The mid to late twenties is a weird and frankly terrifying time in life. You’re young enough that you still feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing, yet old enough that everyone assumes you do, and everyone around you also seems to have everything sorted. Everyone I know seems to be flying in their careers, buying houses, and getting sodding well engaged. Fucking happy arseholes.
I’m so not ready for any of that. It’s part of why, when I had a steady job, a lovely boyfriend, and was living in a nice, comfortable town, I freaked out and buggered off to Latin America. I want to overhaul my career. I want to see the world. I’m too scared to settle in case I miss the chance to do all the things I do in my head when I can’t sleep at night.
I feel like this is the case for a lot of people who travel in their mid to late twenties. It’s an awesome time to go in many ways- you’re still young enough to have the freedom to travel solo, but old enough that you have probably worked for a few years and have a bit more money, and frankly, are more savvy and less of an idiot than you were at 18. I wanted to travel at 18 and I now thank God that I didn’t because I know I would have got lost or scammed on day one.
But travelling in your mid to late twenties also puts you in an odd position as a backpacker, between the two extremes of traveller you seem to meet everywhere. One are the super-young, just-left-college 18 year old gap-yah-ers. The other are the older, unbearably lovely and civilised and yet slightly dull couples*. The former seem to want to get trashed all the time, the latter just can’t wait to check out that incredible exhibit in the museum they read about in Lonely Planet, or that ruin, or castle.
I want to do a bit of both. And I feel a bit out of place in both worlds. Here are some conflicts I’ve experienced s as a traveller in the over 25 bracket:
You want to look great in your group facebook photos, but all your clothes are from Millets.
How are all the young girls bopping around in hot pants? South America is actually not that warm. Sensible layers, people. Zip-offs. Quick dry. Oh god, I look like my mother.
I want to get drunk but I also want to visit the museum tomorrow.
I would smash back the cuba libres, but there’s that really interesting inka exhibition which I will never see again otherwise…. Priorities.
The couples judge you like you’re some sad spinster Bridget Jones character for having more than one drink with dinner, but you can’t drink a litre of vodka with the kids in the hostel either.
Everyone else seems to bounce out of bed after being back from the club for two hours and throw themselves straight into rock climbing. Now after a night out I need at least two days of moaning in bed with my hands over my eyes to recover.
Your need to B/S knowledge out of your own experience is off the radar.
In the morning with your old friends, you have to pretend to know about ancient Amyran civilisations. By night with the youngsters, you have to pretend to know what ‘taking a key’ means. Yeahhh. Totally. My favourite to both.
You are intrigued to experiment with er… keys… but you also really miss fresh organic vegetables.
It doesn’t harm you long term if you eat plenty of kale, right? God I miss healthy eating.
On that note, you thought you were too good for instant noodles now, but your budget says otherwise.
I really thought I’d never eat these things again. Now they make up 40% of my diet.
7. When you get flirted with by a totally hot hombre and then find out he’s only 20. Yuk! That’s younger than my brother.
8. You’re so perpetually exhausted anyway that you’re more interested in forming a relationship with the hostel cat than having to deal with anyone trying to fiddle with your stuff.
(And at least he cuddles you after).
Part of me wishes I could admit my impending old-hood and just kick back and settle into it. But given my teetering career trajectory and perpetual broke-ness I guess I’ll be clinging on to the hostel life a little longer…
When you travel on another continent long term, you have to expect cultural differences. Apart from the major things- like the Inca ruins, phenomenal mountains, exotic plants, foods etc., here are some of the more random different things you will find when you travel in Latin America.
You will fall down all the time
Health and safety is just not a thing. For once I’ve had to start paying attention to where I’m walking after falling over basically every day for the first two months. The pavement (if there is one) will not just be uneven, it can have random bits of metal sticking out of it, holes, or sometimes be missing completely (I was once texting while walking and fell into a nearly waist-deep hole in the pavement in Bolivia). If people are doing building work above you, you may also get hit in the head with flying sparks. A lot.
