Quickie disclaimer before I begin: I am not a doctor, and this article is not intended to replace or replicate professional health advice. If you are concerned about your mental (or physical) health, always seek out a doctor! Also, this article does not cover the entire range of the mental health spectrum. This is more of a general guide for the more common aspects of it.
1. Don’t travel to escape your mental health
I realise that a travel guide with the words ‘don’t travel’ in it might seem a bit of an odd way to start, but the problem with literally running away to escape your problems is, it doesn’t work if your own brain is the problem.
Although the new scenery and little bubble you can create for yourself will make you feel amazing at first, your anxiety, depression and racing thoughts about failure will absolutely catch up with you if the root cause is unknown or unresolved.
Travel is a great way to improve and control your mental health, but is not a means to escape or cure it. You can take medications to most countries, so get yourself set up before you go.
2. Have a list of local crisis lines, websites, apps, etc
If you’ve travelled thousands of miles away from home, at some point you’re going to feel a little overwhelmed. You’re living in a dorm with nine other people. You haven’t been alone in literally weeks. You’re mentally exhausted. There’s too much noise, too many things to plan, too much everything.
Take a breath. Before you travel, having a list of local of reachable services – even if it’s just a chatroom where you can get grounded and talk to people – could be a literal lifesaver for you.
3. Prioritize (and take) your medication!
Some countries, have restrictions or outright bans on widely available western medications due to their ingredients.
Instead of dropping your medication in favour of visiting that country, ditch the country. At least for now. Deciding to toss your medication in the bin in favour of a week’s vacation can be absolutely catastrophic, especially if you’ve been on a high dosage for a long time.
Remember, you’re out there to enjoy yourself, not to descend into a pit of uncontrollable depression because you’re body is in severe withdrawal. Prioritize your medication, and always take your medication. It’s easy to forget what time it is, so set an alarm to remind you.
4. Stand still, stay silent
Travelling is exhausting. If you suffer with anxiety or any kind of condition that involves sensory overload, being in a bustling city, an overnight bus, or a busy dorm room or whatever 24/7 is going to drain your battery faster than anything else.
If you’re hostel-hopping to save money, consider booking private rooms once in a while. They’re still half the cost of your average hotel, but you still get to indulge in that cool, friendly environment hostels tend to have, when you feel up to it.
(By the way, unrelated – the title for this tip came from a great webcomic I enjoy reading of the same name)
5. Know your limits, and respect them
Depending on your mental illness and its severity, you may need extra help to get through your day. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it should be considered if you want to go travelling solo for six months. Will you have them within reach? Can you go home if you need to?
Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with pushing your comfort boundaries (I encourage it, even), but if your mental illness makes you prone to rash, crazy decisions, decide responsibly whether you can trust yourself to make hard decisions that could get you hurt on your own.
Again, there’s no shame in requiring the help. Half the battle is simply admitting to it, the other half is accepting it.