Feeling anxious about travel is a common occurrence. Often the best way to handle trips as a nervous traveler is to accept your apprehension, know that it’s normal, and make the trip anyway. These feelings tend to lessen or even disappear once you realize you can handle anything that comes your way. There are, however, ways to mitigate your feelings.
They say a picture paints a thousand words but in today’s online world many photos hide a thousand words, too. Look at all those other fearless females, you say to yourself as you scroll through endless travel photos online. They’re jumping on airplanes solo, hiking mountain peaks, exploring off-the-beaten-track villages, dining in fancy restaurants alone. Those girls look happy, they look comfortable, and they look excited to be traveling solo. Why don’t I feel the same?
The truth is, anxiety about travel is normal. We know it might not feel that way when you’re endlessly viewing curated online-lives, but with around 40% of travelers saying they’ve experienced flight anxiety alone*, not to mention other forms of anxiety, it’s a common occurrence.
The good news is, there are ways to mitigate your fears – allowing you not only to accept them – but to make that dream trip anyway, and to really enjoy it. Plus, just think how you’ll feel on your return, knowing you can do anything you put your mind to.
Travel fears come in many, often not well-defined, packages. Starting to understand the elements that are bothering you is the first step to overcoming them. Is it a fear of flying? Are you worried about spending so much time alone? Perhaps it’s the language barrier and perceived lack of of communication while abroad? You may find it’s a combination of these, or more. The fear of the unknown can hit even the most practiced traveler but identifying what it is you’re worried about opens up a space to acknowledge it, process it, and ultimately move through it. Here are some ways to help with anxiety about travel:
In the days, weeks and months running up to your trip, assist your mental health by maintaining your physical health. Work out, eat well, and take your vitamins to boost your immune system. Exercise has been found to have a positive impact on depression, anxiety and more – while better nutrition will help you fight off any viruses for an illness-free trip. No-one wants to be sick while traveling but for those suffering from anxiety it can kick-start more serious concerns while on the road. Quash those bugs before they hit.
Fear of the unknown can cause feelings of anxiety but in today’s online and app-heavy world, there are many things you can do, pre-trip, to ease this. For example, download tools including Google Maps and/or local transport apps to plan your airport to accommodation journey before you even set foot off the flight. By planning your airport exit plan, you’re already one step ahead.
The accommodation you choose can have a big impact on your trip. Would you feel more comfortable somewhere you can meet other travelers to chat with? If so, a hostel might be an appropriate place for you to stay. Do you want somewhere to retreat back to, somewhere you can read a good book in the bath? Then consider booking a room in a hotel, allowing you some alone time. By booking accommodation that will act as your ‘safe space’, you’ll know you have somewhere you can head to at the end – or even middle – of a long day to rest and revive.
Twenty years ago finding out information about your destination was tricky. If you didn’t know someone who had visited, your resources were limited. Today? Even if none of your friends or family have been, you can look up information in a matter of seconds online or, better still, join an online community of travelers. The Solo Female Traveler Network Membership is full of travel resources and community members who will help you every step of the way. Knowledge is power, after all.
Think about why you want to visit your chosen destination. This may sound simple but in pre-trip anxiety mode, the answers are often forgotten. Is it the history? The culture? The food? The lifestyle? Remember all the reasons you had it on your list in the first place and try to imagine yourself there, exploring the things you love. Looking at photos online can help boost excitement, too.
We’ve covered making sure you know how to get from the airport to your accommodation when you land, but travelling from home to the airport is often overlooked and can also be stressful. Be sure to know your route and the time it takes to make. Oh, and allowing yourself some extra time to get there will help too. Nothing is more panic-inducing than thinking you’re going to miss your flight. It’s always better to be an hour early than an hour late.
Slowing your breathing really does help to reduce stress-levels. An anxious person tends to breathe in quick succession – reducing oxygen intake and upsetting a whole host of physical functions. It can cause increased heart rate as well as dizziness; and this is the last thing you want when you’re already feeling upset. A series of slow inhales and exhales is a simple breathing exercise that can help reduce feelings of anxiety at any time during your trip. Remember to practice it from the outset – and anytime you need it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help as you navigate your way across the world. Not sure where your check-in desk is? Enquire at an information desk. Need to know what time your bus leaves? Ask staff or locals you see on the street. The majority of people will be happy to help.
