The apparent answer to bettering one’s mental health would be to invest in therapy. But for someone who’d rather chew her fingers off than confront her shitty life choices, running away, I mean travelling, seems like a better fit. When life gets hard, my go-to strategy has always been to get a new life. This probably isn’t the healthiest way to deal with issues, but it works for me, at least for the moment – a band-aid on a shark bite, if you will.
The issue this time was burnout with a large, greasy side of depression. Burnout came from a toxic dead-end job. The depression was sponsored by the great Canadian winter paired with a lengthy lockdown.
I wanted nothing more than to feel myself again. So, when shit really hit the fan, I had no choice but to dig deep and ask myself, ‘how did I get back up before?’
My last two brain cells came up with: new experiences, friends and improving my physical health.
Then, I looked at the bank account. I had $2K in my emergency savings (its bail money because, yes, paranoid af) and a flight credit to my name. On the other hand, getting therapy required a bunch of online quizzes, soul searching and admitting I was wrong. The answer was obvious. Zahra Travels needed to make back a comeback.
For once in my travel “career”, I didn’t care where, I didn’t care how, I just knew I needed to get away and make it all about me. Not work, not a vacation, not long-lost relatives from dad’s side. Me.
Here are some ways travelling helped me cope with burnout and depression.
Travel lets you disconnect and recharge
Aside from work, so many other little things require our attention. When you’re travelling, you only need to worry about where you’re going to eat your next meal and whether to take a right or a left because everything looks pretty.
When you just stop fussing over alarms, schedules and appointments, you notice you have so much room to absorb the life around you and ask the important questions about what really makes you happy. This world is constantly trying to turn us into machines, and travelling lets you pull the corporate monster’s plug.
Travel makes you move
Usually, I rehearse a Hamlet sized inner monologue to shoo away my laze so I can get my ass to the gym. But when Zahra travels, a sense of adventure overtakes all logic, and I find myself constantly moving and trying new things. I do shit I would never do at home. I walk 50 mins to the museum. I go surfing without knowing how to swim. The more I move, the more I love and thank my body for allowing me to.
You guys probably already know the connection between body and mind, so I’ll stop here.
Travel lets you explore your creative self
When you’re shackled to your home office and the same routine day in and day out, your thoughts reflect the same. As a writer and journalist, I CRAVE new environments to widen my creative scope. When I’m travelling, I learn about a new country and its history, and I push myself to use different parts of my brain.
I find myself asking questions I didn’t think I even needed answers to. Why do goats chill in trees? How can someone voluntarily live in the desert without Wi-Fi? How often do camels need to drink water?
New friends tell us about concepts and ideas we never paid attention to before. I start to see so much beauty in everything again. I write and doodle in my journal. I wear cute dresses with matching earrings. I make sure I put my best self forward not only because I want to feel confident, but because I represent my culture and community.
All of this adds up. I’m flipping the pages of my journal now, and I see so many ideas for stories I could write, ways I could redecorate my room, and food I’d like to ask my mom to make (I still can’t cook).
Travel helps you meet new people and get free therapy
I think this is my favourite thing about travel. When conversations are triggered with people I dorm with at hostels or my table neighbour at a cafe, I realize that I’m not alone in my mistakes. Most people do shitty things. Strangers have a tendency to behave as excellent listeners and advice-givers. There is no judgement, and if there is, who cares, you’re never going to see them again!
Every chat feels like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. If you make someone feel really comfortable, folks can admit to some murderous scandals outside their countries which makes you feel less shitty about yourself. On a more serious note, you understand how others cope in similar circumstances. It’s honestly a win-win for both parties.
Travel lets you enjoy small wins and celebrate yourself
We set these big goals at home: pass X exam, save Y amount of money, lose Z amount of weight in time for hot girl summer. When travelling, your goal is to get from point A to point B. Hostel to the beach. Market to the train station. You start ticking so many of these boxes in such a short amount of time. I remember telling myself that if I found my way through the Marrakesh medina maze without looking at Google maps, I’d treat myself to ice cream. It feels incredible to celebrate that win and self-reward.
Travel makes you happy
This one is simple. Travel makes us happy, and we need to do more of what makes us happy.
Now, the juicy question remains: Did travelling improve my mental health? Am I cured of burnout and depression?!!?
I wish it was that easy. Just like our physical health, mental health will always be an uphill climb. But right now, I feel like I’ve refuelled enough to want to keep going.
Looking back, it’s funny how quick this trip became cliché: three countries, a quit job, the nostalgia of an old life. I always made fun of the Karens wanting that Eat, Pray, Love ending, but here I also was, in the Sahara Desert, looking at the Milky Way, contemplating possibilities in life that made my gut giddy. I finally started romanticizing myself as the main character of my own life, like TikTok wanted me to.
Note: I am not a mental health expert. Please click here to seek professional help when dealing with mental health issues.