Traveling abroad is an amazing opportunity. If it’s laid before you, grab it. Just do it. You won’t regret it.
However, nobody necessarily talks about traveling abroad with mental illness. Traveling has its own challenges and obstacles to overcome, but to throw mental illness on top of that? It sounds like you’re just asking for trouble.
I feel this pain. Managing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety might not allow travel to happen, but if it’s a valuable experience for you, then it’s worth facing your inner demons head-on. Your health, mental and otherwise, can still be managed in a new foreign location.
Let me speak as living, breathing proof that traveling abroad with mental illness is possible! It’s not only a possibility, but it can also be a successful, fulfilling experience. With the right mindset and tools in your vicinity, you can make anything happen.
1. always put health first.
Before embarking on any sort of journey, ensure your health is in peak condition. We focus a lot on getting the correct vaccines and completing physical examinations before traveling, but mental check-ins are just as crucial. You’ll likely be facing some new situations that could trigger brand new emotions, so your initial mental health going in matters.
Traveling abroad with mental illness, you’ll want to evaluate yourself at this moment. How am I managing everything? How am I feeling? Do I need to stop by a therapist to simply ground myself? Are any prescriptions running low? These are all preliminary “requirements” to keep in mind.
Don’t let your normal mental health routine stop just because you’re abroad. Take your medications as prescribed. Avoid any triggers, especially drugs or alcohol. Keep in touch with a therapist at home if possible. Utilize online resources if that helps you. Anything that keeps your mental health balanced is what will ensure a safe, healthy adventure.
Plus, the physical things all still matter. Brush your teeth every day. Eat regular healthy meals. Exercise when you can. Drink tons of water, especially in hot climates. Get healthy amounts of sleep. Bathe and wash your face. You’ll be surrounded by distractions and cool new things that can take yourself away from your wellness. Just remember to be extra aware and diligent with staying healthy in mind, body, and soul.
2. do all the self-care things.
This point goes well with my first one, and that’s sticking to a wellness routine that works best for you. If you have management tools and activities at home, they’ll still be relevant when traveling abroad with mental illness.
Pack what makes you feel comfortable, whether it’s a memento from home or pictures of loved ones or inspirational messages. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can make a world of difference if we feel out of control and stressed.
What do you usually do to treat yourself well? When traveling abroad, it’s exciting to want to always be exploring and doing adventurous activities, but you need time to rest and rejuvenate. How else will you be able to fully enjoy the moments where you are going out and seeing the world?
Pack a face mask with you, even if that means pouring it into a carry-on-sized container. Take a yoga mat with you, if possible, to just stretch and release tension. Have a journal with you of reminders and a place to jot down any racing thoughts. Have a Kindle or books that aren’t too heavy to lug around. Download tons of music, shows and/or podcasts to escape.
You’re somewhere completely new and likely outside your comfort zone. We all need an escape from that to return to a safe place. With mental illness, this need is multiplied tenfold. Self-care creates that safe space, and you can take it with you wherever you go. Establish what fills you with joy and peace, and prioritize doing that thing every day. It’ll be worth it.
3. don’t isolate!
This point is especially true if you’re traveling solo, but it’s also relevant in a group setting, too. I know when I first traveled abroad, my immediate instinct was to be alone whenever possible. Also, traveling abroad with mental illness or otherwise, you want to show you’re self-sufficient. “I’m strong and capable enough to go on big adventures, so I’m okay!”
Be real with yourself and others. Even though communication with faraway loved ones is harder, you still need to find a way to make it work. I’m using wi-fi whenever I have the chance to message my family and friends. That’s important to me, so I’ll go out of my way to do it.
If you aren’t traveling alone and are with a group, connect with them whenever possible. You might not be best friends from day one, especially if you just met, but get to know them. Cliché, but be yourself.
It’s okay to be slow to really immerse yourself in a new setting, but be patient and let yourself ease into this new environment with new people. You’re sure to find someone you click with, and if not, there’s always the support system back home cheering you on. Don’t go completely off the grid. People out there love you, so don’t forget about them along the way.
4. know your limits and when to push yourself.
Traveling abroad with mental illness is challenging enough, but everything else you’ll encounter? Sounds like you’re asking for disaster. If I can hardly manage my own health, how can I combine that with doing lots of other things and going majorly outside my comfort zone?
The first few days or so traveling abroad are actually not too bad. You’re still reeling from excitement over being somewhere new, and you’re overstimulated with all there is to experience. Once the initial awe subsides, you’re left with reality: this is a new place where you must readjust much of what you know. What you have “under control” could be swept up from under you. Now flexibility and resourcefulness are the keys.
You know yourself best, so be okay saying no if necessary. Avoid huge crowds and upsetting social situations if you don’t want to partake. Don’t go swimming if the water gives you nightmares. Traveling abroad with mental illness isn’t a cure to all your troubles; they’re all still there, so be mindful.
But please, by all means, do adventurous things! Try things you’d never see yourself do! Take baby steps outside your comfort zone. If adventure is what you value—which I’d assume if you’re traveling abroad, it is—then get a positive conversation going on in your head. Encourage yourself to fully delve into this exciting time. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Push yourself in areas you value, and know your limits in areas that you don’t mind avoiding.
Traveling abroad with mental illness is a huge achievement all on its own. Don’t underestimate how amazing that is. Seriously, commend yourself for even deciding to travel. It’s scary for everyone. The most important thing is to stay true to who you are amidst every change and new opportunity.
You might face mental obstacles and face demons nobody will see, but look at you, still going out and traveling abroad. Keep your mental health managed how you know best, but that doesn’t mean you cannot fully enjoy this amazing journey.
Traveling abroad any time soon, or have any experiences or tips to share regarding mental illness? Do tell in the comments below.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie