On September 17th, my parents and I visited my brother in Manhattan. Balmy winds and sunny skies promised a beautiful day in one of my favorite cities. New York rules my heart despite its scary prices and crowds.
While my dad and brother attended a Mets Game, my mom and I embraced our “inner tourists” and viewed Manhattan’s spectacular skyline from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
Chilly air hit my cheeks, as I laughed and tried to take decent, non-blurry pictures with my iPhone. Easier said than done.
Sirens rang far, far, far below us. Too many sirens. They followed us in the streets. Emphatic.
We had no idea an explosion happened in Chelsea until we returned to the hotel.
Then, only two days later, more explosive devices were discovered at the Elizabeth train station in northeastern New Jersey. This station lies smack dab in the middle of the northeast corridor, a popular route for commuters and one I always use to go back and forth between New York City, Newark International airport, and my apartment.
At the news, my mind naturally swirled in familiar frantic patterns: What if this device had gone off? What if I had been on the platform that day? Why bother going anywhere? What if I’m next? I’m stupid for wanting to travel. Stupid!
What if, what if, what if. That’s what anxiety feels like – day in and out.
Still, why talk about anxiety at all? Isn’t it negative? Don’t people want inspiration instead?
Because conversation is important.
As much as I love reading travel blogs, especially solo female travel-focused sites, the sheer fearlessness shining through many of posts makes me feel guilty. I’d never go skydiving or eat super unfamiliar street food so why would anyone care enough to hear my stories, stories that are too “safe” in a thrilling space?
The reason is because I know many travelers like me exist and want a voice. Anxious people can travel too.
After feeling initial waves of panic, anger and realization replaced them. Most people in my life are supportive of my travels, but not everyone. Well-meaning concern, in all directions, intensified after the Paris attacks in November 2015 and worsened after the Brussels airport was attacked in March 2016.
Yet here it was. A potential terrorist attack in familiar places. Supposedly “safe” places.
Let’s pretend I never traveled again after Paris was first attacked because my anxiety said “no, no more.” Then let’s pretend that these recent explosions succeeded – with me in the immediate area. All my precautions would have solved nothing. Nothing.
I’m not letting my anxiety tell me not to travel anymore.
Are you scared of exploring the world? Don’t give in. You can travel too. And here’s how.
Believe in Yourself
Easier said than done. It’s actually really hard to believe in yourself when your mind feeds you all sorts of stupid lies. But please, please, please try.
You’ve more inner strength than you realize. I took a leap of faith visiting Scotland in 2013. At the time, my self-esteem was shot to micropieces, and my hypochondria soared at an all time high, but I believed in myself enough to book a ticket.
If you’re not at this point yet, be patient with yourself and slowly work toward having enough courage to click “book.”
Stay Busy, Busy, Busy
Finally gone to a new land? Great. Now keep your mind distracted on the road. For me, anxiety creeps into sneaky pockets when I have nothing better to do than sit around and think about life.
Book guided tours. Partake in hostel activities. Use public transit. Eat in food markets. Explore that museum.
Whatever you do don’t sit in the hostel common room and debate with yourself. As soon as my brain teeters toward negative thoughts, I immediately go and do something else. Keep your head busy.
You can also plan all these activities ahead of time. I know having a rough itinerary, prepared prior to departure, calms my nerves.
Keep in Contact with Your Loved Ones
Frequent communication with loved ones is a great way to sooth any anxious feelings. Wifi is everywhere. So staying in touch is easy and cheap. All you need to do is set aside time to text and email.
This tip is also helpful for anxious family and friends. Receiving positive texts makes a world of difference to them. Trust me.
Talk to Your Doctor, Therapist, Another Trusted Professional
If you see a professional for your anxiety, then it’s a good idea to let that person know all about your trip. They can offer emotional and practical advice. Seeing a therapist is a great idea if you struggle with your mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you break those unhelpful thinking patterns.
As for my flying fear, I always let my own doctor know when I’ll be boarding a long flight.
Speaking of which: don’t forget to fill any necessary prescriptions before you go. Certain medicine isn’t always readily available in other countries.
Remember: Crap also Happens at Home
If the explosive devices in New York and New Jersey taught me anything, it’s lousy and unexpected events can strike at home too. Unpleasant? Sure, but life’s unpleasant sometimes.
To be brutally honest: I was worried traveling to Europe this summer after reading too many headlines about ISIS. The US Department of State’s travel alert didn’t help much either. Some family members and friends weren’t too thrilled, adding icing to the anxiety cake. I wanted to cry before my flight and not ’cause of turbulence.
Making matters worse, I was at TBEX when Nice was attacked on Bastille Day and inwardly freaked out while trying to keep a smile on my face for travel brands and other bloggers. Despite all the “pfft, don’t let terrorists win!” comments floating around the travel world, I think my reaction was very human.
However, it’s still important to realize unexpected and violent events may occur in our own backyards. I never expected to be in New York on the same day an explosion rocked Chelsea.
So we need to live. What other choice do we have? Hide in our bathroom closets? Curl into a whimpering ball in our bedrooms? I think not.
If we’re not 100% safe at home and not 100% safe abroad, then we might as well hop on a damn plane and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
Has anxiety ever prevented you from traveling? How do you manage your anxiety and follow your dreams?