Where do I begin?
I started keeping a separate journal after the first 2 months of my trip. I started jotting down how I feel at the present moment, briefly what I’ve done and sticking in all of my receipts(a joke from a few months ago that my stubbornness preceded.) Reading back on my journal entries- my ‘private blog’ so to speak it’s made me realise that even though I have climbed some incredible mountains with the most scenic views, swam with turtles, seen Burmese pagodas by sunrise, met some truly inspirational locals and made some really great (and hopefully long term) friends there is still an awful lot of negativity that has come from my experience so far. I’m sure all you travellers have read numerous blogs on solo travel, best places to visit in ___ and such and such, but few people really talk about the downsides of travelling, especially when dealing with various emotional conditions- such as anxiety and depression. I hope people don’t think of this as attention seeking because believe me, that is the opposite of what I am trying to achieve. It’s just been something that has been on my mind for a while now, and I’m fed up of writing about how amazing everything is. What you all need, is a little bit of truth.
The Travel Cycle
The travel cycle is something I’ve mentioned briefly in various other posts. This is where you meet an individual or group of people who you connect with, travel with for a few days, weeks or even months and then you have to part ways. It really really sucks. For me, this has been the hardest part of travelling. Not the awkward food requirements, the language barrier, the losing my bank card, the weird Chinese guy at the laundromat currently sat next to me chatting me up, but the attachment issues. I’ve always struggled with this, and I feel like this is why I’ve never really had very successful relationships. I am surprisingly picky with who I form bonds with, that is… I find it difficult to find people I don’t pick faults in. So when I find these people, I subconsciously latch on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not clingy… I just find it very easy to get along with people I want to get along with, then very hard to say goodbye to said people.
One of the most exciting parts of travelling is meeting new people. I’ve met such a variety of people in the 18 months I’ve been away, and of course developed feelings more than friendship for a select few. You’ll spend all day every day with someone with similar interests, a likeminded persona, and this is what happens. You meet people you’re into, but this is such a replenish-able lifestyle we lead that you know at some stage you’ll have to part. And so ends the weird travel ‘friendship.’
The lack of familiarity in both a new place, and somewhere you’ve been for a little longer leads to such random emotional outbursts. I’ve had numerous times in the past couple of months where I’ve just absolutely exploded into tears. Not even for justified reasons. I’ll give you an example:
Around Christmas time, we were on a beautiful beach in west Myanmar. I was amongst good company and enjoying the Burmese lifestyle… and then this happened. The hotel we were staying at (like most places) included breakfast. This was normally either fried rice, pancakes, omelette or eggs. Now bare in mind this was also a restaurant with multiple items of things on their menu. I walked down to the restaurant one morning, super hungry and excited for some breakfast rice only to be told that all they were serving for breakfast was fish soup. FISH SOUP
- I don’t eat fish
- The smell of fish makes me want to throw up
- I was craving rice, which rarely happens in Asia. Normally you want anything BUT rice.
They repeatedly told me all there was fish soup, despite the fact they even have toast and fried rice on their daily menu. So I ran back to our room, flopped on the bed and burst into tears. Irrational, right?
The second example was more recently.
I was sat in this cute little café in Koh Tao reading Gone Girl and minding my own business. The first problem occurred when I ordered a lemon tea expecting it to come out hot, and she makes me an iced lemon tea with cinnamon and god knows what else in. Now I’m not the kind of person to make a fuss about wrong orders (unless they have animal bits in) so I kept schtum. When I first entered this café I asked if there was anywhere to charge my phone as it was on 7% and I needed to get hold of a friend to let him know where I was. She said okay and pointed at the plug socket. After half an hour of charging, reading and enduring this weird lemony mulled wine tasting concoction she puts up a sign saying ‘recharge batteries 1 baht.’ About ten minutes later I went to pay. What should have originally cost me 45 baht ended up costing 105. Of course, the iced tea cost more than the drink I ACTUALLY ordered, and then she made me pay 40 baht for charging my phone, despite not actually mentioning that charging came at a fee. After a few minutes dispute I gave up and walked out with Damian in a storm. He thought I was just being irrational and grumpy. This just made me so angry. Of course it could have been a communication error but the way she was handling it was so cheeky!!! So again, walking back to sairee village I burst into tears. This time, in public. At this point I was also a little upset about various other things, so on top of that trying to explain to a guy you barely know that you just get emotional sometimes is very very difficult, and rarely understood.
