How to combat anxious thoughts/feelings about traveling solo:
All humans experience anxious thoughts and feelings at one point or another.
Add the thought of traveling solo into the mix, and someone who is prone to anxious thoughts might just feel extremely overwhelmed and never think about it again.
If you’ve never solo traveled before, then I bet the thought of it just makes you anxious. Especially if you are someone who struggles with anxious thoughts like myself.
The first time I traveled somewhere alone, I too felt my anxiety creeping in.
Common questions are:
“What if I don’t make any friends?”
“What if something bad happens?”
“What if I lose touch with my family/friends?”
“What if I get lost?”
“What if I run out of money?”
There are all valid questions. They are the 5 core fears I discussed in my previous post. Check it out here if you want some tips on how to prepare for your first solo trip & combat any of those fears.
Today, I want to throw anxious thoughts into the mix.
Are you the type of person who doesn’t handle stressful situations well?
Enter your anxious thoughts and worries.
I’m going to give you some tips on how to better manage anxious thoughts when they creep in. By the way, I am by no means giving you any suggestions for treatment for anxiety disorders. I am not a counselor or therapist. I am just providing you some useful tips that I use which help to combat my anxious thoughts/feelings. I don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder, but I have dealt with heightened anxiety in the past, including panic attacks.
I am now a much less anxious person. This is mainly because I have worked extremely hard to channel my thoughts and feelings positively. I have made my mental health a priority by adopting a growth mindset.
If you are someone that suffers from panic attacks, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), phobias, or social anxiety… then please speak to a medical professional in order to get the best advice/treatment for you.
So to clarify… if you are someone that is experiencing “anxious thoughts” in regards to traveling alone, then here are some tips that I have for you:
1.Breathe → Anytime I am feeling anxious thoughts begin to creep in, I tell myself to stop and take a few deep breaths. Breathing exercises help so much. They send signals to your brain, which then sends signals to your body to calm down.
Ever notice that when you panic, get angry or frustrated that your heart rate increases and your anxiety levels tend to go up?
Well it’s the same with being proactive with your anxious thoughts. If you feel like you are getting anxious about something (e.g. thinking about traveling all alone) then close your eyes, take 5 deep breaths and imagine something that makes you feel calm and happy.
3.Journal → This is probably the best piece of advice to take if you are someone who is prone to anxious thoughts.
Journaling is very meditative and relaxing. It offers you a chance to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and emotions. I would suggest writing to a few of these journal prompt ideas if you are feeling anxious about solo traveling in the future:
I imagine traveling alone to be like….
If any of my fears related to solo travel were to come true, I imagine I would feel…
The worst case scenario that could happen when I travel alone is…
The ways in which I can overcome my fears of traveling alone are…
The reasons I want to ultimately travel alone one day are…
3. Do exercise → Yoga or any form of movement or exercise can be really healthy for combatting any anxious thoughts you may have. As soon as I finish a workout, I feel so much better & happier. Exercise alleviates any worries that you may have and helps you to de-stress. Why wouldn’t you do something good for your body & mind?
4. Talk to people who have traveled solo before → Join the SOFE travel FB group to get lots of inspiration and encouragement from a bunch of badass women who travel alone. Also, connect with others who may be having similar anxious thoughts to you. Follow inspiring and positive accounts on IG and Pinterest – women who blog towards this targeted community of solo female travelers.
5. Hire a travel coach → A travel coach is unlike a travel agent or consultant. They will not plan your trips, but what they will do is even more important. They will help you break through any fears or mindset blocks that you may have pertaining to solo travel. Having fears and limiting beliefs all come from the mind. The mind is a truly powerful tool. If you reframe your thoughts, then you can overcome just about any fears that you may have.
How to cope with anxious thoughts when you travel solo for the first time:
Your next step is to actually go traveling solo. I know you worked hard to combat those anxious thoughts, and you are going to start before you are ready. I am so proud of you!
The truth is, no one is ever going to feel ready. You’re never going to feel like you’re 100% prepared, that everything is fool proof – no matter how organized you truly are.
If you are someone that struggles with anxious thoughts, then you know that you most definitely will encounter this emotion. Everyone feels anxious every now and again, it’s a normal human emotion. But some people are more prone to it than others.
Before arriving at a new place
Prepare beforehand → this will allow you to feel more at ease when you arrive.
What to pack
I would first suggest sitting down and making a packing list. What do you really need? What kind of climate will you be in?
You can probably live in one bikini – you don’t need 10. But hey, I am the type of girl to pack 10 because I LIVE in bikinis. So I will likely pack one pair of shorts, a few cotton crop tops, a couple long flowy skirts or dresses (this is essential for hot and humid countries), and one or two pairs of shoes.
