Great, here it comes; chest tightens, breathing shallows and quickens, sweat glands work, feeling of dread engulfs …
It comes at the most unpredictable, inconvenient times. Travel anxiety is a real thing, and I had a bunch of freak-outs before we left home to start traveling. I still feel terrified every other day. I don’t think travel anxiety is something that can exist by itself though; it is probably linked to other kinds of anxiety in your life. You know it is all in your mind; that what you are worrying about is probably irrational or blown out of proportion, but you can’t help it. People will tell you to get over it, or to stop being silly, which honestly just makes you feel worse. My anxiety got really bad after we had an attempted break-in when we used to live in Durban, but I think that it is something that probably built up from when I was younger. I have had times where I am debilitated by fear, and have had to work through what I’m feeling in order not to let those fears control and restrict me from living my life.
Some Things That Trigger My Anxiety:
– Crime, specifically house break-ins and muggings, and the feeling of being unsafe in general.
– Traveling really far from home.
– Going to new places I know nothing about.
– Disappointing people.
– Pressured situations e.g. playing a live show, writing an exam, doing something like driving in a different country with different road laws.
– Feeling unprepared and disorganised e.g. not having enough money, food, water, or a solid plan.
Some Possible Ways to Deal With Anxiety:
– Do as much as you possibly can to prepare yourself and plan, plan, plan. Give yourself enough time ahead of doing something to at least read some opinions and information on it. Feeling prepared will make you feel more relaxed. Realise though, that there is only so much you can plan for. At some point, you need to come to terms with having read up enough, let it go, and just let things happen. Don’t plan your schedule too much either. If you keep things flexible, you don’t have those pressures plaguing you as much, and you can pace yourself better.
– Do a butt-load of research on everything you can think of. When something bothers you, research it until you either confirm what you are thinking, or clear your mind of that worry. Either way, you will feel more at ease having some knowledge. Get rid of the unknowns. In terms of safety, don’t let yourself be so ignorant that you end up walking into sketchy areas for example. One way you could avoid this is by asking a local to circle places on a map you should avoid.
– Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Think of the worst case scenarios. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it will help, trust me. For example, in terms of the trip we’re currently doing, here are my two worst case scenarios: 1. We die. Everybody does though, and at least we were living. 2. We run out of money and have to go back to South Africa and start all over again. That is not such a bad thing. Thinking these two things out helped me immensely.
– Don’t take a lot of stuff with you. This is logical; the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to worry about.
– Be organised. Organisation means that you don’t have to constantly remember where things are, or what you’re doing next, which will just add to your anxiety. I guess budgeting your money will fall under this category too. Every time we check our budget, I feel a bit better knowing where we’re at.
– Take care of yourself. Get enough exercise, do some yoga, practice breathing, drink enough water, get enough sleep, and eat food that is good for you. I have to work on all of those myself. I was once prescribed Rescue and chamomile tea. Rescue does nothing for me, but chamomile tea actually does help calm me down a little.
– Look around you and go through this list of questions: “Am I okay right now? Are the people I love okay right now? Am I in any danger right now?” Chances are, things are fine, and as soon as you acknowledge that, you will start relaxing.
– Talk to someone you love, about anything. It will help distract you from yourself.
– Travel with someone. Traveling with Cara has been the best thing in helping me deal with my anxiety; she’s there to talk to, bounce ideas off of, and get advice from whenever I need. I’m not good at traveling alone.
– Distract yourself. Watch a movie, listen to music or read a book that will remove your mind from reality. I find watching a comedy movie or series helps me lighten up, which helps calm me down. Sometimes even just smelling really nice smelling things can help.
– Have a shower, get clean and nice-smelling, and put on some comfortable, clean clothes. This might sound weird, but it actually does help ease my mind a bit and gives me some confidence.
– Two sayings that are probably super cheesy, but helped me:
“Don’t let the fear of what could happen make nothing happen.”
– Try not take yourself and life too seriously. This is something I really struggle with.
– Embrace your feelings and work through them. Don’t ignore them. This is important. Working through a situation will help the next time a similar situation comes around, and gives you confidence to deal with others. Ignoring the problem and your feelings could simple worsen things, or compound and come out later in an even stronger reaction.
– Make lists. I make lists about everything. This helps my mind to split up problems into smaller things that I can tackle one by one.
– Lastly, if something does make you super uncomfortable, just don’t do it, or find an easier way. For example, right now, I don’t feel comfortable hitchhiking to get where we need, so we’re looking at other ways of cheap transportation e.g. rideshare on Couchsurfing, or by train. We may end up spending a little more money, but in the end it just doesn’t feel losing my mind over.
I do not have this figured out, by any means. My mind is often in one of two places: 1. I am fully immersed in what I’m doing and really enjoying myself, which means any potential anxiety is more intense, or 2. I let my mind sink into a kind of depression where I kind of just feel numb to everything, which is a lot easier, but then I don’t enjoy the experience as much as I potentially could be. Those who know me know that I can come across as quite intense, often pessimistic and worrying about every dumb thing. I also feel weak and useless a lot of the time, especially when I hear other people’s amazing travel stories.
I’m working on it.
A few people have told us that they think we’re brave for going long-term traveling, but, in the end, the fear that I would wake up when I’m 60 years old and wonder what I’ve done with my life outweighed the fears I had before traveling. Half the joy of traveling comes from the unplanned experiences you have along the way. At least, that’s what they say.
Thanks for reading. I hope that this might help someone in someway, somehow.
Photo by Courtney Robert Hundermark.