How A Trip To Morocco Saved My Life

Try to picture me on a typical Saturday. Me, the travel blogger who floods your newsfeed with colourful photos of cities whose names you cannot pronounce. Me, the globetrotter whose passport reads like a Risk manual. Me, the world conqueror.

What do you see? Do you imagine me writing blog posts in a beachfront cafe as I sip on an espresso Martini? Or perhaps you picture me spending my weekends at hole-in-the-wall art galleries, soaking up inspiration for my next trip? Whatever your answer, it is probably perfectly compatible with the persona I present to you through my website and other social media. I’m a happy-go-lucky twentysomething student turning her dreams of travelling the world into reality. Now, don’t worry – I’m not going to reveal myself to be an ageing gentleman with a criminal record. But I am going to tell you a story…

February 14, 2014 – Moscow

The street lamps are slowly coming back to life as people stumble home with furry hats pulled over their ears to keep them from freezing. With every step, they feel the crunch of snow and lure of their warm living rooms. I watch them out of the corner of my eye, green with tiredness and envy. I’m not going home – I’m going to work. 

Whilst living in Russia, I decided to prove to the world I was superwoman. I was a full-time student by day, attending seminars and enlightening my lecturers with insightful comments about Marx’s writings – or at least entertaining them with my attempts. By night I worked for a major TV network, writing news scripts and researching current affairs. My lectures usually ran from noon till 6pm; my work started before midnight and finished by 8 in the morning. I worked for one week and then had a week off – and so on and so forth like an unmerciful pendulum. I slept when I could, which was usually never.
One day, I was walking back from work through a deserted park in the wee morning hours. The Russian cold has a way of chilling you to the marrow, closing its long fingers around your throat and clenching it until words freeze inside. In that moment, something inside me broke. I sat down on the icy ground and shook, unable to utter a single word – unable to even cry.

I don’t remember how long I sat there or how I eventually made it to my room, but what I do remember is that I didn’t leave my bed for the next week. I had seven days off work and my roommate had a different schedule, so my absence from life largely went by unnoticed. When anyone asked what I’d done that day, I lied. I had the flu, I said. I wasn’t feeling well.

That was only half a lie. I was not feeling well by any definition of the word. I lay in bed, stared at the cracks in the ceiling and listened to the noises from the corridor. I lived in a student dormitory, so a soundtrack of feet shuffling and distant screams from the kitchen played on repeat. People poured in with offers of exciting activities – would I like to visit the world-renowned Bolshoi theatre and watch Swan Lake? They were going to visit Lenin on the Red Square, was I in? No, thank you, I answered. I would rather lie on a thin mattress and listen to blood pulsing in my ears. If someone had offered me a free trip to Bali, my answer would have been the same.

I dreaded the one word which hovered over me, forcing my head underneath a pillow. I tried to sleep it off, but whenever I woke up it was there, growing larger and darker. Depression. I hadn’t eaten in two days. My hair was tangled and my skin a sickly shade of violet. Me, the travel blogger who floods your newsfeed with colourful photos of cities whose names you cannot pronounce. Me, the globetrotter whose passport reads like a Risk manual. Me, the world conqueror.

When Friday rolled around the corner, I summoned up all my strength and went back to work. “I am too professional to put myself first,” I thought and maybe even smiled a little, the expression feeling strangely foreign. As I normally would, I joked with my coworkers and messaged my friends: “Oh, I’m great! Sorry I didn’t answer your last message, so busy. You know me haha! Every quip was a building stone of an impenetrable facade and with every brick, my hopes of ever feeling better plummeted. Every fake smile made me more and more certain of it – this was my life now. This was what adulthood felt like and I was just being melodramatic.

March 10, 2014 – Moscow

The inside of my brain was splattered with black, but my face was sparkling with rainbows. I couldn’t hide the dark circles underneath my eyes, but I made up for them with an endless stream of self-deprecating jokes. I was playing superwoman and there was no space for failure or pain in my repertoire. It was the middle of March, the snow was thawing and I was hoping the dark cloud hanging over my head would disappear along with it. Alas, no luck.

When my friend suggested we fly to Marrakech to celebrate her 21st birthday, my first instinct was to deactivate my phone and never answer her messages again. I was hardly able to crawl out of bed and make myself a plate of plain spaghetti – how on earth was I going to pack a bag, get myself to the airport and fly all the way to Morocco? But for some reason, I hastily accepted the invitation. Less than half an hour after hearing the idea for the first time, I received a confirmation email. “Your flight from Moscow to Marrakech is booked for March 18. Thank you for choosing to fly with Royal Air Maroc.” I was pretty sure I’d gone mad.

