Ever since I made the decision to quit my job to travel the world indefinitely, I spent the last month of work waking up anxious every day because I was so excited (and maybe a little scared) to leave. I thought that once I hit the road, my anxiety would dissipate. In many ways, it has. In other ways, it’s surfaced and made traveling difficult. But even in these short four weeks, I’ve learned quite a bit about how I personally need to plan my travel experiences in a way that is kinder to myself and my mental health.
1) Don’t try to do too much too fast
The world is a huge, amazing place. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to see as much of it as possible.
I tried to do just that in my first month. I flew from Madrid to Provence to meet up with friends, then took the train back to Girona and Barcelona, flew to Basque Country, road-tripped up and down the coast, then flew to Marrakesh, where by van, camel, bus, taxi, and ferry, I’d eventually end up back in Southern Spain by the beginning of August.
That exhausts me just typing it. Some of the jumping around was necessary, because I’m traveling long-term whereas two of my traveling companions only have one month to travel and different ideas of where they want to go in the region. Had I been traveling solo, I would have traveled slower and with less flying in between.
Now that it’s almost August, I’m spending the next three weeks in Andalusia, mostly solo. One of my anxiety triggers is airports. Not the flying itself – I’m pretty Zen about that – but the getting to the airport, dealing with luggage, security examining exactly how many drops of water are left in my empty reusable water bottle, expecting delays, the process of boarding the plane like cattle off to slaughter….
From now on, I have only two flights booked, and I am so relieved. I have my flight to Corfu, Greece on August 19th, which I’m using as my jumping-off point to visiting Albania and the rest of the Balkans. And then, the next flight I have is in mid-December from Stockholm to Oakland, CA (home!). And that’s only because I found a ticket for $160 USD and that is insane for a December flight!
2) Incorporate rest days and rest times to prevent anxiety
This is similar to my above advice of not trying to do too much. You may think that three days in one city is sufficient to seeing everything – and it most likely is. However, that is not sustainable long-term, unless you are some kind of travel superhero who needs to intervention my life, stat. But there’s a lot to see everywhere you go, and you will most likely not want to spend 8-12 hours touring all day every day. Especially if you’re traveling in the heat of summer, like I am!
Make like the Spanish and establish siesta as part of your routine. I am constitutionally incapable of napping, but I enjoy nipping into my hostel or hotel for a few hours to relax in some air conditioning and rest my body and mind. In the summer, I try to go out from 11-2, rest from 2-5, and return out from 5-late.
But sometimes, I have too many things on my mental list, and I push myself. Those days, I feel like could just start tearing up in the middle of the street: hot, unsure of what to do next but feeling like I must do more, frustrated, hungry, thirsty, because my anxiety is in overdrive from too many stimuli and I’m at the point mentally where I lack self-preservation and self-care skills.
I need to start anticipating this and proactively taking rests during the day. Even better, I should be setting aside one rest day every week or so where I do little more than go for a walk, do a bit of work on my blog and photography, eat, and rest my body. I’ll still be absorbing and experiencing a foreign culture, picking up bits of language and customs and visuals – without the physical toll on my body and mind.
3) Accept that you’ll never see it all – and you can always come back
I’m a little bit obsessed with lists. In fact, it’s one of the keys things I do when I’m anxious. I either listify my anxieties to conquer them, or I make lists to distract myself from present-tense anxiety.
Ironically, though, these same lists can end up making me feel stressed. From the U.N. official list of countries to the Travelers Century Club to UNESCO, I want it all. So when I know I miss places that I want to see – for example, Inle Lake on last year’s trip to Myanmar – I feel a pang in the pit of my stomach, especially when talking to other travelers who have done or are planning on doing it.
I need to be realistic and acknowledge that due to a combination of race/class/American privilege and a touch of determination, I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to go back to almost any country I want to visit. No matter how far the distance, I’ll make a way.
How do you deal with anxiety on the road?