Travel Didn’t Cure My Depression (…And Other Things Travel Didn’t Fix)

Travel Didn't Cure My depression featured
travel didn't cure my depression and other things travel didn't fix

Upon awakening, I am hit with that old familiar feeling. Weighted down in bed, it feels like I can’t move a muscle, and my body aches all over. My head is pounding and heavy. It feels like an effort to keep my eyes open, to get out of bed and perform basic functions. I lay in bed until my hunger requires me to get up and seek out sustenance. Unfortunately, I have no food in the house. But this house is not “my house.” In fact, I am far from home. About 8,301 miles to be exact. I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on what is supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.

Roughly three years earlier, the same scene plays out. Except for this time I awaken in my apartment in Astoria, New York City. I am 24 years old, and I have felt for months that this isn’t “how it’s supposed to be.” Shouldn’t I be having more fun than this? I’m in my 20’s and it seems that article after article on the internet is all about the fun I should be having, after working at the dream job I should be kicking butt at, coming home to the partner I should be having all kinds of exciting sex with.

Instead, I lay in bed. Sometimes after work, sometimes all day long. It’s in one of these depression-fueled states that I Google the phrase “travel the world full time for a living.” And my life is changed. This time, I am bombarded by article after article about all the fun I could be having, with all the friends I could be making, while working on my laptop, meeting beautiful people of all nationalities. Travel around the world. Don’t ever stop. The only thing you carry with you is a backpack. Here was my answer. An answer to the question “what will I do with my life?” Travel was the answer.

First Time Solo Travel

And so I left to start my new life (after saving $10,000). Travel was everything I dreamed it would be, and more. I learned things about the world and my place in it that it may have taken me many more years to discover had I not left home. I met people who changed my life, saw sights that blew my mind, and learned that although our cultures and experiences may be different, we are all essentially the same. It propelled me down the path towards creating a life I love. Travel gave me many beautiful gifts. And yet, travel didn’t cure my depression. Or my anxiety. Or my introversion. I don’t have a 7-figure business that I run from my laptop (quite the contrary, I am in debt and living in my parent’s house). I don’t have that sexy foreign partner I was promised. Am I glad I traveled around the world? Absolutely. Do I wish I had known that travel wouldn’t “fix me” before leaving? Absolutely.

So, with that in mind, I want to help others know that they’re not alone. Whether you had huge travel dreams that fell flat, are currently traveling and wondering why you’re not magically a different person, or perhaps are that person lying in bed googling “travel around the world full time.” Travel may not fix you, but the journey is worth it if you choose to embark upon it. And if you don’t, know that there are many ways to explore that don’t have to mean getting on a 14-hour plane ride halfway around the world.

Travel With Anxiety

Travel Didn’t Fix My…Depression

I hesitate to even call what I suffer from occasionally ‘depression,’ as it hasn’t been clinically diagnosed, and it doesn’t interfere with my will to live or ability to make a living in the world. But I do think there are many shades and variations of depression, and I definitely have felt its’ effects. Most especially when I lived in a climate where it was grey for 6 months of the year. If I were to classify my type of depression it would be SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and hormonally induced depression. Meaning, during the winter I feel hopeless and tired, without much energy to do the things I love doing normally. Then, when spring returns I feel like a new human. And the cycle starts all over as soon as autumn returns. Hormonally induced meaning that at certain points in my monthly cycle as a person who bleeds, my hormones are at such low levels that I have trouble getting out of bed. Like in the above scenario.