I would like to say that the minute the plane took off, all my troubles disappeared. I can imagine the sentence smoothly rolling off my tongue: “As soon as the seatbelt sign flashed green, I felt my worries lifting off my shoulders and disappearing from sight along with the world below.” But they did not. I spent my entire flight to Morocco gazing out the window, wondering if I was ever going to feel happy again.

When I landed in Marrakech, I was tired and cranky. All I wanted was my luggage and a warm bed. “Excuse me, are these all the bags?” I asked an attendant after searching for my tiny red suitcase in vain. “Oui, mademoiselle. That’s it.” Suddenly, to the man’s great surprise, I began laughing. The laugh started out shaky and silent, like a helpless animal trying to stand on its skinny legs for the first time, but soon rose up like a giant wave basking everyone around in its warmth. For the first time in what seemed like centuries, I felt like myself again. The suitcase with all my money was lost, I had no idea where I was going and it looked like I was the only person left at the airport. The worst had happened and… it wasn’t that bad! So what if I lost my bag? So what if I could not understand half the words the man was saying to me? Suddenly, I realised I did not care. “Is that really the best you got?” I thought. “Bring it on, life. I’m not scared.”

I flagged down a taxi, handed the driver my only remaining cash and proceeded to get lost in the middle of an unknown city at midnight. As I stood in the middle of Marrakech’s ancient square of Djemaa el-Fnaa, the melody of the snake charmers’ flutes trickled into my heart and broke the evil spell that had been suffocating me. I took a deep breath and the heavy smell of incense made me lightheaded with joy. Life smelled sweet once again and I was ready to savour it.

But how did the trip save your life?” you might still be wondering, shaking your head at the exaggeration. Would I have died had I not gone on that trip? Of course not. But when a veil of sadness is reducing your enjoyment of life to a disinterested shrug, it feels like you are not alive – merely ticking off the days.

I decided to share the story of my depression with you because I want to paint a balanced picture of my travels on this site. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the highlights of my adventures – after all, who wants to come here and listen to my moping? But, unfortunately, a constant barrage of “look how much fun I’m having, my life is a postcard” can make others feel like failures.From Facebook to Twitter, our social media is designed to emphasise the good and omit the bad. We use it to talk about our accomplishments, to assure everyone that we, too, are really good at this whole “life” thing. But there is more to our lives than what we post online. There is vacuum cleaning, crying, ironing and worrying. I want you to see that even those with the brightest smiles have their dark moments.

When I asked you to picture me on a typical Saturday at the beginning of this post, the only images you had to go by were the highly filtered happy photos I choose to put up online. I hope this insight into the uglier aspects of my life reveals just how much more there is to my incredible globetrotting adventures – and just how far from incredible they can be sometimes. On a typical Saturday you might find me exploring the world, but you might just as well find me in my bedroom with the blinds closed. Few people get to see the latter, but the fact it isn’t on Facebook doesn’t make it any less real.

Have you ever battled depression? How do you manage it on your travels? Do you find new adventures help you fight your problems or do you have other ways of dealing with it?
  • Emma Macfarlane
    Posted at 16:52h, 27 October

    Really honest, touching post. It’s something I’m sure a lot of people can identify with – congratulations for being brave enough for putting it out there!

    • Sabina
      Posted at 16:09h, 05 December

      Thanks a lot for your comment Emma! Yeah, that’s the very reason why I decided to share my experience – I think so many people can identify with it… and if I can help a single person by writing about depression, I’ll be content!

  • This American Girl
    Posted at 16:36h, 19 November

    You are an amazing writer and more importantly an incredibly inspiring woman. Keep shining your truth sister <3

    • Sabina
      Posted at 16:08h, 05 December

      Thanks so much for that comment, Camille! I really appreciate it, especially from a writer whose work I genuinely respect 🙂 <3

  • Jennifer Reedie
    Posted at 15:50h, 05 December

    “when a veil of sadness is reducing your enjoyment of life to a disinterested shrug, it feels like you are not alive – merely ticking off the days.” I feel like this now and I’m searching for a month long trip to escape the Canadian winter. I’m nervous about going alone. Do you have any ideas on where to go that will keep me busy and warm? I’m a photographer and love adventure so give me your favourite spots!