People sell random shit in the street
Sure, people sell stuff on the street at home. But usually it’s part of some kind of market place, or there’s some kind of plan to it. Here, people just sell what they can to get by: I’ve met people randomly wondering around selling only teaspoons, selling kitchen scissors, selling women’s bras (who buys these out in the street?! It’s not like you can try them on), llama foetuses (offerings to PachaMama, or Mother Earth,) and once even a man pushing a wheel barrow with a self-pumping shower head attached to a tank to demonstrate his wares worked). In Peru they even sell ayahuasca, an incredibly powerful hallucinogenic drink usually prepared by spiritual shamans in strictly controlled religious ceremonies- just in re-used coke bottles on the side of the road. I would not recommend taking your chances on something that dodgy and mind-altering for less than a dollar…
I guess people have to buy these second hand but my god, in Bolivia I was starting to have nightmares about mannequins coming to life like terrifying zombies, Doctor Who style, after seeing these menaces meant to entice you to buy clothes.
Drinks come in bags
Have you ever tried a drink out of a plastic bag with a straw? It’s really common in all the countries I went to. Apparently it’s because the owners of the little pulperias (corner shops) can’t necessarily afford the bottled versions, so it’s cheaper to buy a vat of coke and sell it on like that. Just don’t expect to be able to store it in your backpack for later…
Corner shops are behind bars
Speaking of puplerias, for some reason they are often behind bars- like a corner shop prison- and you have to peer through (into what is usually the front room of someone’s house) and ask for what you want at the little window (assuming someone is actually there).
Everyone has hearing problems
At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for why the music is blasting out SO BRAIN-INCINERATINGLY LOUD, for no reason, ALL THE TIME!
No one knows how to queue
When you can go into shops, no one knows how to queue, which is a nightmare if you’re British (or also just appreciate good manners). The number of times I’ve stood a respectful distance behind the person in front of me, only to have someone else dive in front is incredible. Or even when you’ve already reached the counter- someone will just butt in front- and the shop keepers never say ‘sorry I’m already serving someone.’ It blows my mind.
These could merit a whole blog post in themselves. Having travelled the best part of 4000km from Bolivia to Nicaragua by bus, I’ve tried every kind of these. They vary hugely, but all of some things in common. Jesus is everywhere, sometimes Mary too, with some kind of slogan about mi fiel amigo (faithful friend) or rey de reyes (king of kings). They will be pumping some kind of latino music, full blast, all the way. If you’re on a long distance bus (actually usually surprisingly comfortable) they will instead be blasting badly dubbed versions of old American movies. Don’t count on getting any sleep. The local busses are usually worst- often second/third/fourth hand American schoolbusses, and falling apart doesn’t cover it- I once heard something fall out of the bottom of one in Costa Rica, and then whatever part it was dragged along the road for the next 19 miles. No one seemed fazed by the noise or the smell of burning. They will somehow fit 100 people in a space designed for 40. And if I told you that the inter-urban mini busses in Nicaragua are locally called intermortales (loosely translated, between-deaths, or as I called it, the death bus) that will tell you all you need to know about them. I usually closed my eyes as we overtook on a mountain bend, and were on the wrong side of the road as several lorries sped in our direction, and tried to pretend I was somewhere else.
In a lot of places, street names or house numbers are not a thing. Nicaragua is the worst offender for this, making it impossible to find anywhere as a non-local because there’s no such thing as a conventional address as we know it. Instead, addresses are descriptions of where things are- mine is ‘from the statue of Monsenor Leszcano, two blocks north and two and a half blocks down, with a green gate’ (not to mention there are several houses with green gates on my street). The worst is when they make references to seemingly random- or actually non-existent things- e.g. I was given the direction ‘from where the tree was two blocks north… etc. etc.’ Which tree? I asked- it’s a huge city, there’s more than one tree- it turns out ‘where the tree was’ refers to a tree which was destroyed in an earthquake. In 1972. How I’m meant to find out where a tree was twenty years before I was born…?
