Anyone can get stressed or nervous when it comes to preparing for a holiday. But when you are living with mental health needs, there are a few extra things to consider to help make sure your trip is the relaxing, enjoyable break you’re hoping for.
There’s a lot to love about going on holiday. Exploring new cultures. Unwinding on a sun-soaked veranda. Taking in the sights, sounds and scents of somewhere new. But travelling in unfamiliar climes can be stressful too. And that stress can be felt more keenly by those who are living with mental health needs.
There are clear links between mental and physical health. So it’s all the more important to look after yourself while you’re on your holidays. That’s why the Foreign & Commonwealth Office worked with mental health organisations as well as people living with mental health needs to produce a series of travel tips - specifically for travellers with mental health needs and their carers.
Here’s a quick summary.
Factors affecting mental health during travel
It’s always nice to get away from it all. But going abroad can involve a lot of uncertainty and change to your regular routines. Sometimes that can intensify anxiety, sometimes it can alleviate it. But it’s important to be prepared for the lack of familiarity. Your mental and physical health prior to, and during, your trip will help to determine how well you cope with the travel stressors that everyone can succumb to.
Factors that can impact mental health before or during a holiday include:
- Tiredness or lack of sleep
- Major life events such as birth, bereavement, wedding, divorce, moving house or serious illness
- Financial worries
- Relationship difficulties
- Problems at work
Check your travel insurance
If you have a mental health condition on your medical records, it’s really important that you tell your travel insurer. If you don’t you could invalidate your entire policy, even if you need to claim for something unrelated to your condition.
Some travel insurers do not provide cover for mental health needs, but if you shop around you should be able to find a policy you can count on. Here at World First for example, it’s possible for us to cover a range of mental health needs - including bipolar - if you meet our screening criteria. Generally speaking, if you are well enough to travel and haven’t been in hospital for your condition, there’s a good chance we can provide comprehensive travel insurance at a price that’s fair. You can find out more about our policies on our website. Or find out more about the questions you will be asked during screening here.
Think about your medication
If you are taking medication for your current condition, make sure you have enough for your trip. It’s also a good idea to take a little extra, just in case there are any delays on your trip back to the UK. You may also want to make sure your specific medication is available in the place you are visiting.
You should keep your medication with you at all times - including at the airport. To avoid problems going through airport security or customs, make sure you have a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP explaining what the medication is for and why you need to carry it with you. You should also contact your airline provider to ask what documentation you should take to prove that you need to carry medication. It’s also a good idea to ask what receptacles the medication should be carried in.
Don’t forget your passport!
No, we’re not talking about leaving home without it. Though make sure you don’t do that! You should also make sure your passport is valid. And remember that a lot of countries require you to have a passport that’s valid for at least six months after your final day of travel. Make sure the emergency contact page in your passport is completed and relevant.
Leave copies of the important stuff at home
Important documents - such as passports, tickets and travel insurance details - can easily get lost on holiday. Before you depart make photocopies of all the important stuff and leave them with a friend or family member who you can get hold of easily if necessary.
Don’t go it alone...
You should also make sure there’s someone at home who knows your travel itinerary and has the contact details of the place(s) you’re staying. It’s reassuring to know that someone you trust is following your travels and can contact you if necessary, even when they are far away.
Make sure you have enough money to cover your holiday spending
Ah yes, spending money on tourist attractions, foreign cuisine and holiday souvenirs is lots of fun. But make sure you have enough money for the whole of your trip. Expenses can add up fast on holiday - even when you’re making the most of the all-inclusive buffet - so it may help to set a daily budget. It’s also wise to make sure you have access to emergency funds in case something unexpected happens, such as a delay at the airport at the end of your holiday.
Get to know your destination
Visiting somewhere new is exciting! But it can be daunting too. And sometimes a little uncertainty can make people feel anxious. There’s nothing wrong with that. The good news is that we live in the age of information and it’s easy to research your destination online. A guide book could be a great investment too. Get the latest travel advice on your destination along with tips on local laws and customs from the FCO here.
Find out what help is available
Before you leave home, research what mental health facilities are available in your destination. The resources available to those experiencing mental health issues differ from country to country.
Have a plan in case your mental health takes a turn
Sometimes mental health can be unpredictable. Circumstances out of your control can trigger a change in your behaviour. And when you’re not feeling your best, it can be difficult to explain to strangers how you are feeling and why you may need support. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry a ‘travelling letter’ that gives a brief description of your health needs, a diagnosis of your condition (if you have one) and details of any assistance you might need. In all likelihood you won’t need it, but it’s good to have it on hand just in case.
Make sure you know important contact details
As well as the contact details of someone back home that you trust, there are a number of other important numbers you should save to your mobile phone (or write down on a piece of paper). The first is the number for the emergency services in your destination. (You can find that here.) The second is the details of your travel insurer. And the third is the phone number of your nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. If you get into trouble and need assistance, consular staff can help you.
What help can the FCO provide?
Consular staff from the FCO can offer a wide range of support to British nationals who are on holiday abroad. That includes:
- listening to you and helping you look at your options
- helping you contact friends, family and/or carers if you want to
- visiting you in hospital or prison and, where possible, prioritising the visit
- raising any concerns about your treatment or welfare with the responsible authority (such as a prison or hospital)
- helping medical staff overseas contact medical staff in the UK who may be able to provide advice on your medical history
- giving information about local medication suppliers
- being available, as appropriate, to offer you assistance if you choose to remain overseas
- offering information to help you make an informed decision about returning to the UK
- liaising with your travel representative or travel insurance company
The FCO cannot:
- give you medical advice
- buy or supply medication
- withhold or remove a passport
- stop you from travelling abroad
- pay for you to return to the UK
- pay for food, accommodation or medical bills
- get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
You can take a full look at the FCO’s guide for travellers with mental health needs here. Or if you would like to know more about travel insurance with World First, visit our website or call us on 0345 90 80 161.