At The Bucket List Company, we love to connect with our travellers from all across the country, all different backgrounds and walks of life. Invariably, when our Bucketlisters are getting to know each other, at some point the conversation will turn to one question – what drives us all to take on challenges in the great outdoors.
This is always a very interesting discussion to have – and one which often leaves us all realising how much we have in common. Some people feel that their life has become too centred around the daily chores of life, and are looking for an injection of adventure. Others are celebrating getting through major personal challenges, or want to do something to push themselves
(Of course, some people are just obsessed with travel!)
But one topic that seems to keep cropping up of late in the adventure travel community is mental health. The 6th to 12th October this year was Mental Health Awareness Week. The event provoked a lot of discussion around the interactions between travelling and mental wellbeing among bloggers, businesses and journalists alike.
Some influencers took to Twitter to discuss their experiences of travelling with a mental health condition. Other figures discussed how travel had actively improved their mental health. This got us thinking – how does travel really affect mental health?
We know from experience – and from the experiences shared with us by many a Bucketlister – that travel can have a profoundly positive impact on individuals’ emotional wellbeing, self-confidence and overall mood. But is it really as simple as some would have us believe: feel low and a week in the sunshine will cure you?
Well, in order to really explore the topic of travel and mental health – from how adventure can boost your mood to how to manage your wellbeing when you’re off around the world – we spoke to several top travel bloggers to find out about their experiences.
Grab a cup of tea and keep reading to find out what some of the most prolific travellers out there have to say!
“Conquering your demons” on the road
If you’re looking for a story about how travelling can change a person’s life, Jamie from Wander In Two has that story to tell. Once upon a time, he was living a fast-paced lifestyle, earning good money as an engineer which, as he puts it, “allowed [him] to afford the distractions of going out every weekend for alcohol and good times.” However, when he met the other half of the Wander In Two team, Ivana, the couple made the decision to change their lives and go travelling.
But it wasn’t an immediate transformation. Jamie explains:
“Travelling strips you back to the bare bones. I wasn’t prepared to face demons I had kept concealed for my entire life. With the lack of a 9-5 job and the usual routines of drinking my spare time away with friends, I was finally forced to come face to face with my problems with anxiety and depression. Up until this point, I had known subconsciously that I was living a reckless lifestyle but I was always able to mask, conceal and suppress.”
“It was 5 months into full-time travel when it finally hit me like a tonne of bricks whilst exploring the Japanese island of Naha. I felt paralysed with grief and I didn’t know why. Years and years of keeping my issues locked inside had finally bubbled to the surface.”
However, this isn’t the negative tale it might sound like. This unexpected travel experience gave Jamie the push he needed to confront his struggles and begin to improve his mental health. Now, he is able to be open about his mental health through the blog, which he has found therapeutic in itself. The couple continue to travel, this time enjoying the process much more, as Jamie continues to speak to a counsellor regularly. But without this first challenging experience of travel, it would never have happened. He says,
“For me, travel wasn’t a cure. It was the opportunity to finally come face to face with my demons and once and for all get on the road to self-improvement. Travel may not always provide you with the right answers. But it will allow you to figure out which questions have to be asked about who you are and what makes you happy.”
We hear this so often from our Bucketlisters. Countless times, we have taken a brand new Bucketlister along on one of our adventures, who has never experienced long-distance trekking, for example – and they’ve come away from the experience with a totally new perspective on life. Doing something as simple as trekking through an environment as spectacular as somewhere like Everest Base Camp or the Great Wall of China can remind you what’s important in life – experiencing the world’s many wonders and meeting amazing people while you do it!
The highs and lows of travel
One traveller who has based an entire blog around their experience of travelling with a mental health condition is Steven from Anxious Adventurer. He has travelled everywhere from Switzerland to Swaziland, writing about his experiences doing so whilst being – in his own words – “anxious AF”. Along the way, Steven has found, just like Jamie, that travel can have a massively positive impact on your mental health – as long as you accept that it isn’t (and, indeed, nothing is) a wonder cure for all of life’s ills.
“Travel has had an extraordinary impact (both positive and negative) on my mental health. It challenged me to develop confidence in socialising during my Italian solo travel trip and made me deal with homesickness and depression on my year-long round the world trip. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am mentally, without travelling. I’ve had my worst lows and best highs whilst travelling and I’m grateful for both. You get to know what you’re capable of and when you succeed (even if it’s saying hello to one person), you feel unstoppable.”
This is something we’ve seen time and time again with our Bucketlisters, particularly on our mountaineering and trekking trips. Often, travellers will reach a point that they either feel especially apprehensive about, or where they feel they are approaching ‘the wall’ physically. For some, this will be the anxiety of taking those first few steps into the unknown from camp on summit night. For others, it will be the final push to the summit ridge, or pushing on through cold conditions.