    • Sabina
      Posted at 16:14h, 05 December

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read the post and comment Jennifer! I’m sorry to hear that you are feeling down and hope this post offered at least some solace or a tiny ray of hope! I think we are especially susceptible to depression in the winter… permanent darkness is not good for the human heart 🙁 I think it’s AMAZING that you’ve decided to take a trip and shake off the blues. Honestly, I think Morocco was an incredible choice (although I didn’t even know that while booking my ticket!) because it was all so new to me. Same with my month in Beijing – I was constantly mesmerised by how different the place is from anything I ever experienced before and that took my mind off my problems 🙂 It depends how far you want to go of course… But I wouldn’t recommend a Western first world country with its busy cities! I think you’d do best going to a more “basic” place. My email is if you’d like to discuss in more detail <3

  • Daharis Pesantez
    Posted at 14:53h, 31 December

    Sabina, such a touching story! One of my dreams is to take my mum to see the world with me. Lately, she’s been feeling really depressed, and I feel this urging desire do everything possible to make her happy and feel loved. I have this feeling that travelling and exposing her to a different culture will somehow change her way of looking at things. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story! It’s so motivating, and hopefully travel will do the same for both my mom and myself. <3 Hugs!

  • Sophie R
    Posted at 09:42h, 01 January

    I can’t believe I hadn’t read this. I can completely feel this myself. I’ve started a great job here in Beijing but i’ve had trouble over the past year. I got hit by a motorbike which gave me a bad concussion. I fought so hard to ignore it and it’s finally caught up with me. Friends ask me if i’ve made new friends or gone out and seen anything but the truth is I sit here in my room and just want to sit there all day. I went away for a week last week and it did me a world of wonders. I’m just waiting to book another one so I can finally rid myself of this horrible slump i’m in!

  • William Harmon
    Posted at 01:07h, 01 February

    Such sad stories. Makes me want to give you a hug and tell you everything will be ok. Such pain lurks beneath your lovely smile. So much beauty in the expression of your darkness, but I really wish you didn’t suffer. Your writing is a beautiful as it gets. Much like you. It will be ok. You are an amazing ray of light – even when you don’t feel it.

  • Jess
    Posted at 08:02h, 04 February

    I have struggled with depression in the past and I felt travel saved me time and again. It wasn’t until I couldn’t run, when I had children and stress, that I felt overwhelmed. But I’m pleased to say that with a bit of counselling, a lot of self-help and determination, and some magical healing I’m like a new born these days. Looking at life with wonder and joy, savouring every moment of it. How wonderful to come out the other side. Fight it all the way and you can win. I appreciate your honesty!

  • Todd at
    Posted at 18:16h, 03 April

    Thanks so much for sharing; I know a bunch of people that feel this way after following their friend’s joyous Facebook feeds, filled with happy photos. As I mentioned on your Twitter, it’s really wonderful to see you on the upswing. Travel has gotten me out of a rut more than once. Experiencing amazing or just different things can change your life. Every trip is a reminder. Thanks for inspiring!

  • Karianne
    Posted at 07:34h, 08 April

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Depression is something that many people don’t talk about and it is so important that more people understand the debilitating impact it can have on people.

    It is amazing how much travel can improve your mental wellbeing. I don’t suffer from depression, but I know that I am mentally happy and most content when I am on the road. Its when I feel totally free and I feel like I can take on anything that life throws at me.

    I’m so happy that Morocco helped you and I hope that there are far more days with bright smiles rather than dark moments for you now.

  • Aurelia
    Posted at 17:35h, 22 May

    This post just saved a life. 🙂

  • Stella
    Posted at 11:51h, 04 July

    Morocco is a very beautiful sort of place to visit. It is a very popular kind of country there, I have been visited the place and really had great time. A few months ago after coming back from my bus to niagara falls from nj, i went to Africa and loved the place so much, That was Completely a unique experience for me.

  • Lifeplus1
    Posted at 02:55h, 09 July

    So glad you wrote this. It’s not at all what I was expecting when I saw the title of the post. But it was so much better. I can relate on more levels than I care to admit. I think it’s incredibly brave of you to share you story online, but also inspiring. It just affirms what I’ve always believed, travel touches your soul in a way very few other things can in life.

    Awesome post.


  • Ash Stevens
    Posted at 20:51h, 21 September

    It’s great to hear a real perspective on life! I use my blog to share my positive and fulfilled point of view on life, but my perspective also includes a raw, genuine, and honest aspect that many people would see as negative, pessimistic, or begrudging. The fact is, the hard times give us an enthusiasm and appreciation for life that goes beyond anything we would have been capable of beforehand. The good with the “bad.” It’s great stuff. 🙂

  • nglphoto
    Posted at 07:11h, 16 January

    Well done Sabina! Great read, great message.

  • Cathy Ries
    Posted at 17:24h, 05 March

    Great read and thanks for sharing! It’s true that as travel bloggers we carve a specific image for social media that may not reflect the reality of how everything is.

  • Briana
    Posted at 18:26h, 05 March

    Thanks for sharing this. Traveling has always made me feel happy and free. I credit my experiences with changing my life in many ways.

  • Leanne Hyland
    Posted at 21:29h, 28 December

    I loved reading this, your writing always entertains me 🙂