However, when I was dreaming of travel as an escape from every problem I had, I did not factor in that these depressive episodes might follow me along. To be honest, traveling to warmer, sunnier climates during the darkest days of winter DID help my Seasonal Affective Disorder. So in that sense, travel DID fix one aspect of my depression. However, my hormones continue to fluctuate, and I continue to regularly have days out of every month when it’s hard for me to get going. So let’s call it a ‘depressive state’ instead of depression.

baltics tallinn photo

Going back to the above scene, me in Chiang Mai experiencing another depressive state due to my hormones, it was then that I realized that travel wasn’t just going to magically cure everything I thought was “wrong” with me. I put “wrong” in quotations because, though a depressive state isn’t my preferable state to be in, it is not inherently wrong. I began to notice a pattern, far away from the boundaries of “real life.” I didn’t have a traditional job to get to, no friends to make plans with or a gym to frequent. All I had to rely on was my own natural patterns. And so I began to notice a recurring theme.

The previous two weeks I had been bouncing off the walls with energy, 100% all about a new eating regime (veganism), full of ideas for new blog posts and avenues to financial success. I could barely sleep for all the inspiration flowing through my body. Then, at roughly the halfway point in my cycle, it all stopped. I woke up on that morning and had none of the same verve and vigor. Instead, all I wanted was a greasy diner breakfast and my Netflix account. An escape from reality, please and thank you. But wasn’t my life of travel the escape? Why did I need an escape from my escape?

El Nido

And then I realized that it wasn’t about location or lifestyle, it was about the body I was inhabiting. My body is unique to me, and it has its’ own desires that I had largely been ignoring for years. Cutting out anything familiar in my life, and setting out on an adventure with no end allowed me to understand my own natural rhythms. And that, for me, means (usually) two weeks high energy and two weeks low energy. I classified those two weeks of low energy as “bad,” “wrong” and “depressed.” But, as I pondered in my January monthly roundup, what if those two weeks of the month aren’t bad or wrong, but actually my body letting me know what it needs?

[BIG NOTE: I am in NO WAY blaming or shaming anyone with depression or depressive episodes. I do not view medication as wrong or bad in any way. I always advocate for people doing what’s best for THEM and their body. I am simply reflecting on MY OWN experiences. Please seek help from a medical professional if you are suffering from depression or recurring depressive states. I have been to see a therapist in the past and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.]

What if my depressive states aren’t something negative to be hidden or shamed? What if it’s just my body’s natural cycle at work. Maybe because I’ve been taught that I need to be DOING all month long, my natural tendency to withdraw inwards every month is seen as a bad thing.

Wanderlust Wednesday Poland and the Baltics

When I started to view these ‘depressive episodes’ as a natural part of inhabiting this body, I began to relax into them. That’s not to say that I don’t feel super guilty sometimes when all I want to do is lay around and watch TV. But I am trying to cut myself some slack. I am also trying to support my body instead of berating her. That means eating nourishing foods, journaling more, spending time with family and friends who I feel comfortable to be my messy self around, and trying not to let my thoughts spiral out of control.

Travel didn’t cure my depression, but it did allow me to get to know myself better so I could find new ways to take care of myself.

Travel Didn’t Fix My…Anxiety

I suffer from anxiety and have since I was a small child. Traveling with anxiety can be a hellish nightmare, no doubt about it. But instead of curing my anxiety, travel helped me to go with the flow of it and learn new ways of coping. I was recently a guest on a podcast called Not Another Anxiety Show all about anxiety in its’ many forms. On the show, I state that I believe travel helped me learn how to cope better with my anxiety. A bold statement, since many people who experience anxiety, would never dream that they could travel, especially the way I have – as a solo female traveler.

save money to travel the world

But I maintain my stance because I remember who I was before traveling by myself. I distinctly remember realizing how travel had changed me when I got back from my 2 months backpacking in Europe. Now, this was not a solo trip, but it was a trip that challenged my viewpoints – of myself and the world around me. It was a whirlwind two months

{you can read exactly how many countries we jammed into 8 weeks in Europe by reading my blog posts about the experience.}

I came back from that trip a changed woman. Living in New York City, I found myself talking to strangers in line. What I had discovered was that people are all, generally, very similar. In that, we’re all mostly only thinking about ourselves. The things I do don’t matter very much to other people. Unless I do something very disturbing to others’ environment, in which case it would merely be an anecdote to tell at dinner parties.