I will not be bringing a million outfits. I made this mistake on my first backpacking trip – and let me tell you, I regretted all that extra weight. I will dedicate a blog just to packing/planning later for different climates. Because there is so much more to say…
When to pack
I suggest packing a couple days before. If you pack weeks in advance, you will constantly feel anxious because you are too prepared. You won’t remember what you packed, so you will be frantically looking through your things every day wondering if you have everything that you need.
Instead, if you pack a few days before, you will have done your laundry by then and can organize the things that are true necessities. You can sleep tight knowing you have everything you need – you didn’t overpack or underpack.
Do some research on the place you are visiting: including what kind of attire you should wear? (some countries especially in SE Asia require you to cover your shoulders and/or knees in certain places in order to show respect to the cultures/traditions).
Do you need a visa to enter the country you are visiting. Do you need to apply online beforehand or can you get it on arrival? These are all valid things to research before leaving. I can count on my hand the amount of time’s I have frantically scrambled to get a visa or had to pay a higher fee because I wasn’t prepared.
Give yourself ample time to get to your flight so that you are relaxed and stress free. I hate arriving at the airport at the suggested time or 3 hours before. I think it’s so unnecessary, and it’s probably because I simply don’t like following rules.
BUT, you don’t want to get stuck in traffic, in a long line at the gate, or having to stuff things in your carry-on because your checked bag is overweight.
Yes, all of the above has happened to me more times than I care to admit. Although I am an organized person, sometimes I am too relaxed. I’ve missed a handful of flights in my time. Just give yourself enough time for any of the above mentioned things to go wrong.
Have your hostel/hotel booked for the first 2 nights as a minimum. You can be more flexible after this. Having a place to settle into the first night after your arrival, will put your mind at ease. You are going to have a bunch of things thrown at you like language barrier, culture shock, and disorientation of being in a new place/time zone. The one thing you want to be sure of is where you are staying and going as soon as you land.
Have a shuttle booked to get safely from the airport to your accommodation. Many hostels and hotels will offer shuttle pickups as part of the accommodation, or as an extra if you pay a small reasonable fee. I suggest opting into this. You can also do this when you arrive at the airport, but likely taxi drivers will try to rip you off and/or overcharge you for this. It’s better to do the research yourself beforehand and know you are getting the best deal/safest option.
Arrive at ease and find your shuttle waiting outside for you. In some countries you will even see your name written on a board held by your smiling driver who is awaiting your arrival.
You can also take public transport as a cheaper option. Remember to do your research on this for times and routes. I also suggest reading up on blogs that talk specifically about transportation options in the place you are visiting, in order to find the safest and most comfortable option for you.
I love taking public transport and saving money this way. But sometimes you are just so tired after a long flight, that paying a bit of extra money for luxury is worth it in my opinion.
Make sure your phone is unlocked so that you can get a sim card as soon as you arrive in a new country. This is of course for your safety and ability to communicate.
I would also suggest downloading Maps.me. This app has changed the way I travel. It allows you to download maps and use them offline, in case you don’t have any cell service.
Have some currency converted and cash on hand so that you can pay for taxis or transport when you arrive, as well as food. I also suggest that you have some small notes on hand to leave a tip.
Keep your valuables safe and in sight. I have discussed this before. Invest in a fanny pack and treat it like your baby. Don’t put anything of value in your checked bag.
In fact, I recommend traveling with a max size of a 45 litre backpack that you can carry on. My very first solo trip I had a 65 L backpack I checked in, and let me tell you I didn’t use half the things I packed. Having only a carry on will allow you to feel less anxious because you will never worry about something getting lost or left behind. If it’s always on you, then it’s in your sight and you can be at ease.
When you arrive at your new destination and check into your hostel, you will have no other option but to be open and friendly. You will make new friends almost instantly, and you will feel less anxious and less alone.
I suggest having a travel journal to jot down your thoughts/feelings for the day. Not only will this serve as a great exercise to calm down any anxious thoughts that you may have. It will also allow you to have written memories of your daily experiences on your travels.
Also, remember to practice the self care tips I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
2. Plan your day/itinerary → if you are prone to anxious thoughts/feelings, then having a rough plan will help.
When I went on my very first solo trip back in 2014, I planned everything down to the minute. It put me at ease knowing I had my flights book, travel insurance purchased, hostels booked, and any ferries/buses organized. In fact, I was so organized, that the entire month that I was in Thailand was planned in this much detail.
It really put my anxious feelings to rest, because I knew exactly what I was doing. Although, as soon as I arrived, I quickly realized that I would be meeting a lot of people in hostels and wanting to change my plans.
So, I wouldn’t suggest OVER planning either. Because this can also lead you to feeling stressed and anxious. You will leave yourself scrambling for wifi, trying to do all the admin of reverse booking everything you have booked.
Trust me, this will be a nightmare as well. You will have to get refunds, and while I did get refunds for most of my bookings (Booking.com allows you to cancel up to a few days before the arrival date without a penalty), I didn’t get the money back for a few ferry tickets that I pre-booked.
