If you are one of millions who experience anxiety or panic attacks from time to time, I can relate. It is estimated that over 40 million Americans are living with anxiety. That’s a lot of us! So while we definitely aren’t alone in our struggles, what happens when you ARE alone? Is it even a good idea to travel solo with an anxiety disorder? I have been, for years now, and I’ll tell you exactly what it’s like and how to manage your anxiety on the road. Here is everything you need to know about traveling solo with anxiety.
Why Consider Traveling Solo With Anxiety?
It may sound counter intuitive, but I think solo travel is healing for an anxious soul. Before I took off on my trip, I was having panic attacks on a daily basis, even in my sleep.
My mental state was not exactly the epitome of calm or chill, and I was no master of zen by any means.
So, the concept of going off into the world, alone, with endless possibilities for disaster sounds like.. well, a disaster, right?
Truth be told, when you travel a lot of the big triggers you experience that lead to anxiety, will completely disappear. No work, no social pressure from peers, and the only decisions you have to make are deciding what to do and eat.
It’s an extremely liberating experience, that really helped me overcome the worst stage of my anxiety. Since I started traveling, I’ve reduced the frequency of my panic attacks by a lot. From the last 3 years, I can recall only 3 major panic attacks.
That’s not to say they won’t happen to you. You probably will experience some degree of anxiety at some point on your trip, but don’t let it stop you from going. There are things you can do to prepare yourself and manage your anxiety, so that you’ll still have an amazing trip.
Before You Travel
You don’t have to have a mental disorder to get anxious before a trip. For many of us, venturing off into the unknown, especially alone, is a terrifying thought. You can reduce the chances for something to go wrong and trigger your anxiety while traveling, by doing proper preparation before hand.
Get Travel Insurance
Anxiety usually stems from fear of what can go wrong. Having a reliable insurance plan will allow you to put a lot of worries to rest.
The travel insurance I use is World Nomads, and I’m very happy with it. They allow you to buy insurance and extend it while overseas, perfect for the long term solo traveler.
Download Meditation Apps
We are lucky to live in an era with so many resources available at our fingertips, literally.
Headspace is a life changing meditation app, that has really helped me.
On top of their guided meditations to relieve an anxious mind, they also have options such as meditation for better sleep. Most of them are short, and can easily be implemented even in the busiest travelers day.
Refill Your Medication (If Needed)
If you plan to travel with medication, make sure you have enough for the entirety of your trip. It’s unlikely you can refill it on the road. Make sure you plan any refills well before you leave, so you don’t get stressed about it last minute.
Check Whether Those Meds Are Legal in Your Destination
Despite what I said above, I myself no longer travel with medication.
The main reason being, that most are considered an illegal substance in one country or another. One example, was Japan, where I almost got deported for having Ativan with me.
They don’t care if you have a prescription in your home country, if it’s illegal it will be confiscated, and you could be in trouble.
Consider Alternatives to Medication
You can look for alternatives to your medication. For example, CBD is legal in most of Europe, where I am now. So I now travel with CBD oil instead.
Other options can be stress reducing oral sprays . I haven’t used them myself, but I’ve heard from friends these can work within minutes.
I know the thought of traveling without medication can be scary. But, remember that it doesn’t actually cure your anxiety, it’s just reducing the acute physical symptoms of it.
If you have a panic attack on the road, it may be uncomfortable and ruin your day at the very worst, but you will be ok. No one dies from anxiety, so don’t let this stop you from traveling.
There are many aspects of traveling solo that can trigger anxiety, but these feelings can be managed and avoided. The following are rules I live and swear by for traveling solo with anxiety.
Don’t Over Plan
Over-planning and having an airtight schedule is the number one way to stress yourself out. It may seem ideal to stuff your day full of activities, but believe me, when it comes to solo travel, less is more.
Leave room for spontaneous adventures, and keep your options open. Plan one major activity each day, maybe two. But leave the rest open to your own whims.
When you stretch yourself too thin while traveling, you’ll feel on edge and tense. If anything goes wrong and derails your plan, you have a recipe for an anxiety meltdown.
Remember why you travel. One of the reasons is probably to have fun, not to follow a strict schedule like you would for work or in your usual life.
Learn Useful Phrases in The Local Language
I once had an insane panic attack at a restaurant in the countryside of Bulgaria, while traveling solo.
