Over the years, like so many people I know, I’ve struggled with periods of low mental health and depression. When it comes to travel, even though it’s something I adore, my brain isn’t always exempt from the clouds descending. I could have the most amazing day planned, but if it’s a bad one in my head, I’d still find it a struggle to get out of bed. I can spend a week feeling on top of the world, and suddenly get hit by a wave of numbness, a creeping dread, and a lack of interest in even the most fun of activities.
And I know I’m not alone – I’m pretty sure almost every single one of my close friends has struggled with their mental health at times – be it depression, anxiety or other issues.
Today, Mental Health UK launch their #GetTheInsideOut campaign, encouraging more people to speak out about their mental health in partnership with Channel 4 and Lloyds Bank. Every year, one in four of us are affected by a mental health problem, and the campaign aims to break down stigma and misconceptions around mental health conditions.
I’m fully aware I’m in a privileged position to be able to explore the world a little bit, and I know there are plenty out there who might be reading this who are in a situation where their mental health simply won’t allow them to travel. As empowering and life-affirming as travel can be, it’s not a ‘cure’ for mental health conditions. But I do find, for me, it’s something that aids me in feeling a bit better about life. For those keen to travel more, or who do occasionally just have a shitty brain day when they’re away, these few little thoughts on ways you can keep your mental health in check while travelling might just help a little.
Know what works for you
I mean, this is the important one, really. Because what works for me might not work for you, and neither of those things might work for someone else. But, for example, if you know your anxiety can be triggered by being around large groups of people, staying in a shared hostel dorm might not work for you. If it’s crowds, you could think about visiting popular attractions first thing in the morning, when the largest throngs of people haven’t made it out of bed yet. Understanding what affects your mental health negatively will be key in your travel planning.
Have someone you trust to talk to if things get a bit much
I personally love a bit of solo travelling, but this might not be something everyone’s comfortable with. Choosing a travel buddy you know well, and are able to talk to when you’re feeling down or anxious, can help. And if you are flying solo and feeling like a big steaming pile of crap, you could reach out to someone back home via phone, email, WhatsApp…whatever you choose.
Get your plans in place…
A big trip – for some, any trip, especially if you’re quite a new traveller – can be a source of worry. How am I getting from A to B? What if I run out of money? Am I going to get mugged/murdered/scammed? Having your plans in place in advance can help get rid of that overwhelming feeling of dread a little.
Print your documents, and keep them handy. Nervous about getting to your hotel from the airport? If you can, spend a little extra on pre-booking a private transfer service. Arrange a booking at a nearby restaurant for that evening, to give yourself something to look forward to when you arrive.
…but not too many that you feel overwhelmed
Having said that, a regimented itinerary rushing from place to place can also be overwhelming. Make sure you have some time aside that you don’t have plans for, where you can take some time out if you need to – it might just be an hour or two in your hotel room. Staying in to look after your mental health doesn’t mean you’re ‘missing out’ – it means you can make the most of your trip while staying on top of yourself.
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These are all little things that have worked for me personally – I’m definitely no expert though, and my own experiences of mental health, depression and what helps are likely to be different to yours. So to help a little more, here are some more practical resources that anyone interested in travelling but worried about their mental health may find useful…