I’ve always been the responsible one, the organised one, the ‘go to’ person if you needed to know where, when, which way or how long. I’m an extrovert, love meeting people, trying new foods, climbing things, learning things. Travel and I are perfect for each other. But I’m also a worrier and when I get anxious I start to dread travel, to somehow be both terrified and excited at the same time.
Travelling is not the most comfortable activity for a control freak. Strikes happen, pickpockets happen, food poisoning happens, ‘exceptionnellement fermé’ happens, snow happens (or doesn’t happen)…the list of things to worry about is endless. No matter how colour coded your spreadsheet is, something can always happen. It’s a tough lesson to learn.
How is it possible to go travelling when you feel like this? Last year I finally decided to get some help, to start meditating and to learn why I feel like this and how I can make it better.
So here are my six tips for travelling with an anxious spirit. With pictures of cats of course; they are the biggest control freaks around!
1. Practice mindfulness
Ooh a buzzword to start! This is a recent revelation for me and I wish I had known it sooner. They should teach mindfulness at primary school. You know when you start university and they spend three weeks teaching you how to do a Literature Review? Do away with that shite and teach mindfulness instead because I guarantee we all need it more.
It’s a real ‘no duh’ concept but one that is SO hard to grasp if you have trained your mind over years and years to focus on the things that are coming in the future or the things you should’ve done in the past i.e the things that always influence your mind on every trip.
Yes you need to plan (for me it’s half the fun), yes you need to reminisce and learn from the past but when you are on this holiday, right now, on this train for three hours, stressing about how you forgot to charge your phone and the fact your hotel tonight might not accept cards and and and…just look out the window instead. It’s hard, but with practice you can learn to live in the moment.
2. Enjoy your holiday, your way
Have you been to Paris? Have you drunk champagne up the Eiffel Tower and stared at the Mona Lisa and shopped at Shakespeare & Company and climbed Montparnasse and had coffee at the Amelie café and and and…?
Well I’ve been to Paris a few times and I did those things I was supposed to do and I felt strung out and annoyed with myself because, how dare I not enjoy it!? The best trips to Paris have been the ones where I just did…what I wanted to do. I prefer getting a baguette, sitting on the grass taking abstract photos of pigeons on monuments, accidentally falling asleep for an hour and then going to the Museum of Linguistics. It’s YOUR holiday, you can do whatever you want.
3. Be prepared but flexible
Scout, this is where it gets tricky. You want to be prepared enough that you don’t stress unnecessarily about the small controllable things, but not so prepared that you are inflexible. It’s tough and I’m learning, this is why I still check that my passport is in my handbag about 40 times a day (no exaggeration). I try to limit myself to a few little things that make me feel comfortable; getting there early, carrying some spare change, pre-printing maps and checking the news in the morning for potential problems. Remember, you can sort most things out. Where are you going? Kabul? If not then it’s probably likely you will be able to get a taxi or find a 7/11 if an emergency arises.
4. Be honest about your limits
Very important for anxious people-pleasers. Yes you should be adventurous and try new things. That’s why you’re travelling in the first place. But as with #2, you’re the one who decides what these things are. Accept that there are things that stress you out and that you would prefer not to do. Maybe you are working on being more comfortable with these things but you just aren’t there yet. Be honest with yourself and especially with your travel partners; don’t bottle it in because you think you might disappoint someone. I love climbing high towers for the views, eating by myself and attempting to speak to people in their own language, no matter how broken. These things might freak you out. I avoid hostel dorm rooms, loud concerts and bus trips over two hours. Seek alternatives.
5. Take your time
I would rather spend five days in one city than five cities in five days. I’ve done the whirlwind tours, checking everything off, a different hotel every night, making the most of that $2000, 48 hour flight from Australia to Europe and it made sense at the time. It’s the Contiki dream as most Aussies and Kiwis know it. But when you are prone to stress (and often even if you are not), this type of travel isn’t fun. Give yourself time to get to know a place; to see the thing that was closed the day before; to sleep in without feeling guilty; to have a favourite spot and go back to it; to spread the airport/train station/passport stress out over a few days instead of every day. You will be calmer and appreciate “living” there instead of racing through as the eternal tourist.
6. Give yourself a break
You’re not always going to get it right…you can’t control not being a control freak you know! I recently started a trip by losing €200 to a faulty ATM before even leaving the country. My friends encouraged me to ‘let it go’ for the weekend and not stress about something I couldn’t fix until my return (it did get fixed!). I knew they were right and it didn’t ruin my weekend, but nevertheless I did dwell on it far too much. I chalk it up to experience as something to work on next time.
Hope it helps! I’m still learning so please leave me any tips you have.