So then you ask for directions from people who do know where the tree was. The problem is, people will give you directions even if they have no idea where the place you’re looking for is, so as to save face. This has happened so many times to me I now have a policy of asking three people before going anywhere if two of the directions match.
Men have willies
Like me, you might have taken this as a given, but more than a few (no, not all men) seem weirdly proud of it, like children at a birthday party, and pop them out in the street to show them off when you walk by. I’ve never been flashed before this trip but it has happened A LOT. Just ignore them or give them a sarcastic slow clap. They don’t deserve the attention they’re looking for.
Clowns and zebras
It’s not uncommon in Nicaragua to see a clown waiting for a bus, sitting in the back of a cart, or just getting groceries. They come and perform on the busses for spare change, but I love seeing them just chilling in normal situations. In La Paz, Bolivia, the traffic is also directed exclusively by zebras. I’m not quite sure why.
People tell it as it is
You will get called chela or chele (white woman or man) ALL the time. It’s not meant to be offensive, people are just literal in their descriptions. If you are a bit fat you might get called el gordo or a bit thin, el flako, and apparently no one gets upset about this.
Which doesn’t help when your hair is very affected by humidity and you generally look ridiculous. For the last several months I’ve had to scrape my hair back into a plait every day because naturally it has basically looked like this.
The sense of community is real
In my barrio, families and neighbours sit out on the street together in rocking chairs, chatting and watching the world go by. They are close in a way that is rarely the case in Britain anymore. Every morning when I walk to the bus stop they call out ‘hello, my friend!’ ‘Buen Dia! ‘Adios!’.
It is this warmth of people that I’m going to miss the most. Although the crazy stuff is sometimes hilarious, sometimes frustrating, and I can’t deny I’m looking forward to life being easier for a while when I go home, I’m sure it’s going to wear off quickly and I will miss the surprise and adventure of discovering new things through travel. Let’s hope the next journey is just around the corner…
Many people warned me that sexual harassment would be bad while travelling as a single girl in Latin America. Pffft, I said. They can’t be worse than the average bloke out on a Saturday night in the UK.
I was wrong. I want to say at the outset of this post that nothing that has happened to me while travelling in Latin America in the last few months is something that has never happened in the UK. However, it is the sheer frequency and ubiquitousness of sexual harassment on this continent that makes it hard to deal with, even if you’re pretty down to earth and used to dealing with shit.
If you’re another solo female traveller you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you are another woman thinking about travelling solo in Latin America, you absolutely should do it and not be put off by this. The fact that you are considering travelling alone means I know you are tough enough to deal with it. However, here is some of the stuff I have experienced while travelling in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua:
Constant catcalling. This is worse where I am living at the moment in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, than it has been anywhere else on my trip. I have not once left the house without being catcalled. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is- it’s happened on the way to work (at 8am), going to buy groceries at 11am, at lunch time, afternoon, early evening- and to be honest I just don’t go out at night alone here. It can happen up to thirty times a day. One time in Colombia, as I mentioned in my blog about that otherwise wonderful country, in one walk to the supermarket in the early evening (ten minutes each way) I was catcalled no less than THIRTY SIX times. It makes no difference what you’re wearing, either- whether it’s a dress, or jeans and a long shirt, it will happen. Usually I tune out and try to ignore it, occasionally I flip out and yell at them to fuck off, but it’s not advisable because they can get aggressive. During a city tour I saw one girl break down when a group of guys started on us and started screaming and swearing and crying at them to leave us the fuck alone. I can’t say I blame her. All the girls in that group had had the same experiences.
Following. This one is a bit more sketchy and one to be weary of. As much as, in theory, the idea of being apparently so irresistible (even while wearing a dress covered in three-day-old food stains, and being very hungover), that men feel the need to chase you down the street shouting mi Reina, mi Reina! (my queen) is pretty flattering, in reality it is pretty frightening. Men have followed me on foot, on bicycles, motorbikes, and in cars. Always be aware of your surroundings, and don’t walk around wearing headphones (though it can be tempting to drown out the catcalling).
