14 Dos And Don'ts Of Traveling With Mental Illness
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14 Dos And Don'ts Of Traveling With Mental Illness

This is the unofficial guide to make the most of your travel opportunities while still taking care of your mental health

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14 Dos And Don'ts Of Traveling With Mental Illness
Alex West

Sometimes it feels like the world wants mentally ill people to stay trapped at home, obsessing over getting better. The truth, though, is that the better is out there and mentally ill people, well, we are just people. It's important that we take the time to live every moment that we can, but do so in a way that doesn't put our mental health at extreme risk. Here are some helpful hints from one mentally ill person to another:

Do: Bring your medicine in your carry on.

If you take medication, it is essential that you keep it on you while traveling. Don’t forget that even though it might feel like you’re escaping from real life for a bit, you can’t escape away from a chemical imbalance. Take your medication while on vacation if you truly want to enjoy your time away. Keeping it in your carry on (or in whatever bag will be staying with you) will ensure that if anything goes wrong you’ll have it. Even if your medication is not “as needed” and you don’t think you’ll need it in flight, keeping it with you is helpful just in case you lose your suitcase, your flight is running late, or any road bump occurs.

Don’t: Store it in an unmarked container.

While using medicine containers marked with the days of the week or pretty flowers is helpful or decorative, it is essential to travel with the original medicine bottles. This ensures no questions when it comes to going through security. It also means you’ll have all your information with you in the event you need an emergency refill while away or something. Please make sure that if you’re traveling via plane that you store medicine in compliance with TSA standards. This may mean putting medicine containers in a plastic bag and notifying officers when going through screenings.

Do: Bring headphones and your phone for music.

Every good road-tripper knows to bring their phone to hook up to the aux cord, but sometimes the music your friends may be playing may not help you cope. It isn’t rude to pull out your headphones and listen to your own tunes for awhile. Plus, if you’re traveling via plane sometimes headphone are unavailable or the little travel monitors don’t work on your flight. As long as you set your phone to airplane mode, don’t be afraid to tune out annoying passengers and especially that crying baby in Row 12.

Don’t: Rely on Spotify or an online music service.

While some music apps give you access to so much music you don’t even know what to do with it, relying on these services limits you exponentially. WiFi is not available on all flights, and much of the time a plane says it's available, it's either not free or extremely unreliable. If you’re road tripping, some places you might drive through could be no service zones. I recommend downloading music ahead of time. Try Spotify premium, it could save you some money in the long run. (Plus, sometimes you can get a free 30-day trial.) With Spotify Premium, you can download almost any song onto your phone for only $10 per month ($5 for students), which may be cheaper than buying each song on iTunes!

Do: Have a conversation with your travel companions about your mental illness and your needs.

There’s nothing worse than having an anxiety attack, depression spell, etc. while surrounded by people who either don’t know you have a mental illness or, even worse, know almost nothing about mental illness.If you’re traveling with someone, it would be nice to give them a heads up before you experience any problems. While not everyone is comfortable talking about their mental illness, if you are able to, please do. More likely than not your friends will understand and be happier that you were upfront about it. Plus, if these are people you don’t know too well, giving them a heads up about your mental illness will give you the ability to let them know when something they’re doing is bothering you, rather than just suffering in silence. Communication is so important!

Don’t: Expect them to understand 100%

Not everyone will get it, but most people will at least try. Maybe they won’t be very good at actually helping you cope, but they could at least not get frustrated. Using your words and telling them what’s going on will work better than nothing. Be sure to reassure your travel partner that you’re not asking them to be your therapist, you just want to be open before diving into a big trip together. That being said, don’t use your travel partner as your therapist, if you need someone to talk to they can be a useful tool, but don’t expect them to have all the answers. Unless they are trained in psychology, therapy, counseling, or psychiatry they can mostly just offer moral support, but sometimes that’s all we need.

Do: Stay hydrated and eat healthily!

While this sounds extremely neurotypical, small things like staying hydrated and eating healthy can make your time away from home that much better. For many people with mental health issues, finding a middle ground can be difficult. Drinking sufficient amounts of water and eating the right foods can help you keep a clear mind and centralize yourself. Plus, these both can offer a boost to your mood if you find yourself suffering from a mood disorder. With all the activity you’ll most likely be doing your body may get a bit worn out. Even for neurotypical people dehydration can cause irritability. For those of us with a mental illness, this little bit of irritability can escalate quickly into cyclical thoughts and worry.

Don’t: Be afraid to bend that last rule a little.

While eating healthy is helpful, don’t forget to enjoy yourself a little. Being on vacation gives you a slightly different set of rules to follow. Use it! Treat yourself; this is the time. Make smart decisions about your eating habits, but be sure to splurge a bit here and there. Especially when traveling some place foreign, take the time to eat food from a new culture or buy that really good chocolate that you heard about.

Do: Make new friends while you’re away.

One of the best things about becoming a travel guru is the people you meet along the way. Talk to locals or talk to those friends of friends or talk to people you meet on the resort. These people may become one of your best friends and someone you can go with for anything.

Don’t: Feel discouraged if you need a mental health day while on vacation.

However, if socializing just isn’t for you one day, don’t sweat it! We all need to take a step back sometimes. If you feel like maybe you need a little time alone, that’s perfectly okay as well. Take care of yourself while out on the road, someone’s got to!

Do: Deviate from your routine a little.

It is impossible to stick to a perfect routine while traveling. Just being away from home in itself is a deviation. For many, that’s the whole fun of travel, but for some of us mentally ill folk, change can be difficult. Be sure to work on that self-talk to control your anxiety and process that this routine deviation can be a good thing.

Don’t: Push yourself over the edge.

Find a way to make your routine equitable to your normal home routine or fall into a pattern while you’re away. For many mentally ill people, it's easier to be on vacation at a camp as opposed to off on your own in an unfamiliar city. This is because at camp there is at least a set routine, even if it isn’t the one you use at home. So, if you’re traveling someplace without a routine, don’t push yourself too far. While being spontaneous is fun, having an unnecessary panic attack is not. Make a detailed itinerary ahead of time and familiarize yourself with it. Set an alarm to make sure you wake up at the same time that you usually would. Do what you need to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by all the new.

Do: Make a list of things you need to pack ahead of time.

Last minute packing is just a reality of life. We’re all bound to procrastinate a bit, but while you’re procrastinating, take the time to make a list of things you’ll need. While this isn’t the actual packing, it will make you a little less stressed come packing day and it’s half the battle. Not to mention, doing this in the weeks before you leave is a way to break the larger task into smaller, more manageable pieces, which is often a good coping mechanism for mentally ill people.

Don’t: Get stressed out if you forget something.

Chances are, you can buy it. Unless you’re traveling to the middle of nowhere, the reality of our world is that most things can be purchased at an airport (which are basically shopping malls) or in the streets of the town you’re visiting. If you are camping or away from most of the world, there’s usually a general store nearby for tourists who forget something essential.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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