Travelling can make you very happy and is always possible even if you suffer with mental illness. However, it can be difficult to organise and what’s more to get up the guts to head out travelling. There are many things to think about when planning a trip.
But perhaps even more so if you are travelling with mental illness.
Nevertheless, everyone has the right to explore the world and to have the best time doing so. I’ve travelled multiple times with bipolar disorder and often solo and I hope my tips can help you to get out on the road!
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1: Take a short ‘practice’ trip
Thinking about heading off for your first long trip? Think about taking a short break to see how you cope. I went on a weekend trip to Copenhagen before embarking on a 2-month solo trip to South America. This can give you the confidence necessary to head out backpacking, but also can help to see how you cope solo or with the people you wish to travel with. It’s the perfect practice run for travelling with mental illness, and it helped me when travelling with bipolar.
2: Support network
Your support network can be in the form of family, friends or even a counsellor. Be sure you can contact them while away, perhaps by buying a local SIM with data, or by purchasing credit on skype calls (only £0.17 (GBP) per minute) or a world SIM.
This means you can always phone home when required. If it’s a counsellor, they often offer telephone/skype sessions. I believe a good support network is essential for travelling with mental illness.
3: List 10 things that keep you well
Examples for me include exercising regularly, getting outside each day, regularly contacting family and limiting alcohol to no more than one night a week. Reading a good book also helps me to cope – check out this list of mental health books to keep you busy.
This list gives you something to tick-off each day, and can help to keep your mental health stable.
Sit down and make a list for yourself – if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, think about the things that make you happy or keep you calm. Maybe its a daily yoga session or reading a book! These are sure to help you stay on track while travelling with mental illness.
4: Quality Travel insurance
Travel insurance is a necessary evil when traveling with mental illness. This is because it is difficult to find companies that offer cover at a reasonable price. Most charge a premium for travelling with an illness. Cover for your medical condition means if you do fall seriously ill you can still get home and get help.
This is especially important if you are travelling solo. Check out True Traveller for travel insurance with mental health issues. Make sure you add on any activities you may do while away!
5: Plan ahead
Whilst I love the freedom that comes with travelling without a plan, I’m also aware of my limitations. My bipolar disorder means when running on a high I may up my activities; but when on a low, I may cut my activities back. This means that my decisions often aren’t logical.
To combat this, I book hotels/transport for the first month of my trip in advance. This leaves me with the freedom to choose my daily activities once there, but offers some stability.
If you want to travel with a mental illness, this planning can offer reassurances that less is likely to go wrong. Of course this can be tailored to your own needs, if you would like any more advice or opinions on planning ahead feel free to contact me.
6: Rest days
This is a tip for everyone! Whilst we all love travelling, our minds and bodies will occasionally need a rest. Take days off from sightseeing, relax, find a beach or watch some Netflix! Don’t feel disheartened for needing this break, we all do sometimes.
7: Take private rooms when needed
If you need a good night sleep, or want to chill-out and avoid small talk, then it’s ok to consider a private room every so often. When you need that alone time, book yourself into a private room for the night… It’s ok to need that you-time! These have been essential for maintaining my mental health while travelling.
8: Pack enough medication
Take at least 10% more medication than what you’ll actually need. Try to keep a few spare in each bag you have, just in case one goes missing! It’s, also, a good idea to find out if it’s possible to buy your medication in the country you’re visiting. This is just to provide you with reassurances in case (touch wood!) your medication goes missing.
It can be difficult in the UK if you have a mental illness. Especially as you cannot get more than 3 months supply of medication. Make sure you factor this into your trip.
9: Talk with your doctor before you go
Talk to your doctor before you book anything. They can often offer an independent opinion about your health, especially if you’re travelling alone. Depending on your relationship with your doctor, you may also consider asking family members for their honest opinions.
As much as I love travelling solo, I know there have been times when I’ve not been well enough to do so and I try to consider my limitations when organising a trip.
10: Take a doctor’s note and prescription note with you
While travelling abroad, it’s essential to carry a letter from your doctor and your prescription label for the medication you have. You must, also, check the countries regulations before entering as some countries ban certain drugs. If you can’t find it online each countries embassy is the best place to ask.
I hope these tips have helped you out… I’m more than happy to have a chat if you want any more advice. If my tips have helped you out, I’d love to know how!