On Traveling Solo with Anxiety

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Amazing views in Interlaken, Switzerland.

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!

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Happy in Venice, Italy.

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

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My Happy Things 9.9.15

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Hello friends!

I haven’t posted a “happy things” article since I was in Europe.  That’s mainly because I originally intended for “my happy things” posts to be a way for me to communicate with my readers overseas since I did not have kitchen access and didn’t really want to worry about getting a bunch of clothing pics the whole time.

However, I have been having a pretty rough couple of weeks.  Without getting into too much detail, the past few weeks have been very stressful and have left me a little heartbroken.  I’ve had a lot of those “I can’t catch a f***ing break” moments.  As dramatic as I make it sound, this is quite abnormal for me, so I do not always know how to handle it.  Panic attacks are somewhat typical for me, but they’ve been worse than usual lately.  While I know it has a lot to do with lack of sleep, not working working out, and not caring for my body as well as I should be, a series of events have lead my life to be very stressful.  I do my best to remain positive, but sometimes I’m just sad.

I’m not afraid to admit that.  I find nothing wrong with sadness, and I find nothing wrong with my anxiety.  It’s just a part of my life, and while I think I’d be better off without it, I also know that it is a part of who I am.  Admittedly, I have a hard time expressing this over my blog since it is very personal and vulnerable.  However, I think it is important to acknowledge that everybody has “something”, whether it’s anxiety or depression or anything else.  I feel lucky that I have the resources and self-motivation to break myself out of my anxiety-funks, and truthfully, I do feel a lot better now than I did a few days ago.  However, not everybody has those means.  There’s an unfair stigma associated with mental health issues, and I would love to help end that.  After all, most people do not know right off the bat that I have anxiety.

Which goes back to that old cliche.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Unfortunately, oftentimes when I get sad about real things, I start to get upset about stupid, irrelevant things.  Like why did Little Joy break up?  Why is it socially unacceptable to eat ice cream for dinner every night?  WHY IS SEASON 4 OF NEW GIRL NOT ON NETFLIX YET?!

(Seriously though, Netflix.  New Girl.  Season 4.  Let’s go).

Anyways, since I’ve been having a hard time lately, I decided to bring back the “happy things” posts.  I probably won’t update them every week like I did in London.  But I will definitely keep them around for when I need encouragement, or for when I just want to share some cool things with you guys.

So while I am sad, I also know that there a lot of beautiful things in life.  There is so much to be happy about.  Writing music and blog posts is one of my favorite ways to express how I’m feeling.  I tend to use sarcasm when I write, and I like to make fun of myself–life is too short to take everything seriously.  Sometimes life is hard, but we just have to laugh it off and keep going.  Plus sarcasm makes me happy.  And I would like to use my writing to spread happiness.

And occasionally use profanity on the internet.  Sorry, readers.  It’s who I am as a person.

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My first “happy thing” was getting my disposable pictures back that I took in London.  Although this one came out blurry, I’m really in love with it.  Flowers + coffee = a perfect day.

“The Medic” by Foxing.  Foxing is one of my favorite bands ever.  Also, their album The Albatross is just all around so perfect.  You know when you can feel somebody’s emotions through their music?  That’s how I feel when I listen to their album.

Plus, they’re going to be playing a show in Reno in November, and I’m soooooo excited.

So.  Excited.

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The balloon races in Reno!  This is an annual event that is super popular, and one of the coolest things about living in Reno.  I have never actually been to the balloon races, but last year a balloon went off track and landed in my cul de sac!  It’s a pretty neat event, because you can see the balloons floating around Reno for pretty much a whole weekend.

Anyways, this year I’m going to go (even though it means waking up at like, 4:30 a.m. to watch them light up O: ).

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Living in beautiful Reno.  I took a little walk around the midtown/downtown area the other day, and I was just so happy to be there.  Although the river is really low, it’s just such a pretty place to live.  And the people are so nice.  And there’s really good food and coffee and music.

And I’m really just so lucky to live here.

Whine About It.  Nothing cheers me up quite like watching these videos.  Okay, maybe baby elephant videos make me a little happier, but these do the trick also.  This one is probably my favorite, because it’s just so accurate.

(P.S. How do I get a job where I get to drink wine and bitch about life?  I want that job).

Thanks for reading, guys.  My family comes into town on Friday for my aunt’s wedding, and I can’t wait to have an amazing weekend.

*Insert inspirational quote here*

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*Song of the Day: The Medic–Foxing*