Mindful Voyages

by Anjali Balakrishna

Photography courtesy of Layth Hert

Travel is an increasingly commercialized industry, with magazines consistently sharing the next best places to visit and various travel hacks. But aside from the glitz and glam of this thriving industry, there is a whole other side that is seldom discussed: traveling for one’s mental health.

There is the cliché of going away to find oneself, what some may call a quest for identity. Some travel away from home to seek treatment they otherwise could not get. Others don’t realize until they are abroad that their experience has helped them somehow.

One aspect of travel that is often overlooked is traveling with necessary companions: Service Dogs or emotional support animals. Both vary on the tasks they perform, but one uniting factor is that they support their handlers.

Traveling with Service Dogs has been made significantly easier by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which allows service animals to travel in the cabin of an aircraft. Emotional support animals should also be allowed to fly with you, as long as you carry signed documentation to verify that the animal is not merely a pet. However, some animals, including reptiles, snakes, and spiders, are rarely accepted at all.

BU graduate Rafe Petrig has traveled extensively with his Service Dog, Rex.

“We’ve been on buses, trains, subways, planes and in cars,” said Petrig. “He really enjoys travel, so most situations we’ve been in were pleasant. Most of the issues we’ve had have been with people bothering him and distracting him while he’s working.”

This is perhaps one of the larger complaints within the Service Dog community. Outsiders are often unaware of proper protocol and run the risk of disrespecting the duo.

Comedian Drew Lynch—who competed on America’s Got Talent in 2015—now cohosts a YouTube segment “Dog Vlog” with his Service Dog, Stella. He documents situations where people do not take too kindly to his dog, even if she is vested.

One video takes place as Lynch boards a flight to Boston. He had selected a bulkhead seat with extra legroom for Stella to sit nicely by his feet. However, when a fellow passenger spots the dog, he announces that it will be a problem for him.

“He got so upset that we couldn’t take off because this guy was arguing with the flight attendants,” said Lynch.

In a recent Forbes article entitled “Five Reasons Why Travel is Good for Your Mental Health,” Noma Nazish outlines several key points attesting to the benefits of travel:

  1. It is a great stress buster

  2. It helps you reinvent yourself

  3. It boosts happiness and satisfaction

  4. It makes you mentally resilient

  5. It enhances creativity

Whatever your reason for traveling, you are sure to reap the rewards of time away. Whether you are hoping to heal, seeking your sense of sense of self or simply vacationing with friends and family, you can and should take advantage of the experience. Self-care is essential, and travel can be a fantastic tool.