How Planning to Travel Can Improve Your Mental Health
About 6 years ago, I spent my sleep-deprived days locked away firmly in my university room battling something I would later learn was a consuming depression. Living a life with no direction, a university degree turning to ash before my very eyes and a crippling lack of self-confidence left nothing in the form of happiness. As my proverbial tunnel of hope was nearing its end, I finally found the answer for my mental health crisis; travel.
In a world where mental health has come to the forefront of society’s collective consciousness, it’s more important than ever to find ways to take care of one’s emotional well-being. There’s not a one answer fits all approach to this problem, I found that out the hard way. Sufferers must find their own path towards salvation, and for me, I found the answer in an empty map and a vivid imagination.
Simply the act of planning an upcoming trip quickly brought my life a new purpose, a new hope, and something I could finally look forward to. So let me help you do the same.
Planning A Trip Is Half the Fun
There’s nothing more exciting to me than looking at an empty map and realising the potential it brings. I’d sit for hours gleefully trolling through travel guides, TV series and jaw-dropping photos while dotting points and planning the route I was going to take.
Planning becomes just as thrilling as the trip itself! And it’s not just me who thinks that, there’s scientific data to back it up!
A 2014 Cornell University study found that the anticipation of an experience (like a trip) can increase a person’s happiness, even more than the anticipation of buying material goods. Isn’t the build-up to Christmas the real thrill rather than the day itself?
A University of Surrey study in 2002 also found that people are at their happiest when they have a vacation planned. Planning to travel is a proven one-way ticket towards improving your mental health!
In simple terms, you give yourself an instant dose of happiness just by starting to plan. Even if that trip might be far off in the future or it didn’t turn out quite as planned, there’s finally a light at the end of that tunnel.
Doesn’t Have to Be a World Tour!
Of course, many of us (including my own broke ass during my uni days) can’t afford the money or the time to travel around the world. Many of us have families or careers, and cannot commit to life on the road for the long term.
That may be so, but a trip doesn’t have to be an enormous commitment. You don’t need to book a vacation halfway across the world or a budget-breaking tour for something to look forward to.
There’s nothing wrong with looking in your own back garden and appreciating where you live. Think about how little of your own country you’ve actually explored!
You could just explore a new city or delve into the heart of the countryside to experience something new. It could be a short weekend away with a loved one, or just pack a bag and do some solo exploring! It’s something to look forward to, a chance to escape the monotony of your day-to-day life.
Control Your Own Happiness
Often depression can be the result of feeling trapped. You’re in this miserable repetitive rut with no way out. You have no real control over what you do each day, you’re just going through the motions to get from one day to the next.
While planning a trip, you finally get to feel like your the master of your own universe. You finally have complete and total control over what you do, when you do it and how you do it. There are no outside influences other than what YOU want to do.
You get to orchestrate your own happiness, something that few people get to do in their lives. Being aware of that gives you such liberation! You finally gain a much-needed feeling of strength, independence and more importantly, self-love.
Something To Look Forward To
A big factor behind poor mental health is the severe feeling of hopelessness, the feeling that you have no real reason to get out of bed in the morning. If you don’t believe there’s a change to come, why even bother? Having something as simple as a trip to look forward to makes the future look just a bit brighter.
That was the case for me. Suddenly, I had something to look forward to, a goal to achieve and a newfound motivation to work towards it. If I wanted to go on the adventure of my dreams, I would have to earn it.
Just having one easily attainable goal can sometimes be enough to give you that much-needed boost. On that note…
The key to many people’s mental health can be found in solo travel!
It’s a big decision, so here are the
pros and cons!
Setting yourself goals in life can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you set yourself a target which gives you the motivation to keep working and pushing on. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
That’s all very well and good, but what if you don’t achieve those dreams? What if day by day you’re haunted by the feeling that your dreams are slowly being crushed before your eyes, that you might never achieve your goals? For many, that’s a one-way track towards unrelenting despair.
The beauty of travel is that it’s an easily attainable goal, it’s something that anyone can do! You don’t need a university degree or a bank full of millions, it’s something that anyone can achieve, a dream you really can make true.
Memories to Be Made
Many people are saddened by the fact that they haven’t “achieved” much in life. There might not be anything to look back on while lying on their proverbial deathbed as something they could feel proud of. They don’t talk to many people, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have a story to tell.
Travelling, from the first moment to the last, is a long-lasting memory. It’s one life-changing experience and unforgettable moment after the other. You get to experience fascinating cultures and see things you’ve only seen in documentaries and Instagram photos.
I couldn’t tell you a tenth of the things I got up to in high school, but I could recite every detail of every destination I’ve ever been to. Those are the memories that will live on.
Safety From Disappointment
We are anxious creatures by nature, though some severely more than others. Many of us fear disappointment and can’t help but look at the glass half empty. Why bother trying if everything’s going to fail anyway?
