Truth: travel anxiety affects us all at some point.
While visiting a new location is always challenging, solo travel is totally unique. Being completely on your own in an unknown place can be extremely emotional and exhausting, even for a frequent traveler. These emotions can (and likely will) include everything from excitement and happiness, to fear, stress and boredom. On the other hand, traveling solo can turn out to be quite a rewarding experience: you can learn a lot about your own limits and truly get to know yourself better than you might’ve thought, so here are some problems that I’ve encountered on my travels, as well as my top travel anxiety combating tips:
Make up stories
Problem: My imagination is really vivid; as a result of countless movies that I’ve seen, I’ve developed a somewhat keen sense of how unpredictable situations can unfold, which usually tends to lead to my imagining the worst-case scenarios, even when commuting to and from work. For example, seven times out of ten, I imagine the bus I am in falling off the bridge and me desperately trying to find my way out of the cold river water. This only seems to intensify when I’m on the road: did I lose my passport? What if someone steals my luggage? Forget that, what if the plane I’m on turns out to be a flying canister of death?
Solution: When I can, I try and think of a counter-scenario, where regardless of what terrible course of events takes place in my head, I end up escaping death, and even saving a life or two along the way. When anxiety gets the best of me, I just focus on a book, a movie, TV show, or simply start drawing (or coloring books, if you prefer) or writing.
Learn about your destination
Problem: Naturally, not even a frequent traveler like me can always feel safe wherever they might find themselves. Feeling relaxed is next to impossible in a completely unknown environment. A random person’s wallet might seem like a gun in the heat of a moment, and even a closed umbrella sometimes isn’t completely discernable (yep, this one time I was certain I saw a sword). This is all quite natural; as humans, we tend to associate the unknown with images and sounds that we are familiar with (gee, thanks, TV).
Solution: It’s quite simple, I always investigate where I’m going before I head out (or on the plane/bus/train in cases of unexpected business trips). Luckily enough, the exact same technological age that has filled our little minds with paranoia has provided us with information: travel blogs, Google maps, even travel vlogs and YouTube videos. The more familiar I am with an area, the more relaxed I am on my travels.
Get lost in music
Problem: Our brains have developed to be alert at all times. This is simple biology – our ears are tools for spotting threats early on. Unfortunately, in modern society, this instinct is rarely of any help to us. For me, making out a random sentence such as “This is more turbulence than I’ve ever experienced.” can easily act as a trigger that will take me right back to problem number one: making up horrible scenarios.
Solution: One of the coolest things I’ve learned about anxiety is that it’s essentially like a child: grab its attention with something else for a moment and it will crawl back to where it came from. Make a feel good playlist on Spotify, Deezer, or your iPod – fill it with groovy music (funk, punk, thrash metal, or free jazz, whatever gets you in the zone) and get a quality pair of noise cancelling headphones. This is what I do in order to reach my safe/happy place.
When stress hits hard
Problem: Depending on how long I’ve been on my travels, the kind of storm is raging around my airplane, or how creepy the alley I’ve managed to stumble into is, sometimes I cannot escape the grips of stress and anxiety.
Solution: As I’ve learned over time, medications are rarely the solution (unless there’s a doctor’s prescription involved). The goal that one has to reach here is getting out of their own head and if none of the above-mentioned advice seems to be helping, you can resort to this quick, efficient and practical progressive muscle relaxation exercise: clench your fists 3 times, holding the grip for a couple of seconds during each rep; then, squeeze the forearms, holding the grip for a couple of seconds; and finally, do the same with your biceps.
The goal: using physical sensations as something to focus on, you are diverting the mind’s attention from stressful things. In my personal experience, the more muscle groups I use, the more relaxed I become. Anxiety, boredom and stress are a solo traveler’s worst enemies. For all these pieces of advice, I was my very own guinea pig, and if they work on this anxious freak, they’re bound to be at least of some help to you.