Solo-Traveling: overcoming anxiety, fear, and doubt on the road
In 2011, three weeks before my trip, I discovered that my boyfriend of five years cheated on me. We broke up and I broke down…to say I was feeling lost was an understatement, I was a mess!
I could hardly hold it together walking the streets of Brighton, where I had lived for a decade. I was crying on random street corners, sobbing so hard I could barely breathe, feeling waves of anger, sadness, moments of nothingness and I was seemingly unable to do all the normal things like eat, work, exercise or, least of all, plan my trip.
On the plane on my way to Malawi for my first real ‘solo’ trip I cried most of the journey. Three months away – 6 weeks in Malawi and 6 weeks in South Africa. The thought of going to new cultures, meeting new people, new everything… it was all so daunting, I just didn’t know if I had the strength to do it and yet, there was a very small part of me was exhilarated by the unknown, the possibility of starting over, of trusting that things were unfolding exactly as they should.
Reflecting back, I think that this first solo trip was particularly tough for me as the trajectory I thought I was on, marriage and kids with this boyfriend, was no longer on the cards. You know the phrase, “took the carpet from right under your feet?” well, that is how I felt. I just wasn’t really sure of anything anymore, least of all myself. And there I was setting off on a grand adventure just me, myself and I.
Those first few weeks were tough and I learned a few things to help me to ground myself, to build my confidence and to overcome the anxiety that I faced. And, over the years, on subsequent solo trips I have learned more tips and tricks, and I share my top eight of these with you here.
Tips and tricks to overcome anxiety, fear, and doubt on your travels
1. Morning pages – I’ve been practicing writing my daily ‘morning pages’ for over 9 years. This is a process I learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. Never before has it come so in handy than when traveling. This process involves writing your stream of consciousness across three pages. You don’t stop until you hit the three page mark, and if you feel compelled to, you can of course write more than three.
While I’m away, if I am feeling anxiety, doubt, fear (all of those things that are completely normal to feel at the start of any trip) I would write them all out onto the page, and suddenly they had less of a hold on me.
Some people keep their pages, personally, I am not attached to them, they aren’t particularly well-written, much of it is rubbish and I throw away or burn my morning page notebooks. It is the act of writing that stream of consciousness out that has the powerful clearing and calming effect on me. It provides a sense of stability, knowing that every morning I will write them. This stability is particularly useful during the uncertainties that come with traveling.
2. Journaling – my journal is my friend. I carry it everywhere with me. I note down things of beauty, stories from people I have met, describe scenes that I witnessed, landscapes, sunsets, mountain hikes. If I don’t have anyone to talk to my journal becomes a place where I can have a conversation (albeit with myself) and have the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and start to make sense of them. Also, if you are alone in the evenings in your room, or out in a restaurant alone it gives you the opportunity to connect with yourself and your thoughts and to occupy yourself if you are feeling awkward or lonely.
3. Breathing – the act of connecting with one’s breath, just noticing the inhalation and the exhalation automatically calms the nervous system and starts to bring you into a place of peace. I find myself using this tool wherever I am in the world, it helps to bring me into the present moment and back to myself, rather than get lost in anxious thoughts of what could possibly happen.
I like this quote by Rodney Yee ‘The practice is simply this: keep coming back to your breath during the day. Just take a moment. This will give your mind a steadiness and your breath a gracefulness… There’s so much to let go of isn’t there? Your nostalgia and your regrets. Your fantasies and your fears. What you think you want instead of what is happening right now. Breathe.
4. Gratitude practice – after my boyfriend and I split up, my old boss and dear friend suggested that at the end of each day I wrote down ten things I am grateful for. At first, I found this incredibly challenging as I was so caught up in my own little drama and attached to the story of being a victim. However, over time, I started to notice how it helped me feel calmer before I went to bed. I continued the practice when I was traveling and then I started to look out for things in the day that I could write down as part of my gratitudes and my mindset shifted, in fact, a week or so into my trip I was finding more than ten things a day that I was grateful for. Simple things such as the scent of the frangipani flowers, the kind woman on the minibus who walked me to the market, the delicious cup of coffee I drunk, the friendships I was creating.