Solo Travel is The Best

I realized that a lot of the time my social anxiety isn’t around doing something stupid, but rather just the uncomfortable feeling I get when I am not in my element. And travel certainly doesn’t alleviate that anxiety. In fact, you’re more than likely NOT in your element while traveling. And when you get through a situation you thought you never could at home, your confidence grows. At least mine did. The more I did things that were uncomfortable for me, the better I felt about my ability to handle anxiety.

I even felt a great diminishment in my anxiety around creepy crawly things while traveling in Central America. After a while, you’ve seen one too many strange bugs, lizards, and even snakes to be phased by much. In fact, there was a moment in Nicaragua, while staying at The Surfing Turtle where I was the one comforting others through their bat paranoia! “They don’t want anything to do with you,” I said, “This is their home more than ours.”

Forget about cockroaches, though. Will never be okay with them. Doesn’t matter which continent I’m on.

Still, just because travel helped me cope with certain anxieties better, doesn’t mean travel “cured” my anxiety. I’m not that carefree girl, off on some adventure activity by day and binge drinking with strangers by night, that I thought I would turn into before I left to travel. I’m still essentially ME. And I still deal with anxiety, I just have a more well-rounded toolbox of ways to deal.

Travel Didn’t Fix My…High Sensitivity

If you haven’t heard of “high sensitivity” or the “highly sensitive person,” I am going to direct you to this website where Dr. Elaine Aron does a better job explaining (I also highly recommend her book on the subject). The short answer, for me, is that a highly sensitive person is someone who gets more overwhelmed, easier, by external stimulation. That person making the Irish exit from a party about an hour in? Probably an HSP. And yes, I count myself among that population.

Things To Do in Los Angeles

Before leaving to travel, I was just discovering what it means to be highly sensitive. I was introduced to the concept at Soul Camp and immediately began devouring every article and book I could on the subject. FINALLY, I didn’t feel so alone! All those times in my life I just felt so different from everyone else, explained. There wasn’t anything WRONG with me, I was just a highly sensitive person! And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m always crying or overly emotional. It just means that I need significant time to recharge after overwhelming situations with lots of external stimuli. Basically, my senses SENSE more. I can enter a room and read the energy of everyone in it, and if it’s negative that seems to affect me more than I’d like.

So did travel fix me? Am I no longer an HSP? LOLNO. First of all, that’s not how it works. My nervous system, the one I was born with, IS highly sensitive. There’s no “fix” for that. Second, even if it COULD be fixed, travel certainly wouldn’t be the thing to fix it. In fact, I would argue that nothing, not depression OR anxiety, was as difficult to manage while traveling as my high sensitivity. Public transportation? Crowded hostel common rooms? Strange foods and loud noises? All threats to the highly sensitive system. I learned, maybe not quick enough, that if I didn’t take time out from all of that, I got burnt out REAL quick.

Nicaragua for the solo female backpacker
hostels? not HSP friendly

So I took more time to myself, in relaxed environments. I didn’t stay out all night partying. I didn’t choose the rowdy party hostel, instead opting for a calmer hostel or even private accommodations when I could afford it. I took the cab more often than I used public transportation. I left lots of room for me to get where I needed to be so I wouldn’t feel quite so harried. Slowly, I started to transform my travels to suit my highly sensitive system.

And I do the same thing now that I am home. Travel may not have “fixed” my high sensitivity, but I learned a lot about my triggers and where and when I need to cut myself some slack.

