It’s no secret that I’ve dealt with depression in life. I’m one of the lucky ones who made it through days of crippling anxiety, struggling to leave the house, weight gain, pills and all the other joys of the “D” word to someone you’d never imagine, ever had a worry.

I find it almost equally insulting and joyful that people find it hard to believe, given how perceivably sociable I am these days, but that’s part of depression – most people don’t know about it, and even at my worst, I knew how to put on a brave face. Most people who truly know depression do too.

You don’t need to be on the edge, or thinking of calling it quits to be somewhat depressed. It can be as simple as a few prolonged days of choosing sweatpants and ice cream over jeans and a salad with friends and the sooner you deal, the better.

The difference is most people find a way through that quickly, yet those who are depressed do not find the urge, or motivation with anywhere near as much ease. They often require a push.

For me, travel has always been part of the “deal”, and I’ve said before, I don’t know where I’d be without it. It’s why I’m sad but optimistic about the present and future of travel. You’ve always gotta face what you’re going through and fight to maintain your mental health, but once you’ve done the lifting, a travel break is the ultimate healer.

In recent years I’ve dealt with crippling loss, incredible joy and everything in between, and when you want to celebrate tackling any of the above – it’s always travel. There’s a reason the vast majority of profile photos on dating sites, Facebook and every other platform have a memorable background.

And don’t worry about me, I’m absolutely fine for the most part. I’ll still be blogging no matter what happens and all that, but I know how it feels to feel the feels, and to some extent, you always do. 

Travel is always memorable, and nothing makes a person smile more than standing in front of something they’ve always dreamed of seeing, or finally meeting up with someone they’ve missed. Without it, the world just wouldn’t be the same. It will come back.

The world is dealing with much deeper and more worrisome concerns, but putting those aside, I’m genuinely sad about effectively not being able to travel. Even if I wanted to go lend a hand or hug to someone, I realistically couldn’t. Borders are closed and for the foreseeable future, everyone should stay home.

My dreams of taking my newborn to see where I grew up and some of my other favorite parts of the USA are on hold, like the rest of the world.

Anywhere you’re reading this from, someone in your building, your street or near you is going through something, and without travel as a chance to heal, or chance for escapism, things are going to be more difficult.

This is that time of year when the world is traditionally home or away with loved ones, or celebrating being nowhere near them with a lovely vacation. Whichever, travel is usually involved in some regard.

A trip can be that opportunity to wear those clothes you feel you can’t pull off at home, to breath the air that makes you feel new again, or a chance to try things you’d never have access to anywhere else. A new, different, more fun, or more social you awaits, if you want it to.

And if you travel to escape the world, and all its people – hello, Maldives style – travel is that too. Can it be reproduced from home? It’s really one of the few things that can’t be. You can make the dishes, drink the drinks and reproduce just about anything, but a place you cannot.

Side note, it turns out that you can buy just about everything you find in any hotel room, including the specific hotel bed, sheets and robes!

And yes, I’m trying to build an island resort in my back garden, and part of the reason I’m writing this is that it’s not going well. Not at all. There’s nothing like the real thing.

I’m sad that by all accounts, even if health is no longer a greater concern than usual, travel demand isn’t expected back any time soon. Travel industry analysts eye 2023 as the nearest time we might see demand like that found in 2019.

Worse, as so many will have lost jobs or opportunities during this time, travel won’t be a realistic possibility for many who would like to. Often, those who need it most won’t have a chance.

I’m optimistic, because travel has always been aspirational, and it always will be.

When the world can afford that little trip, even if it’s just a long car journey, they will. So much in life can be replicated from home, but the feeling of discovery, or feeling new in a new part of the world cannot be matched. No travel program on television, even an Idiot Abroad, adequately sells just how special some parts of the world really are.

Seeing them is the only way, and unlike other things in life, it always will be. We may be able to 3D print meals at home soon, but sunsets, not quite. 

When travel is advisably safe again, I’m optimistic that we’ll never again take it for granted. We’ll take the time to learn airport etiquette, be that little bit more kind to airline and hotel staff and take that extra few seconds to breath and appreciate. Life doesn’t have to be go-go-go and a trip is the perfect way to remember that. 

