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I (along with many people I know) suffer from frequent anxiety. Most of my triggers come from uncomfortable situations mainly dealing with people or places I'm not used to. Throughout the years, I've tried to single-out what causes this overwhelming feeling that often cripples me or causes me to miss out on opportunities; it's fear.
Fear is caused by the unknown or the lack of control in a situation.
Embracing my true Capricorn nature, I prefer order, control, and structure. Anything that diverts from this could possibly result is chaos; therefore igniting fear.
Will Smith said (I'm sure he got it somewhere else) that "Danger is real, but Fear is a choice". I understand that life is short and I don't want to waste a single second, moment, or chance to truly live. My mom taught me that during her short reign on this Earth. Before embracing her ultimate destiny after years of battling stomach cancer, Mom lived her life fearlessly, with no regrets and she taught me to do the same.
Traveling is something she always loved but never got a chance to fully enjoy. I honor her by seizing every opportunity to travel, internationally or domestically. To live this way, a life of fearlessness, I had to overcome my enmity for discomfort: the anxiety monster.
These are some tips I use to overcome anxiety while traveling solo abroad:
Plan out everything! From your flights (pay a little extra for window seats, being close to a window will help you feel like you are not closed in), to your connections between flights (give yourself enough time between flights to potentially make it across the airport to your terminal, also you might need time to grab some snacks for use a restroom that isn't thousands of feet off the ground).
Make sure once you reach your location that you have a method of transport waiting for you. This doesn't' have to be anything fancy but in a lot of countries there is no Uber or Lyft services so you might have to hail a taxi (which can be difficult if you don't know the local culture or language). Another alternative would be contacting the hotel or resort you are staying in to see if they have complimentary transport from the airport (usually it'll be free or cheaper than other methods).
Of course you want to have your lodging taken care of before you reach your destination but make sure to read all the reviews and check out Google Street-view or Maps to see what the local neighborhood looks like. The last thing you want is to be in a sketchy neighborhood, sticking out like a sore thumb because you are not a local. Pay extra if you must to stay in a nice area.
Lastly, create an Agenda or Itinerary so that you can have a plan of action and best allocate your time. I usually create a Google Drive and place my agenda, my airline info, and my hotel information inside to share with family or friends at home so they will know exactly where I am supposed to be.
Do some research about the local culture and history of the place you are visiting. Learn a few phrases, greetings, and pronunciations of the local language. You don't have to know everything about the country you are visiting but it's good to be aware of how the country and people operate (what type of government do they have, what are some cultural taboos, where is the local embassy, etc...)
It's also beneficial to be aware of the climate and local fauna, flora, and food. Single out some dishes you wouldn't be opposed to trying and some dishes that will be go-tos just in case you are (or your stomach) not up to it.
Before you leave make sure you have everything in order so that chaos doesn't occur when you are gone (and if it does you'll be alright, just take the appropriate precautions such as insurance, have some one check on your place or your car, make sure you have your pets boarded, etc...). I also go the extra mile to unplug everything in my house, give the keys to my house and car to a friend to check on occasionally, and pay my bills up so that if I spend too much money abroad I'll be okay once I return.
Know the currency differences between your home country and the visiting country (and any countries you might have a layover in). Also do some research on the general prices of items in the country you are visiting so that you're prepared and you will notice if anyone attempts to scam you (hopefully they won't but always be vigilant).
Get a certain amount of money out of the bank in cash, maybe a couple hundred more than you anticipate to spend. The goal is to not use your debit or credit card outside of the country, to avoid international fees and prevent scams to your bank account. If you must use your card outside your country, make sure you aren't using your main "pot" of money or your main checking account with most of your money in it. You can easily open a second checking account (with a second debit card) and place a certain amount of expense funds in it.
Most of the time it's better to exchange your money once you reach the destination country. Be aware of the fluctuating exchange rates and be ready to do the math conversion yourself.
Don't overspend on your trip but have fun. Make sure that you have enough money put away for emergencies and to make sure you are alright when you return home.
I know this might sound cliche but when you are feeling overwhelmed, scared, or anxious, take deep slow breathes. Try to center yourself and be present in the moment. Remember that nothing exists outside of this moment and you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Remain calm no matter what. Locate a safe space and continue on your journey when you are ready.
Many people don't believe in religion or God in the traditional sense, but I've found that whether you are praying to the universe, yourself, or to an ultimate being, it helps. Praying gives me comfort in any situation, it reassures me that I have a divine being specifically watching over me every moment.
I was downtown Bangkok by myself, and I had arrived to my hotel early so I wasn't able to check-in for a few hours. So the adventurer in me was like "cool I'll just explore". After walking down countless streets, trying to memorize street names in order to retrace my steps, I went into a full blown anxiety attack. A few locals noticed I was foreign and began to call out to me (perhaps innocently, maybe to practice their English) and it gave me more stress to know I was attracting attention.
I made it back to the hotel, still way before check in and I was able to access the WiFi. I video-called my cousin Jessica who's husband was stationed in (relatively) nearby Korea. She immediately noticed my demeanor and went into full blown baptist prayer mode. Even though I have shifted my spirituality to a more "Student of the World" view, those baptist roots are hard to shake and ultimately gave me comfort in this situation.
7. Recognize Similarities and Differences
I recently heard, while was on Qatar Airlines listening to their marketing videos, that "despite our different races, cultures, and beliefs; we all share the same emotions". This statement resonated with me. Knowing that people who don't speak like me or look like me still share the same joy, fear, jealousy, and anxiousness as me, gave me comfort.
Also, on a more practical tip, when you are abroad, make an effort to notice the similarities to your home country (the signs, roads, trees, smells, the way people engage with each other, etc...).
Additionally, notice the differences and be prepared for them as much as you can (thus the importance of doing your research). Recognize the best practices you must exude to adapt to the new culture (maybe that means altering your greetings or taking your shoes off before you enter a room or building).
As a self-proclaimed introvert, this was a tough one for me. It's very important to be open, kind, and ready to engage and interact with new people. You'll tend to run into locals but also travelers from other countries much like yourself. Don't be afraid to give a greeting and if it's received well, attempt a conversation. You never know where the interaction will lead.
Also, connect and stay in contact with your family and friends back home (this can be through text, social media, or by phone). I have Verizon's international plan that charges $10 a day to utilize my phone similarly like I use it at home. I'm able to receive texts, calls, and I have a bit of data (spotty data). That might be a bit pricey for some, especially when you are going to be abroad for awhile so for longer durations I recommend getting a local SIM card with a phone plan that has text, call, and data.
9. Manage Fear
Remember, "Danger is real but Fear is a choice".
No matter what happens, it only matters how you react. Stay calm and centered. Pray and breathe. Then make and execute a new plan. Things are going to go wrong but don't be afraid. Readjust and keep going.
Remember that bad things can happen to you at home, you might as well live your life.
Be smart though, don't go out alone at night. Stay away from sketchy areas and people. Trust your instincts. Be aware of an escape route at all times and don't venture far from your planned route.
Always be prepared. 10. Be Present
The only thing that matters is the present moment. The past nor the future exist, they are only figments of our imagination. Put away all doubt and worry. Embrace now.
Feel the air, the water, the plants. Taste the food.
I bring along self-help books as well. Take this time that you are alone, to do the work on yourself.
Practice self-love, inward thinking, exuding positivity, and manifestation of your goals and dreams.