travel

Why My Solo Trip To British Columbia Improved My Mental Health

In December, I wrote a blog post called “The Five Reasons I Kinda Hate Travelling“. At the time, I knew this might be controversial because travel is always touted as this really important, eye-opening experience that expands your mind and teaches you important life lessons. A lot of people, after reading the post, told me that travel also gave them anxiety. I felt comforted knowing that I was not alone.

However, I’ve actually kind of changed my mind. I really do love traveling now and I think that it can be great for my mental health. I mean, all of those same anxieties are still there, but I’ve found new benefits that outweigh the bad. This past week, I went across the country to British Columbia on a solo trip to get a change of scenery and work on my mental health in a new setting. How did the trip impact my mental health?

Travel has made me more mindful. On the trip, I often spent 30 min to an hour or more just staring out the window on the bus and taking in my surroundings. I am also getting better at just walking down the street with just my thoughts for company. Additionally, I was able to fall asleep quickly each night without having Netflix playing in the background. I also ate alone many times and spent the meal trying to savor each bite, rather than play on my phone.

I also expanded my mind by hearing more about the history and culture of my own country, particularly that of Canada’s various Indigenous groups.

I engaged in a lot of physical activity, walking for hours on most of the days I was on the trip. The mental health benefits of exercise have been proven countless times, but anecdotally, I have to say that after a good hike I felt refreshed, energized and de-stressed.

I put myself in uncomfortable situations and stepped out of my comfort zone, like taking a four-day bus trip with a group of strangers. Normally terrifying, it really helped me to socialize with people who I didn’t know very well. According to Author Kio Stark, talking to strangers helps you feel present in the moment, helps you be understood, gives you a real connection and increases your empathy.  Of course, Stark probably refers to talking to strangers in brief fleeting moments, and not for days at a time, but I think her ideas still apply. Doing this was certainly scary as an introvert but it was a learning experience, providing an opportunity for personal growth.

I also engaged a lot with nature – as you will see in my photos below. Seeing all of the gorgeous landscapes, trees, and water made me more alive. They put things into perspective and made me feel more human. I felt more connected to the earth, to the true soul of our planet. The encounters with towering mountains and interesting wildlife brought up tons of positive emotions and feelings. When soaking in the beauty and greenery, I felt awestruck. It was also pretty quiet, which was a nice change of pace. I felt a sense of tranquility that I never knew I had within me. I felt connected to the earth’s past when staring at these huge, sometimes 800-year-old trees. I read this beautiful quote from Alan Watts that kind of sums up how I was feeling: “You didn’t come into this world.  You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.  You are not a stranger here.” Check out my article on the Benefits of Outdoor Play and Nature for Mental Health to read more about research on the health benefits of being outside.

So that you can get a sense of this life-changing trip, I’ve included some photos and some details on what I did and where I went.

 

The first day, I arrived in the morning on the 14th of May. I spent part of the afternoon walking around with my hosts (my sister’s brother-in-law and his wife), and then I branched off on my own and explored the waterfront and downtown.

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I ate dinner at the well-known Vancouver chain called Japadog, which was absolutely delicious.

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In the evening, I went on a tour with a company called Forbidden Vancouver called “Prohibition City” which features stories about the history of prohibition in Vancouver. We saw some interesting heritage buildings and ended up in the gorgeous neighborhood of Gastown.

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The next morning, I spent a few hours just wandering around Granville Island, before going on a food tour of the public market with Vancouver Foodie Tours. It was seriously delicious.

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After the food tour, I meandered my way over to Stanley Park to take a walking tour with Talaysay Tours, which is a company that focuses on the Aboriginal history of British Columbia. It was very eye-opening and important for me to learn from my tour guide about the significance of the area for the various Indigenous communities. I learned about the spiritual importance and meaning of the cedar tree and totem poles, among other symbols, tools, and practices.

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The next day, I joined the four-day tour of Vancouver Island that I mentioned earlier with a company called Moose Travel Network. I highly recommend this tour, especially for people in their 20s and 30s. It was a cool way to get around the island, meet people, and check out interesting little spots that you might not otherwise see. We took the Horseshoe Bay Ferry over to Nanaimo and picked up some groceries.

