We live in a society based on fear.
Fear that increases our anxiety, and has us second-guessing EVERYTHING.
Fear that makes us incapable of deciding anything for ourselves, constantly needing reassurance that our decisions are right.
I was raised on fear. It’s all my mum knew. And how she controlled me and our lives. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful to my beautiful mum; I was very much loved. But as I got older, I started to see how fear kept her life small. Much harder than it needed to be.
It has been a long road out of fear, and anxiety and worry, to be able to live a life of abundance.
It’s hard not to compare ourselves to others, but we shouldn’t. Everyone is different.
Someone may look confident, stand on a stage and speak to hundreds, but panics at the thought of being alone.
Someone else can run a successful business, excel in their creative field, and be fearful of asserting themselves in their personal life.
And for me, I can get on a plane, explore foreign countries and panic going into a coffee shop alone.
You cannot compare fears and anxieties; you cannot determine if someone is less fearful or anxious than you based on what you see.
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The reality is you are going to feel anxious before you travel.
That’s perfectly normal. One minute you are counting down the minutes until you leave, the next you are wondering what the hell you have done and contemplate cancelling the whole thing.
It’s ok to feel this way. I know I do, and I also know that once I am on my way, I am fine.
On my last trip, my partner Dan was pushing me to get going knowing if I stayed longer in the Departure Hall I would have a complete meltdown. Tears welling and hands shaking, he knows the signs.
Granted it was my first solo trip, but I have travelled many times and know I am fine. And I was, as soon as I rounded the corner.
I read about seasoned travellers heading off to new horizons full of confidence and not a care in the world. Or so it seems. I often wonder if they do get nervous but being experienced travellers, they learnt to embrace the fear and go anyway.
I dare say it’s something like that. Dealing with anxiety and nerves gets easier over time as you get to know it better.
Anxiety becomes like an annoying friend who will never be out of your life, but you learn to deal with. You may get taken by surprise when they come knocking on your door unexpectedly.
But you have been here before. You know the drill. And now you know little things that will make your time with them smoother, coping mechanisms.
Dealing with anxiety when travelling
When I get anxious, all clarity goes out the window. I don’t read things correctly, I don’t hear what people are saying, and I am so focused on not disintegrating into a panic-stricken heap that everything else gets blocked out.
BUT I learnt to stop. Take time. Sit down. Breathe. Gather my thoughts into a logical order.
Find the first step to take. And then the next and the next. Breathe.
That is why you will never find me rushing to catch a train or arriving at the airport late. Never. I will always be there way before my departure time.
I don’t worry about “wasted” time. I just find things to do.
Experience has taught me that nothing bad ever really happens. That I always work it out.
That is why I plan my own travel. Relying on someone else’s directions and instructions, sometimes third-hand does not make me feel confident.
And the last thing I want is for anxiety to come bounding out of nowhere and to tag along on my travels.
1. Be Realistic (and don’t let your imagination take over)
Whenever your imagination tries to take over, be realistic. And I don’t mean to say, get over it, it’s all in your head or any other such derogatory thing. I hate it when people say that.
What I mean is to be logical. Try and stop listening to what your anxiety is telling you and be realistic to the point of taking out a piece of paper and pen and writing out real details.
What will happen if I do …?
Will it hurt me?
Will I survive?
Address any fears that you have. Or that others may be imposing on you.
What do we think will happen if we don’t wear THE right outfit? Or get lost in a new city?
Did you go to San Gimignano? No? You missed Tuscany!!!
Did you visit the Duomo in Florence? No? You failed Florence!!!!
You didn’t fail or miss anything. People’s opinions are just that, their opinion. See past it and be realistic.
Whatever trouble your anxiety is telling you will happen, do your research. I know fears are not logical but being realistic and taking the emotion out of an issue helps.
Stick to the facts. It calms the inner chaos.
For example, if my anxiety is stopping me from going to a restaurant on my own because it is telling me that I am going to be bored, or everyone will be staring at me, and I don’t want to stand out, I would write:
- Read my book or write in my notebook
- Let people stare, look at me for being confident enough to eat on my own
- I’m hungry; I want to eat
- Order an entrée; then order more if I want to stay
Focus on what is making you anxious. Is it fear, lack of confidence of the unknown, judgement?