Travel Didn’t Fix My…Love Life

Okay, so maybe this is just me, but before I left to travel I thought FOR SURE that when I started traveling I would magically have the love life that just wasn’t happening for me in NYC. I would find my very own “Insta-boyfriend” and live happily ever after with my traveling hippie-dude partner who also happened to be a successful digital nomad like I hoped to become [Please insert your own gender preference above]. Or even a series of passionate love affairs with men met on the road which were somehow amicable, fun, safe, AND no one got hurt in the end. Um, no. That did not happen. I don’t doubt that for some people that COULD happen, because otherwise where did I get this notion that it was possible? Sure, if you travel you might end up meeting the love of your life. Or not.

travel didn't cure my depression and other things travel didn't fix
Yeah, I was pretty sure this was going to be me after one year of traveling…
{Also, I’d like to take a moment right here to note that romantic love is NOT a priority for everyone (myself included a lot of the time) and I am not shaming anyone for their desires, romantic or otherwise. We know there’s enough societal pressure out there for people to partner up, and I won’t add to that noise.}

Romance on the road is possible but difficult. One of you will most likely have to change your travel plans to accommodate the other if you really want to continue seeing each other. And for independent solo traveling folks, that’s usually not a desirable option. Then there’s the fact that most of the people you meet while traveling aren’t looking for a relationship, they’re looking to have fun. Lots of fun. And why not? As long as it’s safe, consensual fun I have no qualms about it! I’ve engaged in fun while traveling myself. Why am I still calling sex “fun?” Because sometimes it’s really not. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Digital Nomad
is this what you meant when you asked “did you get any action on the road?” 😂

At any rate, I still struggled with the same romantic obstacles while traveling that presented themselves while living in one spot. And they all stemmed from ME, not any external situation. I still had trouble owning my power in relationship dynamics, asking for what I need, and knowing that I control what I allow in my relationships. True to form, travel allowed me a clearer lens to SEE where I needed to work on myself in order to have the partnership I really crave. No magic bullet, or quick fix, but lots of awareness and presence around what I actually need to feel safe and loved. And this is work you can do at home, no plane ticket required! (sensing a theme here?)

Travel Didn’t Fix My…Introversion

Lying in my bed, reading the blog posts of travelers I hoped to someday become, I fantasized about a community of nomads. A sense of belonging, fostered by a mutual love of travel. Ah, the friendships I would form on my travels…

And yes, I made some AMAZING friendships during my travels. People who opened my worldview gave me new perspectives and, of course, had lots of fun with. Adventure is a great way to bond with other people. Often, after one day of traveling with a stranger, you could end up closer to them than someone you’ve known for years back home.

travel didn't cure my depression and other things travel didn't fix

But travel did not magically turn me into some social butterfly. I was still an introvert, I was just now an introvert traveling around the world. I need plenty of time, by myself, to recharge. Social situations with lots of new, strange people deplete me almost completely after a few hours and I feel the urge to escape. And, um, in case you haven’t realized…travel is almost ENTIRELY about meeting lots of new strange people. At least, if you are backpacking like I was. Obviously, I could have just opted out of social situations and hung out with myself. I like hanging out with myself. But here’s the thing – too MUCH social interaction depletes me, but not enough is almost just as bad. I may not enjoy small talk or loud crowded rooms, but I still crave human connection!

I missed my family, my closest friends. The comfort of having those people around who just KNOW you. You don’t have to explain over and over who you are. You don’t have to “perform” yourself so everyone gets you. And, for someone like me who struggles with people pleasing, it can get super tiresome to feel you have to change yourself a billion times a day to be accepted by everyone you meet.

El Nido

During my pre-travel days, I figured there was something wrong with me. Wasn’t I supposed to always be with someone else, having fun and living it up? Why was I spending so much of my time alone, in bed, watching TV? What was WRONG with me?

In some ways, the recent resurgence of “staying in is the new going out” happened a few years too late for me. When I was in my early 20’s I would have LOVED to receive the message that there was NOTHING wrong with me for wanting to stay in with a cup of tea rather than go out to a nightclub. I also would have loved the message that being an introvert is okay.

