Wanna travel alone, but feel super anxious about it?
You’re not alone. I promise.
I used feel the same unsettling anxiety you do now. Heck, on occasion, I still feel the same way you do now. The thought of packing, heading to the airport, enduring a sleepless night on board a cramped Boeing, and arriving in a new place and knowing no one, would make even the bravest warriors (rawwwr!) break out in cold sweat.
Traveling alone is not necessarily an easy decision – especially if it’s your first time and you’re already a nervous mess in your daily life – and I give you props for even thinking about solo travel. Throwing yourself to the world’s kindness may cause your throat to close. Mind over matter applies in this case.
Still wanna travel despite your fear? Good. You need to fight through your anxiety to build the life you’ve always dreamed of experiencing. And you deserve every bit of excitement, remember that. You have one life. Don’t short change it because your brain is a liar.
So, look no further, friends! Here are my 7 tips for anxious solo travelers!
1. Accept You’ll Feel Lonely
Okay, I’m gonna express an unpopular opinion, but if you have no interest in socializing, you probably shouldn’t stay at a hostel. Find a boutique/affordable hotel or rent an entire apartment on AirBnB.
It’s my humble belief that hostels ought to provide a social atmosphere and focusing on your phone or huge group of pals detracts from that specific purpose. Don’t wanna meet people? Do you enjoy strictly being alone? Are you too hung up on your stateside boyfriend to say “hi” to your roommates? Don’t book a hostel.
However, you can’t change that anti-social folks, for whatever reason (probably price), will stay at hostels and ignore you. In Berlin, I said “hello” to one woman who looked at me as if I had six dragon heads. At my hostel in Porto, I couldn’t participate in the staff dinner one evening, because a rowdy (ugh) school group claimed the entire restaurant and I was stuck eating chocolate bars in my dorm until a sweet Italian girl talked to me. It happens.
You won’t always meet people. Sometimes you’ll feel totally alone. It sucks. I don’t need people stroking my ego 24/7, but, in a typical day, if I don’t strike a conversation with at least one other person, I start to feel anxious and wonder if I smell or something.
Just know the loneliness will pass. It may take awhile, but you will find someone to talk to. Trust me. I’ve been on many solo trips and I’ve made friends on every single one. I promise you won’t be alone forever and ever. Be patient. Be open. Be friendly. Do not be clingy, though, and act like you’ll die tomorrow if your new hostel friend decides to go to an art museum instead of to the park with you. Plan to meet for dinner later.
2. You’ll Be Out of Place
When you’re jetlagged in a brand new country, you won’t feel 100% sure what to do next. Uncertainty is part of the territory, and for someone who has control issues (ahem), the unknown can be an absolute nightmare.
Think about it. You’re not at home and your daily routine, such as wake up, brush teeth, text friends, and go to the local hangout, doesn’t apply here. Even if you’re in a large city, engulfed in a busy crowd who couldn’t care less about your unbrushed hair and baggy eyes, you’re still gonna feel like you stand out and everyone’s casting their wrathful judgement upon you.
Man, I still struggle with the sense that I don’t belong and should head back to New Jersey before I embarrass myself forever. It usually takes me a full day to “regain my travel legs,” so to speak, and I’ve only ever been to developed Western countries. I’m sure the feeling intensifies once culture shock is thrown into the mix. Sheesh.
Overseas you’re gonna be shaky on the language and procedures and social cues. Let’s say you’ve finally landed after a long haul overnight flight, and your stomach is growling revengefully at you for depriving it of delicious coffee and cereal. All you want is to order a quick breakfast, yet the menu is written in Hungarian and all the other stern-faced patrons are holding stamped tickets and you’ve no idea where the line starts. In this situation, you can feel … erm, frustrated.
So go with the flow.
You’ll figure everything out. In time.
Do your research to lessen that awkward “everyone knows what to do except meeee” feeling that inevitably arises at the worst of times, such as trying to catch a last minute train or ordering breakfast in a chaotic cafe.
Learn a bit of the language. Research local customs and scams. Study prices for common items and transportation. Knowledge is always powerful.
3. Do You, Sis. Do You.
We’re not all the same. Some travelers wanna see the historical sights, while other travelers want to check out the city’s markets and parks. Other travelers have a super low budget and need to eat crackers and ramen noodles in the kitchen every night, while others may want to experience the local cuisine and drink at the swankiest bars in town.
The important thing is, even though we’re all different, you still need to do what you wanna do. Why travel solo if you’re gonna tag along with the crowd’s whims? It defeats the purpose!
