How Travel Can Beat Depression (Article)

How Travel Can Help Beat Depression



In light of the heartbreaking news of Robin Williams’ suicide, I wanted to write something personal this week.

Umm, Mandie, don’t you always write personal stuff?

I try to, but often I edit myself to portray the good parts. Today, you get a little Mandie uncensored. I’m hijacking my own post schedule because if someone who brought so much joy and laughter to others could feel desperate enough to take his own life, anyone can.

If you’ve been following along you know that I tend to be an upbeat, goofy, easily amused person. I choose to focus on the good things and look for the uplifting message in whatever I do. I get my kicks from the little things in life. But I have not come by this naturally. It’s a long, arduous work in progress.

Since I was a child I’ve suffered from clinical depression and anxiety attacks. I have a mild case of agoraphobia. Having to make a phone call is enough to bring me to tears, and I score a bit higher than “normal” on the scale for Asperger’s Syndrome. Whatever the f*ck normal means, anyway.

So how the hell is someone like me backpacking around the world by herself, having little to no concrete travel plans, without having a complete mental breakdown?

One day at a time, my friends.

The longer I travel, the clearer it becomes that everywhere I go and every person I meet teaches me something new. It’s not like all of my problems have magically disappeared; I’m just gaining new abilities to cope with them.

Do I still have trouble breathing when I’m surrounded by strangers? Yup. Do I still panic just a little bit every single time I arrive in a new city? I sure do. But I have developed an override switch.

The more often you face fear head on, the easier it gets.

My greatest fear is making a fool out of myself, so I use humor as a defense mechanism. I act like a goofball; an impenetrable wall. If I’m laughing at myself, no one else’s laughter can hurt me.

Sound familiar?

Most comedians deal with significant levels of depression and self-doubt. To make other people laugh you have to be gritty, raw, honest. You have to look into the darkness within yourself and make a joke about it. After all, it’s only funny if it’s true.

You might be thinking right now that I’ve never REALLY been depressed. Sure, anyone can say “oh, I’ve been depressed.” But clinical depression isn’t just “feeling sad.” It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. It feels like a weight is crushing you, but you don’t really care. Because you don’t care about anything.

There’s a little voice in the back of your mind telling you that you should get up, take a shower, change out of your sweatpants, but it’s not loud enough to drown out the voice that’s telling you it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. YOU don’t matter.

Depression is an invisible wall that cuts you off from the people who love and care about you; it is the worst kind of liar that tells you how alone you are in the world.

Guys, I’m not saying this to get attention. This happened years ago, and is a part of my past. But it’s a part of my past that I feel is relevant today, because I want to speak to anyone who might be feeling like they just want to give up.

I’ve taken Prozac, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin. I’ve changed my diet, frequented tanning beds (yep, that was therapist-issued advice), and started new exercise programs.

You know what I’ve found to be the best way to overcome depression and anxiety?

Traveling. Challenging myself. Getting outside of my own little world.

Want to silence the nasty voice in your head? Step outside of it. Get a new perspective. Stop over-thinking everything and just do it. Throw yourself into situations that scare you again and again. One day you’re going to wake up and realize that you just rocked something you would have found terrifying 6 months ago.

When you travel you realize what a tiny, tiny part of the great wild world that you are. And how absolutely beautiful and freeing that is.

Because, guess what? When I’m traveling through a foreign country I’m going to make a fool out of myself. Unintentionally. A lot.

And…life goes on. And it’s freaking beautiful.

This is what you learn as you travel – that there is always a plan B (or C, or D, or Z). That no matter how devastating things may seem at that moment, there is always a way out. That people you don’t even know will go to incredible lengths to help you out of a sticky situation. That complete strangers can become friends in a matter of minutes.

Fear tells you that terrible things are going to happen. Depression tells you that the only way to make it stop is to end everything. Anxiety tells you that you can’t handle this.

Travel teaches you that you can.

I’m not saying it’s a magic answer. There is no magical solution to depression and anxiety. This is just what has helped ME, in addition to the love and support of my friends and family. It has helped me learn to express gratitude for the little things in life, and your attitude towards the little things can change the big ones.

You know what I’m grateful for today? Clothes dryers. Big cups of coffee. Good, cheap wine. New friends. The support of old friends. Having someone wonderful in my life who makes me feel safe and special and able to achieve anything in the world.

Sometimes depression, fear, and anxiety seem to win. They spew lies and take beautiful, inspirational people out of this world.

But they won’t win in my life, or hold me back from chasing my dreams around the world. They can tag along if they want but I’ll just keep stuffing them further down into that dark, smelly corner of my backpack.

I hope they enjoy my dirty socks.


This post is linked up with the fabulous #SundayTraveler. Link up your own or find other great travel-related posts at Chasing the Donkey, The Fairytale Traveler, Pack Me To, A Southern Gypsy, or Ice Cream & Permafrost.