Touching. This thankfully happens less frequently but it does happen, especially if you go out at night (though this is kind of the same as in the UK to be honest). Men, just because a girl likes to party does not mean she wants, or deserves, to be grabbed at. She does not necessarily want you just because she also happens to be there and you find her attractive.
Hair pulling. This is a weird new one that actually hasn’t happened at home but has happened a couple of times here. Apparently it’s part of the fascination with blondes. I’ve also had hair sniffing a couple of times. They’re really obsessed with blondes. I think the fact that the only images of white women- and especially blonde women- that you see here tend to be pornographic really doesn’t help.
Flashing. Men are so very proud to have willies. God, it’s pathetic, and when you’re with friends, it’s laughable, but when you’re on your own it can be a bit scary- I usually pretend I hadn’t noticed, and have noticed something in a window across the street and walk in the other direction.
The police will not help you. I once crossed a street to get away from some blokes that were harassing me, thinking that the police on the other side would keep things a bit safer. More fool me, they yelled out the same comment. Border officials are another one- I have yet to have my passport checked without the guy (it’s always a guy) making some unnecessary comment about by appearance.
Taxi drivers. People always advise solo women to take taxis rather than the bus, especially at night or in big cities. They’re usually right. But the taxi driver will very often hit on you too. Sit in the backseat if you can (otherwise they’ve tried to put an arm around me or a hand on my leg). If you’re in a ‘collective’ style taxi (that picks up other people) try to pick one with at least one other woman in it- a girl I know recently had to escape an attempted mugging/assault with three other men in the car she was in.
They don’t take no for an answer. To start, I was honest about my single status when asked. I didn’t see why I should have to pretend to be ‘taken’ by another man to be safe. With time it just became easier to pretend I had a boyfriend/husband to put them off, or they’d assume you were up for it. Sometimes, though, they just see it as a further challenge ‘but you know men in Peru/Colombia/Nicaragua have bigger dicks right? Yeah, right.
These are the more typical things. There have been other incidents that have been more frightening- a bus conductor who trapped me in the toilet on a night bus and tried it on until I was forced to fight past him and escape (and didn’t dare go to sleep for the rest of the night). An Ecuadorean guy who I thought was my friend, but when adding me on Facebook stole all my photos and fabricated a relationship between us.
A guy on a bus just today asked why my husband hadn’t ‘beaten my ass’ for travelling on my own (he was not joking), said that travel and working in other countries was ‘not for the woman to do’ and when I said I wasn’t interested in husbands or anyone telling me what I could and couldn’t do, said ‘oh, so you’re easy then’, told me girls wouldn’t travel alone unless they were up for it, etc., etc…
It wears you down. You deal with it and you cope, because that’s what women have always done. Some days you laugh. Some days you flip out. Some days you cry. It’s not just Latino men- like I’ve said, everything (except the toilet and weird facebook stalking thing) is something that has happened at home, too. But at home, although it’s not infrequent, it’s unusual to be harassed more than once in a day, and it’d be something I’d actually remark upon. In Latin America, if I had a pound for every time I was harassed, I’d be able to come home and buy a nice sized house outright in central London. And I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not.
Women the world over have a very long fight ahead of us to get to a point where we’re actually treated as equals, and as human beings, as a given. That is all the feminist movement is asking for: to be able to exist as a person, and not be harassed, assaulted, and in extreme cases, killed, because you happened to be born female. Women in Latin America, where sexism is insipid thanks to the extremely machista, patriarchal culture, have a considerably more difficult time than we do in Europe. I will always stand in solidarity with them: it is why I came to this continent, to volunteer with an organisation which works on violence against women. However, we also need to work with men. To talk about masculinity and what it means, and what it has the potential to mean. So that men don’t think they need to assert their dominance over women to prove their sexual prowess; their worth as a man. So that the men who know already that it is not okay to assume you have ownership over, harass, or threaten women, actually will stand up and support us when they see things happening, rather than staying silent and staying part of the problem. So that men who don’t realise their behaviour is harassment understand how it feels to be treated in that way. How it makes you feel like you’re not even a person.
