I have now been on my big European adventure for about three weeks (posts coming soon!), and I am having the absolute time of my life! It was taken me a while to write this post, because I’ve been trying to think of the right words to say. When telling both loved ones and strangers about my big adventure, the reactions are usually along the lines of “Be safe!”, and more importantly, “Wow, you are very brave!”. And I totally agree – I am brave for traveling by myself for four months! However, bravery does come at a cost: I have anxiety, and it is absolutely present in my travels. To outsiders, I am very courageous and nonchalant about traveling alone, but inside is a completely different story. I am brave, but that bravery is fueled by my anxiety.
The anxiety is not always present. If it were, I would be at home in Reno right now typing on my computer in my own bed rather than from my hotel room in Interlaken. Rather, it only makes itself known in random times at random places. One night, I may be super excited to go have a glass of wine and nice dinner by myself. The next night, I may feel a slight tightness in my throat and quickening of my pace over sitting alone at a restaurant while everyone else is surrounded by friends and family. The worst is when I have to travel to a new city or country. Will I make it to the airport on time? Will I miss my train? What if my alarm doesn’t go off? What if I booked my ticket for the wrong day and I don’t realize it? Etc. etc. etc.
Traveling solo can be very intimidating, especially when you don’t see other solo travelers along the way. While I see all kinds of examples of people traveling alone online, I have yet to really meet others who are taking it solo as well. And that’s fine! Just because others aren’t traveling alone doesn’t mean I can’t meet new people and have a fabulous time. I am the type of person who likes doing things by herself. However, it can get lonely, and it can be difficult to meet other people when many are on vacation with a group of friends. Traveling solo can be very intimidating, but I find that the more I do it, the easier it gets, and the more I enjoy it! And since I’ve been taking it on for a couple weeks now, I wanted to share a few tips on dealing with anxiety while traveling alone that I’ve learned along the way:
1. Plan, plan, and then plan some more.
One of the best ways I’ve been able to conquer my anxiety is to plan out my days in advance. To start, I book my airbnb at least a couple of weeks in advance (but I would recommend a month or two or the good ones get taken). Then, I book my plane ticket if I need one. For trains, I book them a couple of days in advance or the night before. Then I determine how I will get from the train station to my airbnb. I make sure that I have contact with the host and that I know where I am going. After that, I figure out what general things I want to do in each city. I wouldn’t recommend doing this months or weeks in advance, but I like to end my night by determining what I will do the next day*. Normally it goes something along the lines of: coffee/breakfast, walking around the city taking pictures, lunch, visiting a museum, shopping, break at the hotel to freshen up, dinner and wine, and a slow stroll back to my airbnb where I do yoga and watch a movie before bed. Of course, this changes depending on what I’m doing for the day, but you get the gist.
Plus! I’ve noticed the more I travel, the less I feel like I need to plan. I’ve found amazing things serendipitously by not over-planning! Also, there’s just some things that don’t need to be scheduled to the T (see no. 7), but this is a good thing to do in the beginning if you’re really nervous.
*Tips: Most of the time, I plan my day the night before or as I go throughout my day. However, for certain attractions, like the Vatican and Colosseum, I like to buy in advance or you will wait hours in line. It also can be cheaper to book online, especially for tours! Sometimes, it’s more expensive (some websites charge online fees), but I’d much rather pay 4 euro than wait in line for 3 hours!
2. Apps are your friend.
I have found a TON of helpful apps while exploring through Europe. First, I loooove maps.me! The night before I leave for a new country or city, I download the map for that area, and then I can access directions without using wifi or data! However, make sure to download the map in advance using wifi, and have your addresses available on your phone or journal.
I also have really been loving Google Translate. Again, download in advance, but you can then use it to translate without wifi while you are at a restaurant or looking for directions. (Very helpful when you can’t read the menu or street signs)!
Along the way, I’ve also downloaded Whatsapp to contact local tour guides, and occasionally I’ll download an app for an airline or train company which I delete and re-download as necessary.
3. Have a routine.
Ok, so don’t plan out every single thing you’ll do every single day, because it’s very unrealistic. Also, that would get very boring, and traveling is all about experience! But I do like to start my day with coffee and end it by journaling – I think that writing in a journal is soooo important while traveling, especially if you’re at it alone! Having something that I know I will do every day, such as writing in my journal, helps keep me calm and on track.
