I finally found a place to eat after wandering the colourful, packed streets of Old District Hanoi, Vietnam. The servers come up to me, bubbly and polite. I spit out, “It’s just me”, before they can ask whether I’m eating alone or not. I sit down at my table and watch the city go by; couples, friends, families, and large groups of people. I’m sure there are solo travellers in the crowd too, like me, but I don’t see them. It seems like everywhere I go, people are travelling together.
I wonder all the while looking at the menu and ordering my food. I’m the only one eating alone in the restaurant. I imagine people staring at me, wondering why I’m alone, judging. I force myself to stop thinking about it and to enjoy myself.
But that’s the big problem, I over think. way too much and it doesn’t just switch off. I over think to the point that my heart races, my head feels over whelmed, my hands tingle like I have pins and needleson them, my throat dries up and I feel nauseous.
I went overseas by myself hoping that it would cure this by forcing me to interact with other people. I have no problem being independent; it’s just the whole social aspect of it all. I feel uneasy around people I’m not used to, as I’m sure most people are. But it goes beyond just being ‘shy’.
Even when I do build up the courage to talk to someone new, to ask if I can hang out with them while we’re travelling in the same place, I still feel extremely uncomfortable. No matter how friendly and accepting they are. At times I’m definitely having fun with my new friends, but every other part of me is thinking, “Am I intruding?”, “Do they actually want me here?”, “Am I being annoying?” , “Should I leave them alone?” It’s hard to meet new people and make new friends when your mind is telling you that you’re not welcome.
But this isn’t about telling you not to travel solo if you have anxiety. This is about telling you that it is probably one of the best things you can do! I hadn’t really thought much of it until now, but I realized that I haven’t had much anxiety since I travelled. Maybe a few shaky hands here and there, but apart from that I think travelling by myself has helped me either overcome or control it.
Although I do regret my first solo trip a bit as I know I would’ve had more fun with friends. I did feel very lonely at times, I also know I had to do it.
So here are a few tips to make travelling with anxiety a little easier:
1. Understand that your anxiety doesn’t control you. When people say, “Stop worrying”, it’s not just suddenly disappeared. Like, Oh thanks… I never thought to not worry before. I’m cured. I once heard a psychologist say, “Anxiety never goes away, you just learn how to control it.” This is definitely true, at least for me. Find ways that will help you control your anxiety. Whether it is breathing, telling yourself that anxiety doesn’t control you, or imagining a peaceful situation. Test them out before you travel so when you do have an anxiety attack, you’re prepared.
2. Don’t force yourself. If you’re not ready to travel, you don’t have to. Also remember, you may also never be ready. I know that’s a bit of a contradiction, but make sure this is want you want to do.
3. Pick the right destination. Throwing yourself out there can be scary. My first solo trip I planned was 6 months in South America. I’m now really grateful I couldn’t afford it at the time because that would’ve been too much for me. Take baby steps and pick a country where you won’t feel so alone, but also one that you’ve been dying to see.
4. Use hangouts, forums, websites, and apps to meet people! I didn’t do this, but it’s definitely something I’m going to do on future solo trips. Just because you’re travelling solo doesn’t mean you have to be alone. For people who are uncomfortable approaching someone, it’s a lot easier to find like-minded people travelling in the same area online and then meeting up.
5. It’s also okay to be alone. Being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Enjoy all the time you will get to yourself. This was my favourite part about travelling solo; wake up whenever you feel like it and go do whatever you want without someone else pulling you away to do other things.
6. Plan out your trip. The plan doesn’t have to be detailed, but for someone who gets anxiety it’s always a good idea to have at least a basic of what you’re going to be doing. This will take away a lot of the stress from travelling.
7. Feel free to change your plans. Some of the best experiences can come from random encounters and tips from other travellers. Don’t stress out and ignore the opportunity because it’s not a part of your plan. Make a few changes and explore!
8. Don’t worry if things go wrong. When travelling, something will always go wrong. Try to keep a level head. I know this can be hard, but everyone’s experienced it before. It’s fine to cry or have a little breakdown. Just remember that you’re going to be okay.
9. People are not judging you. If anything they are inspired. Even though my mind was constantly thinking that others were wondering why I was alone, no one ever said anything negative. Most of the comments I got where how brave that is and that they couldn’t do something like that. It takes courage to travel solo, for some that courage comes easy and for others it’s a lot harder to obtain. Be proud that it’s even crossed your mind.
I’m Kat Mortimer from Australia, a 20-something year old and just like a lot of you, I’m someone who can’t do the normal 9-5 life.
Graduating University after years of hard work and mental breakdowns, finding a steady (probably super boring) job with only 4 weeks annual leave a year (should be illegal) and then working my way up in a career I don’t really want doesn’t give me any hope or joy for the future.
Saving up to buy a house (that would probably be shit anyway) and then having to pay back a huge fucking mortgage for the rest of my life is just not something that excites me.
I would happily swap out all of this “success” to be wandering through another country with just a backpack and an endless list of possibilities.
Stick with me while I pursue my dream and hopefully I’ll inspire you to pursue yours.
While I have never traveled alone, this inspired and encouraged me to travel alone. Anxiety is hard for everyone, learning to control it is an even bigger battle. As you can see throughout the week, anxiety can affect people in various ways. Everyone has different ways for how their anxiety comes on or what causes their anxiety to read its ugly head. I hope you enjoyed this anxiety segment and felt inspired or encouraged by this.
Stay tuned soon to read about my trips to California.