Women are tough. Female travellers in particular have to be badasses. But it’s not easy. So to my fellow travelling ladies- keep doing what you do. You rock. But we all know we can’t take our safety for granted, and that travelling as a solo girl is very different from travelling as a solo guy. So let’s all just be wary, while living life to the full. Let’s support each other. Let us change what it means to be a woman in the world. Let us also help men challenge what it means to be men- for the better.
Travel was supposed to fix me. So why hasn’t it worked?
Like many people, I have turned to travel when I felt unsatisfied with my life because of the opportunities it provides to heal, let go, and regenerate.
I wrote previously about how discovering a love of travel gave me a new lease of life at a time when I was feeling very low. Travel forces you to be excited about new experiences, to challenge your assumptions, and really appreciate the beauty and diversity in the world that is sometimes hard to see when you’re stuck in a grey life in the grey suburbs. It made me see colour in a world which, to me, had become washed out.
A few months ago, I was feeling overcome with anxiety and depression in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time. I felt suffocated in the situation I was in, overwhelmed by self-loathing, and got caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of negative thoughts and feelings, unable to see a way out.
It therefore seemed natural that, wanting a change in career, in circumstance, a chance to start again, the idea of finally getting to travel long term in a new continent was something I fixated all my hopes on.
This is far from unique to me. Why else do people trek across the world in the self important hope to ‘find themselves’?
This post isn’t really about me specifically. And that’s why I’m writing it. Everyone I know seems to be fucking depressed. At least half of my best friends have made this clear to me. Some talk about it very openly, others make it obvious in the most British way possible, through thinly-veiled sarcasm, quickly brushed off with a dark joke and a denial. Some share it only after more than a few drinks, very earnestly, and try to pretend the conversation never happened in the morning. Others get in competitions with each other about who has had the toughest time in life. As unique and beautiful as we like to imagine our pain is, we are really all just the same. Life is hard. It’s sad. We should never underestimate what another person has been through, because everyone is hiding darkness in some form.
I’ve never talked openly about the difficulties I’ve had with mental health for as long as I can remember. Even partners, with whom I have shared the most, have never had a full picture. I’m not one of those people that tends to post on social media about this sort of thing, and I could never understand why people do. To expose your vulnerabilities at scale seems, at the very least, attention seeking and embarrassing, and at worst, the most hideous nightmare come true- after all, the last thing a person with social anxiety issues wants to do is, I reason, draw attention to themselves. What would be worse? Being lavished in attention and well-meaning comments? Or to be totally ignored and realise that you were right all along, and no one really cares, and you might as well be dead?
But I’m writing this because the number of people who have said to me ‘I would love to do what you’re doing. You’re so brave. I’d just be too anxious to go, especially on my own’ is far, far more than I’m comfortable with. I was really surprised when more than one old friend, people whom I haven’t talked to in years, have got in touch saying how much they want to travel, but have suffered setbacks in their personal and professional lives due to mental health issues, so would have to live it vicariously through me and hope they might be able to one day. If only they could leave the house.
I’m writing this for them. Because let me tell you something. I’m not brave at all. I’m scared all the fucking time. All I can remember in my life from being a young teenager is an intense, burning feeling of social anxiety, gnawing in my gut, fuelled by self loathing. So I’m not dismissing their/your feelings and genuine anxieties by saying this- I totally understand that it may not be possible for them- or for you- right now.
But there was a time when I was too anxious to approach an ice cream van, because requesting a FAB would necessitate talking to a stranger. At university, I was once so overcome by anxiety in my first term I didn’t leave my room for several days, eating cold food out of tins and trying to coax myself into rejoining the social bubble. At work, even in the last year, I would sometimes get so distracted and wrapped up in dark thoughts that I’d have to rush out to the toilets, or the car park, to breathe myself back to calm before anyone talked to me and noticed the tears running down my face that I’d tried to hide by turning to the wall.
