Let’s be real, travel is not all rainbows and butterflies. Getting on a plane and flying across the world to a place super unfamiliar can be scary. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Otherwise, we’d just stay in our own houses all day every day. Anxiety can make you feel like staying in your apartment forever, but with the right attitude and planning you can be a successful world traveler, even with anxiety. Whether you’re traveling solo in SE Asia for 3 weeks, moving abroad permanently, or simply visiting a new city in your home country, here are my tips on how I handle my anxiety when traveling.
Take each day one at a time. Break things down into chunks so that it’s easier to “carpe that diem”. When I was in Bangkok last year I got really overwhelmed on day 1 of traveling solo for three weeks. I took out my notebook and outlined each day I was going to be there and what I’d be doing each day. The first day it felt so good to come home to my hotel and cross that day off my list – I did it! After around 4 days I didn’t need to cross days off my list any longer, but breaking my experience down into smaller chunks of time made it seem less overwhelming. If you need to break it down into even smaller chunks that’s do-able too. Sometimes even just going out to dinner (which can be hard when traveling solo) is a good chunk to conquer and check off your list!
When I moved abroad to South Korea I got there and immediately wanted to turn around, get on a plane, and fly back home. I was supposed to be there for a WHOLE YEAR which was super overwhelming. Therefore, I told myself that I would give it a month. If I was still not happy I would go home. Breaking it down meant I only had to conquer one month. By the end of that month I wanted to stay longer and I did end up staying the entire year, but at first the idea of staying there an entire year was terrifying. Again, it’s all about breaking it down into time chunks you feel are conquerable at the time.
My rule – if you’re staying anywhere longer than 2 nights, unpack all your stuff. Put your toothbrush on the sink. Line your shoes up by the door. Living out of a suitcase can just add to the feeling of general “mess” and anxiety. Having a clean room and your stuff neatly put away can help you feel more relaxed and at home in your new space while traveling. The sooner I make my room feel like home the better I feel. I also usually bring my own pillowcase from home that is freshly washed with my detergent even when staying in a hotel. This small reminder of home makes me sleep better and feel more at home.
For those moving abroad for a long duration, consider bringing mementos and things that remind you of home like a certain candle, scent spray, or even some of your favorite laundry detergent.
One of my biggest anxieties is walking into a new coffee shop, restaurant, etc. that I am unfamiliar with. When you don’t know the language this only increases the anxiety. Using point #1 in this blog, break this down into chunks. First, just simply walk by the coffee shop and check it out. Next time, go in and order a coffee to go. Next time, order a coffee, sit down, and read a book.
Once you have a spot you are familiar with and comfortable in it makes it easier to get out of the house and go try new spots too.
When I lived in South Korea I lived in a small town and went to the same restaurant almost everyday after school to pick up dinner. The first time I walked in was terrifying, but by the time I left Korea the people there knew me and knew my order!
When you have an understanding of the city, subway, etc. beforehand it makes situations way easier to navigate if you get slightly confused or lost. I usually watch YouTube videos about any train stations I’m traveling through or read blogs about it. Therefore, when I get there I don’t have to have anxiety about what to do, where to buy tickets, how to board the train, etc. This blog is really good for this and here is an example from a trip I took recently. Greenheart Travel also has a lot of blogs about traveling basics, like SIM cards, navigating an international airport, and lots more.
That being said, don’t over plan. I find it best to have a rough outline of what I want to do and see in each city, but if things don’t go to plan that’s OK. When you over plan each day it’s easy to get anxious and overwhelmed when things don’t go exactly to plan. Things are going to go wrong. Be prepared to be able to “go with the flow”. Take a deep breath. Part of traveling is that things will go wrong and not to plan, and that’s OK.
The best advice I got when I studied abroad at age 19 was to “WWAP”. Walking with a purpose basically means to fake it til you make it. Even if you have no idea where you are, walk as if you do. Confidence make you less of a target to thieves or people who might take advantage of you but it can also instill real confidence too. I was once asked for directions in Paris because I was walking around acting as if I knew where I was going. Talk about a confidence booster and anxiety crusher!
Whenever I’m feeling really anxious and overwhelmed I remind myself to take 3 minutes to relax, look around, take in the surroundings, and smile. Remind yourself that YOU’VE GOT THIS. How cool is it that you traveled to this place and did it!?