It was a bad one, and I was sure that I had eaten something I was allergic to and was going into anaphylaxis. I wanted to ask for help, or even how to get to the nearest hospital, but no one spoke a lick of English.
In hindsight, I realized it may have served me to have saved a few phrases in my phone notes for events like this.
Consider Google translating the phrase “I am having a panic attack” in the local language or even “Where is the nearest hospital?” and screenshot it. You never know when you may need to communicate your situation, and when you are in a panicked state, you probably won’t be able to think clearly.
Get Enough Sleep
A major trigger for anxiety is lack of sleep. When traveling, it’s not uncommon to have some days of low quality sleep, or no sleep. Once in a while, is understandable. You will be wanting to make the most of your trip, afterall.
However, traveling while sleep deprived is going to reduce the quality of your mood and therefore your overall experience.
Plus, when your body is tired, your mind is weak. Thus, it becomes easier to become a victim of your own anxiety.
Most panic attacks I’ve had in recent years were linked to not sleeping properly.
Go Easy on the Alcohol
Another major contributor to anxiety, is alcohol. Not saying you shouldn’t drink, because what’s a trip without a few nights out?
But, consider limiting your binge drinking to avoid any HANGXIETY (hangover + anxiety) during your trip. You should also time your drinking to not be on nights before big activities, such as long travel days or physically strenuous activities.
The hangover you get from over-indulging will again, make your mind and body weak, and therefore susceptible to anxious thoughts and symptoms.
Spend Time in Nature
In Japan, they have a word called “shinrinyokou“, which literally translates to forest bath.
The idea is that immersing oneself amongst the trees of the forest, or within nature, is a self healing practice. Think of it like bathing your soul and mind, if you will.
Sometimes during my trip, I fall into anxious thought patterns, and you might too. Stop these toxic thought patterns from spiraling into a full blown anxiety attack, by getting out into nature.
Practice Grounding Techniques
At some point, you may feel overwhelmed by your surroundings or situation. Or, you can just be blindsided by anxiety out of nowhere (don’t we all love when that happens?).
Have a plan. Know your grounding techniques and practice them. Make sure they are things you can implement in any setting, like on a plane, or in a restaurant.
For me, I like to find a quiet space, and count tiles on the floors, or walls. Find what works for you, and when the time comes, you will be able to stay calm and put them in practice.
Take Mental Health Days Off Travel
This one is important, especially for long term travelers. I think when you first start traveling, you feel guilty at the thought of wasting any time doing “nothing”.
However, travel burnout is real, and instead of seeing rest as doing nothing, see it as nurturing your mental wellbeing.
Plus, taking a day to recharge doesn’t have to mean doing nothing. Spend the day relaxing at the beach, or reading in a park.
But for those days where anxiety is too high to face public spaces, don’t feel bad for staying in and watching Netflix and ordering take out sushi to your hotel. That’s okay too.
Allowing yourself to fully recharge, will allow your “on” days to be 100% more fulfilling and enjoyable. No one does well running on low battery.
Journaling may be the most effective method I’ve found for coping with my anxiety. Even if just for a few minutes every morning, or while on the train, getting your thoughts onto paper is healing in so many ways.
Think of your thoughts as a bunch of wires tangled together in your head. It’s hard to make sense of anything, and see where one starts or ends.
Journaling is like untangling the wires, and separating them. Then, you realize that some are useless or broken, and dispose of the ones that are.
Thats what you’re doing: untangling all your thoughts and throwing away the bad ones.
Plus, having a journal is not just great for traveling solo with anxiety, but for your memories.
I write about anything that’s on my mind, good or bad, and even about the small day to day moments I may later forget. I can read it again someday, and remember what was going through my mind on my trip.
Dealing With Social Anxiety When Traveling
Traveling solo with social anxiety may seem impractical, but it’s really not. It actually helps you learn to work around it and get over it.
Something my friends back home may not realize is that I have crippling social anxiety. It just doesn’t seem like it, because when I’m with people I know, these feelings ease up.
But when traveling solo, you don’t have this safety net. It’s just you, and you either socialize, or spend your days alone.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel, you can. These are a few things to remember:
1. You Won’t Face the Same Social Pressures Abroad
No one here knows you, nothing you do matters. If you have an interaction that you hate, thats fine. You never have to see these people again if you don’t want to.
