There is a common travel troupe that involves using the spirit of adventure to find yourself, to discover your innermost desires and determine what you’re made of by hitting the open road. It’s theme I’m not unfamiliar with: Two years ago I took a very Eat, Pray, Love–esque solo trip to Bali to spend some time adjusting to a life that had changed drastically in the year prior. I fed monkeys, hiked through secret canyons, visited a fortune teller with the longest nails I’d ever seen, and just remembered that I’m perfectly good company on my own. There have been road trips through Sicily, Inca Trail hikes, yoga in the Thai sun—all extremely introspective and uplifting.
More recently, however, I’ve been traveling to run away from myself.
I started medication for depression in January of 2017, though I’m sure I went undiagnosed for at least a year before that. From my first day on the pills until now, I’ve visited: Mexico (three times), Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Germany, Italy (twice), Finland, Spain (twice), Canada (twice), the UK (twice), Vietnam, and Japan, plus domestic trips to Oklahoma, New York, DC, and Florida. Every time I would board a flight, I’d remind myself, “I’m doing this because travel makes me happy. I’m going here to see new things. How lucky am I to live this life?” But the truth, I eventually realized, wasn’t quite so optimistic. A cloud had settled over my home life. In Seattle, where it’s dark and dreary even without added depression, I was feeling stagnant. Sad. Unmotivated. I’d spend days in bed, often scrolling through flight deals or looking at AirBnbs for trips that sometimes never manifested.
When travel plans did come through, I’d try my damnedest to leave my worries behind. Enter me smiling on Instagram, posting #goals photos on Facebook, and generally keeping up a fun-girl travel persona. Yet, I’d also occasionally sleep for full days, cry in public, or drink too much (or, you know, all of the above). It’s just that no one saw this side of my trips. Travel was often a distraction, a master avoidance technique that allowed me to ignore the things that were eating away at me while simultaneously appearing to the rest of the world as stable, interesting, even happy. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy at times. Every new place was a chance to explore and experience something fresh, enough that I could temporarily forget my failed relationship or lack of career drive or pit of unexplained sadness. Also I was often shoving delicious food in my face, another one of my coping mechanisms.
A year later—likely thanks to a healthy combination Wellbutrin, hypnotherapy, and a whole library of self-help books—travel is again feeling more like an adventure than an escape. I’m currently on two-month trip through Italy, Spain, Germany, and the UK (it’s for work, I’m not that lucky), and, for the first time in a long time, I’m realizing that the life I’m leaving behind is just as inspiring as the one I’m off to discover. I’m feeling more motivated—most of the time—and the days that I’m down don’t take me out for the count, both at home and abroad. And I think I’m finally ready to bring my whole self on the road, rather than leave the hardest parts of her behind.