Worst part of the world sitting on you? De pression!
June 22, 2008 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Depression while traveling: it's such a bummer!

I started this trip two months ago. It's going to continue for another month and a half. It's probably nothing, but I'd rather know I'm not doing the right thing by sitting on this couch 4 out of 5 days.

I honestly couldn't care less about visiting other countries normally. I grew up on the road, drifting from country to country, school to school with my military family until my parents went insane. The only country I'd ever felt like visiting before this trip was Australia, but only because I've intended to emigrate there for 3 years now.

My first few weeks of travel were purely commando-mode. Learned basic Russian out of a phrasebook and common usage, then a little Kyrgyz, then a few words of Uzbek. About 2 and a half weeks into my trip, while in Tashkent, I had the humiliating experience of contracting salmonella. More than that, I got a great deal of mockery from the college student I was staying with.

That one bout of food poisoning basically put me into a bad place. I immediately left to Wien, had a bad experience at a school reunion, felt soul-crushingly guilty about kissing an Australian girl (can't help feeling down after that, given that she was from tasmania) and have been in this city ever since, having found a couch to sleep on.

I can't seem to budge. I have been to see a couple EM games and generally enjoyed myself, but I just can't move most of the time. I do enjoy art and culture. I've seen that a few museums here have exhibits I like (Egon Schiele!) but I just ... I feel I can't do more without another person here. Considering my assets as a traveler, I'd make a good companion. I know 5 (well, okay, 3 and then basic Russian and basic French) languages, I have a base of operations, I have friends in most of the countries around here ... normally I have an international sense of humor. I've even done the scummy thing and scouted hostels for people I could jump off with. Can't do it.

My initial impression is that depression while traveling is rare. Maybe a disease? I've been drinking a lot. Smoking a lot of pot, as well. But then I always do. I'm willing to entertain any rational, non-self-help-book way of easing myself out of this pit.
posted by electronslave to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
I don't know if it's as rare as you think. It can be stressful being away from home and your stuff and real friends and family, and knowing that you still have so much time left, and should be making the most of it. I miss my apartment while I'm traveling - a place where I can feel safe and just hang out and sleep and not worry about people going through my luggage - somewhere that I don't have to be on guard.

Also maybe give yourself permission to just relax and do whatever you feel like for a few days, even if that's sleeping and reading, or watching movies. There is such a thing as too much art and culture.

It sounds like you've been primarily couch surfing and staying at hostels, which usually means being around other people the majority of the time. Do you usually spend time by yourself at home? Some times I miss real alone time, not having to worry about other people in the room, so maybe get a private room for a bit, if your finances allow it.
posted by Sar at 5:31 PM on June 22, 2008

It's normal to get tired out while traveling, but this sounds serious enough that you aren't really engaged with the experience of your trip at all. If you can't go home, or don't want to, I'd suggest you force yourself to do things, either with a travel buddy (try posting on travel message boards to find one) or by yourself.

Not having someone to do things with ought not to keep you from doing them. If you fixate on that, and can't find anyone, you are not doing yourself any favors.

So you like Schiele? Great, go see that exhibit. Then explore Klimt, who fostered Schiele's career. Get out of your own head and into theirs'. Drink less, smoke less, try to stay fit. If it's clinical depression, you can deal with it when you get home and can see a doctor, but while you're traveling you should avoid chemical depressants.
posted by Scram at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2008

Depression while traveling for a long period is NOT rare. Throughout the period of a few months, a human being will normally go through many moods and that's not going to be different just because you're on vacation. When you're away from home for more than a few weeks, you're simply not going to be in happy fun mode all the time... especially when sometimes you're dealing with language barriers, lack of sleep, an upset stomach, homesickness, etc.

Hate to tell you... BEING A TRAVELER IS OFTEN HARD WORK. it's different than being a tourist.

When I was in Turkey in 2006, I ruptured my eardrum. I traveled for a month that way, trying to keep my spirits up but I was *very* depressed & cranky sometimes. I tended to take my bitchiness out on the Turkish salesmen who would follow me down the street trying to "be my friend" so they could sell me a rug. And there were times where I just didn't want to go outside, but I made myself. I was VERY VERY antisocial because I was in pain and it left me feeling very sorry for myself at times.

What really got me through was that I had a web log going. I made myself write in it every day and take photos, knowing that there were other people in the world who would KILL to be where I was, doing what I was able to do. It got my mind off of my problems and it gave me a goal... every day I had to focus on doing cool stuff that I could document instead of feeling sorry for myself. I had to have an adventure even if I wasn't in the mood. So I did. I told myself it DIDN'T MATTER if I did things by myself, because as I documented it I felt like I was doing these activities for other people too, and also so that I could have the memories in the future. Funny thing is, sometimes I ended up being befriended by people along the way mainly because I WASN'T TRYING SO HARD. It just kind of happened. So now I have great memories of that trip, and made new friends as well.