If you don’t want to journal (but pls do), then you could do yoga, watch the same TV show every night, start your morning with the same breakfast, etc. Whatever it may be, having something to ground you can be very important.
4. Do things that remind you of home.
One of my favorite things to do at home is get coffee by myself and people watch. And Europe is a great place to people watch. Every day (or most days), I like to go to a cafe, order a cappuccino, and watch the locals and tourists interact with each other. I also like to carry some stuff that reminds me of home – a necklace my dad gave me, one of my favorite scarves, a picture of Reno, etc. When I’m feeling homesick, these things help me feel a little better.
Also, a phone call to your mom does wonders.
5. Leave money to do something for YOU.
As a new college graduate, I understand that money does not fall from the sky. I definitely save when I can. However, if you’re having a really stressful day, something isn’t going right, or you’re just so homesick you can’t stand it, having an extra $50 to do something special can really set your trip back on track. I had one stressful day while I was here where I honestly thought I’d miss my plane from Lyon to Rome (the trains were running late), I couldn’t find my airbnb, my luggage was falling apart, I thought I would miss my tour of the Colosseum, I couldn’t find a place to print my tickets because it was Sunday, I watched a lady faint and have to have CPR done, and just stress after stress after stress. Once I got settled into my airbnb, took my tour of the Colosseum, and had some time to breathe, I enjoyed a nice (more expensive) dinner, and everything was okay. I even got to see the Spanish Steps! I wouldn’t use your extra stash any time something happens, but if it gets really bad, letting yourself get a massage or drink a nice bottle of wine will help you enjoy even the bad times.
6. Remind yourself why you’re traveling.
Any time I think it’s too much, I think to myself, “Will you regret it if you stay or if you give up and go home?” Obviously, I’d regret it more if I went home! So, I’m staying. I’d rather have a panic attack on the beach in Greece than at home in Reno. I’ve been having an amazing time, and I don’t want to give that up over a few minor setbacks!
PLUS, I’ve noticed that I get more stress BEFORE something happens rather than while it’s happening. Once I’m doing something, I realize it’s not that bad! For example, I thought I was going to lose my mind over getting on planes, trains, and automobiles every few days, but it’s actually very simple as long as I plan everything out.
7. Go with the flow.
I feel a little hypocritical saying that, because I am SO NOT a go-with-the-flow type of a lady. However, in places where I don’t have a museum tour scheduled or anything planned, I like to just take things as they come. I still look up restaurants and things to do, but mostly I like wandering around the city, stopping in stores when I want to, finding a restaurant or bar where the locals hang, and ending up somewhere amazing by accident. Even though my brain wants me to know what’s going to happen all the time, letting go and just enjoying always ends up being so much more fun.
8. Learn how to be alone.
Again, I’m pretty good at doing things on my own, but sometimes it can feel isolating. At times, going to a restaurant by myself seems overwhelming, and I just want to do takeout instead. However, I always force myself to go out and explore the city and cultures. Plus, I always have way more fun once I get myself out in the world! If you get worried about being alone at restaurants, bars, or cafes, I recommend bringing a journal, book, or something else to do if you need the distraction. If you’re brave, strike up a conversation with the table next to you (I’ve met very nice people this way!). If you’re walking throughout the city, take in your surroundings and notice things you wouldn’t if you were traveling with other people. Enjoy the experience of going to a museum or concert alone. Just ask another traveler to take your picture. Traveling solo is so rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
However, if doing things alone really freaks you out, go to a quiet restaurant with not very many people or visit a small park and take a walk. Then work your way up. You can also practice at home before you go – I learned how to be alone at bars by going out by myself for a drink on the weekends!
Overall, traveling can be very stressful, but I’m so glad I’m doing it. The best thing you can do is trust your gut, and push your boundaries a little (or a lot if you’re comfortable!). Always remember that if you’re having a bad time, you can go home, and you didn’t fail – it just wasn’t for you. However, once you start traveling, I think you’ll find that your worries will disappear. My anxiety has even decreased since I’ve been here, and I’m sososo excited for the rest of my trip! I hope these tips are somewhat useful. Pics of my beautiful travels coming soon!
XO Sara Lynn
*Song of the Day: Your Hand Holding Mine by Yellow Days