I’ve done a little travelling since I first experienced mental illness, and I admit to being a bit apprehensive about it. But for me, staying healthy when I travel comes down to knowing myself and being prepared.

Being prepared:  When I travel overseas I do a lot of work ahead of time. I make sure I have enough medication to see me through my entire trip, and a note from my doctor saying what the medication is for to show customs, if they ask.  I bring my medication in my carry-on luggage, along with my important papers, in case my checked luggage gets lost in transit. 

I buy medical insurance, although it may not cover a pre-existing condition like my mental illness because I am just as likely to become physically sick or injured as any other traveller and medical insurance gives me some peace of mind, as well as being mandatory  to enter some countriesI make sure I have my passport, visa if necessary, required and advised vaccinations, airline ticket, and enough local currency for the countries I am visiting to get by for a week or more until I can find a bank machine  (your debit card needs to have the Interac Plus sign on the back to work in some foreign countries).

I make a checklist of all the things I want to bring with me on my trip and cross them off as I pack them. I also try to learn a little of the language of my host country, and I research the places I want to go and the things I want to do when I get there.

Knowing yourself : It’s important to know what you need to stay healthy, and what triggers your illness. Travelling is tiring and takes a lot of energy, and navigating foreign airports can be stressful. When I find myself with a familiar feeling of illness coming on, it is usually because I haven’t slept, and I know that I will be ok once I have had a good night’s sleep. 

Being prepared helps with the stress, and I have learned the hard way that it is better to leave more layover time (3 hours in a foreign airport) when I’m changing flights. I drink lots of water and eat the food offered on longer flights so my blood sugar doesn’t dip too low. I try to pack as lightly as possible, since lugging a suitcase at the end of a long trip can be the straw that breaks the camels back. And on my last trip, I made use of the motorized carts and wheelchairs to get me to where I needed to go in the airport, which saved me physical and mental suffering.

For me, travelling with a mental illness requires planning and acceptance of my limits, but the rewards, culturally and personal growth-wise, are great. So, safe travels and Bon Voyage!

About Anna Quon

Anna is an accomplished freelance/creative writer and writing workshop facilitator. She lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  She is passionate about many things, especially writing. It is through her writing, and her volunteer work with community organizations, that Anna honours the lives of people who, like her, are living with mental illness.

In 2008, Anna received the Inspiring Lives Award from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. In 2009, Anna published her first novel titled Migration Songs which was short listed for the Dartmouth Book Award.

Visit Anna's website.