Guest Post: My Experience Travelling Alone with Anxiety

– Today’s post is contributed to Etramping by an awesome travel blogger – Jennifer Cooper of Travelbllgr, who is going to share her story about travelling alone with anxiety. –

Travelling alone with anxiety

I thought I would share with you my first experiences of travelling solo and hopefully make you realise that pushing yourself to travel alone can actually help you to overcome anxiety.

I don’t want this article to become like many similar articles I’ve read online, that make you feel as though travelling alone is the only way / best way to travel. Don’t worry if travelling alone is not for you, travelling with friends or in a group is also amazing.

Thailand

The first time I travelled solo, I was 20 and in the second year of University. I decided to travel to South East Asia with a couple of my girlfriends, and then spend a couple of weeks in China with my (ex) boyfriend. I had a week that I would spend travelling on my own between saying goodbye to my friends in Bangkok and meeting up with my boyfriend.

Ko Samet Storm - Travelbllgr
Storm brewing in Ko Samet, Thailand by Travelbllgr@Flickr.

I had spent the months prior to departing meticulously planning the trip, including where to visit, how much everything cost and how to get there. As this was my first ‘backpacking’ trip with friends, I wanted everything to work out – I guess this was either me being super organised, or a little anxiety showing, as the more I planned, the more in control I felt. Whilst planning the week that I would be travelling alone, I decided to stay in an upmarket hotel in Hua Hin.

Bad things happen in dirty, cheap hostels on the Khao San Road – not in upmarket hotels…right?

The day after I said goodbye to my friends in Bangkok, I navigated the Bangkok sky train on my own to the train station, managed to buy a ticket, and locate the train for Hua Hin. I felt content on the train as I sat next to a lovely Thai lady who chatted to me most of the way. I was a little nervous about the transport at the other end though as this would be my first time alone in a tuk tuk.

Tuk Tuk Driver Credit Mark Fischer
Tuk Tuk Driver, Thailand by Mark Fischer@Flickr.

Outside Hua Hin train station I found a friendly tuk tuk driver to take me to my hotel, however throughout the whole journey there was a little voice in my head chanting ‘please don’t murder me, please don’t murder me’, whilst at the same time another voice was trying to reason, ‘many women travel solo, don’t be silly, you will be fine’.

Luckily, I escaped unharmed and arrived at my hotel. My hotel room was gorgeous, I had a king size bed all to myself and a large bath tub in which to unwind. I ate at the hotel every night, sunbathed by the pool every day and only left my hotel once to have a wander up the beach. I was petrified with the fear that if I left the confines of my hotel complex, I would be raped and murdered, as I was a girl travelling alone and these are the stories that I had heard all my life – either from friends/family or in the media.

I had listened and taken on board opinions from people who had never been travelling alone in their life and that had let fear control their lives.

Looking back, I should have stayed in a dorm room on Khao San Road. This would have given me the opportunity to chat to other travellers, and realise that actually, just because a women goes exploring alone does not mean that something bad will happen.

Mexico

After spending two months in South East Asia and China, I had fallen in love with travel and all the wonderful new experiences out in the big wide world. In the third summer at University I decided I needed to go travelling again – this time I didn’t manage to rope any of my friends in, so I started looking at other options. I stumbled across G Adventures and as I’ve always held a geeky interest in volcanoes, Central America, with all its volcanos really appealed to me.

Antigua Guatemala - Travelbllgr
G Adventures Trip – Antigua, Guatemala by Travelbllgr@Flickr.

The trip I did was similar to the Central American Journey currently on their website, except we didn’t fly from Roatan to Managua, we took the bus (it was 8 years ago now). It was a fantastic trip, and I have written about my experience travelling with G Adventures hereAs well as climbing volcanoes, I knew there was world class diving off the coast of Belize. I therefore decided to spend a week in Cancun getting my PADI certificate before meeting up with the G Adventures group.

Blue Hole Belize Credit TerraMar Project
The Blue Hole, Belize by The TerraMar Project@Flickr.

I flew to Cancun via Newark airport, New York, and I recall the man’s face at border security in Newark airport when I told him I was travelling alone to Mexico – he couldn’t understand it. Why would a young female want to travel to Mexico, alone? This did not fill me with confidence. I had booked a female dorm bed at a hostel in down town Cancun and also arranged an airport taxi to pick me up from the airport.

Prior to departing, I had bought a personal safety spray off ebay.

Basically, it was a red paint spray that I would aim at the eyes of anyone that tried to attack me. When I arrived at the hostel, I actually surprised myself – I struck up conversation with a couple of girls in my dorm room and we went out for dinner that evening. I think after that, something just clicked and I thought

‘I can do this – the world is not out to get me.’

The rest of the week, I was a less anxious version of myself. Reception advised me that the best way to get to my dive school in central Cancun was via local bus that departed from just outside of our hostel. Whilst on the bus, instead of worrying about being mugged or murdered, I actually enjoyed the ride and absorbed life going on around me.

Cancun Beach - Travelbllgr
Photo taken whilst sunbathing on Cancun beach (alone) by Travelbllgr@Flickr.

What advice can I offer other people wanting to travel alone but whom may be experiencing anxiety?