So I totally get it. But my point is this. If you think you can’t travel because you struggle with depression, you really, really, can do it. Look at me now- I’m here, eating dinner on my own in a restaurant housed in a tent around a fire in Ecuador. Earlier I went paragliding. Tomorrow I’m going ziplining over waterfalls. I’m meeting friends later that I started chatting to in Spanish lessons last month, and kept in touch with, and met up with again. So, I’ve convinced myself, some people must like me, and I have been extremely lucky to do some awesome things. Through an awful lot of counselling and whinging about my feelings, some incredible partners, and friends, and by pushing myself each year to do more things that instinctively make me extremely uncomfortable, I’ve become considerably more capable of dealing with the symptoms of anxiety, and sudden lows of depression, that I still deal with all the time. And if I can do that, anyone can. And that means you, too.
But I’m not fixed. And this is the other point of this post.
People often talk about ‘overcoming’ depression. Several times in life, I’ve gone through a period where I felt a lot better, and thought I had ‘got over’ the insecurities of the past and was now moving only forwards, onwards, and upwards, to the new, awesome me! And shortly after, of course, there would come the inevitable spiral. So I strongly believe that dealing with depression doesn’t mean tablets, and even with counselling (which I do recommend) it doesn’t mean one day you will be magically ‘better’: as much as I hoped it would, travel hasn’t fixed me because it can’t. Depression will come and go, and if you’re susceptible, you may have to live with it returning your whole life, like a boomerang covered in shit. And so I’ve come to realise that dealing with depression and anxiety, therefore, is not about a ‘cure’ or being ‘fixed’, but about resilience. The ability to endure the ups and downs, and keep going. And this can be especially important when you’re travelling.
Because when you’re on the road with anxiety and depression, it’s not like being at home, where you can retreat to the comfort of your own duvet, not speak to people, listen to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, and cry into a jar of peanut butter until you feel better. Every day is a challenge. No one speaks your language. You don’t understand the bus system. You have to make new friends in every hostel, even when you have no energy to do so. There’re often no comforts like decent wifi, flushing toilets, or sometimes even electricity. You have to be more wary than usual of being a target of crime. You can’t kick back and relax- every day you have to work hard to look after yourself and get through new and unprecedented situations.
But when you do deal with them, as stressed as you may feel at the time, you get a huge burst of confidence- wow! I managed that. I’m still here, I’m safe. I could manage that again. And that means, even if you still panic the next time, you might panic a little bit less. Because you become someone who knows that you can deal with stuff.
Being depressed doesn’t mean you necessarily feel bad all the time- you can still have great days, feel excited, and feel love for everyone around you. For a while I convinced myself I was bipolar because of this contradiction, and the frequency of the dramatic swings from one emotion to another, over which I seem to have little or no control. And while a lot of the time I have to work hard to ‘perform’ a happy face, or a silly or sarcastic exterior to cover what I’m really feeling, a lot of the time I am also genuinely very happy. Which is why I think a lot of people who know me would be surprised to know the extent to which every week that passes can be a struggle.
Because even after a high, there is always a down. This could be environmental or internal, and it takes practice to recognise what is happening and try to at least slow it down. No doubt, for me at least, depression is fuelled by the dual mutually reinforcing problems of ‘the state of the world’, and my own self-loathing. And I think travel can help with both.
Before I left home, I’d become completely obsessed with how much darker the world has seemed to become in the last year or so- which is not entirely illogical, given the rise of terrorism, the surge in popularity of right wing extremism, inhumane treatment of refugees, and much more. But it became unhealthy. I would lie in bed at night becoming physically boiling hot with fury and tears, and would stay awake until dawn, as I imagined and tried to count in my mind how many people are homeless right now, how many people are being raped, fleeing war, are starving, are slowly dying of preventable diseases. I felt that I could hear the screaming in my ears, that I could smell their blood, and tears, that they were choking me, until I couldn’t breathe, and yet what was I doing about it? Having a panic attack in a semi in Leamington Spa. Ridiculous.