Particularly with these kinds of adventurous trips, it’s not all easy. Travel – especially active travel like trekking – can be a real challenge. Steven comments on this, saying:
“Nowadays, everyone is quick to post about the positives of travel and while it is amazing, the reality is that sometimes it’s challenging. I struggled with accepting
Removing that pressure is one of the most important considerations of our trips. Right from the oft, we aim to remove the stress from adventure travel by booking everything for you, from the flights to the accommodation. However, this continues on the treks themselves. Whilst we always aim for (and usually achieve!) 100% summit success rates, we always reiterate that there is no pressure to reach the
Then, when our Bucketlisters do overcome those moments of self-doubt, it’s all the more amazing to see. Overcoming a challenge that you once thought was insurmountable can give you such a sense of elation, and can show you just how much you are capable of when you ‘put your mind to it.’
Travelling or ‘on holiday’?
Professional travel writer Kiri, from The Content Wolf, frames this same debate in terms of travelling versus ‘going on holiday’. Kiri has been writing about her travels for many years, whether it be personal trips or business travel, so she’s had a wide range of experiences on the road, from the blissfully relaxing to the more taxing!
She says, “travelling is different to a holiday. It’s good to do both, but occasionally I like to go on adventures that push me out of my comfort zone. Travel can be relaxing and therapeutic but it can also be exhausting, mentally challenging and often things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes it even ends up being stressful due to missed flights, unexpected interruptions and last-minute changes to your plans.”
Anyone who has gone backpacking independently will know this to be very true! The more spontaneous forms of travel are a far cry from the traditional package holiday, and often it’s impossible for one single traveller to anticipate every element of organisation needed to make a trip run smoothly. This can lead to stressful encounters on the road – and, if you’re susceptible to struggles with your mental health, this can really throw you off.
So why do people do it? Well, because sometimes the unexpected moments of travel are the most special of all. There really is a balance to be found between simplicity and excitement during travel; pushing yourself whilst also respecting your limits.
Kiri describes one particularly memorable trip she took where she found her own balance between the challenges of travel and the invigoration of holiday in Costa Rica. She says, “I’d jumped at the opportunity to go on a writing trip, and just booked the flights without really thinking about it. In the lead-up to the trip I fretted about all sorts of things – flying across the country on dodgy internal planes, getting bitten by snakes in the jungle and my ability to cope with creepy crawlies. I wasn’t in the best place mentally. When I got there, though, sure it was challenging at times, but I found out that when it comes down to it, I’m much stronger and more resilient than I thought.”
In fact, this element of balance is what drives a lot of adventurous souls who have reservations about going it totally solo choose group travel. On our Bucket List adventures, you can experience all of the character-building exposures of the mountains, physical exertion and culture shock, without the logistical stress of trip planning. With a dedicated team to plan all of your travel, accommodation and activities, you can rest assured that your trip will run smoothly – removing any of the
And when you do concentrate on adventure, it can really boost your self-esteem and, by extension, your mental wellbeing. Kiri certainly found this to be the case:
“I let an enormous Golden Orb spider crawl up my arm, I held a snake on a night walk through the insect-infested forest and I spent the night in an eco hut exposed to the creatures of the jungle. Did I have moments where I was tested and scared? Yes. But I got through it and had the most incredible experience that I will never, ever forget. So initially this travel experience was detrimental to my mental health because of the stress beforehand, but on the other hand, I learned a lot about myself and came out of the experience much better off.”
Finding balance at home and abroad
Jarryd and Alesha from Nomadasaurus also shared with us the importance of maintaining balance in order to stay mentally healthy both at home and on your travels. The trailblazing couple began their blog in 2013 to document their overland journey from Asia to Africa without flying, and since have grown a huge following, sharing their stories everywhere from
“Travelling the world is often seen as an escape, a way to leave reality behind and all the problems that may come with it. And in a way, it can be. You find yourself in a new environment, where you can be whoever you want and are surrounded by new friends. It’s important to realise though that travel often comes with its own stresses, and it’s important to listen to your heart and mind, no matter where you are.”
This delicate equilibrium is one that Alesha and Jarryd experienced for themselves as their website grew. After their epic journey across Asia with no flights, they found themselves exhausted, their health suffering from non-stop working travel. But it didn’t stop them from exploring the world – in fact, with a little shift in perspective and more attention to their own wellbeing, they found their love of travel reinvigorated. Their advice to others is;
“For those suffering from mental health issues, travel may seem like a cure, but don’t fall into the mental trap that it’s a guaranteed fix. If you’re feeling exhausted, take some time out. If you getting sick, slow down. And don’t feel as though you always have to be busy to drown out your thoughts. Go where you want to go, do what you want to do, and take time to look after yourself along the way.”
Managing mental health on the move
So if travel isn’t quite a miracle cure for mental illness, how can you manage your wellbeing whilst you’re travelling to get the most out of the adventure? As Kate from Adventurous Kate comments, “One thing that impacts mental health is the absence of routine – and when you’re traveling, all routines go haywire.”
