I think for someone who’s backpacked for nearly two years alone, I’ve been aware that with the rise in social media, there seems to be the general idea that travel for most is all fun and games; that the only reason people travel is ‘for the gram’.
To an extent, that’s not entirely untrue. To travel IS to visit the most incredible places that one must see in their lifetime;
…to immerse yourself within a culture so different from your own;
…to try the local cuisine before hiking for hours into undisturbed landscapes;
…through rainforests and up mountains to gain different perspectives on everything – and not just from a physical point of view.
If you choose to put that on your Instagram because you want to show off where you’ve been that’s not a bad thing at all. Don’t forget, this is all BEFORE you’ve even met your fellow travelers, most of them with a mutual urge to learn more about themselves and how the world works around them.
There is a “BUT” to this story.
Traveling with depression and anxiety
For me personally, my traveling experience couldn’t be further from the ‘Instagrammable’ truth. It was never about hitting places for likes or following the ‘gaming crowd.
I had just been diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety. I had experienced the breakdown of a four-year relationship and was currently grieving the loss of a family member and wanted to scream and run away. When all you’ve ever known is being WITH somebody, whether that’s family or in a romantic relationship, to suddenly feel all alone is unbearable.
I desperately wanted to visit other countries and other cultures in a bid to see that life was still beautiful.
I wanted to throw myself into the deep end, be by myself and work out my steps organically, without worrying about the past or the future.
With every breathtaking place I visited, and every great person who made an impact on me in some way, shape or form, also came insecurities or worries. I do think it’s incorrect to assume that just because I’m traveling in the most magical place ever, thoughts and emotions just automatically disappear like that.
I’ve never been good with change, and any remotely different environment usually involves me trying to control any situation, possibility, probability, or outcome that may arise from it – which we all know is impossible, hence the angst.
It’s sometimes hard to remain committed to your solo decision – to keep going at it alone when people (or perhaps one specific person) make you want to stay in the same place for a while. Not that that’s a problem, but sometimes you can stay for the wrong reasons and lose sight of why you went traveling in the first place.
I’ve had to ultimately make decisions. That means I have openly chosen to be completely alone again which is a huge step – now without a safety blanket and having to start looking out for myself – and that can be desperately difficult and painful.
I still struggle to be alone and to travel with depression. It’s part of the reason I traveled by myself – to BE okay independently, to challenge it head-on, and to try and make love and peace with it.
This tip is for future times where it can be hard to know how to make yourself feel better when you start to feel low or anxious. Often, I’ve found that I have to ride the wave out until my mood starts to rise. For me, that’s a few days, although if I’m lacking in sleep, it could be longer.
So, with that in mind, here’s my list of…
5 Things to keep your mental health sane while solo traveling with depression and anxiety
If you’re ever feeling a little blue-ish. Perhaps they’re obvious, but when I’m feeling like a pile of dog poo, it can be hard to remember them.
1. Karaoke hostel shower time
Sorry to the past, present, and future shower neighbors of mine, that have and will be hearing me sing/scream in the shower to Whitney and Wham.
I do not care when I’m traveling if people have to resort to shower with earplugs. There are a few songs that I know I feel better if I sing out loud. And shower time is my time to do that.
When your mind is full, it’s a great way to release.
My top songs to sing when feeling low are:
- Whitney Houston, One Moment in Time
- Wham, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
- S Club, Bring It All Back
- Shania Twain, Man! I Feel Like A Woman
2. Cheap face masks, Netflix and Chill (by yourself) night
This applies to females and males. Sometimes, you just need to do little and very cheap things to feel good about yourself. For me, that’s feeling clean because a lot of the time, traveling with Depression or Anxiety tries to force you to smell as bad as they do.
I think if you can get out to the local 7/11, LIDL, wherever the hell you are in the world supermarket, buy yourself a face mask (and if you’re feeling spontaneous, a cucumber, chop it up and relax for five minutes) you can feel a million dollars. Then watch Family Guy (obviously with cucumber slices removed), because how could Peter not make you laugh?
You might need to set up a VPN (ExpressVPN is only $12.95 per month) to access your favorite Netflix shows if you’re traveling abroad.
Sometimes, you just need to do nothing to feel better.
3. Download HEADSPACE and meditate while traveling
When my Grandad died, when my Dad was in the hospital, when my brother was in the hospital, when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, I couldn’t sleep.
I mean, it all happened in the space of a week, so you can’t really blame me, can you. But then I couldn’t sleep for a month, or two months.. then three.. it goes on for a while. If I allowed myself to relax, I’d have horrible nightmares of my Grandad watching me, unable to help him. I still have these, but not as frequently, thank god.
Nowadays, I just struggle to sleep without someone holding me. Which doesn’t really work wonders when you’re trying your best to be alone, does it.
One thing I’ve found that helps is the app, Headspace (Apple | Android). Two years ago, during those awful six months of Insomnia, it was the ONLY thing I actually passed out to. I couldn’t believe it.
During this pandemic, when I’ve overthought too much and struggled to sleep, I’ve listened to one of their sleep casts called the “Midnight Launderette”. I swear to god, I wake up forgetting I’ve even dreamt.
I’m pretty sure this particular sleep cast is on Headspace’s free version so check it out. They’ve got lots of different options for relaxation, stress, anxiety. I’ve been enjoying meditating to the one focusing on Loneliness.
4. Download WYSA and start writing
It’s an app, an “AI life coach” that is essentially a little virtual robot you can speak to, any time you want, about ANYTHING you want. Based on CBT principles, it can help you rationalize thoughts. It is a nice place to start being open with your feelings.
It’s actually a lot more than just that. It offers you yoga and meditation techniques, a therapist service you can pay for. And they have a weekly report, so you can pick up on niggles you’ve been focusing on to work on them completely.
It’s actually a really nice thing to have when you don’t feel like talking to anyone in particular.
5. Listen to a PODCAST
There are some brilliant ones out there on Spotify, and I listen to a few random ones.
There’s one called “Twin Perspectives” focusing on travels, blogging, and writing. This one is pretty relatable to me because one of the girls suffers from Anxiety herself.
I also like Fearne Cotton’s “Happy Place” podcast. Her interviews with various well-known people I find bring mental illness to the surface authentically.
When I’m not in the mood to listen to anything mental health-related, I have “Those Conspiracy Guys” on repeat, which lets me zone out. Their podcast is a comedic way of researching huge events that have taken place and the conspiracies and rumors behind them. Sometimes it’s just good to close your eyes and listen to these Irish lads, just to have a bit of a think about what they’re saying.
If you have a friend or family member who is traveling with depression or anxiety, a great gift is to buy them a gift card for a Spotify subscription. It’ll give them ad-free access to great music and podcasts to keep them company on their travels.
So THOSE are my top 5.
I know I could have chosen a lot more, writing, reading, phone a friend, phone a family member, etc. But some people aren’t in positions where they can, and I think these can be slightly more all-rounded.
Do remember to talk to someone you can trust if you’re struggling. If that feels too difficult, text SHOUT to 85258. These are trained volunteers who can help you through a difficult time.
Let me know what YOU do to help your Depression and Anxiety while traveling. I’d love to keep the conversation of mental health open, no matter whether you’re traveling or not.