Tuesday 16 July 2019

Mental Health and Travelling

Esther shares her experience and advice on managing and overcoming travel anxiety, and how to maintain mental wellbeing abroad. 
- Esther Walker

Last summer I embarked on what was the most exciting (and nerve wracking) adventure of my life thus far - working as a camp counsellor in America. But, not only would this be my first trip to the US, it would also be the first time I’d be flying solo – quite literally! 

I had nightmares about the impending travel; it was all I could think about. For me the worries started weeks before my trip: consumed by thoughts of packing the wrong things, forgetting essential items, my luggage getting lost or somehow ruined. What if airport security interrogated me? What if I didn’t have the correct Visas? Missed my flight? Thoughts like this kept me up at night - working out exactly how many hours before takeoff I should arrive at the airport…

Some may say that my fears were irrational, and okay yes - it was fairly unlikely that I was going to contract Ebola, board the wrong flight (Home Alone 2-eque) and end up in Timbuktu, but my mind was racing, and ultimately, the anxiety I felt about my impending trip was very real. 

When it came down to it, whilst I was excited for my new adventure on the surface, my enthusiasm was dampened by fear and worry. Beyond the travel concerns, I was deeply worried about being in a new place, where I didn’t know anyone, without my usual support network. So, how did I combat this? I was fortunate that my cousin had worked at a summer camp the previous year, so I reached out. By expressing my worries and talking through them with someone who had had a similar experience, I was able to calm myself - it was reassuring to know that I was a) not alone, and b) that even though I would be away from home my support network were only a phone call away. 

By being brave enough to ask for advice, I was able to implement strategies to manage my mental health condition whilst abroad. I also made sure to get comprehensive travel insurance for my trip, this meant that my pre-existing medical conditions were covered, and helped to put my mind at rest. 

Now, the good news is that I thoroughly enjoyed my time in America, so much so that I’m going to be returning this summer! Whilst I am still anxious about travelling, I have been able to prepare myself in order to limit my anxiety. Thankfully my travels went smoothly last year and my preparedness definitely limited any stresses on the day of travel. 

So, how did I prepare? Firstly, I made copies of all important documents (such as my passport, itinerary and insurance policy). I shared my itinerary with my family, made sure they knew the time difference, and stayed in regular contact with my family and friends back home during my trip. I researched medical professionals in the area where I’d by staying, so should I need support whilst abroad, I knew where to find it. I also made sure that my medications were legal in the States (as rules differ between countries).

I’m proud to say that my mental health did not stop me from travelling and having an amazing summer. Here are my lasting words to help ease those travelling worries:

1. Be prepared – make lists, do your research. It’s obvious but it really helps reduce stress and anxiety. 
2. Take a minute for yourself – It’s ok to take your time and gather your thoughts.  Have a drink of water. Take a deep breath.
3. Take a little bit of home with you - download your favourite films and music, do those little things that make you feel at ease and are familiar. You might be travelling solo but help (and home) is just a phone call away.

You can find advice around looking after your wellbeing on a year studying abroad here. 

My name is Esther, and I’m a second year history student at King’s College London. My hobbies include fitness and travel, I am also passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and improving mental health awareness. 

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