Remaining sort-of vaguely sane. Sometimes.

Credit: instagram @emotionalclub
When, at 4am the other day, I decided to write a piece about long-term travelling with mental health struggles, I originally ended up writing a 1,500 word essay that said a lot of things in it that have already been said a million times elsewhere. So I had a rethink.

Here, in shorter and less personal format, are a couple of ideas for how to keep your head sort-of on straight when you’re alone in a faraway country and every day is being made up as you go along.

  1. Try and maintain some kind of routine.
    You know that bit of the year around Christmas and New Year, where nobody has any idea what day it is or what they’re supposed to be doing? Travelling for a long period of time is like that. There are no weekdays and weekends, there are just days. You don’t really have to get up or go to bed at a particular time on any given day, or if you do, it isn’t even close to being the same time as the day before.

    While this is one of the joys of going away, having no real structure for weeks on end makes it hard to get a grip when you feel yourself going loopy, so try and organise the chaos; booking somewhere with free breakfasts will ensure that you (almost) always get up by a certain time, and trying to restrict sleeper trains and buses to “sleeping” times of day will give your body clock half a chance of knowing which way is up.

  2. Give yourself time to sit still.
    Some people are really great at rushing from place to place without stopping for breath, sparing no time at all for chilling the f**k out. But chances are, if you’re the kind of person who sometimes struggles to get through a regular week of work and Netflix without needing to take time to curl up in a duvet-ball and hide, you’re not going to magically be able to do Lots Of Stuff All Day Every Day. So don’t.

    Sleeping in a different bed every night is also not condusive to sturdy mental health, because it doesn’t build that feeling of routine that you’re going to crave at times. Unless you’ve chosen to visit the arse-end of nowhere on a whim, there will always be enough to do to fill more than one day, so claim your spot for two or more nights at a time rather than one and maybe your uncomfortable bunk bed will at least feel like YOUR space for a while. Don’t rush around trying to see a city in a day and leave yourself stressed and exhausted.

    AmIRight?
  3. While we’re on the subject: personal space.
    Budget travel means that most of your down-time is going to be spent in dorm rooms and hostel lounges, where no matter how crap you’re feeling there will almost always be somebody else around. Even if you’re really not in the mood for conversation and have managed to avoid making eye contact before bed, there is still a constant awareness that you’re not alone, and that when you’re feeling like a black cloud for no particular reason, somebody might notice.

    Going out and about by yourself can be exciting and liberating, but it’s worth allowing a little extra in your budget so that every now and then you can roll yourself into a private room for the evening, spread out and fully relax. Chances are it’ll still be pretty cheap (dorm bunks start at £4 a night in some places, private singles sometimes around £8) and after a night and day organising your thoughts you’re going to be much more energised to get back into the swing of things and socialise with other travellers again.

  4. And that’s the other part: don’t let yourself hide away for too long.
    Hiding away sometimes is fine, if it’s what you need to do. There is no legal requirement that all people must spend all their time with other people. You wouldn’t do it at home, so why do it abroad? That being said, don’t work yourself into an indulgent hole of self-pity. If you felt crap on Monday and you’ve avoided everybody until Thursday, you’ve probably also gone mad with your own company. You don’t go halfway around the world on a mad adventure because you are somebody who needs to spend all their time alone.

    Make time for yourself, but make sure that during that time you kick yourself into gear and get back out living and exploring and eating weird food and getting blessed by monks or whatever it is that floats your boat. If you get lucky and bump into somebody else who appears to be lurking awkwardly in a corner, or another solo traveller having a complete freak-out in a claustrophobic, crazy marketplace, then hooray! You’ve found yourself a travel buddy. Choose to be alone some of the time, but choose to meet wonderful new people for most of it.

    Evie: fellow small-space disliker
This is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a list. Someone’s probably going to tell me I’ve missed something really important about ten minutes after I post it- so please feel free to make any suggestions or changes and I’ll edit accordingly.
The most important thing is that you take as many opportunities as you feel able to, and push yourself sometimes to do things that scare you, things you wouldn’t normally do. If I can re-learn to ride a bike on dodgy Vietnamese roads, or crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels without having a panic attack, then I reckon just about anything is probably possible.*
*Don’t hold me to that…
I’m waving, not drowning. Honest!

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