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Written and published in October 2019

Last year I decided to write a post about Mental Health and Travel which was supposed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Day 2018. And this year I wanted to do something similar, but this time a lot more informed. The title of this post is a phrase I came up with after my travels around Europe last summer. It definitely defined 2018 for me, but also defines the way I view travel now.

“It’s okay to be in beautiful places and still have ugly thoughts in your head”

Before I go anywhere with this post I want to make three things very clear

  1. I am not an expert. As much as I am willing to openly talk about mental health and be there for someone if they need to talk, I am 100% not a professional and will never claim to know more than I do.
  2. I am not perfect. I’ve not got life ‘cracked’. I doubt I ever will. I doubt anyone ever does. I’ve experienced some things and learnt from it, and I just want to share it with others. That’s all I’m here for.
  3. I am going to use the phrase ‘you are a human (being)’ many times throughout this post, deal with it.

All that ‘no days off’ bullshit

Right, this does my HEAD IN. I always see quotes like this on instagram and in my opinion it is the worst advice. You need days off. You’re a human being and can’t physically be on the go all the time. We all need a break and that is more than okay.

It is very easy to convince yourself that you should constantly be on the go, even more so when travelling. You feel the pressure to keep moving, keep seeing, keep doing. But this is not a sustainable way of living. Chances are you will be jet lagged initially, and that combined with being in an unfamiliar location and most likely not sleeping well in hostels doesn’t bode well for your exhaustion levels.

It is more than okay to have time to relax here and there. You are not going to have a good time if you continuously keep going and going and going. I always had to ask myself, if I was at home would I be doing something and going out all day everyday? No, of course not. And that’s not just because home is considerably more boring than Southeast Asia. You and your body need rest, and you are not doing it ‘wrong’ because you listen to what your heart, soul, mind and body need.

Let the guilt go

This was a MASSIVE one for me. I felt guilty all the bloody time if I wasn’t feeling good or wasn’t up and out before 9am. Subsequently I felt worse than I had done in the first place just because I was also crippled with guilt.

I often felt like I shouldn’t be feeling rubbish because I was living my dream of travelling the world. ‘This is all I’ve ever wanted so surely I should be feeling good all the time?!’ But again, like I said before I had to step outside my brain and ask ‘Would I always be feeling good if I was at home?’. No of course not. It is human nature to feel a bit low sometimes. And being in a foreign country won’t make you superhuman.

Your problems don’t just vanish because you left the UK

The common misconception I had was that a lot of things that impacted my negatively were just bothering me because I didn’t particularly like my life at home. I thought that once I quit my job and ‘escaped’ I would be immune to it all. W R O N G.

Some things are going to bother you and that’s fine. You can’t run away from that. You just have to embrace it and gradually become better at handling your emotions surrounding it. And you can’t expect your emotions to just do a complete 360 because you have left the country.

You are not alone

It can be incredibly daunting to find yourself in a foreign country without anyone you know even remotely close. Yes the internet makes a lot of people easily contactable but when there is a significant time difference it can be harder. I found great comfort in talking to other travellers about my feelings and emotions, as 9 times out of 10 they had felt the same at some point. Although I do appreciate it can be hard talking about certain things with people you barely know.

I thought I was ‘weird’ for feeling so down and so downright rubbish sometimes. And I felt like I got homesick way more than the average person. But most other people said that they found travel days hard because you would just sit on your own, overthinking and feeling lonely. Or they hated sleeping in hostels for months on end because they never slept well and it really made them feel awful. Or that they just wanted a few days by the pool with a book to decompress.

For me I had to learn to not feel weak for feeling certain ways. I learnt to just acknowledge that it was natural and that it was just a massive learning curve for me.

Sunrise at Mount Rinjani Crater Rim Campsite, Senaru, Lombok, Indonesia

If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you

Initially I was beyond overwhelmed by the thought of solo travelling for so long. Then I started to adapt a bit but honestly I didn’t feel fully settled and confident until around 2 months in. Up until this point I was questioning whether I was doing the right thing or not, and even planned to cut my trip short a couple of times.

I came to realise that I found a lot of things a struggle because I was going through a massive adjustment phase. Once I came out of the other side I had so many life changing realisations. They are going to stay with me and influence the way I lead my life forever. It sort of happened overnight to be honest. All the mess that was in my head sort of fell into place all of a sudden and I felt like I was flying. Yes I did still have my down days, but it was easier to deal with. I had my own back a lot more and knew how to look after myself when I needed it the most.

The Instagram Effect

We all know that social media is one massive fake ass bitch. But do we still let it dictate our mood and often our well being? Absolutely yes! I do it way too much and am all too aware of it’s damaging effects. Learning to use it more positively is still a work in progress for me, follow this blog for updates (oooo what a great plug!).

Instagram depicts life on the road as a carefree, perfect lifestyle. It really isn’t. It is tiring, sweaty, dirty, sometimes teary and often stressful. Of course it is still totally amazing but there is a lot more to it than a wonderful instagram feed.

I tried my hardest to ensure my social media wasn’t all sunshines and rainbows 24/7. I tried to post instagram stories of me sometimes feeling not so great. The first one I posted had an amazing response and it was so encouraging to feel like I wasn’t the only traveller that felt sad. So many fellow backpackers messaged me saying how much they understood where I was coming from. I also tried to be as honest as possible when I published my Daily Blogs every evening whilst I was away.

There’s a great instagram account that was created not too long ago called The Honest Backpacker. They share stories about the less instagrammable side of travel and I find it so relatable and refreshing!

Living Your Best Life”

The whole concept of living your best life is something that really grated on me whilst I was away. I had quite a few people message or comment on what I was doing like ‘wow, you’re really living your best life!!!!’ and when I was having a bad day and reading that through teary eyes, I felt so guilty it was ridiculous.

The thing is, yes I was living my best life really. I had total freedom and control of how I spent my days, I saw new incredible places everyday and I had more once in a lifetime experiences than I can count. But it is important we remember that living our best life also means growing, changing and experiencing the emotional spectrum as a whole. And that means that we do get sad sometimes, even when we’re on a paradyllic island in Indonesia!

You are human and you are YOU

As much as we all wish it a lot of the time, we can’t change who we are. Some character traits are going to be with us forever and we just have to work with them. They are going to stay with us whether we are in our house in England, a villa in Thailand, hostel in Peru or on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I realised that I wasn’t the most carefree of people and maybe that’s me. Maybe I am a worrier and an over thinker. I can’t stop that, but I can stop it affecting my life to a detrimental effect.

This post was not there to make you feel like travel is too hard. It’s here to be open and honest about how it is sometimes. I hope this has helped maybe one or two people, or just been an enjoyable and interesting read to someone.

And remember ‘It’s okay to be in beautiful places and still have ugly thoughts in your head’.

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