As a lover of travel and long-term OCD sufferer, I know how the two can sometimes create an ugly mix! The stresses sometimes uncovered by being out of your comfort zone can make it harder to shhh that OCD bully inside your head. This article aims to assist anyone wishing to travel with OCD, by outlining some personal tips I have learnt on my travels. It is important to note that I am not a healthcare professional, and you should always consult a doctor for professional advice.
Research your destination
I always hear people say it's exciting to go to a destination blind-eyed but, in reality, that creates more problems than it's worth. By researching your destination, it will minimise any unnecessary stresses that might push your OCD into alert mode! Find out simple things like the kind of laws and customs the country your visiting has, so you don't stumble across any major surprises! Also, research more specific things, for example: if your travel insurance covers mental health; if your medication is legal and available abroad; if you're allowed to take any medication on the plane, and what mental health services are available at your destination. Be sure to check the FCO mental health page for more advice on travelling with a mental health issue.
Be aware of your fears, and rationalise them
Travelling can present OCD nightmares, such as fear of flying, fear of contamination or fear of being away from the ones you love. Ignoring these fears is much easier said than done (believe me, I know!), but if you try to rationalize the fears OCD creates, they should have far less of an impact on your wellbeing. If your scared of flying look up information on the safety of flying, or take a fear of flying course. If you are unsure about eating abroad research advice from the NHS on food and water abroad, also bring with you some easy meals such as porridge oats, which only requires boiling water, making it an easy and safe meal.
Keep in touch with friends and family
Talking to your loved ones and having a bit of a giggle can distract you and bring you back to reality! For me when my OCD gets really bad I know my friends and family can cheer me up by a simple chat on the phone. Therefore, it is always important to keep in contact with family and friends when you are travelling the world! Even if it is just a quick Whatsapp, remembering you have people who love you can make a positive impact on your day and your OCD.
Plan your first couple of days
I find my OCD is worse when I do not have a set schedule. This is because my mind has time to wander and stress about the smallest things. So, make a set plan for your first couple of days, or even the first week. This eliminates the panic of organizing things on the day in a place that is unknown to you, making your mind less vulnerable to OCD!
Have down time and save money for rest days
OCD can be an exhausting game! Make sure you treat yourself and be kind to your mind by not overworking it - this will make it stronger to tackle that pesky bully OCD creates! Take a day to read your favourite book, listen to your favourite music, or simply swing in a hammock in the breeze. Set money aside for these rest days; perhaps there is a hot spring or spa around the corner you can immerse yourself in!
Remember it's OK to be out of your comfort zone
You're going to be challenged on any trip, some more than others. Remind yourself that it's ok to be out of your comfort zone and treat it as a test and learning curve that will strengthen your mental health in the long run. Travelling is an exciting and exhilarating adventure, so be prepared that your journey might not be completely plain sailing, and that's okay! If you expect a few bumps along the way, they will be less of a surprise.
Reach out to new friends
Personally, I find my OCD more controllable when I surround myself with people who make me feel good about myself. So, don't be afraid to make new friends - you can learn many things from different people, including being introduced to other cultures and ways of thinking. So, go out there with a fresh smile and a willingness to meet new buddies from around the world!
OCD can be exhausting and tough, but let's not let the OCD bully win by stopping us do the things we love!