It’s normal to feel anxiety traveling alone.
Totally normal. After all, 18% of the population in the United States suffers from some sort of anxiety. It makes sense travelers, including solo ones, also fall into that percentage. Now it might be hard to believe when the internet’s filled to the brim with blog posts proclaiming how solo travel is “so cool” and the “best thing you will ever do.” I’m guilty of saying those things too, because … well, they’re true.
Nonetheless, all the positivity can make nervous travelers feel isolated. You may think your emotions are wrong, because everyone else promises “you’ll have such fun,” yet here you are, palms sweating and mind racing. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. Not in the slightest.
As for myself, I’ve gone on several solo trips, both international and domestic, but I still experience small knots in my stomach whenever I embark to a new place without companions by my side. Sure, solo travel promises lots of excitement. New people, new food, new sites, new memories. Doesn’t make it any less scary, though.
Let’s say you’ve moved beyond the planning stage and now you’re in the middle of your solo trip. While (for me) “anticipatory anxiety” is way worse than the event itself, it’s still normal to feel nervous when you’re in the midst of your travel dreams.
Here are my suggestions to combat anxiety traveling alone. As always, feel free to add yours in the comments.
Don’t feel guilty.
It’s easy to feel bad about your uneasiness. After all, you’ve spent so much money reaching a new place and now are living the dream that your friends or family would die for. Guilt settles in.
Stop. Your reactions are valid. And, besides, if we all had perfect control over our emotions, I wouldn’t have to write this post at all.
When you have anxiety, it’s easy to berate yourself until your mind can’t take it anymore. You are trapped in a cycle of self-loathing. Sometimes you may have physical symptoms. No need to make it worse by adding guilt on top of the “crap pile.” So, instead of cursing at yourself for “being stupid,” accept that your feelings are valid and then take the proper steps to address them.
It’s very easy to reach your loved ones for free or very little cost. Purchase an international phone plan prior to departure so you can call friends and family whenever you want. The only things standing between you and family are timezones. If an international coverage plan is still too expensive, then download Skype to your device and use the wifi at your accommodation to have video chats for free. Seeing the person’s face is even better!
Speaking to loved ones works wonders. Sometimes all you need to feel better is a familiar voice to tell you “everything will be okay.” Personally, I still think a gentle world from a loved one is the best medicine you can find.
Find a quiet place to collect your thoughts.
If you’re feeling anxious, a busy marketplace or mall isn’t the best place to compose yourself. For me, excessive sensory details overwhelm me and make me feel even worse. There’s nothing wrong spending an hour or two in your hotel or hostel to compose yourself.
Now let’s say you feel guilty about sitting in your accommodation. No worries! Find a quiet cafe, a relaxing public park, a secluded beach, anyplace that makes you calm. For example, on a solo trip to Canada, I started having compulsive thoughts about my career (or lack thereof). It was so bad that I almost threw up my coffee at Tim Horton’s. Seriously, I stumbled outside to a nearby trashcan and everything. So I eventually ventured to Stanley Park and lounged under a few trees for two hours. It was perfect!
And who knows, you may discover a new favorite spot. I think fondly of Stanley Park because the atmosphere there helped me so much!
Bring “the familiar” to your accommodation.
Okay, I know an important part of travel requires busting through your comfort zone. And yes, I think it’s necessary to face your fears when you’re traveling. But there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to something familiar if you need it.
For instance, when I feel overwhelmed, I’ll spend the night at my accommodation streaming a favorite show on Netflix. And believe me, it’s time well spent. Having that “piece of home” encourages me to see and do more the next day.
This tip extends to food, too. If you’re homesick and craving your favorite meal, then go for it! You can always eat more “local meals” later in your trip.
And remember what I said about not feeling guilty? Don’t feel guilty about watching The Office or eating McDonalds either.
Book a small tour, tickets, or something else to excite you.
Think about why you decided to travel solo in the first place. We all have our reasons. What are yours?
Maybe you adore museums, but your friends hate them. Book tickets to the Louvre, MoMA, or Uffizi Gallery for when you’re feeling better. Did you want to travel to meet people? Reserve a spot on a small walking tour or food tour, and strike up conversations with other tourists. Are you a sports fan? Book a ticket to an upcoming hockey or soccer game.
It’s always important to eventually “break out” of a negative thinking cycle and focus on why you chose to travel in the first place. Re-embrace it.
Further Reading on Anxiety Traveling Alone
If you’ve been a reader for any length of time, then you know I discuss “anxiety and travel” a whole lot. Check out some of my other posts if you feel you could use more guidance. And, of course, you’re always welcome to email me with any questions or concerns.
How do you handle anxiety when you’re already on the road? Elaborate in the comments.