I have been thinking about this topic for so long – since April, in fact! Today, I want to talk about travelling with a mental health condition, and hopefully give a little bit of advice for how to make travelling as easy and comfortable as it can possibly be.
So, back in April I travelled to New York! As I currently live in the UK this was a pretty long trip, so I was in America for about 6 days with my fiancee and his family. It was a super fun vacation, and I felt like I learned a lot throughout it, particularly about myself and how I function away from home.
Firstly – I need to tell the people I’m travelling with about the state of my mental health. Obviously my fiancee knows all about how I’m doing, but we spent a lot of time on this trip with his brother, who had no idea. This made it really difficult for me to be open about how I was feeling, because there wasn’t already a baseline understanding there. I really hate asking for a break by just saying that I’m feeling unwell, because sometimes I have different needs. For example, one night we went to Times Square, and because it was so noisy and crowded, I started feeling a bit panicked. Moving to a quieter street would have been fine, whereas at other points in the trip, I felt like I needed to go back to the hotel for a nap or some time alone. At one point we did have to sit down and explain my mental health to his brother, because I needed to spend the day just relaxing in the hotel. I wish we’d done that at the start!
Secondly, I personally need both scheduled in breaks, as well as the ability to spontaneously ask for one. My fiancee and I are pretty good at doing this by now, but again, because we were with other people, we had to do it a bit differently this time. This usually involved me getting a drink at a cafe whilst the others wandered nearby. On the whole, this worked pretty well, but I did worry that the others thought that I was being weird for needing these breaks. Again, I think it would have helped to be upfront about my need for breaks and relaxation. I pushed myself a bit too much because of my worry, which was why I spent a whole day just napping and relaxing in the hotel.
There’s also more practical stuff that I hadn’t realised before this trip:
- Travel insurance – so this might come off as silly to some of you, but this trip was the first time that I ever bought travel insurance, and I didn’t realise that because of my diagnoses of BPD, depression and anxiety, my insurance cost more than my fiancee’s. Logically this makes sense, and it wasn’t that much money anyway, but this still did kinda shock me.
- Time zones and meds – these are really annoying to manage. I take meds both in the morning and at night, so it was doubly annoying! I decided to go the route of just switching completely to the US timezone, rather than taking my meds when I would normally have done in the UK. This did still mean taking some of my meds on the plane. I personally don’t mind taking meds in front of other people, so that wasn’t an issue. I also was pretty lucky in the fact that estimating UK time whilst I was flying didn’t mess with my mood at all.
- Snacks – I’ve always been the sort of person who needs to snack throughout the day, but now I’ve found that it is super essential. My mood plummets rapidly when I’m hungry, so having snacks on hand, especially when travelling, is vital. Luckily we were close to a CVS in New York, so I was able to pick up a whole bunch of American snacks that I used to have when I was a kid! I think the combination of sugar and nostalgia did me a lot of good.
- Navigation – Make sure that you have a way to navigate when you’re abroad! This is one of my particular anxiety triggers, so this might be a bit more specific to me, but the thought of being lost in an unfamiliar place makes me very anxious. Having someone with access to Google Maps (without racking up huge data charges) or an analogue map can really help.
As for the trip itself, it was amazing, despite all the breaks that I had to take! I’d been to New York before, but it was great to see my fiancee discovering a new place! I also had so much good food (Korean fried chicken! Pizza! Shake Shack!) and finally visited the Met, which is probably now my favourite museum ever. I’m so happy that my mental health didn’t get (too much) in the way, that I was still able to enjoy myself. I’m currently planning a trip to Berlin for early next year, so I’m definitely going to keep all of my New York discoveries in mind whilst I do so.
Do you have any tips for travelling when dealing with a mental illness? Let me know in the comments!