How to handle anxiety when traveling alone?
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
I have heard far too often from people "I don't know how you do it, I could never travel alone, that's crazy." Followed by "I'd love to go to Greece, maybe someday I will".
The time to make these dreams a reality is now. It sounds cliché I know, but it is so true- You are not guaranteed tomorrow. So, if in fact fear and anxiety are the only thin stopping you from going away, whether for a weekend or a month, these tips might help you.
1. Before you go- plan smart
Sometimes, it's worth spending a little more to avoid that flight arrival at 3 am, or split hotel stays starting with a downtown location until you learn the public transportation. This is what planning smart means. Some people like to wing it, not have a place to stay, and take the stand-by flights. Don't feel pressured to do this, it's not for everyone. It takes a certain personality and sometimes a lot of experience to travel in this manner.
So plan smart. If you are planning a solo trip for the first time, take precautions to avoid unnecessary stress. Always have insurance in case something does happen, and have a way to go home if needed (money saved). Having information, a plan, and a safety net, should already make you very confident to venture on your own.
2. Remember the reason why you went on the trip
This defines the tone for everything. If your intentions aren't good, then your experience won't be either, almost guaranteed. So before you go, write down on a piece of paper, "Define your why".
When I went on my first solo trip to Egypt in 2010, my parents asked me why Egypt? I didn't have a specific reason for it, but the thought of being that far, in an exotic place, gave me butterflies! Of course it was scary, but good scary. I didn't know that trip would change my life but I felt I was meant to go. That was my why, I had to own what I was feeling and conquer any fear I had. Maybe your why is to write, learn a different culture, see one of the wonders of the world, or to simply conquer that fear.
Whatever your why is, focus on it. Only a strong "Why" will motivate you enough to go and truly enjoy. Once you are there, it is important to remember the reason why. Don't second guess yourself. Instead; focus on it, meditate on it, envision it, and conquer it.
If you start backing out before the trip, or getting severe anxiety on the plane, write down the reason why you decided to go. Remember the moment you made the decision to book the trip- focus on that feeling.
3. Tell yourself `if others can do it, I can do it too`
Another true cliché. No one has superhuman powers in this world. Some are smarter than others, but other than that; you can truly achieve anything you want. People are walking the streets all over the world, they are eating, shopping, visiting, so why would you question yourself?
Break it down to basics
Travel doesn't have to be so difficult. At the end of the day you are simply living your days in a different location. Don't think about the possibility of loneliness, think about the magical, exquisite, new places you can see, new food you can taste, new people you can meet. One step at a time.
After you have found a destination you want to go, make a quick list of things you want to do and see. Truth is when you stimulate your senses, you will not feel lonely. Next thing you know, you are at the end of a 2 week trip somewhere exotic, and you are already planning your next stop.
4. Remember you have done your homework and you got this!
You have done your homework. You have the flight and hotel booked. You have a list of things that interests you. You researched the area a bit and know how to get around, and maybe you even marked the places to go on Google Map. Now, it's time to relax.
Take your time when you arrive. Look around, get a feel for the place. Breath in. At this point you already know how you are getting to your hotel. If you don't, take your time in the airport. Ask someone, take out your phone and do a search.
Information is readily available and people are generally good and helpful. Remember that and don't panic.
5. Engage in the familiar.
Travel is about experiencing the unknown. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with having a little familiarity while you are out there. I always pack light, but there are certain things that I will not go without- my music!
While I pack light, I always bring a little Bluetooth speaker with me. No matter where I am, if I feel lost and a bit confused, I need my jam. I also do yoga a few times a week and going without it for more than 10 days affect my body and mind. So even if I stretch in the hotel room, I visit this familiar activity when I travel . If you are into fitness, make sure to incorporate that into your travel. It's extremely important to not completely disrupt everything that is familiar to you, in order to avoid anxiety in the first place.
If you feel anxious, blue or in any way negative while you travel, turn to what is familiar in your life. That means stay in your room and take a bubble bath, call your friends and family, work out or go to a bar. Taking your time and incorporating the familiar into the unfamiliar, will not only make you more comfortable and help with travel anxiety, but will also shape your style of travel.
6. Invite engagement from locals and other travelers with a smile
We are social creatures. Most people have anxiety with the thought of traveling alone because they don't actually want to be alone. They often sacrifice places they want to go because there's no one to accompany them. This is a true shame to say the least. If you are willing and able to travel, fear and anxiety shouldn't stop you. This is the time to remember that you are not alone.
I'll share a quick story when I was in Belgium. I went to the train station to catch the train to Brugges for a day. I couldn't understand a word coming from the speaker and the schedules were very confusing to me. So I stopped and asked an older man if he could help me. He flat out said no. And walked away. I was cold, a bit frustrated and on foot, my phone was barely working. I thought to myself, this ain't killing me so move on, NEXT! And then a nice guy came and asked me if I needed help. All problems resolved and I made it to Brugges.
I know this doesn't sound bad, but when you are alone in a place around the world, where you know noone, your phone which is the connection to the world is flailing, it's cold, and you already walked some 30 minutes to a busy train station, something this minor can leave you a bit dizzy. People are just that- people! What exactly is your fear? Share your thoughts with me!