I just came back from an almost three week long vacation (which, if you're an introvert, is a very long time), and even though I had a really good time all the packing and planning stressed me out. I have traveled a fair amount in my life, but anxiety is anxiety. You know how it is.
Still, if you want to travel, don't let anything stop you.
Save money, take time off, and follow these ten steps to ensure that you get out there and actually enjoy exploring the world!
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1. Book a guided tour
Book tours and guided walks. This way you get to see everything famous, without the stress of trying to navigate a strange city and finding your way back.
Tours usually start at a city center location that's very easy to get to, and sometimes they even pick you up at your hotel! It is a great way to ensure that you don't end up stranded miles away from your hotel since all you have to do is follow the yellow umbrella and get shuttled from place to place.
2. Order hotel pickup/an Uber
Today we are incredibly lucky to have the luxury of private transportation without the taxi prices. Instead of spending an hour on a city bus, worrying about missing your stop, you can just sit back and enjoy the view of the city. (When I first moved to Dublin I rode the bus over an hour in the wrong direction because I somehow forgot that they drive on the other side of the road and I was too scared to ask the bus driver when I started suspecting something . . .)
Some hotels even have free pickup from the bigger airports -- make sure to ask when you book it or check their website!
Photo by Guilherme Stecanella
3. Be very on time
Something that stresses me out an incredible amount is being late. Sadly I have a habit of ending up a few minutes late most of the time, because there are so many last-minute things I suddenly remember, but it's something I'm working on. Because adding that extra layer of stress is so unnecessary!
If you have a flight, make sure you're there at least two hours before departure, and remember to think about things like rush hour.
If you have a reservation for dinner or a tour, plan to get there 10-15 minutes early, so you have time to park, locate the building, etc.
If you have a thirty-minute drive somewhere, make sure that it's a half hour you can spend calm and excited, instead of on the verge of a panic attack with a nauseous ball of stress and guilt in your stomach.
4. Learn some phrases in the native language
A good way to avoid feeling like a complete tourist is to learn some common phrases before your vacation. Knowing how to say things like "Excuse me, where is the train station?" and "A table for two, please" can really speed things up and keep you away from the embarrassment of trying to ask for the bathroom using charades. (Although it will be a funny story!)
Duolingo is a great website and app that's completely free and in my opinion one of the easiest ways to learn a language from zero. It's interactive and fun and teaches you simple things and phrases that you will actually use.
5. Read up on your destination
Before you go, do some research on your destination and check what activities TripAdvisor recommends. To have an idea of what you will encounter and what you're going to do will ease your worries and make you more excited about what you will be a part of.
So look at maps to plan your route, write down the main attractions you want to see, and write down in your planner what to do on what day. You want to eliminate as many question marks as possible, because with knowledge comes calm.
Also, make sure to read the airport guidelines with a fine-toothed combed; make sure that your luggage stays within the measurement and weight requirements. Nothing will stress you out like having to dig through your bags at check-in in front of a line of people, trying to squeeze into a third coat.
Photo by rawpixel
6. Bring entertainment
Bringing books and downloading TV shows on your Netflix app might seem counterintuitive for traveling -- you're there to experience the world, right?
The truth is that you might need to escape the world for a bit to calm down if it's too much for you. Bringing your book to a cozy cafe can be very needed, or even staying in your room for a bit watching your current show. Traveling doesn't have to be bustling about every minute of the day -- it's your vacation, and you do what you want and need to do.
Plus, if you have a long flight or bus journey ahead of you, you will be glad you have something to occupy yourself with. I really recommend bringing a Kindle, though . . . even though I love physical books, my fondness of them kind of fades when I have to carry them around for a week. . . .
If you keep a journal, make sure to bring it and write about your adventures. You forget what happened to you scarily fast and it also helps you process things so you don't have to worry or obsess about them later.
7. Tell your traveling companions how you feel
If you're traveling with friends, or a partner or sibling, make sure to tell them about your anxiety. Explain to them how it makes you feel, and what you need from them. Let them know that if you need some time alone, it has nothing to do with them. It's just what you need. This is really important to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary friction between you.
Don't feel ashamed if you have never told them about this before! They would be mindful if you had a broken arm, right? You are doing amazing venturing out on this journey in spite of your anxiety and you should be nothing but proud of yourself.
8. Start with a day trip to practice
If traveling across the country or to another continent feels way beyond doable, start with something manageable, like a day trip to your neighboring city. It will be the same culture, but you will still plan, use transportation, and explore a new place just like you would on a longer vacation.
Like with everything else, practice makes things easier. When something feels scary, break it up into small parts and do them one at a time. If even a day trip feels terrifying, pretend you're a tourist and explore your own town. Usually there are tons of things we never know about where we live because we don't look for them.
Photo by Fancycrave
9. Try Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is a website where you can find hosts to stay with for free. I explain more about it in my post A Beginner's Guide to Couchsurfing. It's obviously very budget friendly, but the best part is that you're staying with locals who know their way around and give you tips on how to handle the city. Sometimes they will even pick you up from the train station or spend the day showing you around!
If you have social anxiety this might feel very scary, but trust me! Take your time reading profiles and references, and ask your host questions if you are nervous. This way you have a guaranteed way of meeting some locals who are bound to be friendly, and Couchsurfers are by definition travelers as well, so there is a never-ending supply of stories to be told. So don't worry about the conversation lagging. :)
10. Meditate daily
If you're not already meditating regularly, this is the time to start. Even a short daily meditation session lowers your stress levels and it even alters the way your brain responds to stress. So if you are freaking out about your upcoming vacation, light some candles and sit your butt down.
If you have tried meditation before and thought that it didn't work for you, I recommend the free app Calm. (Some things cost money, but I'm perfectly happy with the free options. Read a more in-depth review here.) It has both timed and guided meditations and is great when you're struggling to quiet your mind. Set a reminder to do it once a day when you're gone to give yourself the best chance of a stress-free vacation.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning and book that trip!
Photo by Agnieszka Boeske
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I know what it's like living with anxiety and depression, but living and living are very different things. I believe in practical tips and methods, and I will use them to help you be the brave, daring, darling individual you are.
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