Travelling alone, for the anxious person

4/29/2016 08:13:00 pm

Last time I found myself alone in a foreign country, it was not a pleasant experience. Hindsight yada yada, there's nothing more depressing than sitting in a Tokyo studio apartment (approx size 2 square metres), unable to step outside because you are pinned to the floor by anxiety. If you are a social phobic in the grip of an extended panic attack, the world's most populated city is not ideal.

Things have evolved a little over time. I am still anxious, particularly in social situations, and I think I always will be, but that paralysis has subsided to a large degree. Background noise, you know? Radio chatter.

Oink oink, chatter chatter
One of the signs that you are doing well is when you are able to overcome anxiety because the desire you have to do something outweighs the fear associated with doing it. I wanted to go to Vietnam so badly; I tried to organise it last year but it fell through, and so when I organised it for this year but all of our life plans changed, I decided to grit my teeth and go for it.
I've got stuff to do, things to see
Still, a significant amount of trepidation was brimming. A country to which I have never been before, with a currency conversion that is impenetrable to my brain. Multiple flight sectors and car transfers. A maze of a town. By myself.
It doesn't look like 800% humidity, but it is. I assure you...
When you have a phobia you develop what are called 'safety behaviours'. They're the little quirks that your brain builds to keep you safe in situations that make you anxious. Maybe you carry a water bottle with you at all times so that you have something to do with your hands. Or your headphones, to insulate you from the world at all times. The obsessive rituals of someone who worries that they have left the house unlocked or the hair straightener on. Safety behaviour is discouraged because if you find yourself in an unexpected situation that prevents you from using that behaviour you can flip out and lose your shit. I rarely had all-out meltdowns but the number of times I turned tail and retreated to relative safety cannot be counted.

There is a difference though, between safety behaviour and being proactive about not getting anxious.
I am actively trying these days to not let anxiety keep me a bird in a cage
So, here are some ideas for surviving a solo holiday without succumbing to the little black cloud upon your shoulder.

She's faster and more insistent than she looks, that lady on a scooter...
Unless your holiday is intended to be a grand behavioural experiment, then there's actually no need to push your boundaries too far. You are, after all, supposed to enjoy being on holiday:
Take it easy
1. Pick a safe location. Not safe like... safety necessarily, but safe in terms of how anxious you are feeling or wish to feel. I still, for example, have no desire for another solo trip to Tokyo. Similarly, although I have wanted to visit Vietnam for a long time, I would not go to Ho Chi Minh solo. Even Hanoi sounds too bustly for my liking, so I chose Hoi An.
You can just go with the flow
Kick off your shoes* (...*not my shoes)
Don't get trapped in negative thinking
Because you can't fill your belly if you're sitting in your room
Sit and watch the world go by
Good food, world heritage, tailors. But small and relatively sleepy.
Harder than it looks, that basket boat...
Get lost. Multiple times. But don't panic...
...just keep walking...
2. Don't stay in a shit hole. If you do find yourself stuck to the hotel, at least make sure the pool is nice. And if you are intimidated by brash backpackers of a certain age, as I am, choosing a nice hotel will keep you well away from that demographic.
A nice little cocoon to keep you safe. 
Ah, yes.
Mnnnnn breakfast. Look around - you are NOT the only solo traveller. 
3. Work out how you will get to the hotel. You don't need to over think it, but at least if that's planned out you can conquer the first hurdle with ease. Build in a contingency so that if something goes wrong, you have other options (but don't get nutty about it, because that's not good for you). So you organise a car to pick you up? What will you do if the car doesn't show up? You can take a taxi, or - God forbid - a bus. Also, those airport information people are usually very nice, and will take pity on you if you've lost your bearings.
Go by boat?
Look to the sky
Maybe a bike?
4. Following on from the above, make sure you have roaming switched on. The driver isn't there? Don't assume the worst, just call the hotel and ask where he is.
He probably isn't far away
5. Actually, don't assume the worst in general. One of those classic CBT tools is to ask yourself, 'what's the worst that could happen' ...and in a foreign place, sure, some of those worst things could be quite bad, but I wander around at home after dark a lot, which is probably more stupid than travelling alone. But, see point 1 above, and just don't assume the worst.
Again, try not to panic...
Just sit down and take a breath. 
6. Make plans. Just a few general plans; not too many. Enough to coax you out of the hotel room. Free walking tours are usually a good bet. Classes of any description (crafts and cooking will land you with likeminded people).

You don't have to try and make friends for life - just make conversation and the rest will work out

Cycling tours mean that you can cover a lot of ground, enjoy the camaraderie of a group, but not really have to interact with anyone all that much.

Although you should make an attempt to talk to the others - it's pretty lonely if you don't speak to another person for 5 days.
It's a bridge you can cross
No matter how tangled up it seems...
7. If it all goes pear shaped and you can't make yourself go out, don't worry. Don't beat yourself up. You are staying in a nice hotel with a beautiful pool, or at least, awesome air conditioning in the room.

Just sit back, and relax.

And enjoy some people watching.
Lols...monks...with smartphones!!
More proof that I need a selfie stick

You don't have to prove anything to anyone because you've made it far enough.

Where I went: Hoi An, Vietnam
How I got there: Qantas Sydney-Melbourne, Jetstar Melbourne-Singapore-Da Nang (more on that later), Singapore Airlines Da Nang-Singapore-Sydney
Where I stayed: Essence Hotel & Spa
What I did: Hoi An Food Tour, Green Bamboo Cooking School, Heaven & Earth Cycling Tours, Pandanus Spa (so good, and they'll send a taxi to pick you up)

Would I go again? Yes. Yes yes.

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