 

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We then stopped by Little Qualicum Falls for a picnic and to explore the area. It was gorgeous – I always love myself a good waterfall.

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Our next stop was a brief visit to the extremely picturesque Wally Creek – here is one of my photos of the view below.

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Almost at our destination of Tofino, we stopped at the nearby Long Beach to take in the beautiful ocean view.

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Arriving in Tofino, I had to snap a picture from the shore of the clear skies – a rarity for Vancouver Island, apparently.

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The next day, we embarked on a seven-hour adventure with a local tourism company called Remote Passages Marine Excursions.  We took a little Zodiac boat from Tofino to Hot Springs Cove. Along the way, we saw some wildlife, including these hilarious sea lions.

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The trip involved a short hike through some rainforest in getting to the hot springs.

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On the way back, I hoped to see a whale or two but unfortunately, I missed out on that experience.  However, the trip was totally worth it! I’ve never been to any hot springs before and I totally enjoyed nature’s hot tub.

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The next days involved more hiking through the woods and beautiful views. Our first stop was Schooner Cove, where we walked through the woods to the beach. The tide was so low that we were able to walk out to a nearby tiny island.

 

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Our next stop was the West Pacific Trail, where we walked a few kilometres to get to the Amphitrite Lighthouse. I followed the rules and stayed off the rocks, but I still got some pretty spectacular views.

 

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Almost at our destination of Victoria, we made another quick stop to check out some really special trees (i.e really old!) This was at Cathedral Grove.

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We had lunch at the market in Coombs where there was supposed to be goats who hang out on the roof, but it was just a little too early in the season for that. It was still really adorable and the food was delicious – I had a fish taco and an ice-cream cone.

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The next day was spent exploring the adorable town of Victoria, British Columbia. We went to Beacon Hill Park and saw the world’s tallest totem pole, enjoyed lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, took a water taxi to Old Town, walked through the oldest China Town in Canada, as well as spotted the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada. We then headed back to Vancouver and I separated from the group to head off on my own.

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The next morning, I spent two hours on learning about photography and exploring a picturesque neighbourhood called Strathcona with Vancouver Photo Walks. I was the only one on the tour, so it was private! Which was so awesome. I saw some beautiful houses and architecture, while learning more about how to use my DSLR. Here are some of the photos that I took. The guide was very knowledgeable and helpful.

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I then met an old friend who I hadn’t seen in years, and we headed up Grouse Mountain to see some spectacular landscapes and views.

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The rest of my trip involved eating and drinking, not all pictured here! But some of the highlights include The Blind Sparrow, the Cactus Club. the Twisted Fork Bistro and Cartem’s Donuterie.

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What are your thoughts on traveling and mental health? Do you have any particularly memorable trips that were either super amazing or shitty? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

5 comments on “Why My Solo Trip To British Columbia Improved My Mental Health

  1. Wowza! Those photos are amazing!

    I definitely think travel can be good for one’s mental health, depending on the individual. It’s good to challenge yourself and traveling is a good way to do that. I know I feel better just getting outside in nature, whether it’s in a crowded city park or out in the middle of nowhere. Fresh air and a chance to be with your thoughts can be so good. Plus, for those of us with depression, getting that Vitamin D is so important. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your photos!

    Like

  2. Aahhhhh the Pacific Northwest. It is paradise, as far as I am concerned. It looks like you had an outstanding time.

    It is fun seeing this through your eyes. Living in the area, we sometimes forget how magical it is here.

    Anxiety will always be a pestering friend that never leaves us, we have to learn to live with a few of anxieties quirks. I am happy I can tell the difference between anxiety and depression now. That makes it easier to know how to handle both.

    TRAVEL MORE! You will not be sorry.

    Like

  3. Samantha Melvin

    Looks like you had a marvelous time! Lovely pictures, and I have to agree. A change in scenery is a real life saver for mental health. =)

    Like

  4. Excellent narrative, and superb photos! I believe travel’s good for your mental health, though all too often I’ve just used it as a way to run away from troubles. Too much history with one way tickets and forged work documents.

    Done right, with the intention to return, a great way to reconnect with yourself and others.

    Like

  5. It looks , and sounds, like you had a marvelous time. Good for you.

    I live near Buffalo, New York. If I could visit just one place in Canada, where would you recommend?

    Like

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