Just because you’re on the other side of the world, it doesn’t mean you can’t be depressed.
When I went traveling for the first time, I was excited to flee the country and immerse myself in new sights, sounds and experiences.
Little did I know that traveling would plunge me into the depths of depression.
Let me start by saying that I absolutely do not take my travel experiences for granted. I acknowledge that I was very lucky to have the funds and the freedom to scrap the nine to five and travel to some incredible places over the course of four years.
But life on the road wasn’t perfect. Far from it, in fact.
Recognizing that made me feel like the most ungrateful person in the world. I was the envy of friends, family and colleagues living vicariously through me and my adventures. So why wasn’t travel making me happy?
Traveling is a lonely business
I traveled solo, which was great in many ways but also incredibly lonely at times. I stayed mainly in hostels and met loads of people, which fulfilled my social needs at first – until I got sick of saying goodbye to everyone I met. The discernible lack of lasting connections makes you really miss (and appreciate) the friends and family you left behind, and it sucks even more when you can’t be there to celebrate a promotion, watch them get married or support them at a funeral.
You eat badly and exercise less
Moving about all the time isn’t conducive to an effective diet and exercise regime. Long flights, even longer bus journeys and big time differences make it difficult to get into a routine. Not only that, but being constantly on the move means finding new parks, outdoor exercise equipment and healthy cafes every few days. It’s not always practical, and often you’d rather spend your time exploring (and sampling the local cuisine). The
The lifestyle is hard
I know, the heart bleeds right? Poor me, gallivanting around the globe while everyone else is sat in an office waiting for the clock to strike five o’clock. But here’s the thing: travel can be incredibly stressful. It involves a huge amount of organization, the culture shock can be intense and it can all get a bit overwhelming – particularly when you’re on your own. Living out of a backpack becomes frustrating after a while, having barely enough floor place for your bag is a logistical nightmare and being constantly surrounded by other people is hard work.
Travel doesn’t fulfil your needs
Traveling is the ultimate freedom. It gives us the opportunity to do whatever we want. Sleep in until ten o’clock on a weekday. Snorkel off the beach all day. Jump out of a plane. Sure, travel fulfils your desires and that’s great – but it doesn’t provide you with what you need for a happy, health and sustainable life. Towards the end of my four years on the road, it began to feel like I’d sacrificed structure, purpose, relationships and even happiness for travel. Throw in unfamiliar surroundings, constantly feeling lost, lack of sleep and forced socialization (as an introvert I was majorly out of my comfort zone) and you’ve got a slew of ingredients to cook up a mental health crisis.
Nothing feels new after a while
Do you want to visit this temple today? No, I’ve already seen 127 this week.
Fancy climbing this mountain later? Not another mountain…
Shall we get up early tomorrow and watch the sun rise? Been there, done that.
Why didn’t you come tubing with us? I did it somewhere else last month.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who’s the most ungrateful of them all? I’ve seen some seriously amazing places over the past four years. However, after years of traveling, the world gradually loses the exciting appeal it held when you bought your first one way ticket. Few things surprise you anymore. Case in point: I went to Angkor Wat and felt nothing. Zero. I can’t explain why, but it did make me wonder: when there’s nothing new to see, what’s the point of traveling? But you don’t want to go home either because there’s definitely nothing new for you there. So what the heck are you supposed to do?
Coming home really sucks
To travel is to become accustomed to a constant stream of new sights, sounds, people, cultures, foods and experiences. You’re on a constant natural high, and cutting the supply lines by going home is the world’s biggest comedown. Back in my old bedroom, I felt like I’d taken several steps backwards. I slipped back into old routines and habits, succumbing to the demands and expectations of society – the very same thing I’d sought to escape.
You don’t actually find yourself
I naively thought I’d come back brimming with new ideas about who I was and what I wanted to do. However, because traveling opened my eyes, taught me new things and broadened my perspective, I had more opportunities than ever before. I could do whatever I wanted, anywhere in the world. It was overwhelming. And in the face of so much choice, I made no decisions. I felt like I was stagnating. Where did I belong? What was my purpose?
In my early days on the road, I thought I’d travel forever. I saw myself as a digital nomad, bouncing effortlessly between countries and cultures – but the longer I traveled, the more I realized that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I can’t pin my mental health issues exclusively on long-term travel, but I can say with certainty that going
Are you traveling with anxiety or depression? What are your experiences? Do you have any advice for readers going through a similar experience?
This is a guest post by Jenny MacLean.
Jenny is a solo adventurer and freelance writer with four years of travel under her belt. She’s sunbathed with sea lions on the Galápagos Islands, slept in a hammock in the Brazilian jungle and worked on a whale watching boat in Australia! Follow her on