“You’ve got to help me, I… see… things.” There’s no doubt that long-term travel can impact on your mental well-being. In today’s Western society it just isn’t natural to be so darn free. We develop into skins pre-programmed to set alarm clocks, eat fruit and shower daily. This is arguably why travelling is so popular; it’s one of the safest rebellions we can perform.
Depression. Anxiety. Loneliness. The shadows that crawl through the alleys become a physical torment. Stranger’s eyes pierce you. The restaurant tried to poison you. The rickshaw-wallah tried to kill you! The internet café tried to electrocute you. The monsoon tried to drown you. Your roommates tried to molest you! The shopkeeper tried to con you. The street kid tried to rob you. On and on, your once revered world drains itself of all familiar things and you’re left standing, alone, amid the dry scurf of solitude.
There are a number of ways you can avoid slipping into insanity. Slipping into insanity. Slip. Slip. INsANiTy. Here’s my non-slip top five:
You’re going to grow dreadlocks; Scoff ‘shrooms; Marry an Icelandic; Travel naked with your sitar; Buy a VW Campervan; Get tattooed; Stretch your earlobes; Save the Ganges dolphin. Wonderful. Good on you, we’re fully behind you. Just don’t forget the passions you left behind. If cross-stitch, alchemy and a Horlicks before bed were once-loved vices then lead yourself into temptation and deliver yourself from evil. (Oh, and skip the drug experiment - that might be a catalyst to releasing the cuckoo-cuckoo).
It’s no coincidence that the hostels of the world become factionalised. The “je parle Français” hunker in one corner, the “hablo Español” in another, the “ich spreche Deutsches” barge to the best one, and the “私は日本語を話す” shuffle to the last leaving us “one speaks English, don’t you know” to gather en masse in the centre. It’s no secret. We’re erecting a fence, inside which we feel safe, loved, understood, and connected. While outside it we’re unveiled, vulnerable, and vexed. It’s ok, go and sit inside the gate for a while. We won’t tell.
A private diary is a great way to offload thoughts and fears that you’d rather not share with the world (or your uncompassionate Israeli bunk-buddy). If carrying a flowery pink diary isn’t your thing then the outbox of your mobile phone is a useful alternative to store your mental notes. “OMG f dat kid duznt stop humming Om Mani Padme Hum I'm gunA go Nsane. I jst wnt my pillow n a mlky horlx”
Routine is an ingredient most of us agree with - even wild, footloose travellers. By withstanding the strong currents of the major RTW trails and taking roots for a few weeks you’ll soon become familiar with your surroundings and things will seem a little less alien. Friends will flourish; Smiles will sway your way; and courage will cultivate. Doesn’t that sound more energising than a three-week test of wills along the raging routes of your guidebook?
No, I don’t mean ring your mum (or to watch E.T.) Ring your best mate and ask them what’s new, then cut to the chase and ask what’s different since you left. Things have probably hit rock bottom because, lets face it “you were the life and soul of the weekend and the glue that held everything together.” Modest? No. Feel better? Well and truly.
Above all, remember that while travelling will cleanse you of certain hang-ups it has a remarkable ability to surface some of your most hidden flaws. So before you reach for your flexible friend to forge an express route home, take a minute to ask yourself “what am I missing?” You’ll often find the remedies within reach.
About the Author
Written by the footloose Englishman, Ant; World Nomads very own guest blogger and the solo scribe of the charismatic travel blog Trail of Ants.com. Ant's currently drenching a thirst for travel during his third year of dragging a smudged and odorous backpack around the world.
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