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Mental Health Care: Travel Is A Supplement, Not A Substitute

With loss of Anthony Bourdain, it feels like the whole world is reeling. The first thing I saw when I checked Facebook in the morning was an outpouring of sadness, not just in the Girls Who Travel community, but from people of all walks of life, all over the planet. This comes on the heels of Avicii and Kate Spade who chose the same path and I find myself overcome with fresh grief at how evil and insidious depression can be. It is such a painful reminder that nothing outside of us brings ”happiness” and that mental health care doesn’t come in the form of fame, or money and – in the case of Bourdain – EVEN ALL THE TRAVEL IN THE WORLD.  Travel can seem like the dream and it can often feel like the solution to all our problems. But it isn’t. So let’s talk about mental health for travelers. 

Travel As Escape

I know I have definitely used travel as a way to escape problems and avoid my mental illness. The rush of excitement and freedom and adventure always makes me feel better, more alive and more joyful. For a little while. But it ALWAYS catches up.

The truth is, I have been depressed and anxious all over the world. I have sat at lively tables surrounded by traveler friends new and old and felt like I was the loneliest person in the world. I’ve been on the most incredibly relaxing vacations, lying on perfect white sand beaches, too crippled by anxiety to move. I have stood at some of the greatest, most breathtaking places in the world and wondered if I should just walk into traffic and end it all.

No train, plane or automobile will take you away from yourself. And while I do believe travel can be healing, it can never be used as a substitute for mental health care. Anthony Bourdain had the world at his fingertips and it wasn’t enough. Because depression is a cunning monster that can’t be defeated by feeding it with things and experiences.

Make Your Mental Health, Not Travel, Your Top Priority

Please make self care your #1 priority and THEN fold travel into your care routine.

Here are some ways to do that:

Start talking about it – whatever it is – with people who care about you.

Our secrets make us sick. Our brains lie to us, tell us we are alone, tell us we are a burden, that no one understands us, that no one cares. But none of those things are EVER true. Speak to the people around you. Be vulnerable. Tell people what’s happening. How you’re feeling. What you need. It’s terrifying, I know. But it will not only help you but others who may not be speaking up.

Recognize the difference between “God I really need a vacation” and “I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE.”

Ask yourself if you want to travel to get away from something that needs to be addressed. Then address it. Whether that means moving, getting a new job, seeing a professional, getting out of a relationship, getting on meds – whatever it is, see it, don’t use travel to run from it.

Don’t put travel before your mental (and physical) health.

Are you saving for a trip but not going to see the doctor/counselor because you don’t have the money? Nope. Take care of yourself FIRST even if that means it will put off your adventure for a little longer.

Be willing to reschedule your trip if it’s the right thing to do for your health at that moment.

As good as it feels, travel is incredibly stressful on your mind and body and can often exacerbate issues you may be having. Check in with yourself, your doctor, your therapist, your support network and ask if this is the right time to go.

Have a medication plan

If you are on medication, make SURE you have more than enough meds to get through your trip and that you know how to get more if you need it while you’re traveling.

Never ever skip your dosages because you’re feeling good.

Endorphins and adrenaline can do amazing things to our bodies. For a short while.

Wherever you are, abroad or at home, ask for help when you need it.

Don’t wait. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be shy. Get the help you need. Here is a list of all the suicide hotlines around the world.  If this list doesn’t have what you need, Google it or ask someone else to help you find the resources you’re looking for.

Use the Girls Who Travel family for whatever you need.

In here, you are never alone anymore. You are a girl who travels with a sisterhood all around the world that is here for you. I know that sounds strange to say about a Facebook group but maybe…just accept the strangeness that thousands of women CAN be your family and CAN support you. And just like sisters, we may not always like each other but in this community we will ALWAYS love each other.  We see you just as you are and you are loved.

This is not a definitive list but some helpful guidelines to help you find your own path to self care. Everyone’s experience is different and unique so the most important thing is not to follow this list but to do what YOU need to take care of yourself.

What are some of your self care tips for making travel a safe and healthy part of your life?

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