BTW, I saw the Egon Schiele exhibit when I was in Vienna last time and I loved it too.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:40 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

All I can say, as someone whose passport is full of stamps from distant locales, is that you have already done a lot, a lot more than most people in the world will ever get to do, and that's really a good thing, but that traveling "commando-mode" is not a very good thing if you end up exhausted and unhappy at the end of it. Taking time to rest is, frankly, a great idea, and Vienna is no worse a place than anywhere else to do it.

Really, though, you got sick and were in a country without the best medical care, and you went somewhere safer and healthier. This is not wrong. One of your traveling companions sucked: not your fault. The act of traveling itself in places like central Asia is intensely physically draining - you can't do it at the same pace that you'd do western Europe or something; again, this isn't something you should feel guilty about.

So you don't owe anyone anything, except yourself a rest and another visit to a doctor - fatigue and depression can be caused by many, many things, not just a bad make-out sesh.

And perhaps it's a good idea to lay off the drugs and the booze a bit and look for somewhere a little less likely to give you diseases, and a little more likely to result in something wonderful happening. Krakow's nearby, cheap enough, and amazingly beautiful. Get on a train and head down through Italy. Go swimming in one of Finland's six zillion lakes. Look for local places and embrace what you find.
posted by mdonley at 6:02 PM on June 22, 2008

Just to be clear, I've been very good at making friends very fast here. I haven't stayed in a hostel yet, but I did decomress by staying on my own. I know the language. I grew up in this city, and getting from Point A to Point B is a matter of 10 minutes. However, yes, I do believe there is a valid point: I must force myself into some kind of compulsory activity. One foot in front of another. Bike ride down the Alte Donau every day or something (it's just really hard without money, thanks to the IRS springing a surprise from 2006 last week.)

As far as going home, that's just not going to be an option. I have effectively burned my ship, and thinking of the steps I took to ensure a complete sever, I really did go all out. I have no posessions and no return point. That is not bothering me. This feeling of isolation, however, is very bad.

It's true, travel really is a lot of work. I've spent a lot of time on the road and it never gets easier. More than that, though, travel's a long chain of opportunities. Most of which I'm passing up like an idiot. I will go with the option of finding a (straight, male) travel buddy in order to mitigate a future feeling of failure.
posted by electronslave at 6:16 PM on June 22, 2008

Don't wait for a buddy to have your adventure. Seriously. You may have to simply become your own travel buddy at times. Be easier on yourself and learn to enjoy yourself as a travel partner... things will become a little easier that way. Enjoy your present. Look around. Experience every moment as much as you can. Be present in the moment. It'll pay off and you'll become a better travel partner in general. Not to mention you'll have better memories of what you're going through.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:00 PM on June 22, 2008

Hey, you had salmonella, that's enough to wipe anyone out. Plus it sounds like you left because you really needed to get away so no surprise that you're not all unicorns and sunshine. You've made it to a place you know and are comfortable at and you're having a hard time motivating to leave. Perfectly natural- you've been through a lot lately. Don't kill yourself- the museums and adventures aren't going anywhere and you're on vacation, you're supposed ot be doing whatever you feel like.

My advice, and I love to travel, is not to try to cram too much in. Pick one or two things you'd like to do in the next month and take everything else as it comes.
posted by fshgrl at 9:35 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alcohol is a depressant. Try laying off it for a few days and see if that helps.
posted by salvia at 10:03 PM on June 22, 2008

Ah. Yes.
I have a 'friend' who has travelled a lot smoking a lot of pot... My friend would say to look to your vitamin/mineral and electrolyte levels after your bout of illness. When my friend gets depressed while travelling, a few days of vit B's / zinc etc help out a lot. Get a multi and some fish oil caps and see how you go (fish oil is awesome for depression and dysthymia). Best o' luck.
posted by Kerasia at 11:57 PM on June 22, 2008

Wait, what?

You say you're "travelling", but then you go to mention that you've no plans to return to whence you came from. If you're talking about moving to a different country, this sort of thing is pretty normal, I'd say (from a sample size of a few fellow expats). It'll take a while to acclimatize yourself, but it will happen. Before that, just take it easy and don't worry about the missed opportunities, I personally found out that the things you end up remembering (fondly, sometimes) are not found in museums.

Good luck with your journeys.
posted by phax at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2008

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