I’m sad we can’t all go on one right now, but I’m optimistic we’ll all be better to each other and appreciate just how lucky we are to see these places when we do. Nothing will ever replace travel, and that’s a reason to be positive. 

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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13 Comments

  1. Gilbert, I really enjoyed your post.

    I can relate to your thoughts and the reminder that we are not alone, that we are in “this” together lifted my spirits.

    Thank you and stay healthy.

  2. Hi..thank you for your story. I also have battled depression my whole life. Travel has always been my ‘go to’…even planning trips in my mind. 4 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer…and have battled this beast twice. Travel has become a bigger deal for me. I always have a trip planned with my husband, son, family….Hawaii is my favorite. We haven’t traveled outside the country (except for a cruise) because I didn’t want to be in Europe and have medical issues so we have stayed closer to home.

    We just went to Hawaii early March and have been in lock down since. I had plans to travel in April and May and now things are on hold and I am really struggling. My doctors have held the chemo pill I was taking that has been keeping me in remission because they are worried about me getting COVID since the pills suppress my immune system. Which makes me worry about cancer coming back.

    So I feel very down because I can’t plan a trip..and I live in fear the cancer will return for the 3rd time and I won’t be able to travel…and I have so much on my bucket list,

    I might just make some plans for this summer on Southwest or American or Alaska (I have miles) all refundable just to have a plan in kind to keep me happy!

    But for sure travel has changed me for the better and helped me with my depression.

  3. Gilbert, I totally relate to your thoughts. Travels have always been my escape and eye opener to what else is out there, coming to the conclusion that there is not just one way of building a life. But there is only one minimum combo that we should all have : water, food, shelter, and good health.
    Keep safe and healthy.
    Looking forward to travelling again!

  4. Yeah, I know what you mean. Had several bouts with real depression before. including one as a child where I had to be hospitalized for a month. Since then had a few more extended episodes as an adult and in all cases was able to get out with the help of travel – the few experiences with the pills never did anything good. Only travel and, to a lesser extent, exercise did .

    Now, with several month of this I really do not like where my brain is going. Haven’t even had a meaningful in-person conversation in like 3+ weeks.

    The most ironic part is that part of the depression was this intense dislike of the area I am in and I’ve actually had everything arranged to make the move in late April. Now that – as everything else is on hold until the whole world defeats this virus and even then, many countries would look very different due to the economic effects and almost certainly a subset of restrictions that will stick around for years after the virus is gone.

  5. I agree nothing can ever replace travel. During this time at home though I am grateful for my current health and I hope we’ll all be able to travel again once all this is over or once we have a coronavirus vaccine.

  6. Just the fact that you deliver these great articles in times like this says a lot about you. Anyone that suffers from or has suffered from depression ( I personally think it lingers in the background waiting to pounce ! ) will relate to this.
    Your articles have given me inspiration for a long time and I look forward every day to the “fun”.
    That said, in this short time ( because in the scheme of things it is ) I am taking the bull by the horns. Screw this virus, lock down, lock out. Im going, planning my next adventure. Like depression this is not going to beat me. LONDON/SCOTLAND are booked for Christmas markets and a wee dram! Looking forward/planning to getting out there are the best medicine ever.
    And you have given me that! Thank you for the inspiration everyday.
    We live in Panama right now and cannot leave our house but 3 times a week for 2 hrs to grocery shop. Thats it!!!
    INSPIRATION…

  7. Well Gilbert, it sounds like travel might just another distraction for you to keep you from dealing with the underlying cause of your depression. My dad drank. I eat too much. What if depression is just a sane responce to living in a messed up world?

  8. Thank you for this honest post, I so related to your story and feel the same about travel lifting us up. Reading this made me feel much more normal.

  9. Nice post. I think one positive I have been looking at is seeing that most people are following the guidelines, etc. and doing their part to make the world a better place, something I never thought I would see. Everyone is in this together.

  10. Great post, Gilbert. That’s exactly what travel is to me too, so am definitely also struggeling these days. There will be new adventures though, we’ll just have to ride this one out first. Wish you the best

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