So, although a new environment can be challenging, the positive thing about travel is, if your environment has become a reinforcer of your depression, you can remove yourself from it until you feel better able to deal with it. It’s harder to be constantly inundated with the news. People that are regular sources of negative energy can vanish suddenly from your life. There can still be stress, but it seems less chronic, because if you don’t like a situation or a person, you can just move to the next place. You do see some difficult things- poverty especially- but you also see people with so much less than you who are unfathomably happy with life.
And that leads to dealing with second part of the depression- self loathing. A lot of people say that to feel less depressed, you should feel grateful for what you have. But this has never made me feel better. Because no matter how much I care about all of these terrible things I worry about at night, what am I really doing about them? I am unworthy of the ridiculous luck I have received in life. Other people suffer every day, and I’ve lived a life of comfort, education, decent work, and never knowing hunger, or war. And why? Because my ancestors mass-slaughtered thousands of individuals, and our lifestyle in the so called ‘developed world’ depends entirely on people’s continued oppression. What a fucking cunt.
In the end, everything always comes down to this. Everything that goes wrong. And it’s impossible to drown out the voice in your head that says it’s because you’re a cunt. You stupid fucking cunt. Fat cunt. Pointless piece of shit cunt. Why do you even fucking bother trying, cunt. You will always fail.
Things go wrong often when you’re travelling. And it’s always because you’re a cunt. But, in order to survive here, you can’t leave it at that. Shut up, cunt head. And you get on with dealing with whatever it is. And you survive.
So travel doesn’t fix depression. But it can make you more capable of dealing with it, more sure of your ability to look after yourself. It will increase your resilience, as well as show you loads of incredible things to inspire you to see positivity in the world along the way.
The good news is, if you’re living with depression, you’re already a person who has practiced extreme resilience. To feel every day like you wish you were dead, to fear that everyone around you hates you and wishes you were too, to be afraid, and miserable- and still get up, go to work, be nice to people, go to the pub and act like everything is normal- it takes resilience.
Resilience isn’t an inherent trait, but a thing you can practice to become stronger. So what I’m saying is- even if, right now, you don’t feel confident to get through things in life, let alone trying some place new- but you really want to travel- you don’t have to go the whole hog straight away. Just push yourself a little bit, every few months, and see how you cope at each hurdle. You might surprise yourself. Try a little weekend trip. Take a week in a country closer to home, or somewhere where they speak the same language as you. Travel with friends before you venture to travelling alone. You’ll probably find that not only can you do it, but that you love it- and as cheesy as it sounds, you’ll learn to allow yourself to love YOU a little more along the way.
For as long as I can remember, I have always assumed that my life would end when my fight with depression eventually gets the better of me. The fact I have fought it for so long, and come so far, without defeating it, cements this idea in my mind during bleak moments. But bizarrely it has also given me a strange sense of calm. Because if you think you already know the ending, without being ready yet, and you have to stay unbearably, painfully, inescapably conscious every day- you might as well throw yourself right into this bloody arse of a thing called life as much as you can. I’ve realised I’m not ready to give in. I will take this dance with depression and we will fight each other to lead. I will fight this fucker to the end by living life as much as possible, and then maybe- maybe- I will win. Because while it hasn’t fixed me, travel has given me experiences worth living for. The time I almost got squashed by a hippo in the Okovango Delta. Getting lost and climbing over cows in the crazy streets of Varanasi. Sky diving over the Kalahari. Spotting a bear while hiking in the Andes.
And that is why, if you feel there is nothing to live for, you should try to travel. And every day up to that point where you feel strong enough, and during travel, remind yourself of your own resilience, your own power in the face of the darkness. The things you have overcome.
Because today I woke up feeling low, and alone. And I said, shut up depression, I’m going paragliding. And I did.