Travel is change; change can trigger.
Change and mental health work at cross purposes to each other. Change of any sort can be symptom-inducing and a trigger for the worst aspects of mental health issues.
Ironically, travel is in its every essence change. Change of place, change of environment, change of routine, change of circumstance. It is designed to immerse you in all that is different.
Travel is a break from regular life, from all that is known. The opportunity to enjoy the mysterious, the never before experienced with newness at its very core.
How does someone for whom change is a trigger find the resources to engage in the joys of travel and both survive and thrive in all that it offers?
As someone who has traveled widely and even lived overseas for a period of three years, these are my suggestions:
Research your travel location with great gusto. Know where you are going, where you are staying, and what you are planning to do.
Draft an itinerary that gives your trip some structure and you some certainty.
Research locations. Loads of websites offer referrals and feedback on accommodation, restaurant , venues and visitor locations. Read these through so you know what you’re getting well ahead of time.
Case study from yours truly: Not doing your research may lead to you finding yourself staying in a hotel, overlooking a New York jazz bar that offers live music seven nights a week until the wee, small hours and you by chance despise jazz, particularly at 2am.
This scenario was not ideal for maintaining sleep patterns, managing anxiety, or feeling like your indeed having a holiday, thereby offering potential triggers and risks to mental health.
We ended up switching rooms to the other side of the hotel. It is, after all, the city that never sleeps but at least I eventually got some.
Research, research, research to avoid these sorts of mistakes which could easily derail your experience.
If anxiety or stress underline your mental health issues, then it’s good to rehearse in your mind the process of travel. Envisage the travel undertakings, the plane trip, the transfers, the trip to your accommodation, the visits to tourist sites, the crowds, the smells, the noise.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I skipped this step and received a shock to my system.
Think about pre-booking a car to take you straight to your accommodation to minimize initially engaging with an unfamiliar system whilst trailing your luggage. This is great value for money in terms of returns on your anxiety levels and lets you sit back and enjoy those first glimpses of your new environment.
First and foremost, your medications and a letter from your doctor detailing the medications you take, dosages, and why you need them are so important in case you are pulled up at customs in certain countries where your meds might not be legal.
Pack early, then unpack, then repack half of your original stuff. Most people always overpack and lug around copious amounts of unnecessary clothing, shoes, and toiletries, which just takes away from your overall experience and is almost always detrimental to healthy back health and good ergonomic practices, as well as placing unnecessary stress and strain.
Travel light to travel right!
No matter how you’re feeling on any given day of your travel experience get out and immerse yourself. Soak up the environment, the experience, the opportunity. Before you know it your symptoms will be overwhelmed by the wonder of what you’re seeing and doing and will fade into the background, allowing you to make the most of your day.
Take it easy though and don’t feel the need to do too much each day and put yourself under unnecessary strain. It is a holiday after all!
Pace yourself. Make sure your itinerary allows for breaks in your schedule.
Be kind to yourself whilst you make the most of your time away, but don’t push yourself to the brink of breakdown trying to see and do it all. Better to return later and enjoy your time than crash, burn, and dread the experience that has been your trip.
Enjoy every minute of what will be but a short sojourn in the larger scheme of your life. Revel in the newness, the excitement, and the experience of all that you are seeing & doing.
Travel is good for the soul and the mind. It opens up your internal world to the wonders of the external world and gives you a depth of experience that nothing else in life can replicate, even in light of mental health issues.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
About the author: Clare Malcolm began following her writing dream straight out of school studying a Bachelor of Writing & Literature at Victoria College, Melbourne. Clare has worked in the corporate, not-for-profit and political sectors as a speech writer, ghost writer, and published author of A Fractured Life. She has volunteered within the UNHCR in Malaysia. Her Bipolar diagnosis came six years ago but she only admitted it publicly on New Years Day 2018 using her blog www.bipolardayz.wordpress.com to share her journey with this illness and the battles it entails.