There are so many pros to traveling in general. Leaving the familiar behind to venture into the unknown, experiencing new cultures, sightseeing and meeting people from all over the world that are completely different from you, but also very much the same. The only thing that gets in the way of experiencing all that traveling has to offer, is the fear that many of us have with actually DOING IT.
My first time outside of the US had my anxiety on level 10. I was so stoked to see, see, see, but inside I was freaking out about meeting new people. Although I may come off as extroverted, I am very much an introvert at heart. I don’t mind being by myself for days at a time with a book and cocktail in hand. But, when I do take that big step to open up and actually try and meet people, I am ALWAYS pleasantly surprised at the types of people I come in contact with. I’ve never had a “ugh, I regret opening up and trying something new.” It’s always, “I should definitely do this more!”
Social travel anxiety is nothing to feel ashamed of and is more common that you think. Close to 15 million American adults suffer from it and guess what? The same anxious thoughts go through their heads as you. Excuses floating around as to why you can’t go out tonight (OITNB and chill per usual). And, spoiler alert, almost everything sounds better in our heads than when it comes out of our mouths, LOL. Taking little steps to peeling back those anxious layers and opening up a bit can make all the difference in a trip.
Prepare yourself Mentally
Get your head right. You’re about to take a trip, right? Grasp the concept that you’ll be the tourist, in someone else’s territory. And while this may feel scary, try to embrace it! Take some alone time to meditate and set intentions for this trip. There are tourists all over the world right now living their best life.
You won’t look stupid if you ask a local directions to your hostel or airbnb. I’m sure they won’t yell at you for asking them to repeat themselves a bit slower so you can understand their accent. And use those Duolingo language classes you’ve been taking, at least try to respond in their native language, they’ll appreciate it. I understand feeling like a burden in spaces you aren’t familiar with.
Hell, I understand feeling like a burden in spaces you are familiar with. Not wanting to speak up about something tiny for fear of being that annoying traveller. Somehow, you have to make a plan to step outside of your comfort zone sometimes, because adventure comes at you fast, and FOMO is a bitch. But above all else, prioritise your mental health. If you truly need a timeout from the world after your 4th adventure day in a row, take it!
Prepare yourself Physically
I think the majority of my anxiety in general while I was traveling solo surrounded transportation. I would get to the airport hours before my flight just to ensure I didn’t miss it. I was always on high alert on the chicken buses, making sure I didn’t miss my stop. I was overly anxious about keeping my SIM card reloaded in case there was no WiFi in the airport when I touched down.
Basically, I was terrified of being stranded somewhere, even though I knew I could use my problem solving abilities and figure it out. Get on a next flight, bus, ask for directions if I got lost, etc. So, to bypass that anxiety, I always made sure my ducks were in a row before I went off on any adventure.
Booking my hostel/airbnb prior and grouping my itineraries together in a separate folder in my Gmail account, acquiring onward flights for proof required by many airports, checking visa requirements well before just in case I had to mail in information , etc. This will relieve SO much stress that surrounds travelers. It’s one less thing you have to think about when you’re on leg 3 of a travel day and all you want to do is nap.
Choose Accommodation Wisely
Whether you decide to travel with a partner or solo, finding the right accommodation for you is crucial. Staying in an AirBnB is cool and very comfortable wherever you are, but you won’t meet people as easily as if you were to stay in a hostel. Even if you decided to book a private room at a hostel, you will still get that high energy in the communal areas of people just trying to have a good time and meet people who also want to have a good time.
Plus, with so many other travellers coming in and out of the hostels every day, you’re bound to find someone, or a group, who want to do the same activities that you do, hopefully in the same time frame. And instantly, you’ve got a group of friends hanging out, getting to know each other over a epic volcano boarding excursion that’s turned into a night of partying like it’s 1999.
Enjoying a Colombian fútbol match in pouring rain with a few Brits
Take a Tour/Plan Activities
To piggyback off the previous point, the easiest way I was able to meet people were by signing up for tours in each city. Most cities have a free walking tour through town where you learn about the history of the town or country in general, and by the end of it, you’ve met four people that you’ve taken turns snapping photos for and vice versa in front of historical landmarks that will become your next big hit on Instagram (yesss, collect all those likes!)
A quick Google search can tell you almost everything that there is to do in the city you’re visiting, and hostels most often have a notebook full of options that you can book directly through them for convenience. I understand how this still may be giving you some sort of anxiety just reading about it, but you can always break it down like this:
- Create a list of things you would LOVE to do in the places that you are visiting, like seeing a live concert, taking a salsa dancing class, climbing a mountain, doing a sunrise hike to an exclusive beach, etc. The more the better!
- Now, you can eenie, meenie, minie moe the list, or just randomly choose 2-3 of those activities and ACTUALLY do them.
- Step OUT of your comfort zone and make it a point to do 2-3 things that will make you branch out and experience something grand. Every small amount of effort will make it easier and easier to be social.
Remember, these other individuals traveling are just trying to have a great time, just like you! And to be honest, traveling solo really made me come out of my shell and fight my social anxiety. I didn’t have anyone I knew trying to convince me to branch out; I had to make that decision myself. So each time I said yes to anything, it was a triumphant occasion and ones I will never forget.
A few Americans, Bolivians and Aussies on the beach in Brazil
If all else fails, seek out a familiar place
Not every day are you going to feel like being that super outgoing person, rounding up the troops for another epic excursion to add to your book of Firsts. Some days, you’re just going to want to do something familiar. Take a book and head to a coffee shop for a few hours and people watch. Spend some time viewing art at a gallery or museum to get a better sense of the country’s artistic history.
Get lost in the aisles of highly recommended bookstore that doubles as an event space, and stay for the comedy show. Lounge in the park for the afternoon, soaking up the sun and dedicating some time for self-care. All of these things are awesome ideas to help refuel yourself, clear your mind and get you ready for the next leg of your trip. Do what you want, you always have a choice! And don’t feel bad if you go a few days in a funk not wanting to do anything high energy.
You’ll burn yourself out quickly if you keep going, going, going, and it won’t leave a lot of room for experience if you’re constantly on the run.
Not to toot my own horn, but linking up with WiFi Tribe at the beginning of my year long travel was the best decision I could have made. I was able to meet and vibe with people from all over the world and be apart of their productive energy on work days, and party energy on exploration nights and weekends. If you think travelling with like-minded remote workers who put a serious spin on the term “work hard, play hard” is something you’d be into, check out where we are next and apply to become part of the tribe! It’s truly an honour to know and engage with these people, no matter how far apart we may be sometimes.