How To Overcome Anxiety Of Traveling Alone
Including solo travel anxiety tips for first-time backpackers, solo travelers, and gap year students
by JULIE HANCOCK
October 14, 2022
↠ Change In Routine
↠ Getting Lost
↠ Meeting New People
↠ Looking “Stupid”
LEARN COPING MECHANISMS BEFOREHAND
↠ Breathing Exercises
↠ Grounding Exercises
DO YOUR RESEARCH
MAKE BENEFICIAL DECISIONS
↠ Rest Days
LEAN INTO DISCOMFORT
Anyone who has struggled with anxiety knows that it can impact many facets of your life, even causing difficulties with doing things that you love. For those who love travel but have anxiety surrounding it, heading out on a trip can be incredibly stressful.
Change in Routine
Nobody wants to be lost. For some, the idea of “getting lost” while exploring a new city can be a romantic notion, but most travelers don’t want to truly not know how to get home.
If you are a person who struggles with direction or isn’t used to navigating cities or public transportation, worries about getting lost can be quite upsetting. Add in a language barrier, and the thought of leaving your accommodation can get your heart racing.
Meeting New People
The fear of looking “stupid” is a common anxiety trigger in many situations, not just travel related. It is also a difficult one to control because if you are someone with this fear, you know that there are a million things that might make you feel dumb. Of course, you are not stupid and shouldn’t feel like you are, but sometimes your brain tells you otherwise.
Not knowing how to open the door on the train? Walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk? Ordering a red wine with fish and being judged by your waiter? The possibilities are endless, and sometimes overthinking about looking stupid results in a total freeze and inability to do anything. If you don’t do anything, you can’t look stupid, right?
There are many ways to treat and manage this trigger, ranging from self-management techniques to therapy to medication, so if you are a person with a fear of flying, you first need to consider just how strong your fear is and what level of management you may need.
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Learn Coping Mechanisms Beforehand
Once you have identified your triggers or stressors, it will benefit you to learn some coping mechanisms before you head out on your trip. While avoiding the trigger altogether would be the ideal solution, that isn’t always possible. Travel is all about expecting the unexpected, so assume that you will be faced with something anxiety-inducing and plan ahead so you can manage it.
Breathing exercises can be very beneficial in bringing yourself back from a panic attack or calming your anxiety. A common breathing exercise to calm your nervous system is inhaling for four seconds, exhaling for six seconds, and repeating for 2-5 minutes.
Similar to breathing exercises, grounding exercises are great for getting out of your head and into your body. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise when you are struggling with anxiety. Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This is a common way of calming and grounding yourself.
Do Your Research
A great way to stave off travel anxiety is to be well-informed about your destination. Having at least a basic understanding of the cultural expectations and norms will help avoid the “fish out of water” feeling.
While research is a fantastic way to combat your anxiety, make sure you research the right things. Avoid doing a deep dive into any possible negative or scary things about your destination because this will just increase anxiety.
Time to study up! Look through some maps of your destination and note important features, such as your accommodation, train or bus stations, and any major attractions you want to see. You likely won’t have every street memorized, but having a general idea of where things are is helpful.
Research how transportation works in each country, region, or city you are visiting. Trains are trains, but a train in Scotland might operate differently than a train in Portugal. Having a general idea of ticketing, seating, routes, and general expectations will allow you to be more confident once you are on your trip.
Did you know it’s often considered strange to talk to strangers on the London tube? Or that Parisian shopkeepers will think you are rude if you don’t say “Bonjour” as you walk in the door?
Cultural expectations are varied around the world, and learning about different cultures is one of the best things about traveling. Doing a quick search to see some common mistakes people make when visiting the destination of your choice will help save you from any awkward situations.
Make Beneficial Decisions
A key way to keep your travel anxiety at bay is to make the correct decisions for yourself. Ignore what other people say about the best ways to travel; you know yourself best, and you have to travel in whatever way is most comfortable for you.
Your accommodation is one of the most important factors to consider as an anxious traveler. Some people are anxious when they are alone, so a hostel is the best option for their trip. Others need somewhere quiet where they can recharge alone, so a hotel or Airbnb would be far better.
You might hear people say that if you are nervous about traveling solo you must stay in a youth hostel, so you can make friends! But if you are an introverted type, spending a long day navigating a new city and then coming back to your hostel and having to make small talk with strangers will do your anxiety no favors.
Think about what you need from your accommodation and book accordingly.
Are you absolutely terrified of heights? Scared of the ocean? Hate the idea of embarrassing yourself in the kitchen? Maybe don’t force yourself to go skydiving, swim with sharks, or join a cooking class.
Traveling is a great time to get out of your comfort zone, but you don’t have to make yourself miserable with activities you know you will hate. Participate in activities that you love and bring you comfort.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do and what it is that you want out of a trip. If you are a quiet, shy person at home, why do you think you are going to be the life of the party making new friends left and right when you are on a trip? If that is the case, then great, but don’t be disappointed in yourself for not becoming a new person as soon as the plane lands.
Give yourself a break. Traveling can be exhausting, both mentally and physically, and the more tired you get, the more likely your anxiety will get the better of you. Build rest days into your itinerary, so you don’t have to feel guilty about staying in and watching Netflix all day. You can’t enjoy your vacation if you are too tired to function.
Lean InTo Discomfort
There are many ways to manage your anxiety, but at the end of the day, it likely won’t be completely gone. Let your anxiety exist, acknowledge it, and continue on. You can still do things while you’re scared; just make a deal with yourself that you won’t let the fear stop you.
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