Travel Tips for the Bipolar

April 20, 2012 Natasha Tracy

I recently returned from a trip to Chicago. I was at the National Council’s Conference on Addiction and Behavioral Health. I had a great time and met lots of great people (including our own Randye Kaye, author of Mental Illness in the Family here at HealthyPlace).

But the conference was in Chicago, and while a great city, it did mean a day’s worth of travel and two time zone changes to get there. And travel has been known to really take it out of me.

But I have learned tips for navigating travel with less disruption to my bipolar disorder.

Tips for Changing Time Zones

I’m a big believer in the importance of sleep. I consider sleep to be the most stabilizing/destabilizing factor in a bipolar’s life (save, perhaps, alcohol and drug use). And the trouble with travel is that it messes with your sleep when you move across time zones. Heck, even if you’re not moving across time zones it might mess with your sleep simply due to the all-day circadian weirdness of getting off and on planes and the exhaustion of negotiating airports.

And there are three things you can do about this:

  1. Stay on home time – don’t go by what the clock says where you travel to, go by the clock at home. This can work if your schedule is flexible, you have blackout drapes and you’re not crossing too many time zones.
  2. Get on the new time zone gradually, over time, before you leave. What I like to do is adjust my sleeping and waking time by a few minutes every day while I’m at home until I’m close to the new time zone’s time. Again, you need a flexible schedule to make this work but it’s worth it if you want to hit the ground running once to you get where you’re going.
  3. Melatonin – melatonin is a chemical that your body naturally produces at night to help you sleep and it’s one of the reasons you can’t sleep in the middle of the day (generally). Melatonin is also available as a supplement. You can pick some up and use them in your destination time zone to help encourage sleep at the right time. (Check with your doctor before messing with your melatonin and remember that melatonin is for short-term use only.)

Tips for Negotiating Travel

Travel is seriously stressful and stress absolutely makes mental illness worse, so when you travel you need to let go and let god (the travel god, that is) and know that whatever will be, will be. Sometimes the travel god gets you to your destination on time with your bags and sometimes it makes you miss your flight and your bags end up in another country. You just have to accept this possibility because there isn’t a thing you can do about it.

When travelling:

  1. Really. Just let go. Remember that it’ll be alright and you’ll handle whatever happens – it’s not the end of the world. Stress is your enemy so beat it by knowing there is nothing to be stressed about.
  2. Always pack your meds in your carryon. If your baggage goes missing you don’t want your medication missing too.
  3. To be safe, carry your medication in it labelled bottles in case security gets nosy.
  4. If you’re stressed about flying as your doctor about a tranquilizer – this may or may not be right for you. (And if you are really concerned about your mental health during travel tell the flight attendants and carry your doctor’s/therapist’s number with you.)
  5. Allow for extra time whenever possible. It’s much better to spend an extra hour at an airport bar than it is to have to wait umpteen hours because you missed your flight. Allow extra time for connections too – you’ll thank me when the originating flight is late.
  6. Try to travel earlier in the day – it’ll give you more options if you have to be re-routed for some reason and there is less of a chance of a delay.
  7. Try not to plan any events on your travel days except travel – that will be event enough.

Enjoy Your Trip!

And remember, you’re there to enjoy yourself so remember, tomorrow you’re going to be on the beach sipping coconut drinks and the travel will just be a cocktail party anecdote.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, April 20). Travel Tips for the Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

April, 20 2015 at 4:36 pm

Lately I've been reading that a number of people with mental illness have been denied access to the USA/Canada solely because of their previous/current mental health status…
I thought there were laws against discrimination. I guess it doesn't apply to the mentally ill. It would appear that we still have a long way to go regarding the fight against stigma

February, 1 2015 at 2:42 pm

Hi Natasha,
I was wonder if you had any advice on travel insurance for people traveling with bi polar disorder? I'm trying to travel from british Columbia to Europe this June and am having a hard time finding insurance.

August, 14 2013 at 11:29 pm

Hi hyperradiotech
I'm travelling to Africa - in particular Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania - and am trying to get to the bottom of what the requirements are for carrying meds (tablets). Is it sufficient to carry them in labelled bottles with a doctor's note and theprescriptions? Or are there any other requirements?
many thanks

hoss harb
July, 27 2013 at 1:25 am

dear mam
i am bipolar 2.i intend to move back to California asap.
i possess some fears of having 2 teenagers girls,and small boys.i am on depekine 1750 mg a day as well cipralex 15 mg a day.
insecurity is always in my head.what business should i get myself and soforth.
please give an an advise ,i am 53 years old.
hoss harb

Natasha Tracy
April, 24 2012 at 7:02 am

Hi hyperradiotech,
Thanks. I'm glad you enjoy my writings.
Those are some great suggestions, thanks for adding to the conversation.
- Natasha

April, 21 2012 at 9:26 am

Hey Natasha, I enjoy your blogs. I find them very helpful. I'm an American living in South Africa, and I've done quite a bit of traveling around the world. A few things that have helped me in international travel have been:
1. check with my Dr to see if a sleeping pill would be appropriate for the first few days in a new time zone (of course this would be a 6+ hour time change). I've found this to be helpful to make sure that I get a good solid nights rest for the first few days, so that my lack of sleep doesn't trigger a bipolar swing.
2. I also try to arrive 2 days before the meetings begin, so that I can just "be". Breathe. Adjust. And prepare for the stress of the upcoming meetings, trainings, etc.
3. When I travel into remote areas of Africa, I take 1-3 weeks worth of extra medication depending on where I'm going. Life happens. Sometimes there is no plane. Sometimes there is no fuel for the plane. And if a flight gets cancelled the next flight out might be in a few days or so.
4. For me, I know that traveling into some of of the countries in Africa is much more stressful than traveling to Europe or back to the US. So, I've tried to find things that relax me when I get really stressed. I try to make sure to take these with me in my carry on. For example, I love music. I'm always listening to it, etc. I always have my iPod charged when traveling, and carry adapters, etc to charge up in the airport. I do this so that if when my stress levels begin to rise, and I start noticing that I am not coping, I can pop on my iPod, listen to my stress releasing music, and attempt to bring my stress levels down to a level that won't exacerbate my bipolar.
Just some random thoughts...

April, 20 2012 at 8:20 am

My mom's a flight attendant, so I've done a LOT of traveling over the years, this is great advice! One thing I wanted to add though...if you are checking luggage along with having a carry-on, take advantage of that carry-on! Not only pack your meds, but also use that to pack your pajamas, toothbrush, hair products, etc. Basically pack in it anything you may need to have in case you and your bags get separated and you have to spend the night without them.
Also, I know airports can be confusing to navigate, but if you have any problems, you can speak with a gate agent, security guard, or find a customer service desk, they're happy to help, and that's what they are there for!!
Happy travels :)

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