The past two weeks have found me stay-cationing in London (twice), scooting off round Manhattan, sleeping on the most precarious bunk in Buenos Aires and watching glaciers break in El Calafate. Tomorrow Matt and I head for Ushuaia, the southern-most tip of the Argentina, also fondly known as ‘where the world ends’. Nearly four years ago I could barely walk out the front door.
Having a mental health condition is tough and more often than not compromises your will and ability to travel. That said it’s not all doom and gloom, and so I’ve listed some of the positive aspects of travelling and how I deal with the tougher moments.
The good: active days
Travelling inevitably means you’re active a lot of the time. I certainly notice that my mental health benefits from incorporating activity into my daily routine. Not only does it clear my head and make me feel happier, I also have more energy to see and do more. Plus spending time outdoors generally improves mental wellbeing.
The bad: …that being said, you can get pretty tired
Having depression or any mental health condition tires you out big time. And I’m not just talking about the ‘I could sleep right now’ feeling, I mean the ‘conk out for 10 to 12 hours’ type of thing, and travelling exacerbates that. Tiredness naturally compromises how much enthusiasm you have to do stuff like sightsee, socialise, eat well and in my case I sometimes forget to take my medication.
My way of alleviating the inevitable lethargy is by napping whenever possible, avoiding late nights and alcohol, cooking healthy meals from scratch, and employing the infamous ear-plugs-eye-mask combo (trust me, it’s a winner esp. if el top bunk has sleep apnea).
The good: you spend prolonged periods of time with people
This is true for me as I consider myself someone who benefits from social company the majority of the time. And if you’re hostel-hopping like us you’re going to meet a lot of people who can keep your brain occupied. It also means you’re more inclined to put your best face forward which can help reinforce a positive mindset. Plus if you’re committed, you can make new friends along the way.
Spending time with a partner or a friend has the potential to strengthen your relationship if you’re willing to talk about your wants and needs. In my case, it often means said person learns a lot about my mental condition and may be able to help.
The bad: you can spend prolonged periods of time with or without people
My mental health often makes me reclusive so when you don’t want to see people you really don’t want to see people. Travelling encroaches on your personal space whether in a dorm, in the common area, in the kitchen, at tourist attractions, etc. – it can get pretty overwhelming. Socialising also means that drinking and night outs are a possibility.
My solution is to have days to yourself which consist of chilling in a quiet space, or visiting an attraction on your own. In the evening I tend not to drink and opt for an early night if my mental health isn’t on top form. If you decide you want to stay out late, be prepared for the consequences and plan ahead e.g. schedule a lie-in for the following day. Plus if you’re travelling with someone it may be best to let them know so they don’t take it personally.
On the flip side, solo travel can get kinda lonely. I personally don’t mind being on my own too much but there are days when it can be difficult to live with your thoughts alone. I recommend regular skype chats with those who can help but if you’re in a mental state where you can’t deal with your condition alone, you might want to consider asking a family member, friend or partner to join you, or perhaps even consider whether you’re currently fit enough to travel alone.
The good: you can learn a hell of a lot
About yourself, about cultures, about people, about the outdoors etc. And in my opinion that’s pretty fulfilling. Feeling fulfilled can give your life purpose which in my case really helps as my depression prevents me from seeing the point in anything. Also ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ could never be more valid.
The bad: sadly shit happens while travelling
Anything from being groped to losing all your kit, travelling can be tough especially if you’re a girl. One of the ways I’ve dealt with some of these issues is through being as mentally prepared and well-equipped as possible. For instance, I acknowledge that the probability of getting harassed is high and so long as it doesn’t step over the line I recognise that certain individuals will never change in their lifetime and thus try my best to put my happiness first. Also, you’re going to want to reduce the mental stress of losing things so be vigilant, lock your stuff up, have back up cash, pack a first aid kit and get that travel insurance.
The good: you have fun!
This is obvious but travelling is fun: you do fun things, see fun things, spend time with fun people. The right kind of fun is great for your wellbeing and in my opinion trumps any negative aspects of being a non-stop nomad.