Anxiety and Travel: Small Steps Take You Far

By Mhegan Lee Apr 25, 2019

I travel overseas at least once a year. That may not sound like much. But truth be told, I'm surprised that I get to travel at all. I suffer from anxiety for as long as I can remember. And it bleeds out into every aspect of my life. Travel is high on my list of things I love to do but want to avoid. Planning a trip is not all about fun and excitement for me. Fear and worry are like unwanted guests that make their presence felt every single time. 

I'm a nervous flyer. And by "nervous" I mean I'm really scared of flying. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like for those who suffer from panic attacks. Being anxious in itself is not easy to manage even on the best days. Adding panic attacks to the mix can be extremely overwhelming. 

Having anxiety is no joke. It impacts a lot of things in my life. It could have stopped me from doing what I love most - to travel and experience everything that comes with it. But I choose to face it head-on. It's either that or be controlled by it for the rest of my life.

Travel is a form of therapy for me among many other things. But don't get me wrong. I’m not saying that travel is a cure that has made my constant worries and fears disappear for good. Being on the road is not exactly the most relaxing and smooth-sailing way to deal with my anxiety. But I have learned to embrace it and try to plan as best as I can for the things I can control. Anxiety doesn't have to stop anyone from exploring and experiencing the things that only travel can give.

You can be anxious and still travel.

There will be well-meaning family and friends in your life who will tell you different reasons why traveling would be a bad idea. It's not that you should take their advice lightly. But you have to decide what's good for you. I've been to some places where bad things happened a week before or soon after I've been there. Major events that got featured on the news for days. So it was understandable to hear people ask me why I'm going and that they think it's not safe to travel on my own. But I went anyway. And those trips turned out to be some of the most memorable I've had so far. It's good to listen to advice, but learn to take some with a grain of salt. Otherwise, you'll be stuck where you are and miss out on the experiences you'll get when you travel.

Prepare as best as you can.

Setting out to unfamiliar places, meeting new people, dealing with the unexpected, and some hiccups in your plans can unbalance anyone. But anxiety makes it more difficult to deal with. While nothing can be planned to perfection, being well-prepared can go a long way in preventing and minimizing potential problems while on the road. It gives a feeling of control.

Connect with people.

One of the best things that happened to me while traveling also happened in one of my worst moments. It all started with me missing a train somewhere in France. I had no idea what to do. I couldn't think for a few minutes and just sat helplessly. But I was able to pull myself together to start asking for help. And it was the start of a beautiful experience with different strangers who all helped me get back on track, figuratively and literally. It was a complicated journey that involved purchasing new sets of train tickets which cost me twice the price of my original ticket, taking the train to another station, and sprinting to the platform to catch the last train of the day which was already leaving to my end destination. Connecting with people is not easy for me as an introvert with anxiety. But I found the experience uplifting and inspiring. I believe that even when things go wrong, there will always be people who will step up to help.

Small steps take you far.

Whether it's about dealing with anxiety or traveling, small steps take you far. It may take time, but taking those baby steps is better than staying rooted in place. Every time you feel scared setting off to a travel adventure but decide to go anyway is a win over anxiety. The more little steps you take, the more you discover you have it in you to go farther.

Take it slow.

Travel is not a race. Take it slow.  You have to set a pace that works for you. As you explore more outside your comfort zones, you'll find that there are far more wondrous things in the world than letting anxiety stop you from seeing them.

In the end, we all have different ways of coping with anxiety. I find that traveling is one of the best ways that work for me. It opens up the mind and pushes you to face your fears. Travel is being thrust into the unknown. Everything seems unfamiliar – from the places to the people you encounter in your journeys.  And you can only plan up to a certain point and make room for the unexpected. What better way to overcome anxiety than to be thrust right into the center of it.

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