As I write this I am sitting on a bus, traveling from Ivalo to Rovaniemi, both towns in Finnish Lapland. I had been dreaming of visiting Lapland since I can remember. Visions of crisp, white snow below me and dancing northern lights above me. Husky rides, Christmas cheer at Santa’s village, and snowmobiling. The opportunities for winter fun seemed to be endless in the Arctic Circle. And while I sat on a bus, by myself, traveling in an unfamiliar country, not knowing the language, and not knowing a soul… anxiety started to creep in.
I’m a baseline, anxious person. I’ve been on and off anxiety medicine since 2016. When I first began having dreams of traveling the world solo, anxiety would always tell me, “no”. “You’re not the kind of girl that could do that”. And I believed it. I shut off my desires of solo travel for years until one thing led to another and I had booked a one-way ticket to England. I had prepared in the sense of researching how to pack, which countries I wanted to visit, what to do once I arrived in England; but I hadn’t been prepared for the immense amount of anxiety I felt as my flight took me across the Atlantic.
The Truth About Traveling with Anxiety
The truth about traveling with anxiety is this: there is no magic way of making your anxiety disappear. The truth is that while there are small measures each of us can take to combat anxiety, what works for me… may not work for you; and vice versa. The truth is that while it’s frightening and debilitating to work through bouts of anxiety… what is more frightening? Sitting at home and letting it control your life? Or getting up, facing it head-on, and doing what you love to do despite the overwhelming anxiety?
Tips For Combating Anxiety While Traveling
Before taking off to your destination, prepare! This is obviously much easier if you’re going on a shorter trip, but even if you’re taking a long trip I recommend planning out the first week or two until you start to feel more comfortable being alone. The way I do this is by making sure I call my bank ahead of time to get my debit card cleared for travel (same with my credit cards), and also calling the phone company to see if I can get cell service abroad. And if I’m on a long trip, I make sure to plan at least a week in advance so that I know exactly where I’m going the first few days.
Show up with a plan!
For me, the best way to curve my anxiety is by having a plan of action. This means that I know what number to call in case of an emergency, I know exactly what transportation I need to take to get from the airport to where I’m staying, I’ve already researched restaurants and bars around me, and so on. While I don’t always have every detail planned out, I think it’s imperative to plan the first two days of travel so that you aren’t overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety.
Be kind to yourself.
If you’re having an off day or you need to stay in – do it. And don’t beat yourself up over it. Oftentimes while traveling people tend to go, go, go. The true beauty in traveling (especially traveling solo), is realizing what you need to fill up your own cup. Whether that is to go non-stop or to take a rest day every now and again. However you choose to travel is okay and there is no wrong way to do it.
Refill your prescription before leaving.
If you’re on medication for anxiety, don’t forget to refill your prescription before leaving. If you know you’re going to be gone a while, you might even ask your doctor to please write extra scripts so that you can take all of the medication with you and you won’t have to deal with it abroad.
Take care of yourself.
Whenever I’m the least healthy – drinking too much, eating junk food, not sleeping enough – is when my anxiety is at an all-time high. I recognize this about myself and realize that while traveling I need to take extra measures to make sure that I’m staying healthy and taking care of myself. This means sometimes splurging on a spa day instead of going out and exploring. It even means sleeping in or going to bed earlier. And oftentimes it also means heading to the grocery store to cook in my Airbnb instead of eating out at a restaurant. Try to figure out what triggers your anxiety and then do your best to avoid those triggering things.
For more advice on anxiety check out this great post from Twin Perspectives (formerly Twins That Travel)
Trust That You are Stronger than Your Anxiety
More than anything, trust that you are stronger than your anxiety. Trust yourself that you can do crazy and outlandish things like travel the world despite the anxiety that creeps in. In the past anxiety has crippled me to the point of spending the entire day in bed. And at times, it is still debilitating. But choosing to face it head-on has been the biggest blessing in disguise.
Facing my anxiety has allowed me to travel solo to 30+ countries. It’s allowed me to be a travel nurse all over the USA. It’s taken me from Europe, to the Middle East, and to Southeast Asia. I’ve bathed elephants in Thailand, sang karaoke with locals in Italy, and booked a spontaneous flight to eat pizza in Naples. I’ve learned to sit in silence, and to enjoy my own company. I’ve learned and grown to appreciate different cultures and traditions around the world. I’ve learned that there are some jerks out there, but most people surprise you in the best way possible. That if you take the time to sit still, listen, and learn… you will grow more than you thought possible. And coming home may just give you more anxiety than leaving in the first place.
So while I sit on this bus, the one my anxiety told me would never show up. I can reflect on the progress I’ve made and how far I’ve come. I’ve learned that dealing with anxiety isn’t a linear path but instead more of a rollercoaster. There are ups, and there are downs, but the ride is beautiful despite the messy setbacks. And although I’m traveling solo, I’m never truly alone. It’s the people I meet in each destination that get me from one place to the next.
For more on solo travel, check out these posts: