I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I travelled to Chiang Mai, Thailand this month and celebrated the insane festival of Songkran (Thai New Year) and had a blast. But after that, I got hit by a new wave of depression which tends to knock me for six and leaves me in bed for days with zero energy.
Being able to travel and live my life like this is such a blessing and I am so grateful to be able to do it, but before I left, it was a big decision over wether I could actually do it due to my severe depression and its ability to rear it’s ugly head at any random moment. I knew I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of me living my best life though and so prepared myself the best I could and hit the road. For me that meant, spending 6 months saving up money so that I knew I was financially stable (a huge source of anxiety for me), spending the last 6 months in the UK focusing entirely on my mental health and physical health, two things that often go hand in hand and made sure I had a good three months worth of my anti depressants to keep me going before I had to worry about getting more abroad.
This doesn’t mean I left the UK thinking I’d be rid of depression, but living life on the road can throw different obstacles at your daily life that living in one place doesn’t, and I knew I was as ready as I could be for the bumpy road that is the digital nomad lifestyle!
All that said and done, I was hit with my first big bout of depression in February, when I was in Cambodia. I don’t particularly know the reason for it but I pretty much spent three weeks in bed, and didn’t see lots of Cambodia that I still want to see! Luckily for me, I was with some amazing friends, who kept an eye on me and made sure I’d be ok! Now, a few months on, I’m hit again, and it’s even landed me in hospital (I’m ok here, promise!) and I’ve been thinking about lots of ways I can help myself through these rough patches. So, this leads me to my self care advice for travelers (be it digital nomads or backpackers!). I know lots of these things help me and hope it can help others too!
1. Have a (guilt free) bed day
So often when I’m traveling, I feel the need to be out of the room by 10am and I must make the most of my time! I rarely give myself downtime and often feel guilty if I do. It’s so important to remember that sometimes, you just need to rest and have a bit of relaxation in bed. If you want to spend the day in bed feeling grumpy and low, then do it and don’t let the guilt get to you! Often a day or two like this is just what I need to get myself running again.
Sometimes, I book an extra couple of days in places just so I can have a few relaxing bed / chill days instead of rushing around like a mad person and quickly moving onto the next place. Traveling long-term at a slow pace is must more sustainable in my opinion.
2. Get out of the dorms
Dorm room life can be fun and a great way to meet new people, but sometimes you just need some time on your own! When I’m feeling particularly low, I try to get myself out and booked into a private room for a few nights. Even if it’s at the cheapest hostel in town, and just for a few days.
Having your own space as an adult is something that is so important. Somewhere to go and be alone, and do whatever you want, and when it’s necessary, have a cry. These things are much harder to do when in a dorm and when suffering through a depressive period.
3. Get a massage
This one is more Asia specific, but I LOVE massages and it’s one surefire way to help me feel a little more normal again. I like to combine massages with my bed days sometimes if there’s a place around the corner. It can make you feel like you’ve actually got out of the house and done something little with your day.
I usually go for cheap massages and then once a month or every two months go for something more pricey. I know massages aren’t for everyone, but they sure as hell help me!
There’s tons of options in Asia too, you can have a Thai massage (too strong for me), a foot massage, a head massage, an aromatherapy massage (which is my usual choice!), the options are endless and your bound to feel very zen by the end without spending a ton of money!
4. Get a wash and blow-dry
I fell in love with these in Cambodia where you can get a wash and blow-dry at many markets for just $1!!! For real, for $1 you can have your hair washed which comes with a delightful head massage included and they will then blow-dry it for you and make you feel a million dollars. Amazing, right?
In Vietnam, they’re a little more pricey (but still cheaper than a massage) and not only does it come with a head massage, they usually also team it up with a facial. You can find more expensive ones, but I always tended to go to the local places which worked well for me and once again, I always left feeling amazing.
This is my go-to self-care when in Vietnam or Cambodia, you feel like you treated yourself, but have barely spent a penny and on top of that, you don’t need to wash your hair later (which, let’s face it, is a huge effort when you’re feeling low!).
5. Cafe days
When I’m done wallowing in my bed and it’s time to get out of the house, you’ll usually find me at a cafe. This is a great way to get yourself going if you’re still feeling low on energy. Just being in the presence of other people (but not actually having to talk to them) really seems to help me feel a bit human again.
Sometimes I’ll go to a cafe to work and sometimes I’ll just treat myself to a coffee and a cake and read a book. Either way, it can tend to be a great low-key pick me up
6. Try to do one thing a day
When you’re feeling low and a bed day becomes a bed week or month, it’s time to try and get up and moving (trust me, I know how hard that can be!!). I try to get myself to do one special thing a day.
It can be anything from getting a massage to going to a cafe. One day when I was very low in Cambodia, I went to a local cat cafe and was the only person there. I made friends with the cats and the owner and it really turned a low day into a much brighter day.
7. Find your local community
Friends back home can be a huge help and often understand my depression the most as they’ve been through it all with me in the past, but sometimes you just need friends who are closer. When you arrive in town, make sure to try and connect with the community in the area you’re in. There’s often Facebook pages for expats in many places which I often use to see if anyone would like to meet up and show me around.
I also often stay / work at co-workng spaces which are great places to meet like minded people living a similar lifestyle. My closest travel buddies I met whilst working at In the City in Chiang Mai and we went on to travel to Cambodia together!
If you tend to feel lonely and need friends around, which is usually true for most people, making connections wherever you are can really help.
8. Eat healthily and exercise when you can
This one is something I try to be consistent with in my life, although on the road, it can be tricky. When I have somewhere I can work out, even if it’s just a small 5 minute workout, I will. This makes me immediately feel great and I know I’m looking after myself.
It’s so easy to live in holiday mode, but I try to remind myself that this is my life and not a holiday, so it’s still important to make healthy choices where I can. For me being healthy and fit has a huge impact on my mental health so sticking to it when I can is really important.
9. If you really need to, don’t be afraid to visit friends and family
A few months ago, I considered booking flights to London and spending a few weeks with my mum. This is a really hard choice for me as it’s not the ideal thing I’d be doing, and it means admitting that life is still tough even when I’m living a life I absolutely love!
If this is what you need to help you back on your feet again, then that’s what you should do. If there is anyone or anywhere in the world that you know will help you get back on your feet, and life is feeling truly rough, then that’s probably where you should be, even just for a few weeks.
10. Remember your medication
This one is most probably the most important. This is where I royaly f**ked up last time. I was taking anti-represents, ran out and realised they don’t actually sell my meds in Thailand and just stopped taking them. This led to a big dip in my mood.
Moral of the story is to remember to take your meds every day and have plans on when and where you can get more. I know I can get my meds in Malaysia, but not in Thailand, for example, so going back there before running out would have been a smart idea.
If you are not taking meds and think perhaps they would help you, this is also important to. Remember there is no shame in needing medical help, I owe my life to anti-depresants (and a handful of amazing friends / family), and if it’s what you need then you’ve gotta just go and sort it out!
Remember to take care of yourself first and take the down time you need in any way, shape to form that helps you. I hope some of this can be helpful 🙂