Two years ago my wife and I made a decision to save a substantial amount and in lieu of a conventional mortgage down payment, opted for an action packed two year odyssey overseas. For me this was a bold decision. Prior to the epic journey my travels were safely contained within annual leave. I used go overseas with my mind half in the new place and half worrying about things back home. I holidayed, not travelled.
As you may know I have beaten depression and beaten it well. Part of my ongoing depression for so long was an inability to try new things, broaden my horizons and take sufficient risk in life. Travelling broadly helps in in all those departments. When I travelled, my wrong perceptions about cultures started to diminish. I learned that even when staying in countries whose cultural codes I definitely disagreed with I could still find my own peace and way of life. This realisation was liberating. A lot of my life clung to safety and wanted validation with safe, tight-knit cliques where people acted and thought like me. Travelling challenged these notions and in embracing new people and experiences, I truly did find myself and became even more comfortable with myself.
Travelling also introduces you to things you can’ t predict or control. People struggling with depression often want to control things and limit fear, but when you travel you simply have to let go and expect the unexpected. Freedom comes from discovering you can experience new locations, peoples and events and still be okay. It shows you how to be the minority, how to depend on others and open up to new ways of thinking and acting.
When I speak with people struggling with depression they often feel pushed from pillar to post in life, always striving by never attaining, always climbing but never reaching, always following what they think other people feel is best for them but never reaching or knowing that part of them that already KNOWS best. Travelling will teach you to know the knower. To feel the feelings. To open up to life in all its glory, misery and splendor.
Travelling took me to new lows and highs too. Toward the end of our stay in South Korea where we taught English for a year we experienced a very unpleasant episode where we lost a lot of money. Less than two months later we trekked to Everest Base Camp at a height of nearly 5.5 km above sea level. Needless to say it was a different universe up there and enabled me to wash all the pain and discomfort of Korea away in a clinical manner. The pains and the joy seems to somehow balance when your travel
You don’t meet many depressed people when travelling
Travel beats depression. For one I rarely met depressed fellow travelers. I definitely met people homesick and sometimes culturally isolated and dislocated people, but rarely depressed. People would be naturally inquisitive, pulling out maps, trying new things, recommending places. Travelling makes you more dependent and more social at the same time. The people you meet also can turn into life long friends. Whilst teaching in South Korea we formed close bonds with other expats who understand and support us in profound ways.
Travelling shows you the real world
Most western countries are full of media saturation geared around one purpose: selling things via marketing campains. In poorer countries the selling doesn’t relent, but you see the desperation and poverty that dominates much of the world. You realise how inward focussed western countries can become. Fixating on reality TV, sports and movie stars begins to lose its meaning when you see people struggling to get by.
Travelling teaches you to embrace the day
Depression strikes people who sometimes resist the day and resist the moment. While travelling is not easy all the time, and sometimes you will feel depressed, but you get unexpected moments of beauty and grandeur that you learn to savour more regularly. The cultivation of gratitude and appreciation comes with travelling. You just learn to let things flow and let things in. It’s beautiful.
Travelling strengthens your relationships with your travel companions
Either that or it can tear them apart. Travelling is an acid test on an relationship they’ll be times when you feel alone and misunderstood and leaning on the other in vulnerability and trust is all you can do. Thankfully travelling strengthened my relationship with my wife so that we are rock solid. We’ve been through everything together, highs, lows, mountains, deserts, and come out the other end happily together.
Travelling teaches you real appreciation for home
I grew up spoiled with choice and opportunity, yet for a lot of my early life I complained and saw only limit and frustration. A lot of it stemmed from the fact I didn’t appreciate what I had and took blessings for granted. Travelling is fantastic at obliterating the ‘taking it for granted’ pitfall that can sometimes underpin depression. The attitude of gratitude is great at beating depression.
Travelling is a life changing experience.
I grew so much as a person after I finished travelling, when I realised that I took to the time to see the world and find myself – not just through some faulty and distorted media lens. I tasted life in a deeper and more refreshing way and as a result my depression has never felt more at bay. Hope you’re all well. It’s good to be back blogging on this site again. Justin