  • Ease yourself into it – realise that your first trip doesn’t have to be a big solo RTW adventure, perhaps try a group trip where you can have the freedom to spend the day on your own if you feel like it, but you have the security of a group there if you need it.
  • Travel to more familiar destinations first – your first trip doesn’t need to be exploring the Amazonian rainforest, or cycling solo through Vietnam – try a trip to Europe first rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end.
  • Keep telling yourself that the things making you anxious – in reality aren’t that bad. If you’re worried about safety whilst travelling, understand that the media more often than not only portrays bad stories rather than all the good. If you’re worried about meeting people, remind yourself that there are a ton of solo travellers staying in hostels that are just waiting to strike up conversation with you.
  • Don’t take advice from friends/family that haven’t travelled. Instead look to people who have been travelling solo. There are many empowering blogs that will fill you with confidence.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan. Prior to departing, research how to get to places, where to stay, and where to visit. In general, this will help you feel more in control and reduce anxiety.

Have you experienced something similar in the past?

 

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26 Comments

  • I highly admire female solo travelers and I’m sure many women of all ages fall victim to those kinds of thoughts (hell, I sometimes even have those kinds of thoughts at the grocery store in my own neighborhood) and admittedly I’ve never done a solo trip out of fear of danger. While not trying to undermine the point of this post, I was a little misled by the title. As someone with “diagnosed” anxiety, getting raped or murdered aren’t the only kinds of irrational thoughts I have (especially during travel). Actually, I would say that those are the things I tend to worry about least. People with ongoing anxiety get really worked up about tiny matters, like “what if I can’t find a bathroom?” or “what if I get too hot and there are no air conditioned buildings to run into?” I admire your courage and ability to just get on the tuk tuk/bus despite your fears, but people with chronic or severe anxiety are often times mentally and physically debilitated to the point that they cannot even bear to leave their room for days, due to these tiny matters that we blow way out of proportion.

    There’s a really great female blogger I’ve been following who suffers from chronic anxiety and she still manages to travel (sometimes solo!) and she offers a ton of inspiration and encouragement to other anxiety sufferers. Her blog is at http://anxioustraveler.com

    • Hi Whitney, thanks for your comment and blog recommendation. There are a million anxious thoughts that go through my mind everyday – I just wanted to bring to light a couple of the mains ones I experienced. Thanks

  • Listening to other people how “dangerous” the world is out there doesn’t help much either. “Yeah, thanks for telling me about that woman getting murdered in the location I’m going to, because they are looking for more victims I’m sure.” Being prepared is okay, locking yourself in the hotel and not seeing anything outside of it fearing human contact is not. :)

    • Bad things happen everywhere so you can’t let isolated incidents stop you from travelling – although people do love to tell you ‘didn’t you hear someone got murdered there last week!?’ – erm yeah, thanks for telling me. Just use common sense and trust your gut instinct.

    • I guess everyone has fears but I always think you have to put yourself in situations that scare you a little (mentally scare you – dont ever put yourself in a dangerous situation!) so that you can grow and learn from those experiences.

  • High five for overcoming so much anxiety and AMEN to not listening to people/friends who haven’t traveled! Every time we go overseas we are inundated with horror stories from well-meaning friends who fear for our safety but we never let that deter us.

    I once read that 99 percent of everything we worry about never happens, anyway. Have you ever heard that? Do you think that might be true?

  • This sort of thing is difficult for those that have anxiety disorders … I commend you for everything that you’ve achieved. This post will help people that were in your position get over their fears!

  • Bangkok is a good place to go for solo travelers, relatively safe but also one must be very careful who they trust. Went there last Chinese New Year (February 2016), spent 5 days 4 nights. I went for a couple of beers near Soi Cowboy and I met a sweet Polish lady who told me she got drugged the night before in a Latin disco pub, luckily she made it through her hotel the moment she felt something is wrong. She passed out at the lobby of the hotel. That’s lucky for her though.

    I am just saying, everywhere you go abroad if you are careful and wise with your decisions, nothing to worry about.

    • Yes, I’d say all you can do to prepare yourself for this type of thing is to read up about your destination – Lonely Planet often list common ‘scams’. Me and my partner fell for a scam in India conducted by an train official in uniform, and then as soon we got back to our hostel we looked in the lonely planet, the exact same scam was written in the ‘dangers and annoyances’ section. ‘Scams’ can happen in broad daylight, but you need to be very careful if you are going to bars/clubs and where alcohol is involved as it leaves you vulnerable (whether in a foreign country or your home town!)

  • Fantastic post and thank you so much for sharing here! I too battle anxiety and work daily to improve on my skills to make it more manageable. I refuse to take meds and will continue the holistic approach. I wish you the best of luck, Jennifer!! :)

    • I have never taken any medication for anxiety either as it is something I am able to manage myself by getting myself in the right ‘mindset’. I always think back to CBT techniques which include exposing yourself to situations that make you anxious (for example, travel) in order to challenge your thinking and hopefully the more you expose yourself to these situations – the better your anxiety will become.

  • ‘Lovely post Jennifer which hopefully gives people with anxiety tips and food for thought!

    I don’t have travel anxiety myself as I’m just excited to be out there and seeing the world type of thing..! However, I usually have a rough idea of what I would like to do and where. For company, I either went to hostels or hung out at expat cafes or bookshops. Bookshops are great as people are much calmer without the hangovers and there are signs about what’s going on in town or around. I actually got my corporate job at the British Council library in Berlin, as we all used to hang out there back in the day lol!

    I did my GAP year stuff years ago and I travelled solo through Asia, including Hong Kong and it was the best thing ever! Just be open, talk to people (both locals and expats), smile lots, shake hands with locals, and you’ll be fine.

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