Can travel cure depression?

Updated: 1st June 2018

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*This is not medical advice, I’m not an expert. If you feel suicidal or have hit a low, please reach out to a friend, family member or a group such as the Samaritans UK 116 123 or a similar local agency, trust me, they help.

It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die, I just simply didn’t want to live anymore.

I’d lost my job and with it all hope. It wasn’t the first time I had hit that low but afterwards; I knew I wanted it to be my last. I don’t know how many pills I took with the whisky, but the next morning when I woke up in a dissolved heap on my Dads floor with him in tears sat looking down on me I realised how close I had come. I also realised no parent should ever have to save their son, or worse, bury them.

I’d battled the ups and downs of depression for over a decade. I remember being a teenager and when I’d run out of arms to dig my pen-knife into I’d moved on to my legs, then my back and stomach until there was no skin left untouched. Maybe then it had been a cry for attention I don’t know, a call I’d hidden under too many layers of shame and clothing.

Mental health and depression is a such a taboo we don’t talk about it enough. We’d rather disappear than discuss. Hide the reality behind a smile to not be a burden.

I’d never felt comfortable talking about how I felt or the reasons that got me there. The broken teeth and stab wounds from an abusive relationship, the #metoo moments I still felt distance from joining in the whole discussion about and then some more.

I’d always seeked solitude in security; job security, house security, relationship security… and when that was snatched away from me in what seemed the most unfair circumstances, it finally pushed me to the edge.

I had no clue what to do next, but I knew it needed to be different from the past decade. That moment I stood up off the floor and hugged my dad for longer than I had ever hugged anyone I knew I had to do something different, I had to find a way to feel complete. But life, money, the normal, it was all standing in my way.

I got another restaurant job, pulled some of the longest hours of my life and worked my way up quickly, all with the mindset of clearing debt and saving enough to do something.

That ‘something’ turned out to be the travel thing. I’ve got to be honest; it had never really interested me. I’d had some amazing and life-consolidating trips, namely my trip to Rio, but it had always seemed like something else cool people did on gap-years, a category I didn’t see myself in.

When the day came to take the one-way flight to Indonesia I knew this had to be more than a holiday; I knew it had to be my saviour. While other people in the hostel went out boozing, I spent hours watching Youtube videos and scouring free resources on google photography. It was something I loved, but I knew I would never make it a career… I’d scroll through Instagram and feel so inferior to everyone I saw living their dream life, forgetting it was just a snippet, and the story behind that person was less likely to appear.

The journey was magical; I felt the freedom I had never felt before, and my thoughts of worthlessness become more infrequent. I’d look in the mirror and smile rather than curse myself. I was on the road to somewhere, and I thought the more flights I took, the more happiness I would feel.

If you haven’t suffered depression you won’t know this feeling. It’s not looking in the mirror and being annoyed at your hair. It’s looking in a mirrior and feeling hate. Hate to what you say, hate of yourself, a feeling that the person looking back shouldn’t be alive.

I fell in love, both with a person and a country. I set my goals on moving to Australia and living the happily ever after. But when that crashed down two years later, I turned to the bottle and my own soul-destroying thoughts again. This time though I was ready to reach out. Sasha my friend doesn’t know this but she was my saviour that time. Long phone calls to my parents who travel had brought me even closer to become my happy times and I knew I was going to turn all of my energy into chasing this photography dream.

Fast forward two years and it’s come true. I’m happy, but not stable; I’m privileged but aware. The rollercoaster of everything brought me to this moment, and even with all the pain, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the person I finally became and each one of those moments contributed to that. I’ve been the worse, awful person I’ve known but also the best person I’ve known; there is something to be said for viewing yourself through an outside window.

To answer the question of the post, No, I don’t think travel can cure depression. I believe travel can heal the day-to-day blues; I think travel can help us on a journey to feeling more complete but the cure? The cure has to come from inside with the support of people around us.

I realised that travel was a vehicle to what I had always craved more than anything, freedom. Freedom to spend my time how I want, freedom from a life I didn’t think I fit in and freedom from my mind, a mind that always told me I didn’t deserve to be here. I didn’t deserve to live.