In other words, don’t you dare do something you don’t wanna do because you feel pressured to stick with other travelers. You paid a lot of money for your trip. I mean, come on, remember how many pennies you saved and how many new handbags you gave up? And now you’re gonna throw your dedication allllll away because some hungover fool wants to spend the entire afternoon drinking in the hostel common room rather than explore the city?
Forget that nonsense!
As a solo traveler, you come first and don’t forget it. And if anyone says your ideas are boring? Ditch ’em.
I’m not saying to act rude to people who have different travel styles than you do. But do the activities you wanna do. Please.
4. Remember: You Need to Eat
Argh, eating alone will never be a skill that I’ll master in this traveling lifetime. The idea of sitting solo in a restaurant ties my stomach into messy knots. Despite knowing most people won’t care about my solo status, my mind works its irritating magic and tells me that I don’t want to eat alone, because then people will stare at me or whisper, or I’ll feel totally lonely while everyone else has their family, friend, and/or significant other’s charming company. Meals are social for me, so it’s better to go hungry than eat alone.
Uh, not quite.
Seriously, folks, don’t avoid eating because you are anxious about solo meals and their fun awkwardness. You’re on the go constantly when you’re wandering the road, and as a result, your body craves nutrition like my credit card craves sales at Nordstrom. Be kind to your body. Trust me.
My advice to effectively diminish this problem? Just avoid sit down restaurants whenever it’s possible. Casual, fast food places always have solo diners and even though they’re not the pinnacle of exquisite local dining, they work fine if you’re starving and wandering the city streets looking for an easy bite. I go to McDonalds on occasion. No big deal.
Is it a sunny summer day? Pack a picnic and eat in the park. Does your hostel have a kitchen? Ditch the sit down dinners and cook some of your own meals. Kitchens are a great place to meet other travelers.
I have a confession: I always avoid sit down restaurants and hope to defeat this fear of mine in the new year. Here’s looking to you, 2016.
5. You Will Make Mistakes
Let go of your control issues and realize that you’re gonna make a boatload of mistakes. Booking tours on the wrong day, getting ripped off via crappy exchange rates, taking the wrong bus, forgetting your plug adapter in your hostel room. The list goes on and on and on.
I still make mistakes. Stupid mistakes.
Example, the picture above. I didn’t buy sun lotion for my trip to Portugal. Figuring I could buy an overpriced bottle at the Philadelphia airport, my plan fell flat on its face when there was absolutely no sun cream to be found in any of the stores. Say what? Then I planned to buy it in Lisbon. Nope again. Everything, I mean everything, was closed for Easter weekend. So I decided to suck it up because the sun didn’t feel all that strong. My fair skin would survive. HA, enjoy looking like a dysfunctional blond lobster, Rachel. You’ll attract all the men now, won’t you? Cute peeling nose, by the way.
I stayed at the fantastic Home Hostel in Lisbon, and I thought the kindhearted staff was gonna faint when they stared, their eyes wide and shocked, at my scorched skin.
I’m not making you feel better, am I?
Here’s the point: Mistakes will happen. How you deal with said-mistakes will make or break your trip. Laugh off the small stuff. Prepare for the serious stuff. You’ll be okay.
6. Slowing Down Is Okay
Don’t panic if you don’t experience every museum, every church, every mountain, every nightclub. That road leads to unhappiness and traveler burnout. Trust me. Remember what I said about control issues? You need to chuck that nonsense in the nearest dumpster. Paris isn’t leaving. London isn’t taking a trip to Mars. You can always return.
While traveling Central Europe for 7 weeks, I had days when I chilled at the park and looked at the blue skies, as I inhaled the fresh air and dozed. Your body appreciates the rest and relaxation. At the same time, I had sleepless evenings and hiking and rafting-packed days, and eventually my breakneck pace smashed my immune system and inflicted me with a case of “The Busabout Bark” aka the worst and most annoying cough ever to exist.
Take. It. Easy.
7. You’ll Gain Confidence
Traveling alone builds confidence. By embarking on these journeys, you’re gonna impress a lot of people at home and their awe rubs off on you.
And you wanna feel more confident, don’t you? Who knows. Maybe you’ll be the next person posting tips for anxious solo travelers and helping them seek their dreams in a new land. So take the plunge and book that ticket! Now!
What are you main tips for anxious solo travelers? How do you deal with your anxiety on the road? Share in the comments!