Travelling solo taught me that no one cares. Harsh, but true. They don’t. Random strangers DO NOT CARE about what I look like or what I am doing.
Nothing happens if we don’t wear the “right” clothes or order the wrong coffee at a particular time of the day.
There are many experiences, and the most important ones are your own, not someone else’s idea of what your experiences should be.
2. Build Confidence By Planning Your Own Travel
Is it planning your own travel that makes you anxious? Are you questioning your ability to plan a trip, or execute it?
Many people go to travel agents, tell them what they want and are handed an itinerary in return. That’s what we did years ago. We told the travel agent the places we wanted to stay, how many nights in each and our budget.
Never again will I hand over total control to someone else. I knew no different. But I vowed that when I travelled again, I would take charge. In that trip, we experienced terrible hotels and arrangements that didn’t match up. We had to change rental car bookings and hotels on the go.
There is no problem with going to a Travel Agent. But check what they give you, so there are no surprises.
I know people get nervous about planning their own travel. It’s easy to have someone else take care of it.
But if anxiety is a big problem for you, and you are NOT on a fully organised and hosted tour, then I believe you should take be in control of your itinerary and know the ins and outs of what you are doing.
If you are only thinking about how to get to the meeting point of your walking tour a half hour before the tour, I would expect you to get a bit stressed. Especially if you are not familiar with the area.
It only takes a bit of your time to go through your plans. Make notes on directions, things you need to confirm during the trip, entry times for popular places and the like.
Since I took charge of my travel plans, I rarely get anxious. You might say that’s because I am a Travel Planner. But the reason I am a good travel planner is that I needed to alleviate my anxiety and became one.
You can build confidence with Travel Planning by joining my free Plan that Trip course. It will take you through the steps of planning an itinerary that works for you and one you can be confident in.
3. Know That Things Can And Do Go Wrong. And That’s OK!
That’s travel. It’s not always smooth sailing. But that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be. Just being aware that things may not go exactly to plan helps. Build strategies, and you will be fine. I always add extra time to my travel days to alleviate any anxiety. That gives me time to navigate through busy train stations and airports, allow for any delays and stops me feeling rushed.
Don’t beat yourself up if something happens. Perhaps you have fallen for a scam, paid too much for something, bought a fake when you thought it was authentic.
Don’t worry it’s all experience and as long as you weren’t harmed, it’s a story to tell later on.
Although I have a vivid imagination, I don’t tend to think about the worst-case scenario in those situations. I just think about what I can do to fix the situation or to move on.
Don’t think ten steps ahead, only the next one.
Have all your information and documents (itinerary, a scan of your passport etc.) stored in one place. I like to store mine in the cloud, in Dropbox. I also give my partner access, just in case.
4. Staying Safe
If we can alleviate the stress around staying safe, someone robbing us, having items stolen from our room and all those other unforeseen things we imagine when travelling (or in life really) then we can put some of our fears at ease.
I establish a routine when travelling.
- I carry my bag in a way I feel comfortable and confident
- I pack it the same way every day
- I read a map and check directions before leaving the room
And I have a safety routine before I leave my room –
- Place the cash I want for the day in my bag
- Lock the rest of my money and a backup credit card in the room safe or lock in my suitcase
- Lock my travel documents and passport in the safe or suitcase
- Carry a copy of my passport with me at all times
Whenever I travel, I find myself doing these things instinctively.
You can read about the ways I stay safe and anxiety-free here – 10 Ways to Stay Safe When Travelling.
Let me say that I have never had an issue with my safety travelling. However, I am always alert and don’t allow myself to become distracted, particularly in busy locations. Just think about being home, and visiting a city for the day and practice the same cautionary measures you would there.
5. Make Sure You Have Money In Your Budget For Unforeseen Events
Having extra money set aside can alleviate anxiety. Instead of worrying about everything you are spending, you can breathe easier. If a tight budget is necessary, create one before leaving so you know what you are happy spending each day, giving you flexibility. It’s a bit more work alongside your planning, but worth it for peace of mind.
