Traveling Globally and Inward

5 Tips for having authentic experiences while traveling from one alum living with depression to another

By Ilana Gensler, MA’19

Alex McCullough, AS’09 was reluctant to face his depression in high school, and silenced his mental health journey until it resurfaced in spring of 2009. “A weird aspect of our culture is that we stress that the way to fulfill your purpose in life is through your job,” says McCullough. “As I saw other friends getting jobs I wondered how I could be excited about what comes after college, and was left with a blank.”

McCullough fought a battle between wanting to travel despite not having the career for most of his 20’s. At 30 years old McCullough left a low-paying job in New York City and moved back to his parents’ house, falling into a deep depression. Not wanting to explain his life to anyone, McCullough sought isolation from the people he loved.

“If you’re depressed and can’t figure it out, you have to change something,” says McCullough, who turned to therapy, exercise and a vegan diet. McCullough knew he wanted to go somewhere as far away and different as possible after seeing one of his friends travel to China, so he drove for Lyft and fed his piggybank. “Lifting my base up and making progress toward a goal is really important for your happiness.”

To date, McCullough has spent half a decade living and traveling outside of the U.S. “I’ve learned how to be a tourist at home,” says McCullough. “Traveling has given me insight into myself in terms of what I need to do to not fall back into depression.”

mcCullough’s tips below are a culmination of his travels to
20 countrieS:

Work abroad
McCullough spent his first year after graduating Northeastern in Thailand working in a small city called Chaiyaphum. “Not many travelers go there, so you have a great opportunity to be the first foreign person that many people meet,” says McCullough, “which is a great privilege and really opens the country up to you.” To make automatic connections with locals and see a country differently than the average tourist, McCullough suggests spending an extended period of time somewhere.

Spend more time in fewer places
In order to connect deeply with an environment, McCullough recommends spending long periods of time in a particular location. “You might be excited to see local beaches or temple grounds, but at the end of your trip the most memorable moment very well could have happened with the person you bought water from every day at the local 7-Eleven,” says McCullough, “or the stray dog who followed you home one day and was attached to you at the hip for the next week.”

October 18, 2021

“I’ve learned how to be a tourist at home.”

– Alex McCullough, AS’09

Budget in ‘off’ days
McCullough urges you to take a break from hectic vacations. “If you’re constantly out buzzing around to your next adventure you might miss the opportunity to get to know your local surroundings, the other guests at your hostel, or the guy who runs to the tiki bar on the beach,” says McCullough. “I may or may not have burned entire weeks in one place just because I wound up at a hostel I liked; sorry, not sorry.”

Remember that other people want to meet you just as much as you want to meet them
Northeastern taught McCullough a lesson or two about making connections. “One of the things that makes traveling great is being in an environment with other travelers,” says McCullough. “People open up more easily and you can quickly find yourself having the deepest conversation of your life.” McCullough credits his friendships in countries all over the globe to chatting with a local or getting randomly invited to a meal, party, and even a wedding.

Go to the same places over and over again

To increase your chances of making connections with locals and other travelers, McCullough encourages showing up to a place you like every day. “Whether it’s for your morning coffee, a local fruit stand, or bar become a familiar face in a short amount of time by showing up consistently to a single spot and being friendly.”

Photo of Alex McCullough with a group of 8 students
Photo of Alex McCullough with a group of 7 students