Thursday 6 April 2017

How to Stay Safe and Healthy While Travelling

For World Health Day, Courtney explains how you can stay safe and healthy while travelling. These tips are particularly relevant to people experiencing mental health difficulties, but can apply to anyone who wants to keep themselves healthy while travelling.
- Courtney Mower

My name is Courtney and I’m a final year American Studies student at the University of Leicester. As part of my course, I did a year abroad in Texas during which I spent lots of time travelling around the USA and Canada. I also have depression, which definitely impacted my year abroad and has affected my experience of travelling.

One of the most important things to do is plan.
Although planning will not cure your condition, it will help manage the symptoms of many conditions. Before I travel, I like to thoroughly research logistical things such as transport, food, entertainment, and the location of the nearest mental health services. Even when I impulsively booked a weekend trip to New York City during my year abroad, I researched my accommodation options for several hours before deciding that it was worth the extra $30 for a private room in a more centrally located and better connected hostel.
Planning should also include making sure any medication you take is legal and available where you’re going; in some countries, common medications such as sertraline are controlled substances which you will need a prescription to carry. You should also make sure you have enough of your medication to last the duration of your trip, as well as a buffer. You never know when a stolen passport or an Icelandic volcano may delay your travel plans, so you should always be prepared. You can find out lots of information about your destination, however remote, on the Travel Aware website. Once you’ve arrived you should continue to manage your condition how you manage it at home, be that through medication, counselling, mindfulness, or other techniques. If it’s not convenient, safe, or legal to do that while travelling you should consider what else may help you look after your mental wellbeing abroad.

For example, after my year abroad I returned to the US for a summit on Sustainable Development. Unfortunately, I couldn’t mentally prepare for how draining sixteen days with several hundred people from around the world would be. There were moments that were fantastic, but there were moments when I just couldn’t handle the physical and mental requirements of the program. Lack of sleep, adjusting to new medication, and feeling isolated from the people around me were a struggle. However, I helped myself by taking time out if I needed it and luckily my team were really supportive if I needed to stay in bed. I made sure to listen to my body and if I was tired I gave myself time to rest. When I felt overwhelmed, I explored New York City by myself to give myself some physical and mental space. I think the most important thing to remember if you’re travelling with depression is to do what you need to do to feel better.

So, in this blog post I’ve told you how you can keep yourself safe and healthy while travelling. I hope the advice has been informative, and has shown you that even with a mental health condition you can still travel. I myself am returning to Texas to visit my friends when my exams are over, and I cannot wait!

For more advice about travelling with mental health concerns visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website here.

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