Uncertainty and Unfamiliarity
Linked to the whole travel cycle I’ve mentioned above, there comes the frequent feeling of emptiness. Everything, everyone is replaceable. You’re living out of a backpack. You have no real constants. The only exception I’ve found on my trip is when was living in Kuching and Pai. I’d become part of the community. The corner shops had started selling me their illegal 7 ringgit under the counter rum and I’d made a group of solid friends. Travel is a constant cycle of uncertainty. Unless travelling with home friends… you never really know the people you’re meeting. You never know if you can trust them, their personality beyond the surface questions or how they’ll react in various situations. Without a familiar face, anxiety levels spike to the max, especially during the periods of lone travel.
Social Anxiety and Depression
I was diagnosed with social anxiety issues about 18 months ago, and for the first few months I was dealing with it really quite well. My first month or so of travelling was really difficult. Being thrown into crazy situations that a lone 18 year old girl who’s never left England has no effing clue how to deal with.
- Having to make friends to get by, to avoid extreme loneliness.
- Having to approach people first, who’ve already made groups of friends.
- Having to ask strangers on the street for directions even though they may not speak good/any English.
For most sociable people this would be a walk in the park, no problem. For me, this was daunting. I’ve never been good at making conversation (apart from with like the people I’ve known forever, and been through a lot through, that’s no problem.) and walking into my first hostel in Bali at 9pm, my heart was racing. Luckily, everyone there was very extrovert and invited me out to a snooker bar as soon as I’d sat down.
Alongside anxiety, I was also diagnosed with clinical depression. It is really hard for people to get their heads around this. It’s also something I find really hard to write about, as I still am unsure of the triggers and the feelings inside are very hard to put my finger on. For the first few months of my trip this was super under control. I’ve been taking medication to keep my emotions at bay and I’d started to feel ‘normal.’ This was interesting, and someone back home before I left actually posed me with the question of whether I’d need to keep taking my meds whilst travelling, or whether a change of environment would change how I felt. Of course, I ran out and thought I’d try out this theory (alongside the fact I had no idea where to get hold of Citalopram in Asia, and I didn’t want to try something else that I was unfamiliar with.) For a while whilst the citalopram was slowly fading out of my system, everything was ok. My month in Myanmar au naturale started off incredible. Only towards the end did I start to feel bad again.
Very rarely is there a reason for when people with emotional disorders start to feel down. This can cause riffs in friendships and relationships which are very often hard to repair. Imagine this. You’re in a foreign country with foreign people who know not an awful lot about you. You slowly become closer and BAM you hit a brick wall so turn around and walk the other way (metaphorically speaking.) This is the emotional emptiness I am talking about. Although I mention how easy it is to get attached to people when travelling, unless you are super emotionally stable (I don’t know how many people could truly say that this applies to them) it is also super easy to become a jerk, because after all you barely know the person. I’d say that this has only really happened once, and quite frankly I regret it. I pushed away a close close friend after getting complacent. All rationality and reasoning goes out the window when you’re alone and travelling. A lot of things don’t seem to have consequences, but the memory will always be there.
Despite being lucky enough to have had different people to travel with for months at a time, loneliness is omnipresent. I never thought I’d get homesick, and so far so good. For the past month however, I have been feeling extremely lonely. Despite meeting some great people ln Koh Tao, it is definitely the loneliest I’ve felt so far. I can’t put my finger on why, but I’ve recently been feeling very odd. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not missing home… just the idea of home; the idea of familiarity and a constant. Of routine and inside jokes. I have in fact thought multiple times about coming home, but I will persevere. I am a notorious giver upper. This is something I must change.
One other problem I’ve found is the fact I have no plans. Despite this being an incredible way to travel, I have found I’ve depended a lot on other people. One habit I’ve found has stuck with me since leaving home. I am notoriously indecisive. A habit I’d hoped to have kicked, but sadly 14 months in it’s still there. Reliance is not always a bad thing, however something I really need to focus on. People talk of travelling as being such a life changing experience. “Finding yourself.’ Learning things about yourself you didn’t know before, or changing for the better. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve changed a bit. I’m still the awkward opinionated chickI’ve always been. My willingness to talk to new people has got better though, but like I mentioned above that’s kind of a necessity in this lifestyle.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have had the most amazing time so far. I wouldn’t change anything for the world, and I’m certainly still happy that I made the right choice. I’m just fed up with blogging about how amazing things are, when there are also some extreme struggles you should all know about. Everyone’s travel experiences are different. But be prepared to feel really really reaaallyyyy shit at some points, even if you think you’re mentally tough enough to take on the world- you’re probably not.
Over and out.