Extra money in your travel budget doesn’t mean you have to spend it. You could have a credit card that you don’t normally use as a backup. Watching every cent, you spend when travelling can be exhausting and nerve-wracking.
But many people are travelling the world on a shoestring budget and loving it. For some splurging on an expensive meal isn’t what’s important. They may prefer to cook a shared meal in a hostel kitchen getting to know other, traveller’s from around the world.
BUT unforeseen circumstances do happen. And if you find yourself in an already stressful situation, and are prone to anxiety, having an emergency fund can help ease your distress.
For instance, on my last trip to Italy, I was on a strict budget. I was supposed to walk from the train station in Verona to my B&B. But I was tired and sore from a fall I had prior to leaving Florence. As I walked out of the station in Verona and headed down the road, I realised how shaky and exhausted I was. I started to get anxious about where I was heading so I walked back to the station and caught a taxi. The relief I felt was enormous and well worth the extra expense.
I also changed from my B&B to a hotel closer to the city centre. I just didn’t feel comfortable at the B&B and I was nervous about the walk back at nights, so I decided to forgo the paid booking and book a hotel. Best decision ever.
Don’t make bad decisions or stay in an uncomfortable situation because you are worried about money. It will only increase your anxiety.
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6. Stay Connected
In this era of technology, it is easy to stay connected with our friends and loved ones.
You can use free apps like Messenger and WhatsApp to have conversations with people back home. Find out the time differences and schedule a time to check-in and chat.
During my last solo trip, I had a few days that I felt completely alone and isolated. I was getting very anxious. So I formed the habit of having a quick chat via Messenger with my partner Dan early in the morning when I woke up (evening for him) and late at night giving him a recap of my day. It was a nice way to feel connected and share my solo travels and it helped with my feelings of isolation. Plus I could tell him how I felt without judgement.
The other way was via my Travel Charm Facebook page. Each day I posted a roundup of my day, usually around eight photos. And I told a story. An honest account of how my day went. Writing was therapeutic for me, but I had no idea how many people were following along. It was amazing! I received support, something to do by answering everyone, and the knowledge I was not alone.
Create a Facebook Group where you can share your travels with those close to you. Invite them to the group, share your photos, thoughts and feelings and stay in touch.
7. Staying Occupied
Although staying occupied might sound a little ridiculous when you are travelling there may be days when it all becomes too hard. And that’s OK.
If social media is not your thing then keeping a journal can help particularly when you feel anxious. Getting the feelings out that are swirling in your mind can bring a lot of clarity. And possibly some perspective.
If you plan your itineraries like I do, with slow travel in mind, you will have free time included. If all you want to do for the day is read, go for it. Don’t worry about wasting time, you’re not. Travel can be exhausting and exhaustion can lead to anxiety and stress.
I had five days in Bologna, it was near the end of my trip, and after a particularly late night (and a few wines) with a lovely couple I had met, I was exhausted. I had bought a book to read the day before so I decided to spend a day in my room reading. It was wonderful. I was heading to Milan the next day for the last two days of a three-week trip and I felt refreshed and ready to move on.
I could have explored more of Bologna, but let’s face it, feeling exhausted and anxious would not have made it an enjoyable experience. To be realistic, I don’t spend my time at home outside walking around all day, so I don’t feel the need to when I’m travelling either.
I love reading and don’t make time for it at home too much, so this was a great way to incorporate relaxation into my travel schedule.
Whatever it is that you like whether it be listening to music, reading, journaling or something else make sure you are prepared. There is nothing wrong with indulging in you time, regardless of where you are.
If you start to feel overwhelmed and panicky, retire to your room and immerse yourself in what you love. There’s no race and no rules.
If you feel you are not managing your anxiety and it is controlling your life, please seek help. Often talking and identifying what is making you anxious can help a great deal. Understanding and awareness are the first steps to managing your anxiety.
I have sought assistance over the years in different ways and have found it crucial to leading a full life. For those in Australia, you can start here at Beyond Blue.
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What it comes down to is planning. If you are fearful and get anxious plan more. We become reactionary when thrown into unfamiliar situations and those reactions may not be the best ones. In fact, they usually contribute to the overall situation.
But if you begin with a plan, you can become more flexible as your confidence grows.