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Introduction to travelling and mental health

Travelling is an amazing experience. Whether you’re heading around the world over the course of a year or spending a couple of weeks exploring a destination, you’ll be joining the thousands setting off from the UK every year on a travel adventure.

But travelling is different to going on holiday. People tend to go on holiday to relax, to get away from their normal routine. Travelling is much more about exploring a destination and discovering what it’s like to live there.

Holiday-goers might spend most of their time relaxing on a beach; travellers would more likely be sight-seeing and immersing themselves in local culture.

As such, travelling can also be a daunting experience full of strange opportunities and new emotions. To get the most out of your time abroad, you must look after yourself – including your mental health.

Knowing the potential sources of stress, how best to cope with new challenges and where to go in an emergency should all be part of your travel planning – whether you’ve previously struggled with mental health issues or not.

UK statistics on mental health

Mind, a leading mental health charity, say approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. What’s more, in any given week in England, one in six report experiencing a common mental health problem. This includes anxiety and depression.

Mind also highlight a 2016 survey which breaks down different types of mental health problems, and how common they are:

Generalised anxiety disorder 5.9 in 100 people
Depression 3.3 in 100 people
Phobias 2.4 in 100 people
OCD 1.3 in 100 people
Panic disorder 0.6 in 100 people
Post traumatic stress disorder 4.4 in 100 people
Mixed anxiety and depression 7.8 in 100 people

Source: Mind

Everyone deserves to go travelling. But it can intensify your stress levels – depending on your past experience and tolerance of new situations, the amount of travel stress could vary. It tends to be a result of things like:

  • Disrupted routines
  • Culture shock and language barriers
  • A lack of control
  • Unexpected situations

In Chapter 2, the potential sources of stress are explored in greater depth, as well as advice for dealing with the unexpected. After all, travelling will present challenges – it’s how you cope with them which will influence your experience. Don’t assume it’s only the bravest who venture off; with the right planning and measures in place, you can enjoy an adventure too.

The benefits of travel/reasons people travel

Travelling is so much more than just having a good time. It’s rewarding; it’s educational; it’s engaging. More than anything, though, it’s a unique experience. What one person gets out of their travels will be different to the next person.

Of course, there are loads of shared benefits of travelling around the world. We asked five keen travellers their favourite benefits – the reasons which keep them heading back to the airport for more.

  • “Photographs can never do the experience of seeing the world’s delights for yourself justice” - Harley Wilkins

    Even when Harley comes home, he’s still scrolling through the hundreds of pictures taken on his latest adventure. They remind him of some of his fondest memories – there are photos of life-long friends, the wonders of the world, food he’s tried and a lot of sunsets.

    But what’ll really stick with you when you travel, says Harley, is all the emotions these photos evoke – the laughter, the surprise, the amazement, even the tears. Travelling is something photographs will never truly capture.

  • “Travelling is one of the most rewarding experiences” - Evie Campbell

    You put a lot into travelling. All the research, planning, money and energy. The amount you get out of the experience is something you can’t imagine, though. It’ll all be worth it – remember that when you’re spending hours preparing for your trip, or if something doesn’t go quite to plan.

  • “It’s a great opportunity to volunteer and make a difference where it really matters” - Jennifer Abbott

    I think it’s great to give back with your time. Volunteering is something popular with travellers, but it can be easy to get confused by fees, the number of options and which will have the most impact.

    But do your research, choose a cause close to your heart and you’re able to make a huge difference outside of the confines of your normal life. You’ll also feel great about yourself. Just make sure you find out the following before signing up to any volunteer programme:

    • Where the money goes
    • How the organisation works with the community
    • What’s expected of volunteers
  • “You’ll return with increased confidence and with more skills” - Harry Wallis

    Learn to scuba dive, negotiate the price of your hostel down, cope with missed travel connections, meet new friends – the skills you’ll learn when travelling are as valuable as they are varied. It’s as rewarding as you make it, so throw yourself in and learn as much as you can about yourself and the world.

  • “It challenges your perceptions” - Jodie Cooper

    When else are you going to get the chance to immerse yourself in a different culture? To really experience what it’s like to lead a life completely different to yours at home and to learn from people you wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

    Travelling will challenge your assumptions and test your limitations. Not only will you learn about the world, you’ll realise a lot about yourself too.

  • Is it right for you?

    Just because other people enjoy travelling, and talk about how amazing it is, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. To stay safe, you must be prepared for whatever’s thrown at you. Consider the following:

    • You’ll be away from home. How reliant are you on your support network at home? Will you be able to stay in touch enough?
    • A lot of things will be unfamiliar. The food, the people, the language – it’ll be unknown. This can be equally daunting and exciting, but you must be able to adapt.
    • You’ll make friends for just a short time. When travelling, you soon get used to making friends with other travellers, only for them or you to be moving on to the next location within a day or two
    • The future is often unknown. Plans change, or don’t even exist. Any idea of a similar routine over more than a couple of days is unlikely. Although you’ll have some structure, uncertainty about what you’re doing next is inevitable

    These considerations aren’t supposed to put you off, rather highlight the importance of preparing well if you decide to go travelling. The more you can do before, the less there will be to worry about – allowing you more time and energy to enjoy the experience.

    However, travel does require you to give up a bit of control and it’s something which can take anyone a while to get used to. You should always consult a mental health professional before embarking on a trip – not only will they be able to advise you on whether long-term travel is suitable for you, but they’ll give you tips for managing your health whilst away.

    To do before you travel

    You should consult a mental health professional/your GP before embarking on a trip. Not only will they be able to advise you on whether long-term travel is suitable for you, but they’ll give you tips on managing your health whilst away. The medication you’re taking or may need to take is important to address prior to travelling as some countries may not have the same type of medication. Ask your doctor if they will provide you with some medication to take with you if possible.You may also consider travelling with someone.