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Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

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    1. realgunners   August 14, 2014 at 6:42 am

      “The more often you face fear head on, the easier it gets.”
      That’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Learning to walk, learning to ride a bike, asking a girl (or boy) out for the first time, attending the first job interview, pack up and go travel, etc. We just have to tackle it head on and it’ll work out in the end.
      There’s a Cantonese saying: “the boat will straighten by itself once it reaches the pier”, meaning everything will eventually be alright in the end, somehow.


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 7:55 am

          I love that quote! And it’s so true – the more experience you have, the more you learn that everything, in the end, has a way of working itself out.


    1. Dave   August 14, 2014 at 9:26 am

      Travel truly can be a panacea to mental health problems – I went through daily hell with anxiety attacks, agoraphobia and depression for much of my early 20s before I decided to leave the London rat race and go to Asia. A year later I came back a different person; the issues I had before had gone as my perspective -and thus my mentality – had been changed significantly. Travel was a clean slate which made more of a difference to me than psychological treatment ever has.


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 7:59 am

          Travel is such an empowering experience! I’m so glad to hear that it helped improve your life as well!! It’s so true – you just have a different perspective when you return home.


    1. Melissa   August 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

      I think traveling distracted me from depression. My energy and focus was spent dealing with the logistics of travel, being a new place etc. I’m back home in New York now for a couple of months and I don’t have those distractions right now.
      It is a little bit easier dealing with it though because I’m leaving again so I have that to look forward to.


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 8:01 am

          It’s always good to give our own minds a break now and then. I’m glad you have upcoming travels to look forward to, and hopefully you’re not too stressed out back in NY!


    1. Heather @ TravelingSaurus   August 14, 2014 at 11:58 am

      Thanks for posting this. Just because people seem happy, bubbly, and bright on their blogs doesn’t mean that’s how they feel; it’s easy to forget, but important to remember. I hope you periodically continue to talk about this, as you feel appropriate 🙂


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 8:10 am

          Even the bright, bubbly people can go through hard times! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂


    1. kelli   August 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Hi Mandie
      This was such a great post. Thank you for sharing this information about yourself…I have gone through bouts of depression, but it is primarily low-grade I suppose. It is always something that is kind of lurking in the background, and I have discussed it on my own blog a few times. I do agree that traveling can be a wonderful way to cope, and in a way, I think it can rewire our brain in lots of good ways.

      Sharing something like this is so helpful on so many levels, but particularly because it is easy to look at people like ourselves, living this awesome lifestyle, and think we have something that they don’t or that we must not be dealing with any serious issues that hold us back. But, the funny part is, these exact issues are what drive us to do what we do. Really connected with what you said here and I imagine lots of other people will too.


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 8:14 am

          Thanks Kelli! I’m so glad that you connected with this. I had qualms about posting it and almost chickened out at the last second, but I did feel like it was important to share. In the end, if it can help someone then it’s definitely worth putting myself out there. Even those of us who are happy-go-lucky adventurers have our own set of issues. Like you said – that’s exactly what drives us to keep going! 🙂


    1. Sammi Wanderlustin’   August 14, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Preaching to the choir, girl. I struggle with depression & sometimes it wins & sometimes it creeps in & it takes me a few to realise that’s what it is. I’m so lucky with the people around me, my best friend sometimes before I’ve even noticed knows it & just waits and does everything in his power to make it better. I’m so lucky for that. Travel is my escape from everything and I can be myself without all the scary stuff & I feel so happy when I’m travelling, its like the depression isn’t there, the rest of life is One Day at a Time. This post is so poignant, thanks so much for writing it Mandie


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 8:21 am

          You’re so welcome! For me it has really been a journey of the more I keep getting out and challenging myself, the less power depression and anxiety has over my life. It’s something that I know I can get through now. And I’m very happy to hear that you have a best friend who supports you – it’s sooo important to have those good people in our lives!


    1. Maha   August 15, 2014 at 12:32 am

      Oh Mandie, you’ve outdone yourself! Your blogs are always well done, but there’s a depth to this one that really caught my attention. Travel has changed me like nothing else (except, of course, for meditation) could possibly do. It keeps me sane-ish. It adds mystery and adventure and opportunities for service not always readily available…and on and on. Thank you for facilitating such rich dialogue with your brillilant truth-telling!

      Love prevails,


        1. Mandie   August 16, 2014 at 8:26 am

          Aww, thanks Maha! I’m going to give meditating another shot when I get home and can find some distraction-free space. I admit, I find writing these “deep” posts a lot easier than writing about the destinations that I visit – maybe the universe is trying to tell me something there!!


