If you’re anything like me, your anxiety is always with you. Sometimes it’s snoozing, while other times it’s having a full-on rager and driving you bonkers. But wherever you go, there it is.
So when I left my life in Sydney to roam the globe for three years, I didn’t just pack my passport. I also packed my anxiety – although I didn’t know it. I honestly thought I could sneak away without it noticing. Leave it behind, in my ‘old’ life.
But when I got to the airport, it jumped out. “Surprise!” it screeched gleefully, just as I was sweating and fretting in the security queue.
“It’s me, your old mate Anxiety! Did you seriously think you could go travel the world all zen and happy…without moi? I don’t think so! Now, let’s take a moment to freak out about your hand luggage and the fact that you probably packed a whole bunch of cocaine and machine guns without realising…”
Ah yes, airports are wonderful places to be when you’re anxious.
Now, I could easily have given up and gone home. Let my worries win. Listened to the little voice telling me the world was a big, bad place.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I smiled at the security guard, grabbed my bag, and hopped on the plane – the first flight of many on my journey to finally make friends with my mind.
How did I survive three years of travel, with no plan, and a whole lot of worry weighing me down? Here are a few things that helped (and I hope might help you):
1 – Travel for you
Some of us get more anxious when we feel we have to live up to others’ expectations, or get the perfect pic for Instagram.
I started travelling that way. I tried hard to look like this easy, breezy carefree wanderer, sipping beer in a hammock and pretending to know about surf breaks. But it only took me further away from my travel dreams – and further away from my true self.
Slowly, I started to show the world who I truly was. Some days, I was an outgoing adventurer who spontaneously scaled 10,000 foot volcanoes with strangers, or said yes to a new scuba diving challenge. Other days, I stayed in bed watching Netflix and eating Oreos, feeling terribly lonely and paralysed by the fear of being so far from home. And that was OK.
Making friends with your anxiety is all about accepting it as a part of you. And knowing what you need to do in the moment to nurture your worried mind, and get back on track.
Warrior tip: Embrace travel as a chance to shake off old thoughts, beliefs and personas. See it as a fresh start, and have the courage to show the world who you really are – the shiny bits and the grimy bits. Trust me, people will find you fascinating.
2 – Make a plan
The beauty of travel is you can plan it down to every tiny detail, or just go with the flow and see where it takes you.
But often, anxiety arises when we feel out of control. So wherever I go in the world, I always have my first day in a new destination locked in. That way, I know where I need to be and how to get there.
Warrior tip: Book your first night’s accommodation in a safe area, and plan how you’ll get there. Hostels are great, because there’s always a friendly face happy to help you navigate a new place. Also, have your tickets, hotel address, and route printed out. While buses and trains are cheap and easy ways to get around, getting a taxi from the airport to your accommodation can help settle any jitters.
3 – Have an escape route
Whether you’re going away for a week or a while, remind yourself that you can always go home. Yep, you can say sayonara and hop on a plane whenever you want. Knowing you have this choice may help you press on, and give you the courage to face more challenges on your trip.
Warrior tip: Keep an emergency fund in case you need to book a flight home – or if you simply want to get away from noisy dorm rooms and indulge in a luxurious hotel room for the night. Hello, room service and fluffy robe!
4 – Find other anxious souls
Before travelling, I was a shy bunny. I hated meeting new people and trying new things. But when you travel (especially solo), it’s really easy to make friends – especially if you stay in hostels where everyone is looking for travel buddies!
I actually found it hard to steal some much-needed alone time, because there was always a group walking tour or pub crawl or spontaneous trip to join. And the friends I made on my travels are now friends for life.
Warrior tip: Look for the other lone travellers. Approach anyone who looks a little awkward or shy – they’re your people! Ask if they want to join you to track down the best burrito in the city, or if they’d like company to see the sights. I bet you no-one says no!
5 – Get out there
Travel can be terrifying. But it’s also fabulously freeing, and reminds you that anything is possible. As you conquer a new challenge (from introducing yourself to a stranger to jumping out of an airplane), your confidence and courage grows. You see you’re stronger than you think. And instead of trying to take over, your anxiety sits quietly in the corner and cheers you on.
See you out there!