P.S. I suggest when booked hostels, tours, or transport options you opt in for free cancellation or a good refund policy if there is one. Plans will always change, and you want to be flexible & stress free.
That ferry I had booked in two days, I canceled because I wanted to stay a bit longer in the spot I was in. This created a domino effect of having to cancel everything I had booked for the future (including hostels at new places). I still kept the time frame of island hopping between certain islands, but I felt that over planning actually made things more stressful for me.
Because I had decided to change my plans, I realized it was much easier to plan day-to-day or even a few days in advance, rather than having a strict itinerary.
I realize that some people might only have an X amount of days for their trip, so then you might require a more strict itinerary and plan. But, if you plan to spend at least a month somewhere, then know that your plans will most likely change day to day because you will realize that you CAN be much more flexible.
Beware of being too flexible in high season though. This is why I recommend you do your research and really plan on where you are going to stay. I would NOT suggest booking hostels the day of arrival, as during high season many things can be booked out days or weeks in advance. So research first and foremost, and see how flexible you can be.
Low season is a different story though. When I backpacked through Vietnam in 2017 between the beginning of April to the end of May, I booked things the day before/day of arrival. This included hostel stays, tours and transportation.
Although I did buy a motorbike and travel Vietnam that way, there was one day I did NOT feel like doing an 8 hour drive between Hanoi and Phong Na… that’s where I paid a few Vietnamese Dong to jump on the local bus and take a rest from the long windy roads.
So moral of the story – have a plan, but be open to change. Having this mindset will allow you to be less stressed, less anxious and enjoy your trip much more!
3. Have a Panic Plan or Protocol
If things do go wrong on your solo travels, then I have some suggestions for you:
Recognize your triggers
If you are prone to anxious thoughts and feelings, recognize in what kinds of situations your anxiety is heightened. Maybe your trigger is crowded places – like busy restaurants. For me, it’s airports. Probably because I have had so many things go wrong at airports – missed flights, frantically scrambling to transfer weight from my checked bag to my carry on, and so on.
Realize that avoiding situations that trigger you is almost impossible. Instead, you should ease yourself into these situations slowly and comfortably. That’s why I have learned to arrive at the airport much earlier, and do all the suggested tips I gave about packing and planning beforehand in order to reduce my stress and anxiety levels.
I have learned the hard way.
Have a panic plan prepared
If things do go wrong and you know that panic is just around the corner, then have a plan on how to combat your anxious thoughts and feelings. For me, it’s closing my eyes and taking 5 deep breaths before I react. I used to be a very reactionary person. I would get so frustrated and angry, even sometimes cry when things went wrong.
Now, I do this exercise and I think before I react. It’s almost a form of meditation for me. Find that plan or protocol for yourself and have it in your back pocket.
I have truly come a long way with this and no longer suffer from as much anxiety as I used to. Back in 2019 when I traveled to the Philippines from Spain, I missed my connecting flight when I landed in Shanghai, China. The customs line was so long, and I had a two hour layover to get to my connecting flight.
I remember getting to the gate and being told that it closed 5 minutes prior. I was so devastated and I honestly felt like crying. It was 2am and I was exhausted from traveling almost 20 hours at this point. I just wanted to curl up in the fetal position.
The old me would have literally done that in the middle of the airport.
The new me had a plan. I took my 5 deep breaths, and asked the lady what I could do. She pointed at the help desk and said to go there. I walked slowly and calmly up to customer service and told him what had just happened. I asked if there was any way I can still get on the flight, and he said no.
Sigh… I was pretty devastated, but took 5 more deep breaths and remembered to stay on top of my panic plan.
He gave me some options of booking new flights (which were ridiculously priced by the way). He also said I could go stay at the hotel in the airport to take the next available flight in 20 hours the next evening. I decided that I deserved a nice hot shower and a comfy double bed in order to get everything together.
I got some wifi, and I contacted Kiwi flights (luckily I was smart enough to get travel insurance this time). They ended up refunding my new flight that I re-booked for the next day, as the layover time they gave me in China was not enough time to make my flight to the Philippines.
A few deep breaths later and a good night’s sleep, I got on the flight the next day. Anxiety and stress free.
Yes, I did end up spending $60 euros on the hotel, but man was it worth it. I allowed myself to be calm and collected, knowing that everything would work out. Traveling solo can be stressful because there is no one else for you to rely on but yourself.
But if you learn to stay calm amidst stressful situations, you will truly learn how to handle any difficult situation in the future. Having a panic plan has allowed me to control my anxiety much better. Solo traveling has truly given me a growth mindset, and it can for you too!
Let me know in the comments if you have any tips to add for managing anxious thoughts/feelings.
If you are a woman who wants to dive deeper into any mindset blocks or fears, then visit my work with me page and book a FREE call with me.
Thanks for reading,
June 8, 2020