How not to let fear and anxiety stop you from traveling
When signing up to travel, you're choosing to leave behind everything familiar for a whole new place where there will be unexpected challenges, language barriers and potentially a very big physical distance between you and your loved ones. This is why all of that is 100% worth it!
It's completely natural to feel anxious or scared about a big trip abroad. There are so many unknowns.
I've been traveling on and off for 10 years. I have anxiety and carry a lot of fear. Some people find it absolutely incomprehensible how someone as scared as me has taken off and traveled alone all over the world.
I feel the fear and I do it anyway. I know with all of my heart that there is no other way I would rather live and that there is nothing that can compare to the experience of finding a sense of home within and building strong connections wherever I go in the world.
Going against the norm, following my own path and leaving behind familiarity makes me feel alive. Travel is a transformative, incredible and unbeatable adventure.
We hear a lot about the joys of travel, the highs of discovering different parts of the world. I am totally on board with celebrating this side of travel but I also want to be realistic about the more challenging aspects and how terrifying many of us can find it to take the plunge and leap into the unknown.
Facing challenges on the road
I write this as someone who has not only imagined all the worst case scenarios of every country I have visited due to my anxious mind, but also as someone who has had a lot of challenging things happen on the road.
To narrow it down; I had to be rescued by helicopter after getting stranded on the side of a mountain in Réunion Island in a storm. I have ended up ill and visiting hospitals in multiple countries across the globe. I've been heart broken, dealt with grief, depression and loneliness from India to Brazil to Argentina.
I've had countless panic attacks on the other side of the world to home. I've had to evacuate a restaurant and rush to safety after an army attack in an area of political unrest. I am currently recovering from nerve damage after a traumatic wisdom tooth removal surgery in Peru.
The list of travel problems I've experienced goes on but for now, I'll leave it at that!
Sometimes people back home wonder why on earth I refuse to give up, why I choose to keep traveling long term, why I don't just come home, why I am so determined to keep feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Honestly, I sometimes ask myself the same question.
For me, the benefits of traveling and working my way around the world far outweigh the difficulties. Life simply isn't always plain sailing, wherever you end up living. It is through facing these challenges in various unfamiliar places that I have found my immense capacity for emotional resilience, self-sufficiency and inner strength.
Lessons on the other side of fear
There is so much to learn from visiting different countries, from immersing in a new culture and making connections with people who speak a different language, live a different life, and are from an entirely different background.
There's also infinite potential to give back to the places you visit. When I travel, I don't want to just be a visitor passing through, nor do I want to have some kind of savior complex and think I can "rescue" people in countries poorer than mine. Through community projects like Worldpackers work and travel experiences, I enjoy getting involved with local sustainability based work with a mutually beneficial exchange.
This sense of purpose is what fuels me to move past the fear and keep going. The lessons I have found on the other side of fear feel irreplaceable. I can't imagine learning them in any other way. It might sound cliché to say that outside of the comfort zone is where growth happens, but it couldn't be more true.
What lies on the other side of fear is a goldmine of lessons and growth unique to each and every one of us who is willing to cross the threshold. Fear is a perfectly valid emotion worth examining and inviting in but it doesn't need to be something that stops us from following the calling of our own hearts.
I faced my phobia of heights paragliding over the Indian Ocean and felt liberated of years' worth of fear. I tackled my fear of spiders head on by living in the jungle with the world's deadliest spider for three months in Brazil. Here, I got the opportunity of a lifetime to connect with nature while traveling and feel a part of something so much bigger than myself.
Respecting the comfort zone
Of course, sometimes we need to rest, recuperate and make a conscious decision to stay well within the walls of our comfort zone in order to feel safe, heal and take stock. I am a firm believer in respecting our own personal boundaries.
I also know that I won't let my fear hold me back from living the life that I want to live. This way of life has helped me to realize that I am far more capable than I ever believed possible. If I can get through the various challenges I have faced in unfamiliar places, in a whole different language, then I can do anything.
So as we've reached a turning point from 2019 to a new decade, I write this as an invitation to feel the fear and do it anyway for anyone who has been scared to take the leap and travel. We have no way of knowing how it will turn out but that is the most beautiful part of the adventure.
Having faith in the process is the most valuable lesson of all.
You might also like: TOP 5 Reasons why you should volunteer abroad
For anyone who would like some ideas for managing fear and anxiety on the road, I've put together 10 top tips below.
How not to let fear and anxiety stop you from traveling:
1. Slow down
It can be tempting to pack the schedule full to try and see everything but this can leave you exhausted. All the rushing around can add to higher anxiety levels.
Take your time and make sure you have some quiet moments to slow down in between the adventures.
2. Find a community
A sure way to calm fear and anxiety is by connecting to other people. This can get you out of your head and help you to feel safer.
You could do this by joining a local dance class, attending an open event at a yoga centre, checking out hiking groups in the area or volunteer opportunities.
3. Form a routine
Fear of the unknown and anxiety about the future can be related to lack of routine. Scheduling and planning might not be everyone's idea of fun but it can really help to soothe your nerves and cultivate a sense of stability when in a new place.
4. Don't forget to breathe
Sounds obvious right? Breathing is something our body does all by itself but sometimes it can help to intentionally take a long, deep breath.
If you've got heightened anxiety waiting for a delayed bus or a plan falls through then focusing on the breath can really help to self-regulate and self-soothe.
5. Organize your things
Having to root through your backpack multiple times a day to find things can be stressful. Have a system. For example you can have separate bags in your rucksack for different types of clothes, one for pants and socks, one for bottoms and one for tops, simple!
6. Make a gratitude list
Reminding yourself what you're grateful for can shift perspective from being fear-focused to focusing on what is going right and what you can be appreciative of.
7. Prioritize your well-being
Meeting your basic needs such as eating fresh nutritious meals, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep is key to managing anxiety wherever you are in the world! When we're traveling it can be easy to get caught up in all the action so remember to check in with how you are taking care of yourself.
8. Write a list of your existing tools
When you're feeling good write down all the resources you have that you know help you during times of anxiety. This could be listening to a particularly relaxing song, a guided meditation audio, calling a friend, journalling. You can refer to this list during more difficult times to reinforce that you do know how to support yourself.
9. Remember that challenges exist wherever you are
Maybe this isn't reassuring to some people but difficult things can happen wherever you are. Being in a foreign country doesn't necessarily mean you're at more risk than being at home. When you remind yourself of this, perhaps traveling the world will look less scary.
10. Know that it's okay to take a step back
You don't have to do everything! Maybe every once in a while, you really just need a duvet day even if it's in your bunk in a shared dorm. You're allowed to retreat within and take time to yourself to rest and recuperate whenever you need to.
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