I used to be so overwhelmed with anxiety; I was afraid to leave my house. Even going out on my front porch or deck felt like too much until I learned to control the ups, downs and sideways swings that can lead to a full-blown panic attack.
I learned to manage it. Live with it. Some days I even forget it was there, yet it has never fully gone away. So while I used to be afraid to leave my house, now I travel the world. All without ever being overtaken by an anxious episode or panic attack.
Here are four ways I've learned to create my zen while traveling alone.
Your seat matters.
Where you sit on the plane can directly impact you and your level of anxiety both while flying and once you land. Think about what triggers your anxiety when you're not traveling and apply that logic to choosing where you're going to sit.
Loud noises, lots of people in small spaces, being too far from a door and not having easy access to a bathroom are all triggers for me in everyday life, so I consider those things when booking flights. There is nothing more frightening than being stuck in a middle seat, in the center of a crowded plane, with kids screaming and the pilot announcing you're going to be stuck on the runway for another hour. I've been there - once. And after barely escaping a violent panic attack, I learned the importance of carefully selecting my seat.
Choose your hotel carefully.
Traveling alone gives you much more freedom in choosing where to stay since you're not concerned about a companion or a conference. Those things have special considerations, and we'll address them in future articles in this series.
When going solo, create a plan for what you want to do and see while visiting your destination and plan to stay nearby. If the beach is on the agenda, stay at the beach. If museums are more your thing, stay downtown. If you're not comfortable venturing out to new restaurants and eating by yourself while at home, chances are slim you’ll do so when traveling alone, no matter what you tell yourself. By choosing lodging that includes meals, an onsite restaurant or at the very least, one that delivers, you will alleviate anxiety about going out while ensuring you have the option to eat something besides power bars and vending machine snacks.
Plan your arrival route.
Having a plan on how you're going to get from the airport to your place of lodging is one of the most overlooked, yet crucial parts of travel planning for those of us who go alone and deal with anxiety. The default is to rent a car, and while that may work in some circumstances, only you know for certain if it will work for you.
When you decided where to stay, you did so after figuring out what you wanted to do. Now it's time to ask yourself if you need a car. For some, renting a car will ease anxiety, even if only used to get to and from the airport. For others, navigating traffic in a strange place, parking and walking alone will increase stress and reduce enjoyment. If that sounds like you, consider using a shuttle service or limousine.
Know what to pack.
If you were to look inside ten suitcases packed by people with anxiety, you might be hard pressed to find anything that reveals their condition. While all of us dealing with anxiety understand the broader scope and commonality we share, each of us has developed our individual coping methods over time.
Packing for a trip is when you want to consider the comforts of home and take them with you, whenever possible. When it's not feasible, find alternatives that will give you the same feeling you get at home. For example, most of us won't pack our light-blocking curtains, yet an eye mask will provide us with the same feeling when away. Use a sound machine at home? Get an app for your phone and use it a few times before traveling. Whether you have a favorite tea, sleep on a silk pillowcase or meditate with essential oils, packing the items that give you comfort at home will help you create your zen while away.
Anxiety doesn't have to keep us stuck inside our homes or prevent us from traveling unless we allow it. And while some of the methods that keep our anxiety in check may involve a higher cost, I believe my freedom is worth it.
What is your freedom worth?