I’d always felt too ashamed to reach out, to open up, to tell people how I felt. It’s not something we are open to in society, especially as a white male I knew I had the best start in life and I shouldn’t be complaining.

But travel opened my eyes. I met people with the most inspiring, heart-breaking and intriguing stories that made me re-evaluate the choices in front of me: accept how I felt or fight like a fucker to beat it.

I picked a fight, a fight I didn’t realise at the time I was already ten years into. A fight that would no longer begin and end at the bottom of the bottle, but that would begin from inside of me and a desire to know every smile was true and not faked.

In the west, we hear so much about places around the world but I being face to face with other peoples realities helped me realise I could turn my life around.

When a 13-year old talks to you about her husband and baby in India, an Aboriginal in Australia share their story in person about being taken from their parents to be ‘bred out’ or you spend time with those suffering the after-effects of agent orange in Vietnam you can’t help but see the world in a different light. I knew I had a fight in me, and I knew I wanted that fight to be for other people as well. But without your own strength, you can’t help fight for others.

I can’t count the inspiring stories I’ve heard over the past few years of travelling, from Simla, now one of my dearest friends who has battled brain-surgery, comas and a hard childhood to come out setting up a tour company which helps others to Lizzie, a cancer survivor who now dedicates her life to ridding the world of plastic pollution. Every story and face you meet on the journey of travelling plays a part in shaping you and your future. The world suddenly becomes closer, people are people, not foreigners, and your mindset gradually shifts to a new place.

That shift helped me find my happiness. It helped me find a calmness inside I can’t remember ever feeling before. It helped me find a job and a life that brings me happiness.

I don’t have security, I have more debt than I know how to handle and I spend far too much time far-away from the people I love the most but I have finally found that elusive happiness. That lifestyle I used to see scrolling through Instagram and think was a fake dream.

And now I worry people scroll through my edited photos from the best moments of travel and think the same when it’s only half the story.

So please, please, remember there is more to life than surviving, we are all here for something, and only we can define what that something is. Reach out, open up, have the conversation before you hit rock bottom. It hurts to share those deepest scars we carry inside, but scars can’t heal unless you treat them, ignoring them just leads to infections and repercussions.

Can travel cure depression? Probably not. But if it can be your catalyst to change your mindset, then it’s a journey worth taking. If it isn’t your catalyst, keep searching until you find it.

You are worth something. No, fuck that, you are worth everything. You deserve everything, and you deserve happiness. We all do.

You. Are. Worthy. Of. Happiness.

Please, never forget that on your journey to it.

Even after finding my happiness and that happiness being constant for over two years now I still didn’t want to talk about this. I still feel some shame in my past, and I still feel worried people will read this, and I’ll lose work opportunities through judgement.

But do you know whats worse than losing job opportunities? Losing people. I’ve lost too many people to depression and mental health, and that’s not okay. If this snapshot of my story helps one person, one of my friends to reach out, to take that step, to know they are worthy then that is all that matters.

Because you matter. Whoever you are reading this, you matter.

I’ve recently lost someone else to depression, someone who seemed to be perfectly happy. I wish I had said the above to them. Shared my story. Found a middle ground… but I didn’t and now I’ll never share a beer or smile with them again and it makes me realise how having these conversations is more important than ever.

With my travels, I can’t promise to always be near my email but if you ever want to talk about the above you can get me by email at me@danflyingsolo.com and I’ll come back to you ASAP. Please use the email message title Urgent so it comes out from my spam and in the meantime, be the warrioir, find yout strength and know you will be happier than this one day.

*This is not medical advice, I’m not an expert. If you feel suicidal or have hit a low, please reach out to a friend, family member or a group such as the Samaritans UK 116 123 or a similar local agency, trust me, they help.

2 replies
  1. Andi says:

    Thanks for your honesty, Dan. I think it’s important to get a peek behind the Instagram illusion of a perfect life. I have a similar story and am trying to find the courage to share it. To be brave like you, my “idol”.

    • Daniel James (Dan Flying Solo) says:

      Thank you so much for reading Andi and sorry to hear you’ve also had your own story, hope it is in your path. And it’s not brave, I still don’t really feel comfortable sharing this but I felt it was finally time to get more okay with talking on it. Take care x


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