suffering from more severe mental health issues, your first port of call should be to speak candidly with your doctor before making any plans, and see what they can advise.
– Think carefully about the best options for your experience. Would it make you feel more comfortable to travel with a trusted friend? Or necessary even. Are you comfortable sleeping alone in dorm rooms? Are you going to have a Britney 2007-style breakdown when you’re overcharged for the tenth time by a Bulgarian taxi driver? These are problems we all face. But we can help alleviate some of the stress by knowing ourselves and planning accordingly. I wanted to be that girl who would jump off of cliffs and nonchalantly sleep on beaches – just because. But, alas, I am not. I’m the girl with the laminated itinerary, dispensing moist towelettes and antibacterial hand gel. The sooner you figure out what you are comfortable with, the easier it will be to manage your mind. Will there be challenges? Yes. Will there be inexplicable problems that arise out of nowhere? Yes. And there will always be taxi drivers who want to take you for a ride both literally and figuratively – yes!
Before You Travel
– Get organised: plan out any medication you will need ahead of time. Depending on the trip length you should be able to secure at least a few months of any existing prescriptions from your doctor, along with a copy of any prescription that you will need in order to show to border officials and use to pick up new meds on the road.
– Pack smartly, but thoughtfully. Of course, you don’t want to bog yourself down with that teddy Pop-Pop gave you when you were three, but that doesn’t mean not taking anything sentimental. Journals are a great form of therapy when travelling alone; sometimes it can help simply to let your feeling spill across a page.
– Have some activities planned to give yourself structure. This could merely be trivial things that can be cancelled if your plans change. But having a plan can help with the feeling of anxiety and give more of a routine than freewheeling. Woofing/work exchange is always a good option: you can do it all over the world, it’s totally free, and can potentially help you meet some friends. For those with more complicated mental health issues, a stricter travel plan might be advantageous in order to look after yourself to your best ability. Visiting family and friends abroad can be a great way to travel with extra security.
While You’re Away
– If you’ve taken the time to get your thoughts and needs in order before leaving, the actual leaving part shouldn’t be half as bad. Feeling vaguely prepared counts for a lot! Remember, no one is ever fully prepared.
– Check in with friends and family regularly for some home-front support. It’s appreciated both ways and, as we all know, sometimes it can be wildly therapeutic to hash out problems with mom.
– Allow yourself time to adjust to your new lifestyle. You might have to make some slight adjustments to the way you would usually do things. Plan for the day in the morning so you can take any medication you might need with you. Or better yet, keep a small stash in your bag in case you accidentally don’t make it back to your hotel room – whoops!
– Get out and meet people! Cooking school is always a great way to meet people in a new city or find a cafe/bar you like and start frequenting it. Hostels are, of course, the holy grail of like-minded meetings, but if the thought of laying in a room with ten strangers fill you with a mild dread, there are still ways to meet people: join a group tour, check Facebook groups. Hell, even Tinder.
– Bear in mind that home is always just a flight away. A long, sweat, torturous flight, mind. Where there may, or may not, be a tiresome child kicking you in the back the entire way – but still, so close! There’s no shame in wanting to return home early, or realising that style of trip just doesn’t suit you. The more you travel, the more you will figure out how best to treat yourself, which will help massively in planning future trips.
– Realise that it’s okay if you can’t take part in certain activities because of your mental health. There’s no point putting yourself at risk, as you’ll likely pay for it later. Step away from the weed pizza.
– Accept that sometimes you might need to take time for yourself – and carbs – and that’s okay.
Taking a leap of faith is never easy, it can inspire anxiety in even the most confident and balanced of us. Dining alone, transient friends and plans that go sensationally awry – these are just a few of the hurdles we face every time we venture out of our front door. Whether for you managing mental health is simply keeping a balance and trying not to break down in tears when confronted with nightmarish Tokyo rush-hour, or if its something deeper-rooted within your life; an ongoing plight. If we can take small steps towards our end goal and go at a pace that suits our own personal needs, regardless of what works for other people, there is no reason why we should let obstacles of mental health stand between ourselves and experiencing the wonder of our beautiful world.