Nine ways to manage anxiety when you’re travelling
Sometimes anxiety is a mother fucker, especially when you’re travelling and are far away from the things that usually help. I thought I’d be able to quit my job, sell my stuff and jump on a plane and never feel anxious again, but it turns out I’m still human (dammit). Although far less than when I was living in Australia, the anxiety still rears its ugly head from time to time. If you’re travelling and find yourself getting anxious on the road sometimes, this blog is for you.
When I backpacked solo around Europe in 2019, I rarely felt anxious. This trip hasn’t been quite the same. I notice myself feeling more alert. More jumpy. A touch more scared to walk up to a table of people and say how ya goin’.
The years between these trips have been pretty full on though, right? We’ve been in a pandemic where collectively, our entire worlds changed for the better part of two years. Lockdowns, isolation, sickness, death, income loss, fear and constant negative media takes its toll. Just as we started to get back to normal, a war begun to unfold that we’re all watching on social media. Also, if you’re an Aussie, we saw our country burn, then have massive floods, all while having an asshole of a Prime Minister for what felt like an eternity. Given this, I try to go easy on myself when I’m not feeling chipper every minute of the day.
Since travelling again, post pandemic, I’ve realised I can’t travel the same way I used to. I can’t neglect or run away from my mental health. Perhaps a part of this is getting older, but my young soul refuses to believe that. Perhaps it’s because I’m travelling to countries that are often deemed unsafe. Either way, seeing the world has always been my dream and I don’t want to give it up or have a shit time because of something silly like anxiety. I don’t want you to either!
So, my fellow anxious backpackers, here are the things I’ve taught myself so I can continue living out my travelling dreams. I hope they help you.
1. Slow down on the party
I know this sucks. I love to party. I love nightclubs, I love day drinking, I love trying the naughty stuff in foreign countries. I love all of it. But sometimes, it doesn’t love me back. Sometimes it’s just too damn much and the hanxiety (anxiety + hungover) wrecks my brain. If this happens to you, slow down a bit. Have fun without the alcohol. Maybe try a cheeky joint instead, if you’re that way inclined. Remember the only reason you travel isn’t to party and do some of the other good shit instead. Go for a hike, try a walking tour, have a nice dinner, do a cooking class or meet some travelling legends. The party will be there when you’re ready for it again.
2. Write stuff down in a journal
Dear Diary, my positive affirmation of the day is…haha kidding. This journal writing is not like that, so hear me out. When you’re on the road, you’re away from the people you usually chat to about life. The anxious thoughts can run around in your head for hours, without a place to stop. When you can’t sleep or when you’re ruminating or annoyed at something and want to vent, the journal is your new friend. It gets the thoughts out of your head. I found the best time to do it is first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee. When I don’t do it, I notice my head is busier through the day. Sometimes my journal says “This dickhead has coughed every five minutes for hours and it’s doing my head in”. Sometimes that’s all I need to write to feel better. See, super helpful.
3. Be nice to yourself
Having anxiety when I’m living a dream life, surrounded by people with far less than me, often comes in a neat little package alongside shame and embarrassment. It can be hard to let go of that, but there is no point in feeling ashamed or embarrassed about the anxiety or negative emotions on top of already having them. Feel how you feel and don’t add anything else to it. Feeling ashamed of the anxiety doesn’t make it go away.
4. Find a way to exercise
It’s hard to exercise when you’re travelling and it can be the last thing you want to do. Where do you get the time? Where do you go? How do I go to a gym in Mexico when I don’t speak Spanish? My lack of exercise in the first few months of this trip made the anxiety worse. I’m now travelling around with a yoga mat that I use with a YouTube series and aim to do 10,000 steps most days. If I want a bit more exercise after the yoga, I add 20 x push ups, sit ups, squats and lunges at the end. It helps my brain. It makes me feel like I’ve achieved something. It gets me out of my head. Since being in Peru, I’ve started to love hiking too, so if you’re in a country with pretty hikes, do yourself a solid and walk all of them!
5. Download podcasts and meditation apps
When I can’t sleep in a hostel or Airbnb, I chuck my headphones in and listen to a podcast or meditation app to help calm my thoughts. It also drowns out the noises of annoying snorers (and coughers). Two birds one stone! My favourite is Smiling Mind and The Blindboy Podcast.
6. Replicate things from home
If there are things from home that make you feel good, try to replicate them on the road. Forget about the money and budget elsewhere. If it means getting an Airbnb to yourself, do it. If it’s retail therapy, do it. If it’s patting dogs, pat every street dog. If it’s talking to your friends, set up a group call. If it’s seeing your therapist, spend the money. I dropped $270 talking to mine on this trip. That’s a lot of money for a traveller without a job, but the feeling of relief and no anxiety? Priceless, baby.
7. Be honest and chat to a traveller about it
Anxiety often makes you not want to do the things everyone else around you is doing. When I’ve tried to make up some bullshit excuse about why I’m not doing something, I felt worse. When I’ve simply said “Oh I feel a bit anxious today, so that’s not for me”, people are genuine and kind. They’ve told me they feel the same at times. I’ve felt comforted. Being honest has always been met with positivity, so don’t be afraid of it. This also breaks down the shitty stigma around mental health! The more we talk about these things, the better for everyone.
8. Find an outlet
If you have an outlet for anxiety, like writing for example, prioritise it. If it’s drawing, reading, running, photography etc, make space for it. I always feel better after a few hours of writing. It lights me up. Find your outlet. If you already know what it is, just do it like Nike.
9. Make some healthy food and get extra sleep
Cook a nice, healthy meal or order one in, go for a walk and try to get a full nights sleep. Nap if you can. Everything feels better after a vegetable and some shut eye.
I hope this helps you! As Mark Manson says, life will always have problems but what problems are you willing to struggle for? I’ll happily choose travelling problems and this anxiety every day of the week. If there’s anything else I could add, holla at me.
Yours in less travel anxiety,