Travelling with anxiety: How I overcame my fears of going solo
Straight up, travelling is stressful. Add in a couple of factors like being alone and having diagnosed anxiety disorder and it may seem impossible.
When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, my doc said that his top tip for relaxing was to ‘immerse in nature’. So I gave it a go and much to my surprise, it worked. So I wanted to do one better – I booked a flight to New Zealand.
Before I left I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d made the right decision. Was I crazy to think that throwing myself in a foreign country, alone, was going to help my anxiety? Or had I just made a huge mistake?
Well, in the end, it was great. I proved to myself that being mentally ill wouldn’t stop me from doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. If I want to travel the world by myself, I won't let anxiety get in my way.
Throughout my solo travels I picked up a couple things that soothed my fears and fretting, and if you are feeling that anxiety could ruin your trip, then here are my tips.
A little planning goes a long way
As much as going with the flow is the height of the #wanderlust dream – loose plans can help decrease some of the soul-crushing anxieties surrounding solo travel. Let’s be real – if your anxiety is anything like mine, having no idea where you’re going next or how you’re going to get there is a bloody nightmare. I’m not saying you have to have a minute by minute itinerary of where to eat and when to pee – but do a little research, have a back up plan and make it easier for yourself.
There’s no point in planning if you don’t actually follow through, so get organised. I can’t plan for shit (so this might sound rich), but solo travel is when you really need to stay sharp. In the past when I went travelling with friends, it was all smooth sailing. It wasn’t until I travelled alone that *gasp* I realised the reason why it all went so well was because they were all organised as hell. So yes, I'll stress this point again, stay on top of stuff. You don’t want to end up like me, missing a flight to Tokyo and having an anxiety attack in the middle of Melbourne airport while a beautiful Flight Centre worker hugged me. Print out your documents – buy a travel wallet – get organised.
Find places for like-minded people
A major part of my solo travel anxiety was finding people to hang out with. As confident as I am, I have this gross habit of assuming everybody hates me until they flat out reassure me they don’t. So, having to put this fear aside and try and make good friends in a short amount of time was challenging.
My solution was to find spaces for people with similar interests. There’s no point in wandering around alone all day without any idea of knowing where to find the things you would enjoy. For example, if you love metal music, get on to free Wi-Fi to find out where you can go see some. Put yourself in situations where you’re likely to thrive and make mates – there is no better icebreaker than shared interests! And once you do break the ice, that’s when you can find some travel pals – an essential part of solo travel.
Accept that bad days happen
As much as you want to seize every moment on holiday, if your anxiety is getting the better of you, look after yourself. Take a day to relax and deal with your emotions – just because you’re overseas doesn’t mean you can ignore your mental health. Pick a nice spot close to your accommodation to chill out in. Maybe take a note pad and write your feelings down or call a friend or family member if time zones permit. Whatever you choose, just make sure you do it – because ignoring your illness will not make it better. Anxiety sucks in every country, so don’t beat yourself up.
Tahlia is a media/journo student from the University of Adelaide. She probably wrote this in the bath.