For the longest time I didn’t really understand anxiety and quite frankly didn’t think I had it. Then one day you find yourself walking down the street with your headphones in and the sound and feeling of your heartbeat is drowning out the music. It’s quite the shock to the system.
Seeing the world has always meant everything to me and it was through Contiki that I first ‘properly’ travelled. I’d been looking at a few different tour companies and Contiki just seemed to be the perfect fit. I read the itinerary for the Grand Southern and the whole thing just sounded like a dream.
I knew within the first couple of days that this trip was going to change my life. I’d been completely miserable in an insurance job for far too long, and now I was seeing these incredible places and meeting the most amazing people. It made me realise that life was so much more than being chained to a desk. I loved everyone on my trip but there’s five or six people in particular who still mean the absolute world to me because of the experiences we shared together. As for the places – Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, Miami, Washington, New York, the list goes on. I completely fell in love with the whole experience.
I had the most incredible time in America but I struggled badly in the months that followed. I went out to Australia for a while but I wasn’t in a good place mentally. I came home to no job, no money and the sudden loss of my Dad. It was the toughest period of my entire life and something desperately had to change.
I’m certain my anxiety developed due to a culmination of events over time that I didn’t deal with properly, but it was in these lowest moments that travel began to inspire me. The excitement and the planning involved occupied my headspace in a way that meant other things couldn’t. Travel had taken on a very different meaning in my life. Anxiety left me feeling helpless, vulnerable, physically and mentally damaged, but through travel I was able to challenge all of these symptoms and overcome my anxiety.
I walked the ‘Camino de Santiago’, a five hundred mile trek across Northern Spain. It was a long-time ambition of mine and it seemed like the furthest thing from what I’d become used to in those difficult months. There’s a remoteness to the walk that helps you mentally push the reset button and just being physically active at all is so great for your mental health.
Mental health is a subject I’ve become increasingly passionate about and I now work closely with incredible charities like Brothers in Arms and Back Onside. I’ve discovered that improving your mental health is all about finding what works for your personally. For me, the Camino was like group therapy. Reaching the end, taking my boots off and walking into the ocean is a moment I’ll never forget.
What I’m most grateful for is the inspiration travel gave me to quit my job and ultimately change my life. I found a passion for writing and after a tough transition period I ended up working with publications like FHM and Marie Claire. That’s when things started to snowball. It’s been six years now since I did the Grand Southern and I’m currently working full-time as a presenter, writer and public speaker. My Contiki trip was the catalyst for all of it.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully be able to put into words what that trip meant to me and what it did for my life. Everyone is different, but I truly believe in the power of travel to lift you out of a dark place and to remind yourself of what you’re really capable of. There’s a big wide world out there.