Of course, just how much your routine changes will depend on the nature of your trip. If you’re off backpacking around the world without a plan as to where you will end up next, you may find yourself lacking when it comes to healthy routines.
However, on a long-distance trek, for example, you will find there is much more structure – set times to wake up and eat breakfast, specific lengths of time hiking and then time set aside in the afternoons or evenings to spend as you please. For many, this form of travel is much more conducive to mental wellbeing, because when you keep active and on top of your basic needs, you have more energy to put into the endorphin-inducing adventures that boost your mood.
Kate has had her fair share of unexpected moments during her nine years on the road – even being shipwrecked in Indonesia – but she stresses the importance of maintaining your basic mental health needs whilst travelling, saying:
“Even when traveling, it’s important to have some routines that you follow – whether that’s eating a healthy breakfast each day, getting a good amount of sleep, staying in touch with loved ones, and keeping active each day.” Perhaps this is why so many people find that active holidays have such a positive impact on their mental health – because by default you are getting regular exercise and eating nutritious meals.
However, she also adds, “As an introvert, I easily get overwhelmed by high-social days, so I like to take a pause each afternoon to have a coffee and enjoy some solitary time, where I can be alone with my thoughts. If I don’t get that time, it’s hard for me to find my footing.”
This is why we think it’s so important to ensure a portion of every day during a trip is set aside as free time. Lots of our Bucketlisters choose to use this time to socialise with their newfound friends, but others will sometimes prefer to spend a couple of hours quietly recharging, whether it’s reading a book by the fireplace in a teahouse in Nepal or relaxing in a luxury hotel in Jordan.
Building confidence through travel
However, it can’t be denied that – done right – travelling can really build one’s resilience. Even the simple act of achieving something challenging can give your self
She says, “As a longtime sufferer of anxiety, the promise to live my bucket list (most of which is travel-related!) was so important in helping to face my fears, because it continuously pushes my comfort zone to its limits.”
This doesn’t have to mean going off on a solo venture around the world – everyone’s definition of a challenge is different. As Annette says, “Even when I was only able to take a tiny tiptoe outside of its boundaries, I grew a little—a small piece of the fear of the unknown was removed and replaced with a little piece of empowerment. And by continuously doing this the size of my fear bubble got smaller while my comfort bubble got bigger. It took time, but all these baby steps outside of my comfort led me to being able to travel solo around the world and creating a career out of living my bucket list.”
Another blogger who writes specifically about travel and anxiety is Beth from Adventure and Anxiety. Beth began her blog as a way to encourage herself to get out and see more of the world after she realised that “life was starting to pass [her] by.”
Today, she has travelled to destinations as diverse as Antigua and the Isle of Mull, and has found that, in doing so, she has gained innumerable skills helping to improve how she copes with her once pretty debilitating anxiety.
“Travel has always been a mixed bag for me in terms of my mental health. This was evidenced most obviously on my honeymoon. We took a two-week road trip through Europe, including four days in Germany. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived in the country I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Even though I’d looked forward to this trip for weeks, I couldn’t leave my hotel room; I was panicky and the fact that I wasn’t surrounded by home comforts didn’t help. I tried to force it and go explore Munich but I burst into tears.”
“Luckily, a few days later when we arrived in Switzerland I felt much calmer and was able to really relax and enjoy the surroundings. Not just that, I managed to push past my intense fear of heights and travel up to the top of the Schilthorn in a cable car! So while I’d really struggled with my mental illness in Germany, I still found myself making progress and stepping out of my comfort zone later on, which brought me a ton of confidence!”
This will be reassuring for the more nervous traveller. Believe it or not, you don’t have to be the super-fit, mega-intrepid type to enjoy our adventures. In fact, we do take along Bucketlisters who get a little nervous before their trips – but that’s what we’re here for, to answer your questions, give you expert advice and overall reassure you. Every time that we’ve spoken to someone feeling a little apprehensive ahead of their trip, we always love getting feedback after they’ve climbed that mountain, or completed that trek – that invariably consists of a delighted Bucketlister thanking us for encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone in search of the incredible.
Remember, even if you don’t always feel like a superhuman – maybe sometimes you even feel very anxious or low – you are capable of so much more than you realise!
So there we have it – travel is not a miracle cure for mental illness, and nor would we ever attempt to sell it to you as such. However, the confidence, resilience, skills and perspective that adventure travel can nurture are always invaluable tools in building a balanced lifestyle that contributes to overall mental and physical health.
We truly believe in the transformative potential that travel can have for individuals – and we’ve seen it happen so many times where a Bucketlister has had their eyes opened to a whole new world of adventure after their first trip, leading to a lifetime of enriching experiences around the world. But the most important thing to remember is to take your travels at your own pace. You might not be ready to climb Kilimanjaro, for example, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start somewhere, whether it be beginning with a multi-activity trip that involves just a few days of hiking, or ‘testing the ropes’ on Mount Toubkal.
Whichever path you choose to take on your journey, we will be here to support you!