Travel Journals: Traveling with Anxiety

Let’s talk about anxiety.

When I started traveling when I was 17, I was not aware that I suffered from anxiety. But knowing as I do now that I have serious social anxiety, so many of my less enjoyable experiences of traveling make more sense.

For anyone who is unclear on what it means to have social anxiety, it’s not simply that I’m shy or nervous around new people. I am those things, but it also affects how I perceive certain events or actions, especially my own. When a situation causes me anxiety, my heart rate increases, my mind blanks, my whole body heats up immensely, and all I can think about is ending the moment as quickly as possible.

It should be noted also, that different people experience anxiety differently. Just because those are my symptoms doesn’t mean that the way other people experience anxiety is any less valid. And the solutions I’ve come up with to handle my anxiety, which I’ll be discussing below, are not right for everyone.

So, here are my top three tips for traveling with social anxiety.

1) Bring a trusted friend

The trip that I remember being the most significantly stressful for me in terms of my social anxiety was my second ever trip to Europe. On that trip, I stayed the first week in Rome with a friend, then moved on to travel for some time by myself through Venice, Vienna, and Prague, before meeting up with another friend in Munich.

And while I remember that week in Rome with extreme fondness, the rest of that trip was varying degrees of horrible.

Any time I was by myself, I questioned every one of my decisions, I was certain I was making a fool of myself with the locals, and in general I felt extremely out of my comfort zone. While there’s something to be said about stepping out of your comfort zone in order to grow, there is a limit, especially when you have anxiety. I didn’t feel like I grew on this trip, I felt like a fraud.

So when I got the opportunity to travel again, I made sure to do it with friends. And with friends that I knew would understand and be there for me.

My Fall Break Trip (so capitalized because it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had) to Sweden, Scotland, Amsterdam, and Bruges was the first trip that I took after learning these things, and it was far more successful.

When we found out that I had mixed up my flight when we’d booked our travel, for example, it was immeasurably helpful to have a calm headed person there to let me cry a little, and be there to help me get things worked out.

Or when we had to interact with other people, like the manager of the hostel, having a friend beside me sometimes gave me the will to complete the interaction myself. And if not, my friend was there to do it for me.

2) Have a plan

One of the biggest problems with my Europe trip was that I had been told by tons of extroverted, non-socially-anxious people that the best way to travel was to not have a plan. Just go with the flow, see what comes up, leave yourself open to possibilities.

No.

This is one of the worst possible things you can do, at least if you’re like me.

When I travel now, I like to plan as much as I can. The internet makes this so easy, it’s incredible. I pick out exactly which attractions I want to go to, I try to find a selection of restaurants that I can choose from, I know exactly what activities I want to go to and when they are happening.

Of course, this makes me a huge tourist in the places I go. I do not end up off the beaten path, and I like it that way. Going off the beaten path makes my anxiety flare like crazy. Trying to do things “like the locals” makes me feel like a fraud. The only thing that will get me away from the tourist attractions of a place is if I have a guide. Whether it’s a friend or a paid tour guide, it doesn’t matter, as long as there’s someone there to tell me if I’m doing something right/wrong.

And you know what, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You’re on vacation to enjoy yourself, not have an anxiety attack.

3) Accept your limitations and be forgiving with yourself

This one can be the hardest of all of them, I think.

You do have to accept that, while traveling, you are going to make mistakes and do silly things. You’ll end up on the wrong train or have booked the wrong flight. You’ll try to order something on the menu and butcher the pronunciation. You’ll get lost and go the wrong way in the rain for thirty minutes, and end up giving up on the destination because at that point, you want a hot shower more than you want to see that place.

And it’s ok to be upset about that. It’s ok to have a little cry in frustration, it’s ok to freak out, it ok to be embarrassed.

Just don’t let it ruin your vacation.

Book a new flight, make a joke about your language skills, try again tomorrow. And know that you are doing something extraordinary, just by being there.

That’s my best advice.

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Travel Journal: Venice

Let me tell you about Venice.

I traveled to Venice in 2015, following a week in Rome and preceding several days each in Vienna, Prague, and Munich.

So, if this is the middle of my trip, why am I telling you about it?

Well, one of my favorite stories from my travels happened in Venice. I could tell you plenty about all tourist attractions I went to, or the hostel, or the people I met. But for now, I’m going to tell this story.

When I went to Venice, it was one of the first times in my life I’d travelled alone. I’d met a friend in Rome, and spent most of my other travels with others as well. While I learned that I prefer to travel with friends rather than alone while on this trip, I did have a number of experiences that I loved.

So I was in Venice, it was my second or third day in the city, and I’d been walking all day long.

That’s what you tend to do a lot of when you’re a poor recent graduate with extremely limited funds – you walk a lot.

But anyway, I had been walking all day, I’d walked every day for a week in Rome, and so I was exhausted by the time I finally found this basilica.

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Maybe it was because I was so exhausted, or maybe I was just pleased to have finally found the church after searching and getting lost numerous times, but of all the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches I saw on this trip (and there were SO MANY), the Santa Maria Della Salute basilica was by far my favorite.

Salute in Italian means health. I don’t know if that’s why this building felt so much more open, warm, and welcoming compared to all of the others, but it was all of those things and more.

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The way the light came through the windows and reflected off the marble, the openness of the space, it was all astonishingly beautiful to me.

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I found myself more relaxed in that church than I think I was throughout the whole trip.

So, after viewing this gorgeous, comforting complex, I walked out and simply sat down on the steps surrounding the entrance. I basked in the sun and let the warmth wash over me, along with the pleasant din of chatter from the tourists all around me.

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While I sat on the steps, I looked out onto one of the many canals of Venice. At one point a man drove up in a motorboat and parked next to one of the gondolas tied off near the steps.

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I spent the next 20 minutes watching this man attempt to get into his gondola, and it was one of the most amusing experiences of my life.

He seemed to struggle with every aspect of the process, from tying up the motorboat, to stepping into the gondola. All the while, he responded jovially to being heckled by other men in boats, until finally he managed to get himself set to rights.

I’ve never been able to properly articulate the joy of this moment in the re-telling of it. No matter how hard I try, the peace, happiness, and contentment I felt sitting on the steps outside the Salute is impossible to properly convey.

It bears stating, then, the lesson I learned from this.

The moments that you remember most from traveling, and from life, are not going to be the great, important, can’t miss occasions and events. Rather the small, quiet moments in between will be what you come to cherish. Remember to give yourself time for those moments.

Travel Journals

Let’s talk about travel.

Wait, wait. First, what is this, a Sunday post??? Am I changing the schedule, AGAIN??

No, my good readers, don’t worry, I’m not changing the schedule.

But I wanted to announce a new series I’ll be doing!

I am a huge traveler, and I have been ever since my first trip abroad when I was a senior in high school. I’ve been to lots of interesting places, and I intend to go to many more, so I thought I’d make a series to tell you about it!

Topics in this series will vary from simple anecdotes, to tips on getting around in some cities, to some of my more general experiences.

My travel experience is primarily focused in Europe – including France, Italy, Britain, and Sweden, among others – but a study abroad in Taiwan should add a bit of variety here and there.

The series will be coming out as the usual Tuesday variety, on the last Tuesday of every month.

I’ll see you for this series, starting February 27th!

Until then, does anyone have any aspect of travel they’d like me to focus on, any countries of particular interest? Let me know in the comments!