I remember exactly when I came to terms with my introversion. I was lying in a hammock in Nicaragua, reading a book, as everyone else played a rowdy game of volleyball while day drinking. I was 100% content to just sit in my hammock, away from everyone else, watching the sunset. Now, my ego was still screaming at me “WHY AREN’T YOU HANGING OUT WITH EVERYONE ELSE? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? YOU WILL BE THROWN OUT OF THE PACK AND LEFT FOR THE WOLVES!” But over time I’ve learned to quiet that voice. Thank you, ego, I know you’re only trying to look out for me, but I’ve got this handled.

traveling as a light sleeper

And then I go back to reading and watching the sunset.

Wherever you go, there you are.

This popular saying is true. It can be tempting to believe that with just a change of scenery, you will magically be a different person. All problems vanished into thin air, none of those old pesky habits, and a new hot bod and hotter partner to boot! Part of it may be the culture we live in now, where a simple glance at your Instagram feed will send you into a downward spiral known as “why don’t I have what they have?”-itis. Part of it may be the “quick fix” advertised to us in many different ways all day long through the media. Don’t like this about yourself? Well here’s a quick and easy solution! (All you have to do is give me a LITTLE bit of your money to see for yourself!) And yes, of course, more tools in our toolkit can be helpful if they’re properly integrated.

travel didn't cure my depression and other things travel didn't fix

But just having the tools, having MORE tools, BETTER tools, isn’t necessarily the answer. What if every tool you ever needed was already inside of you? What if YOU had the answers that you were searching for on Google? Well, marketers around the globe would be shit outta luck, wouldn’t they? That’s because we as human beings have been disenfranchised from our own true instincts. We’ve been taught to push them down, ignore them, in favor of the “expert” the “guru” who knows everything you don’t. That may come in the form of a celebrity, doctor, spiritual leader, or yes, even a travel blogger. Someone with the best intentions can make you feel like without them you won’t be living your best life. But the reality is, while other people can help you in your journey, it’s down to YOU to make things happen in your life.

This is something I struggle with…a lot. I am still learning to trust myself again. Every time I trust myself and make a move, I take a few steps back. What if that wasn’t my true self making the decision? If that was the right decision, wouldn’t it FEEL better? Well, not necessarily. After so many years of trusting others and doubting myself, it doesn’t feel right to do the opposite. To make decisions that aren’t popular with others but feel intrinsically right to me. It feels like I am that kid at the “loser” table in elementary school, lost and alone. But that’s an important place for me to sit in right now. To know that just because I do something that society doesn’t understand, doesn’t mean I am a BAD person. Or that the decision wasn’t 100% right for me! It’s just going to take time to trust myself again. And the same goes for you.

So, no, travel didn’t “fix” me. It didn’t fix any of my perceived flaws, my depression, my anxiety, my sensitivity, my love life, and it certainly didn’t fix my introversion.

But you know what helps me accept all the parts of myself each and every day? Trust. In traveling around the world, I learned to trust myself. And that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

travel didn't cure my depression and other things travel didn't fix

Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!

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5 comments

  1. Dang, I really love this. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers mention something along the lines of “when traveling, you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows” but then gloss over the realities of these super low lows. I too thought traveling would “cure” me of my depression, or at least make it easier to deal with and this was DEFINITELY not the case. I still had a great time, but I was still ME and my personality wasn’t going to change because I was suddenly in a different country. Thank you for sharing your honest experience!
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    1. Thank you, Victoria! I also think it just takes a lot of time to process the highs and lows! This article took me like 4 months to write, and I didn’t travel the entire time. For me, travel is so much about discovery and then I need a solid amount of time to just sit still and process everything I learned! I’m really glad you could relate to my experience and found truth in what I wrote! I definitely want to dispell the notion that travel is some magical cure for whatever ails you 😛

  2. Thank you so much for writing this so openly and honestly. It’s really refreshing and comforting to read. I LOVE what travel has done for me but also really wish people would stop selling it as a magical “cure all” – thanks for your willingness to be vulnerable and tell it like it is.

    1. Elizabeth, thank you for saying that!! I can totally understand why people view it as this cure, but sometimes it can do more damage than people realize!

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