I’m a firm believer that the foundation for recovery when struggling with depression and anxiety is building your toolkit — the friends, habits, healthcare professionals, and other resources that help you to be proactive in your own wellness, or that help to pull you back out of an episode when it occurs. Everyone’s toolkit is different, and it takes work to maintain.
It can be even trickier when you’re away from home.
We look forward to vacations and travel with starry eyes most of the time, but it’s always important to prepare yourself and have a plan ready in case things don’t go the way you’d envisioned — which they often don’t.
If you’re far from home, your best friend might not be there, and your gym won’t be right next door. Without these familiarities, it may be difficult to stay on top of managing anxiety or symptoms of depression that may arise.
Not long ago, I sold off (or gave away) almost everything that I owned to become more nomadic and embarked upon on long trip throughout southeast Asia and Mexico. Here’s how I managed on the road.
Expect the unexpected
First and foremost, the best way to prepare yourself for a trip is to try and be aware that things will inevitably come up, and challenges may blindside you during your travels. You’ll get lost, sometimes in translation. But if you approach each day of your travels being open to more change or challenges than usual, it can be a lot less stressful — and a breeze when things go well.
I’ve had a fair share of challenges:
- days spent searching for a place, only to find it closed
- bursts of anxiety and frustration while trying to communicate in a new language
- flash flooding, leaving me freaked out and wondering if I’d be stranded in the middle of a random country
- “dry season” at the island I chose magically turning into rain all day, every day
- a “moderate” day hike turning into a trek from hell I wasn’t sure I’d make it back from
- terrifying tuk-tuk and cab rides that made me hold on for dear life
- foreign ATMs causing my cards to get locked, leaving me with no access to my cash
These are just some of the random obstacles that popped up along my path during this trip. Layer anxiety and depression on top of it and I’d be lying if I said it was anything other than extremely difficult to keep it all together.
Staying on track while traveling
It's important to set a plan before you leave on your trip, which can include having an agreement with your therapist to have phone or Skype sessions if needed. If you are on medication, you may need to refill it early and make sure you have enough for the whole trip, or take precautions to ensure it's always accessible.
If you’ve already established a set of tools, resources, and a support network, then you’re ready to start travelling — just know that it’s going to be much harder to rely on those things once the bags are packed and you step out the door.
Here are a few of the ways I coped with the challenges:
Leave your schedule more open and flexible in case you encounter the unexpected. That way you won’t be disappointed or overwhelmed when things take longer than usual, roadblocks appear, or plans change halfway through the day.
Don’t expect to be able to do things like you would back home because almost everything will take longer. It’s easy to get excited and try to pack way too much into each day, but that will just leave you burnt out, anxious, or disappointed when things don’t pan out.
Make time for rest
Give yourself the ability to pause and reset — because there will be additional stress, anxiety, and challenges that come with travel. Tell yourself that it’s OK to scrap your plans for the rest of the day and just relax or dive fully into your most effective tools, like meditation, journaling, or hitting the gym.
Reach out to loved ones
Also, reach out to friends and family regularly. We’re lucky to have such easy access to video calls, where we can connect across the world to those who help us the most, and to help clear our minds, reconnect, and get support or advice from them. You may need to do this more often than you’d normally do at home.
Stick to self-care routines
It’s important to be aware of how easy it can be to lose your routines and find excuses of why you can’t follow them while traveling. Catch yourself if you fall into this (or have a friend help hold you accountable) to give you the push you need to stay on track.
No matter what, put yourself, and your health, first. Whether you are getting away for a short vacation or setting out for extended travel, make your health a priority and adjust your plans as needed. You may find that you need to cut your trip short, as I did. Originally, I’d planned for so many more adventures and many more countries to discover, but it didn’t quite work out that way — and that’s fine. Thankfully, I’d started out with one-way tickets to keep my options open.
Don’t let the possible challenges keep you from stepping out the door and exploring the world if you have the desire and opportunity to do so. I’m proud of myself for taking these steps to travel and pushing way past all of my limits to get through the challenges that came up. After taking time to pause and reflect, I can see how the challenges I encountered helped make me a better version of myself. Maybe it can do the same for you — make you stronger, and help make it easier to stay on track with proactively managing your mental health whether you’re at home or out exploring the world.
NPS-IE-NP-00020 September 2020