I love to travel. Before the pandemic, I took an international trip at least once a year, with a couple of local trips in the mix as well. Travel has become something that is well within my comfort zone. But it wasn’t always this way.
Having grown up with both general and social anxiety disorders, traveling solo used to terrify me. After leaving home, I went years without so much as taking a road trip. If you suffer from anxiety, you know what I’m talking about. The whole idea of going on a trip alone can fill you with dread. It just seems so overwhelming.
But I’ve managed to get over my fear of travel. It took some time – and a number of trips – but travel is now easy. Here are 5 tips for the anxious traveler.
1. Start Small:
You may have dreamed of visiting Greece or Taiwan. However, you’re more likely to actually take a trip if you start with small goals. Consider going to a location an hour or two away. You may be able to drive there or use public transport. Do whatever is comfortable.
Depending on your level of anxiety, you may have a different starting point. Regardless, it is more important to start than to push yourself.
2. Don’t Be Ashamed to Arrive Early:
I sometimes tell people I’m pathologically punctual. No matter how hard I try to be fashionably late, I arrive early. Unfortunately, arriving early triggers my anxiety almost as much as arriving late.
While people will probably raise their eyebrows at your early start, it is nothing to be ashamed of. You will feel a lot better about your trip if you are 200% certain you’re going to make it on time.
3. Create an Itinerary:
One of the things I struggled with when I started traveling solo was figuring out the kind of traveler I was. When I’d gone on trips with family and friends, they had favored spontaneity. I loved the spontaneity, but it made me anxious. What I have found traveling alone is that you can have spontaneous experiences in a well-planned trip.
Create an itinerary of where you want to go and when, and make all the bookings you need to make. When you’re at your destination and know you have somewhere to rest your head, you will feel far more comfortable trying an impromptu activity or taking an unexpected day tour.
4. Learn Basic Phrases:
If you are going to a country where they speak a different language, learn some basic phrases in advance. You don’t need to be able to speak the language, especially in an age in which Google Translate can help you get around easily. However, being able to say a few things in the language will create the perfect icebreaker to help you meet people.
For people with social anxiety, meeting strangers in a foreign country might seem overwhelming. But what I’ve found is that it is easier than meeting strangers at home. After all, I am not scared of embarrassing myself or damaging my reputation in a place I’m going to leave after a few days.
5. Stay in Shared Airbnbs:
On a recent trip, I decided to change my habit of booking hotel rooms. Instead, I booked rooms in shared Airbnbs. This turned out to be the perfect way of meeting people under absolutely no pressure. I made a few quick friends – something which a younger me would have never believed possible – and explored the city with them.
This is essentially a good alternative to staying in a hostel. However, instead of the chaos of hostel living, you have a private room and the guarantees provided by Airbnb (or whatever platform you decide to use).
Travel can be a great way to push yourself to try new things. It has certainly helped me with my anxiety, and I no longer feel overwhelmed at the thought of a solo trip.