“Will I be safe? What if I get injured? I can get assaulted. The world is too dangerous to travel it solo. No way! Traveling alone? Too scary; anyway, I’ll get bored.”
Anxiety is the first solo traveler’s obstacle
It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, anxiety doesn’t discriminate and is the first obstacle any person that decides to embark on a solo adventure faces. We’re constantly being bombarded in our social media feeds with news of violence and conflicts around the world. Sadly, our generation creates most of their imagined ideas of others, and themselves, from it. The world is a dangerous place. Period. Think about it: why’ve you never gone on a solo adventure? It can come from many places, from within or without, but anxiety is the first thing we have to deal with when deciding to go on the road alone.
10 ways to overcome anxiety when traveling alone
Most of our fears come from lack of information of the other. There’re hundreds of destinations out there that are probably safer than your own city. When I was living in Puerto Rico I knew the places that weren’t safe so I simply avoided them. The same rule applies for the world. Most assaults and unfortunate events happen at night time, so if traveling alone, focus on day-time activities and avoid putting yourself in vulnerable, isolated situations.
If violence and criminality are things that prevent you from traveling, do a search for countries where criminality is low or close to zero. Just a heads up, most of these countries are very expensive. It has cost them a lot to be that safe.
2. Pick a Nature Destination
Where was your favorite childhood memory? For most of us this will probably be a place outside: a park, a beach, a forest, a backyard. We feel better when we’re outside. As humans we’re hardwired to feel good when we’re outdoors surrounded by nature. But we have created these little worlds, with little cities with space for little minds with people scared of the outdoors.
Feel that your life is too stressful? Nature is the place where our fears and anxieties dissolve. It gives us the opportunity to connect with our surroundings and ourselves. Depriving yourself from nature is simply not natural. Nature is all around, so go out there and connect with the Mother of us all.
3. Book a group tour
I know it sounds terrible but, as in life, it’s how you do it. If you’re going on an air conditioned, gigantic bus with a highly over-motivated, extra-smiley tour guide describing every tree your passing by, in a high pitch on her microphone, you’ll probably want to die right there inside that bus. At least my mother and I did when we went on a Yosemite National Park bus tour.
But if you book a tour to explore the surface of a glacier, dive into the deepest levels of a cave, or hike the highest peak of a mountain you’ll probably avoid the highly over-motivated, extra-smiley tour guide and meet solo travelers like yourself. Booking group tours for eco-expeditions have been the perfect place for me to make long-lasting friendships. These tours took out that anxiety that sometimes comes when we feel we’re not meeting or connecting with other people.
If you don’t have the resources to afford this type of tour, every major city around the world offers free, guided walking-tours. Here you’ll be meeting backpackers and travelers on a budget from around the world. Sandeman’s New Europe is a good company that works with great tour guides who are lively and dynamic. Here’s their link http://www.neweuropetours.eu/
4. Stay in hostels, Airbnb, or Couch Surfing
In Hostels you’ll also find people from around the world traveling on a budget, so not only will you know which bar or restaurant to go to, but which ones are the cheapest as well. The stories and adventures people in hostels can share will definitely inspire you and empower you to keep going. I have made life-lasting friendships from hostels and I have even visited them after. Another great thing that can happen is that you meet someone that might be going to the same destination as you next, and all of the sudden you’re no longer traveling alone.
Airbnb or Couch Surfing gives you the opportunity to be inside a local’s home and have immediate local insight, saving you not only money but also time. People that use these services and allow others into their homes want to hear your story, sometimes even share a meal or a drink. I’ve been using them both for years and I’m grateful that things like this exist in our time.
5. Visit a friend abroad
This can be a smooth way to start your adventure and a good transition tool you can use. Not only will you be reconnecting with an old friend in a place you’ve never been, but also your friend has probably been living in this place by himself for a while, so he can give you that extra courage you might need to hit the road. He came without knowing anyone and last night you were out with all the new friends he has made in the past months. So how bad can it be to travel alone?
6. Go on a solo adventure in your city first
Conduct an experiment with yourself and plan an adventure around your hometown. One of the most beautiful road trips I did in Puerto Rico by myself was taking the car and hitting all the beaches of the north coast from side to side. If you’ve never traveled by yourself and you’re scared of the emotions or feelings that this might bring up, there’re plenty of things to discover in your own surroundings.
Go for a local hike, explore various museums you’ve never been to, make a picnic, go camping and eat all those things you don’t allow yourself to eat normally, or take the car, hit the road without any plan and see where you end up.
7. Travel to warm places or to extremely cold ones
Sunshine makes people happy; no science on that. If you travel to Thailand, the Caribbean, Brazil, any beach town around the world, you’ll notice one thing: people are smiling. With good energy and weather it’s more likely you’ll meet someone on the beach or at the park, and if you don’t meet anyone you have a warm beach to relax on and enjoy. Another thing that makes people smile and happy is whiskey or a cold beer.
Extremely cold weather forces people to stay inside and get creative. If you go to an extremely cold place you’ll meet their warmest and most beautiful hearts inside their bars. Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Patagonia. Live music in the background, people shouting for another drink, you alone in a corner and a stranger coming to you, “You’re alone, mate? Come have one with us.”
8. Bring a book
Nothing better to take yourself out of your head than to read a book (12 books to read when traveling). There’re so many awesome books out there that can enhance your experience as a traveler, motivate you to keep going, and who knows, even inspire you to write your own. Traveling solo is a great way to read those books you always wanted to read but never found the time for.
I’m going to nerd myself up here with you all, but on my first solo Euro trip I had a summer assignment for grad school, I had to read the works of Shakespeare in their entirety. I went on and read each one of them from the places and countries Shakespeare wrote about in his plays. Reading Hamlet from his castle in Denmark, Julius Caesar from the Roman ruins, and the Merchant of Venice in a boat along the canals was pretty nerdy epic for me. What’s your favorite book? Go to that city and read it while walking its streets, then write me an email and let me know how it felt.
9. Avoid conflict
I learned this the hard way: not everyone is like you. If you’re anxious about safety for being homosexual there are cultures, religions and places that homosexuality is not okay, so don’t provoke by kissing or being affectionate with a man in public if you visit these places. If you’re a woman, there’re places that you’ll be required to wear a headscarf or a skirt; don’t try to protest these things. Just respect, dress and behave accordingly.
For a conflict you need two sides; be, instead, an example of love and let them stay in their monologues. If you’re not willing to adapt your behaviors or your dress codes, and all of this invokes too much anxiety, then simply avoid these countries and stay in others that are accepting and open minded. But, if we only dialogue and share time with people that think like us…
10. Leave your phone
I do this for most of my trips. Nothing creates more anxiety and nervousness in our generation than phones and social media outlets. If you’re going on a solo adventure, who’s going to call you? Really. Internet? Use your hostel’s computers, cyber cafes; Social Media posts? Do them when you get back. If you have to bring a phone with you on your trip, try and leave it in the hotel at least. If you need to skype or facetime with whomever you need to, do it when you get back at night.
During the days of exploration there’s nothing that’ll make you feel more present and connected than not being wired to your phone. If you leave it at home, you won’t missed that wink from the guy across the bar, that golden sunset time, and for the first time in a long time you’ll be able to just sit, breath and contemplate. After all, you went on this trip for you, not for them.
“I’m not waiting for any texts or calls, I’m not a zombie scrolling a news feed, I’m not looking for hook ups or dates, not swiping right or left, no pressure to show off on instagram, tweet, snapchat or facebook anything, I don’t feel anxious. I feel free.”