In addition to this general practice of gratitude, at the end of the day write down ten things that you are grateful to yourself for. The amazing facilitation company redzebra, with whom I have worked as a freelance facilitator for the last 8 years taught me a gratitude exercise where you say something you are grateful for in your co-worker and then something you are grateful for in yourself. I adapted this and when traveling and working alone (and indeed when going through rough patches in life) I have taken to writing down ten things I am grateful to myself for each day for a week. For example, I am grateful to myself for my curiosity which led me to making a new friend today. Test yourself by writing different things each day.
5. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) – this has been a complete game changer for me. Much like acupuncture, tapping involves the body’s energy meridian points. However, instead of needles you simply use the the fingertips to tap on acupressure points. You do this while speaking out your worries and concerns for example “Even though I am scared and anxious right now, I deeply and completely love and accept myself” “Even though I feel alone, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” For more information on this, I recommend checking out Gabby Bernstein’s lesson here on tapping on stress. Tapping provides relief from pain, emotional problems, addictions, phobias etc.
6. Meditation – meditation keeps me sane. There are so many different techniques out there that it might take a while to find what resonates with you. If meditation is something new for you I suggest downloading the app Insight Timer and trying some of the guided meditations there.
7. Ask yourself “What is this here to teach me?” On my travels, more than anywhere else, I take on the attitude that everyone I meet, I meet for a reason. I believe that they have some important wisdom that I need to learn. This is anyone from the taxi driver, the person sitting next to me on the bus/train/plane to the homeless guy on the street, and with this attitude I feel I have been blessed to meet and start friendships with all sorts of amazing souls around the world and to have all sorts of random experiences.
The same attitude goes for when situations don’t go to plan, your travel plans get interrupted by you getting sick, or your best friend who is meant to join you on your travels suddenly has to cancel (this happened to me, she was meant to join me for the last couple of weeks of my stay in South Africa and during the time I would have spent with her, instead I attended a transformational leadership programme and met my husband) or your plane gets cancelled and you have to stay in a hotel so you make friends with someone in the airport and travel together and have the most amazing day sightseeing and having deep and meaningful conversations!
8. Reach out to others – that trip to Malawi and South Africa was transformed by the simple act of reaching out via Facebook and asking if anyone knew anyone in either of those countries! It turns out an amazing woman I had worked with on a project briefly many years before and she welcomed me into her friendship group, invited me to go to a music festival with her on Lake Malawi, helped me with accommodation and made me feel at home away from home.
I had a similar experience in South Africa and instantly met wonderful people. I highly recommend following up on these ‘friend of a friend’ type connections when you are traveling whether you just meet for a coffee or whether it turns into a strong friendship or just a thread of email recommendations about what to see and do. Also, knowing that there is someone you can call or reach out to in times of trouble can be lifesaving!
Feeling anxious while traveling
So, in conclusion, feeling anxious when traveling is normal, it is all part of the great unknown. You are away from the very things that we so often feel define who we are, so look for the good, find the gift in the challenges you face and be sure to celebrate your wins and treat yourself with compassion as you adventure on to new places and meet new people. If you stay open and look for the lesson, you might just find that life has some unexpected treats in store for you.
I was surprised to meet the love of my life and the father of our child in South Africa only six weeks after my break up. Turns out that the trip allowed me to process the break up, feel the break down and start to build up my confidence again, make some beautiful friendships, have some amazing experiences and to create a whole new life filled with exciting possibilities.
Connect with Katie via email, or on her Website, Instagram or Facebook. You may also be interested in her free guide ‘The Ultimate Guide to Thrive: 21 Tips to help you to find your feet in a foreign land’ available on her website.