Travel is meant to be an escape from the norm, which means anxiety while travelling alone should actually be pretty natural to us. Because that’s kind of the point.
Breaking free from our comfort zones helps us grow. By traveling at all – not even necessarily alone – we’re testing to see if we have the guts to handle our very existence elsewhere in the world. That fear that we feel while traveling should be the driving force behind our travel goals. Once we’re free from the restraints of our own comfort, there’s nothing we can’t do, which includes beating our anxiety.
Can solo trekking uncharted territory cause our hearts to palpitate? Yes.
Can experiencing different cultures by ourselves raise those pesky hairs on the backs of our necks? Sure.
Can witnessing something completely foreign to us while travelling alone cause us to become restless? You bet!
That’s all part of the fun of travel: growing.
Still, we need to quell that anxiety on the go somehow. Preventing full-blown breakdowns abroad allows us to fully realize our growth and enjoy the journey.
Thankfully, there are so many of us who deal with anxiety on a daily basis – myself included – who have devised tips and tricks to keep our anxiety in check while travelling alone. Some of these tips helped me immensely while I was alone in Barcelona for three weeks in 2010 stress eating tapas and paella. While I had a bit of stomach trouble by the end of my stay, I personally felt like I could take on anything.
Keep a Travel Journal
If you have generalized anxiety, you likely already know that journaling can be incredibly helpful in documenting how you feel.
Abroad, the same is true.
However, journaling takes on a bit of a different meaning while you’re on the road because you’re able to jot down so much more. This isn’t your normal, everyday life you’re writing about. Every moment is a new and different experience that you can react to each and every day.
Try to notice when new experiences cause you to feel anxious. Then, be brave, push forward and take note of how good you feel afterward.
Once the journey’s over, you’ll have documentation of every moment for you to reflect on and remember.
Stay in Touch
When some solo travelers venture out into the world, they may like to cut ties with the rest of the world completely. Others may like to have that lifeline back to the real world so they can real themselves back in should anything go astray.
It’s worth noting that both tactics are likely beneficial, depending on the individual traveler.
However, if you have anxiety, it might be best to keep in touch with someone somewhere.
Thankfully, we live in a connected world in and social media is great for keeping in touch. While you should be trying to disconnect from technology to enjoy your adventure, reminding yourself that there are others who care about you and your solo travels when anxiety rears its ugly head is fine.
If you’re trying to disconnect completely, consider sending post cards. It might sound a little old-fashioned to some of you, I’m sure. However, this can be a great way to trick yourself into thinking about important people in your life, which can quiet your anxiety…even if the communication is just one way.
Don’t Neglect Sleep
This one is important. Sure, you want to take in all there is to offer while you’re travelling alone, and that includes the nightlife. However, getting the proper amount of sleep is absolutely essential when anxiety is afoot.
I know…I sound like someone’s dad.
Still, we all need energy to make it through the day. When that energy is spent, our minds are more likely to wander. And when our tired minds wander, anxiety is more likely to creep in and grab hold of the opportunity to tear us down.
Enjoy yourself. Take in the nightlife. Be bold in your choices to meet new people at the pub near your hostel or stroll through that late night street fair. After all, we’re trying to break out of our comfort zones.
Still, be sure to make time to rest.
At the very least, there’s no shame in taking naps, friends. You can quote me on that.
Take Lots of Photos
Many of us travelers naturally take tons of pictures. You have to have photographic evidence of your journey, right?!
But did you know that they’re actually a positive reaction to taking lots of pictures? Apparently, photography can help improve your mental health.
Photographer Bryce Evans tells The Mighty:
…photography saved my life by helping me finally start expressing, dealing with and eventually overcoming severe depression and anxiety that was prolonged by silence.
According to Evans – who runs a therapeutic photography platform called The One Project– photography helps him with his anxiety by helping him find the motivation to go outside and connect with nature, provide a shift in perspective, search for beauty in the world, and provide powerful self-expression and reflection.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Apply more photography to your travels to achieve the same goals.
I was skeptical of meditation for a long time. However, at one point, my anxiety was so crippling that I’d have tried anything to soothe it. So, I downloaded one of those trendy guided meditation apps and gave it a shot.
Did I do it right? Honestly, at first, I’m not sure. There was literally a person in my ear telling me how to do it, yet I found myself getting caught up in my own thoughts.
Over time though, I found that it not only helped me leave my anxiety-riddled thoughts behind…it gave me the tools I needed to notice when anxiety was creeping back into my life.
This trick has helped me on the road countless times. In fact, shortly after I started meditating, my wife and I took our first cruise ever up the East Coast to Nova Scotia.
I meditated every morning on the boat, trying to leave my anxiety in the cabin. It helped!
Of course, everyone is different. The thing to remember is that you’re not clearing your mind of thought…you’re simply putting yourself in a state where you’re comfortable with your thoughts.
If nothing else, give it a shot next time your flight touches down in a new city and you’re not sure where to go.
Harness the Power of Music
In 2012, I spent two weeks in Honduras helping to build schools. At that time, I still had a Blackberry Pearl and could only upload a set amount of songs. I didn’t own a functioning iPod, so yeah…you could say I wasn’t that cool.
Anyway, a band I’m quite smitten with, The Gaslight Anthem, had just released their brand new album, Handwritten. And that was the only album I’d brought with me.
This resulted in two positive side effects:
1. I spent two weeks really listening to the album, picking apart every lyric while I was out and about building schools and in between spending time with my crew and my host family. My anxiety didn’t have a chance to perk up because whenever I wasn’t busy with my travels, I fully immersed myself in that album.
2. Now, whenever I listen to that album, my first thoughts are always the memories I had in Honduras, which is a pretty wild phenomenon. Even years after that trip, a simple guitar riff can instantly put a smile on my face. Our brains are absolutely incredible.
Remember Why You Travel
There’s a reason you do this to yourself, you know. Whether it’s to try delicate cuisines or witness towering monoliths built ages ago, ultimately, we travel so that we can grow. Solo travel is just group travel with the training wheels removed.
Remember that you travel so that you can expand your horizons, break free from your comfort zones, and change the way you perceive the world as well as yourself. There will be lots of little moments solo travelers experience that cause miniature panic attacks, but you’ll push past them all.
Ultimately, I sincerely hope that this growth helps with your travel anxiety. It did for me.
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