Managing Depression While Traveling

That title can’t be right, can it? No, the word “depression” doesn’t belong in the same sentence with the word “travel.” If Pinterest is to be believed, and I’m 100% sure it is, then travel is a magical potion that fixes things like anxiety and depression and causes you to live in a perpetual state of bleach-blond skinny bitch bliss.

Okay, maybe I’m not so convinced.

Before I did my big backpacking stint through Europe, I bought into all those inspirational travel quotes. I firmly believed that travel would fix my dissatisfaction with my low-level office job, my unhappiness with my life, and my social anxiety. Surprise, surprise, it did none of those things. I experienced intense depression while traveling.

Which isn’t to say that travel wasn’t an amazing, life-changing experience. It was. When I got home from my trip, I had clarity like I’d never experienced before. I had a clear vision of what I wanted out of life, and I finally had the motivation to take the steps to get it. It also made me friends that I still stay in contact with.

But you know what helped the dissatisfaction, the unhappiness, and the anxiety? Boring, regular, plain-old life at home. Yup. I still battle with all of these issues, but at the end of the day it turned out to be a Tuesday at home that made me change things for the better. It had nothing to do with travel.

So we can all agree that travel won’t cure what ails you. But what do you do when you’re on the road and a bout of depression hits? What do you do when your social anxiety is keeping you from going to the club with that super cool group from your hostel?

Turns out, you have a few options.

1) Take A Day Off

In London, my little sister and I both began to struggle through a depressive episode. We were over a month into our trip and the initial honeymoon phase had faded. We were back to our old selves, and our old selves came with problems. We became overwhelmed by the simple parts of traveling, like getting out the door early enough to sightsee and getting tickets for the tube.

So, we both looked at each other and agreed to spend our last day in London in bed. We completely vegged out, ordered Chinese food, hung out on our laptops, and slept all day. In retrospect, we have done that about halfway through our time in London so that we could have been refreshed for the second half. By the next day, we both felt collectively way better. While it seems like a terrible shame to waste a day in another country, if one day off is going to give you the strength you need to recuperate then it’s worth it.

I’m giving you permission: it’s okay to take it easy every once in a while.

2) Push Through It

For some people, functioning through depression is what breaks them out of their episode. I wish that I was one of these people. If you are, then maybe consider pushing on for a few days and continuing to do the normal attractions you had planned on.

I will say that one benefit to pushing on is that later you have memories you wouldn’t have had if you’d taken the day off. In general, when we look back on photos from a trip, we tend to remember the good. Most likely, you won’t look at a photo from a bad day and remember the depression. You’ll remember the gelato you ate, or the vendor you spoke to, or the beautiful sunset.

That’s just how travel works.

3) Plan To Stay Longer, Or Go Somewhere Familiar

On my trip, I found that a portion of my depression on the backpacking stemmed from the constant moving around over a long period of time. I had lived in an isolated place for nineteen years at that point, only rarely leaving my city and hardly ever leaving the state. My body and mind were not used to going, going, going.

By Paris, we couldn’t take it anymore. We had two weeks and three more destinations left. And we couldn’t get excited about another new place, another night of sleep lost to travel, another new language to navigate. On a different day, in a different mood, I would have viewed it as a fun challenge. But with depression and anxiety in full swing, we couldn’t see ourselves getting any happier.

So we changed the plans. We flew back to Ireland, where we were able to connect with friends we’d made at the beginning of the trip. We saw far more of the country than we had ever planned to. We went to dinner parties and hikes and game nights in people’s homes. And somewhere along the way, we shook off the unhappiness. By being somewhere that felt like home, our anxiety and fear disappeared. We were able to enjoy the last two weeks of our trip.

It’s okay to change your mind.

I hope that these suggestions can make a weary traveler feel better about their situation. I also hope that it shows people that you absolutely can have an adventure while struggling.

Have you ever dealt with depression while traveling? How did you push past it? Feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments below.

Until next time, keep pushing on.

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