Whether you’re a first or one-hundredth time solo female traveler, with or without anxiety – group walking tours are a fantastic introduction to a destination. Think about it, you’re showing up in an unfamiliar place, unsure how to plan your activities, and don’t know anyone in the area. A group tour will orientate you with your new destination, plan everything for you, and you’ll meet other travelers. That’s a win-win-win.
As solo females, it’s important to know and understand personal boundaries while travelling. While we urge you to get out and explore, it’s equally necessary to understand your comfort zones and limits. That said and within reason, limits are there to be pushed. If you’re happy exploring solo in daylight but not at night, book a group tour for after dark. If you don’t like dining solo, do it anyway; use a book or your cellphone as back up, but keep yourself open to conversations with other diners or waiters. By pushing your boundaries you’ll begin understand just how much you’re able to overcome, and how great those achievements can make you feel.
We can’t promise that nothing will go wrong as you travel, but we do know that often having small things go against you can be a blessing in disguise. So you missed your train? That’s ok, find out when the next train to your destination is and get on it. You ended up walking to the wrong neighbourhood? Great, you have somewhere new to explore. Your pre-booked taxi didn’t show? Take another means of transport – perhaps learning how the location’s transport system works in the process. You’ll feel like an unstoppable champion once you figure out how to overcome obstacles.
It’s always tempting to go all out while you’re abroad because, who knows when you’ll next have the chance to ‘go here’, ‘see this’, ‘do that’… But knowing that you’ve got some money set aside for the unexpected will be a huge source of comfort; whether you need to use it, or not. You’ll be able to navigate the streets with a little more ease knowing you can jump into a taxi if needed, or that you can check out of a hostel and into a 5* for some R&R if you’re feeling unwellI. And if you don’t end up using what you’ve set aside – fantastic – it’s in the bank for your next trip.
The fear of ‘getting out there’ usually becomes more exaggerated the longer you think about it, while actually being out and about can offer positive distraction. If you’re feeling anxious about facing your destination – take a deep breath, remember your route-plan and step foot outside of your accommodation door. Once you’re taking in all those new sights and doing what you enjoy; exploring historical monuments, shopping at markets, or taking photos at all the best selfie hotspots, you’ll have less time to think about your worries.
For the solo traveler, a common fear is spending time alone. But it needn’t be this way. Socialising doesn’t means you need to be the life and soul of every party, it can be a simple as plucking up the courage to introduce yourself to a fellow solo traveler. Simple questions such as asking someone where they’re from or for local recommendations, work wonders as conversation starters.
We know it can be hard to trust strangers – especially in unfamiliar surroundings. But people are generally kind and helpful, so opening up to locals is a great way to overcome fear. If you need directions or want to know where to find the best restaurant and/or gin bar – locals are the best source of information. We’re sure, once you’ve asked (and found answers!) a couple of times, speaking to locals will become second nature.
First and foremost, recognise what you’ve achieved; you’ve gone from feeling anxious about solo travel to actually doing it! Remind yourself of all your accomplishments – you deserve to feel proud.
Whether your trip was smooth sailing, or whether you had to overcome a few hiccups – be mindful that you you faced your travel-fears head on and survived. Knowing that you can overcome any fears or obstacles as you solo travel is powerful. And know that you can do it again too. In fact, the more you do it, the easier it’s likely to become.
Remember all the good times you had on your trip. Maybe it was sitting with a book in a back street café, maybe it was joining a group tour and making friends, or maybe it was finding yourself face-to-face with something you once thought you’d only see in the movies. Store the positive memories, you made them and you deserve to remember them.
You’ve done it once, you can do it again. Start to think about where you want to head to next. That travel bug is a hard one to shake, but we – and we’re sure you too – wouldn’t have it any other way.
*Flight anxiety research from Aviation Mental Health
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