2. You Decide Whether You Want to Socialize or Not
You will have days you feel great, and you will be happy to meet others. You will also have days when you feel weird, and anxious. It’s totally okay to avoid human interaction these days. I do it all the time.
That’s the beauty of solo travel, that you alone dictate your days and how you spend them.
3. Alone Time is Still Time Well Spent
Don’t put pressure on yourself to meet people if you don’t want to. Sure, one of the best parts of my travels are the people I’ve met and interacted with.
However, some weeks I went through a funk, and spent most of my time alone, at the beach. Those weeks were great, too, because I am awesome and I love me.
Stop putting a negative stigma on being alone, and you will find that this aleviates a lot of the pressure you are putting on yourself to socialize.
If meeting people becomes a task in your mind, that’s where anxiety is born. Let it flow naturally, and just get comfortable in being – you are whole, no matter what mental state you’re in.
4. Use Apps Such as Couchsurfing or Meet Up
These apps allow you to connect with locals and travelers, who may have things in common with you.
You can browse the events, and join the ones that align with your interests. Look for events that match your hobbies, such as cooking, photography, hiking, etc.
Meeting with likeminded folks, or those with shared passions, should be easier to connect with. Also, you can chat with people a bit before meeting, to take the edge off of meeting a total stranger.
Dealing With Panic Attacks While Traveling
No matter how well prepared you think you are for this, when it happens it will always be unpleasant. But, no one ever dies from anxiety! So all you have to do is get through it.
Something that helps, is first recognizing your triggers. For some people it’s huge crowds. For others maybe it’s facing a fear, such as heights.
My trigger is no sleep and alcohol, and trying to function on zero energy.
Usually, I can feel the anxiety attack coming, and the wise thing to do is to just take the day off.
Of course sometimes it comes out of no where, and in these cases there isn’t a perfect way to handle it. But these are things that help:
1. Use the Grounding Techniques
Anyone traveling solo with anxiety should have a well established grounding technique. Know it by heart before you go, make it second nature.
That way when anxiety hits, you know exactly what to do. No matter where you are, find a safe space to put them in practice and ground yourself. Whether that means going into a cubicle in the bathroom and counting the tiles, or just closing your eyes on the plane.
2. Open Up
A big part of anxiety comes from trying to hide it from people. If you are with someone, just be honest about what you are experiencing. It will take pressure off you from trying to hide it.
Even if you are alone, and really are in a deeply panicked state, it’s ok to reach out. Just having someone there to monitor you, and make sure you aren’t really having a heart attack, will give you the feeling of safety you need to come down from the panicked state.
I once had to let a flight attendant know that I was having a panic attack. Half my body was numb and I couldn’t lift my suitcase into the overhead compartment. I really was not sure if this time I was actually having a stroke (I love anxiety.. not). She was very understanding, and in the end it scored me a lot of free snacks and alcohol.
Most people will be supportive and want to help. Reach out.
3. Have Your Meds or Alternatives Available
No matter your mental state when you leave your hotel, bring your meds in case.
For me, I carry a small dropper bottle of CBD in my bag, and use two doses under the tongue when anxiety hits.
4. Give Yourself Extra Love
Going through anxiety or a panic attack is more draining than people think. First of all, it’s your brain telling your body you are in danger, and your body responds by trying to fight off this perceived imminent death. It’s physical and mental torture.
These are the days to show yourself the love you need. Go ahead and upgrade to a better hotel room. Get room service. Cancel all plans and bust out the 10 step skincare routine.
Whatever it is that makes you happy, you deserve it, especially on these days.
Never Be Afraid to Get Help
If you are traveling solo with anxiety on a long term trip, and find yourself in a funk that you can’t shake, stop trying to do it alone.
There are so many options now for online therapy, and many that are quite affordable.
Don’t Forget, You Can Go Home Anytime
And lastly, never forget that if anything becomes too much, you can always go home.
This should set a lot of your worries free. If at any time you aren’t having a good time, home is just a flight change away.
And there you have it, all you’ll ever need to know about traveling solo with anxiety. It is possible to travel with anxiety, and have an amazing time. You will learn that you are capable of overcoming so much, all you have to do is trust yourself and go for it.