    1. Sabina @GirlvsGlobe   August 16, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      I can relate to this so much – from “It’s not like all of my problems have magically disappeared; I’m just gaining new abilities to cope with them.” to using humour as a defence mechanism. I could pretty much pick out any quote from this article and just find myself nodding along. I’m glad you’re also sharing your experience with depression – it’s not a nice topic, but as you can see by the response you’re getting (and I got on my post) it’s definitely a topic people are eager to discuss. Thanks a lot for sharing your take & for being brave and fabulous!


    1. Lisa   August 17, 2014 at 5:50 am

      You should be very proud of yourself. It takes great strength to travel the world alone. I know. But it’s in those moments of isolation that great strength comes.


        1. Mandie   August 17, 2014 at 7:28 am

          Thanks Lisa, and very well said! We all seek security in some way, and travel helps you discover security within yourself. 🙂


    1. Dave Cole   August 17, 2014 at 6:25 am

      Hi Mandie – Very nicely written post! I think travel can fight a variety of issues in addition to anxiety and depression. Closed-minded people can find it much more difficult to stay that way once they’ve experienced a radically different culture.


        1. Mandie   August 17, 2014 at 7:27 am

          Thanks Dave! You’re so right – it’s hard to stay closed-minded once you’ve experienced a life outside of your own little world.


    1. Amy Lynne Hayes   August 17, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Great post Mandie!! I have never dealt seriously with depression, at least not in the clinical sense. I’ve had my fair share of anxiety though – especially when my visa situation was to precarious in Paris and I ended up getting deported. But, travel is filled with those challenges that once you face them, everything else seems to be small stuff. It helps us gain perspective. Thanks for sharing yours! 😉


    1. Adelina   August 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

      What a fantastic post. I can appreciate how hard it must have been to click publish on this. “The more often you face fear head on, the easier it gets.” YES!! In many ways, I can relate to those feelings of panic. Being in an unfamiliar city on my own. Not sure where I’m going. Plus, I’m an introvert and constantly having to meet new people, making new friends and being all bubbly takes a massive toil. I think travel is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and to be able to focus on other things. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Bobby Foster   August 17, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Hi Mandie,
      I think the thing that sums up why traveling is a good way to rid yourself of depression, anxiety, and fear is summed up by one of your smallest sentences. “Get a new perspective.”

      When we gain a new perspective, we see the world in a completely different way, and our troubles in the past seem to fade.

      Gaining a new perspective is everything.

      Great post!


    1. Penny @ Travelling Penster   August 17, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      You go Mandie! It’s awesome that you can see the positive in things, and grow, and learn 🙂 Whilst I don’t suffer from depression, or anxiety, travel has helped me get through some truly difficult times in my life. It’s most definitely my therapy, and is when I feel happiest, and the most ‘me’ 🙂


    1. Anna   August 17, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks for being so brave to share this Mandie! I’ve never suffered from clinical depression, but definitely have a lot of self-doubts and fears about not being “good enough.” You’re really brave to fight your problems and travel alone. I’m still scared to do that (and plus I always feel really socially awkward), but maybe someday! Thanks for being an inspiration :).


    1. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey   August 17, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      Ohhh Mandie, for someone who told me that they had no post prepared for today…. you knocked this one out of the ballpark. So honest and so you. I am so proud to know you have pushed through your fears and those horrid panic attacks – go you!!
      Thanks for linking up to #SundayTraveler with such an important message. I agree what the f*ck does normal mean anyways?????


    1. Steve   August 17, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      Great post Mandie. I too use travel to help my depression. Also made my feelings known in a blog post. The people that say they had depression the more people will understand.


    1. Sherrie Beaver   August 19, 2014 at 2:11 am

      I love this. I can relate to this.

      I had some dark times in late 2012, and thought “fuck it” when I used all of my savings to book a return flight to Europe. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and all other life decisions I’ve made ever since then has changed me for the better.


    1. Christa Thompson   August 20, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Hello, on behalf of Christa, host of The Sunday Traveler, I was stopping by to check out your article. Mandie, that was awesome and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing that and once again, for your beautiful transparency, Love how you always keep it real and do you! High 5!


    1. lynne   October 6, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Hi… True indeed that the more often we face fear head on, the easier it gets. This is really very motivating and very timely too. Thanks for sharing. Great Post!


    1. Rhys   June 7, 2015 at 5:21 am


      Thanks so much for posting this. I am currently suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and a mild but constant depression. I have booked a one way flight from London to Bangkok for next month and I was 50/50 about whether to cancel it or not. You don’t realise how much this post has encouraged and reassured me that I CAN do it.

      All the best


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I am a retired Chief Warrant Officer (5), US Army. I am an entrepreneur as well with huge plans for retirement and my twilight years. After working a greater part of my life serving in the military and working for my country, my future plans are to enjoy life to the fullest without the drama, politics, or stress of actually working. I plan to live it up.

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