I love travelling. As a child I was lucky that my parents would save up to take us on a holiday each year. Guernsey was my first trip not on the UK mainland, and for a five year old, travelling on a plane was immensely exciting.

Fast forward to my early twenties, and my excitement for holidays and exploring new places remains the same. My excitement for travelling itself, however, has turned sour. Travelling got more difficult for me after issues with my mental health, which started around the age of fifteen. In the seven years since, it has peaked and dipped at various times, and with it my experience of travelling has been affected by the state of my brain at those times. Over the years though, I have learnt to tackle this, and learn to cope with the stresses of travel. Here’s my advice for those who experience mental health distress while travelling.

If you’re stuck in a queue at the airport or ferry/train terminal, make sure you know your coping mechanism. Whether this is ASMR videos, your iPod, mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, find whatever works for you and stick to it. Plan for security and immigration (if you need to), as this can sometimes be the worst part of travelling for somebody with mental health concern. If you have a condition such as Tourette’s, Asperger or anxiety, inform the staff as these conditions can often be misinterpreted rather unfairly. Keep your travel times in an easily accessible place on your phone or in your pocket, and ensure you get to the airport, port or terminal in plenty of time.

Rather perversely, I find that anxiety helps in some regards, much to my surprise. I’m always cautious, and my constant need to check my bag to ensure my passport, phone, room keys and tickets are still intact means that I have never lost anything important (yet, touch wood). It’s also a good indicator as to when I need a rest. If I feel tearful and panicky, it’s time to find a place to sit and rest. This doesn’t work for everybody, but if you feel your symptoms flaring up, use this as an indicator that you need to rest or take an hour or two to yourself.

Be tolerant of what your travelling companions want to do, but make sure you put your health and sanity first

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is: don’t force yourself to go if you think you’re not well enough at this time. Earlier in 2016, I had several friends living in Europe and dearly wanted to visit them. I had a date set and had contacted the friends in France and The Netherlands to let them know. However, I suffered another breakdown in March, and knew that I just couldn’t travel at that point in time. Now, I could do it easily. I just had to wait until I was feeling better. Taking the Eurostar when I was feeling so fragile would have most likely left me a weeping mess at the Paris terminal.

Some people can wing it with travelling. If you know that this will stress you out, plan ahead. Get your currency early; it is also very wise to look up the local laws and government advice for the country you’re visiting. Have some phrases written down if you don’t know the language, even if those are “I don’t understand, help me!”

Most importantly, look after yourself. If you’ve been walking around a city all day and need to rest, then do. If you know you’ll be hiking through countryside or plains, make sure you know where you can find a safe and comfortable spot to rest and find water. If you’re travelling with company, make sure you’re not pressured into staying out all day or going on nights out you don’t feel comfortable going on. Be tolerant of what your travelling companions want to do, but make sure you put your health and sanity first. On the other hand, if a walk by yourself or a coffee alone in a museum will help you, take that time. Keep your mobiles on, and make sure you know where to meet and where one another will be.

Take care of yourself, take your time, and I hope you can have a happy travel experience.

Eleanor Healing

Image: Matt Perich, Flickr.

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