Just because travelling is my favourite thing to do, that doesn’t mean I don’t find it absolutely, unbearably stressful.
I love exploring new places. I love visiting cultures completely different to my own. I love the fact that, while walking through some city miles away from home, everything you see is new. And yet, this very city is somebody else’s home. They know all the best bars to go to, they know a hidden shortcut to get back to your apartment, they spend evenings with their friends in that very spot on the beach. It’s so intriguing stepping into other people’s familiarities. And yet, beneath the freedom and calm feelings, I’m actually an anxiety-ridden mess.
I like to think, while travelling, that I look like I blend in, gliding through the city as a free spirit. However, I know that’s not true. I know that, in reality, I am a clueless tourist. I am probably lost, probably late, and probably stressing.
From the minute I start packing, my heartrate is increasing. Have I forgotten anything? Is that definitely my flight time? Why wont the sodding app let me check in already?
Firstly, you need to remember that out of all the people I know who have travelled, they have all made mistakes. They have all had delayed flights, lost luggage and God knows what else. But I have never heard any of them say they regretted travelling. If your anxiety is giving you doubts, just remember that there is no reason why you cannot have the best time of your life.
1. Buddy up
It is very, very possible for even the most anxious people to travel solo. Do not let that put you off doing anything you want to do. But if possible, I would recommend travelling with a friend or family member. Have somebody with you who you feel comfortable around, and can tell if you’re getting stressed out.
2. Time well
If a sleepless night is going to make you feel worse, don’t get a flight that requires you to leave the house at 3am. If the stress of a changeover is going to be too much to handle, look for a direct flight. These things can’t always be avoided – and they are nothing to worry about – but look at your options before committing to anything.
3. Prepare for take-off
Flying can often be the source of many traumatic experiences. But it doesn’t have to be. Realistically, you’re going to be absolutely fine. If there’s something about planes that always freaks you out, educate yourself first so that you can look at things more logically when you start to panic. Turbulence, for example, is nothing to fear. A quick google will show you that it’s just air pockets that you’re dealing with – nothing scarier than driving over a bumpy road.
4. Make yourself at home
I know people who love airports. Me? Can’t stand the places. Everyone is always in a rush. I feel like I’m going to get in trouble for something I didn’t even do, when passing through security. I have no idea where my bloody gate is. It’s a mess. So, do everything you can to be relaxed. Wear comfortable clothing. Bring a book to read. Listen to music. I normally wear headphones on the plane, as they block out noise and make it easier to forget I’m flying.
5. Get organised
I never learn my lesson. Every time I go on holiday, I leave packing until last minute. But if you panic easily, give yourself plenty of time. Look up your airline’s bag allowance well in advance. Write a list of what you need to pack, and get going.
6. Make lots of lists
In fact, lists aren’t just good for packing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things you want to visit, the stuff you need to bring, and the timings of your transport, write that shit down. Thoughts tend to look a lot less intimidating when you pour them out of your head and put them onto paper.
7. Don’t go over the top
Now I’m going to sound a little contradictory. Plan your trip out, for sure, but don’t organise things down to the very minute. You can have a basic idea of your day (tip: don’t forget to check the weather before planning each day out) but don’t go to crazy. Go for a basic idea, rather than an overly scheduled, jam-packed timetable. If anything goes wrong – you miss a train, for example – this will just mess your entire schedule up, and you’ll be even more stressed. Leave room to relax. Take your time. I tend to list the top five things I want to do on my holiday, and use that as a basic guideline.
8. Don’t worry about being a tourist
Tourists can be bloody annoying. They don’t look the right way before crossing the road, they overcrowd areas, and get in everybody’s photos. But no matter how much you blend in, a local will probably still be able to tell you’re not from around here. And that’s okay. As long as you’re polite, respect the culture, and perhaps pick up a few phrases in the local language, you’ll be pretty harmless.
9. Be spontaneous
This one’s scary, but the more you do it, the more fun you’ll have. Being an anxious traveller can make you plan things down to the bone, as previously mentioned, but some of the best memories I have from holidays were completely unplanned. As long as you’re staying safe, don’t be afraid to say yes to unexpected opportunities.
Another scary one: talking to strangers. But taking advantage of the local’s directions, recommendations and what-not, can be very useful. Ask somebody at your hostel where a good place to eat is. Ask staff at the train station which platform you’re supposed to be on. I’m sure you wont be asking the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard, and either way, you’ll probably never see them again.
Travelling is a nightmare if your anxiety’s got anything to say about it, but I can assure you that taking these kinds of steps can make it a trip of a lifetime.