That was one of the biggest catalysts for my downward spiral. I had given myself an unrealistic expectation of university life and figured it would have been the answer to my numerous underlying inadequacies only to find that it was nothing like I had hoped for. As a result, I was left trapped in sorrow and alone more than ever before.
Many of us fear raising our hopes as they’ll only be brought crashing down. So why would you look forward to a trip that might not live up to it? Well, there’s a built-in failsafe when it comes to travelling, it’s only temporary.
Travel isn’t a long-term thing for many. It’s a few days, a sheer moment in time when we can experience something wonderful. As such, we as humans are prone to savour moments that only last a certain amount of time.
Additionally, if it doesn’t go to plan, then you can always try again! It’s not so easy to retry a career or education, but travel can be tried again on a yearly, monthly, or even weekly basis!
An extensive guide on how to travel the best you can by being a volunteer!
Save money, extend your trip and enrich your experience.
A Mystery of Anticipation
People can’t help but fantasise. From that stunning co-worker in your office to punching that smart-ass square in the face, we can’t help but indulge our wildest dreams. For the anxiety-ridden amongst us, that’s not always the best thing.
Our imaginations run rampant as we consider every possible negative outcome life could possibly throw at us, and convince ourselves that they are by far the most likely outcome. With travel, that unbridled visualisation is turned to the max in the most positive of ways and a soothing relief to your mental health!
You begin to imagine what your adventures will be like, the people you’re going to meet and the things you’re going to see. You’ll imagine the wind blowing through your hair and the sensation of warm sand beneath your feet.
You have no idea what is going to happen! Though that concept usually frightens most people, when it comes to travel, you can’t help but think positively, a refreshing change for our tortured mental health. Plus, that nonstop train of thought makes those tough days at your dead-end job a hell of a lot easier.
Inspiration All Around You
As soon as you’ve made the decision to travel, the bleak world that once surrounded you turns into a constant stream of inspiration. Watching movies turns from “I wish I could do that” to “oh my god, I’m going to do that!!!”.
Movies, books, TV shows, podcasts, and even your daily surroundings remind you of the adventures you’re going to have, showing you the kinds of things you might be doing and the kind of person that you will become.
Break the Predictable Cycle
A common issue that negatively minded people have is that they believe these problems always seem to happen. Nothing ever changes and nothing ever will because it never does. You’ll go into a situation already defeated and accepting the inevitable. Suddenly, with a trip to plan, that routine and predictability have been completely shattered.
You now have a completely new situation, one that’s entirely unpredictable in every way. Though for most other situations, that could be a scary thought, that’s exactly what makes it so intriguing! Who knows what kind of adventures you’ll get up to!
A list of the best travel shows to give you the travel bug!
From backpacking to foreign cuisine and everything in between!
Knowing You’ll Become a Different Person
Depression can be a cause of circumstance. You might hate your job, hate the situation you find yourself in, or more often than not, you hate the person that you are. Self-loathing is an all too familiar trait. Wishing you were someone else or had a different life becomes par for the course. Not only will you become a different person when you travel, but you’ll also be the person you truly want to be!
No longer will you be subject to your surroundings, forced to be someone you’re not. You’ll be meeting new faces each day, people who don’t know your story, people who have no preconceived judgements of who you are. It’s the first time in your life that you can truly be the person you’ve always wanted to be.
Freedom at the End of the Tunnel
Depression can often feel like a prison, though at least many inmates have the hope of leaving that cell one day. The problem for those suffering from mental health issues is that they see it as a life sentence, that they’re condemned to live this life of darkness and misery indefinitely. Travelling gives you that much-needed sense of hope.
There is no freedom comparable to travelling, nowhere near. It’s the first and often the only time that people have complete and total control of their lives. They’re not bound by their jobs, their social interactions or any responsibilities for that matter.
They have the opportunity, even if it’s just for a moment, to take the weight of the world off their shoulders. Simply knowing that the feeling is a possibility somewhere down the line, you’ll do everything you can to achieve it, and life becomes far brighter once you see that someday this misery will come to an end.
Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!
Thank you so much for reading How Planning to Travel Can Improve Your Mental Health! Check out these other helpful articles!
Totally agree with all those points. I started travelling long-term two years after graduating (civil engineering) but took the job with me, so to speak. Grabbed some great opportunities and I look back fondly at how it changed me both career- and personality-wise. Interestingly, I feel this sort of thing really affords one an opportunity to develop as a person, independently, free of homeland norms and expectations. If anyone is feeling a little in a rut then I would certainly recommend a stint abroad, even better if you can earn while doing so. Challenging indeed, but oh so exciting !
I couldn’t agree more! That’s a very good point that you become free of the normal social constructs which come with the place you are from, I never though of it that way before! It truly is the closest anyone can get to true freedom! Thank you for your support as always my friend! 😁