Anxiety Traveling Solo

No matter how many solo trips I’ve taken over the years, I still get a little anxious when I travel.  Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a control freak and I like to be the one in the driver’s seat. Maybe it’s not knowing what to expect when I arrive.  Maybe it’s something as simple as missing my flight. Whatever the case, the fact remains that I still get a little anxious no matter how many countries I enter, flights I take, or hotels I stay in.  

Anxiety is perfectly normal to feel before traveling and more so when traveling solo because all the responsibilities lie with you.  Feeling nervous is one thing but how you deal with that nervous energy is another. Prepare for what you can and understand there will be situations out of your control.  Here are some of the times I feel anxious and how I deal with those situations. 

  • Forgetting something at home
  • Missing my flight
  • Falling for a scam
  • Getting lost 
  • Getting in an uncomfortable situation
  • Getting sick 
  • Eating alone
  • Being alone/no one to talk to
  • Running out of money

Forgetting something at home

We’ve all been here haven’t we?  How many times do we check our pockets to make sure we have everything we need before we leave for the airport?  I must do it 5 times in the 30 seconds before I’m about to leave my house.  

Simplify the process

I’ve pretty much got my packing list down after this many years but that doesn’t mean I don’t make a list.  It helps keep me organized and makes it nearly impossible to forget something. I usually start my list a couple days before I start packing the night before (you can read my post on items that never leave my bag here).  

Whatever you’re packing, always remember that as long as you have your passport and a working credit card, you can get home.  Regardless of what happens, realize that the ability to get home is your ultimate safety net. Before I leave, I like to keep some emergency cash and a credit card tucked away separate from my wallet or my travel wallet (where I keep other cards, cash, passport, etc).  This way, IF something happens where your bag is stolen, you get pickpocketed, or you forget your luggage, you can always find a way home. If something drastic does happen, you know you can always regroup at home. No trip is worth putting yourself in danger or risking further loss.  

The biggest thing I see and hear from people is this fear that they’re going to want something they own with them when they travel.  Remember that whatever it is, you’ll probably be able to buy it there. That will definitely help in relieving the anxiety since you know it really isn’t a big deal.  

Taking the big picture approach always helps me when I’m anxious about forgetting something at home.  Being prepared when it comes to the worst case scenario and understanding that I can always get home helps in dealing with most causes of anxiety.  When it comes to items I might forget at home, it’s much easier when I know that I can always just buy it when I’m there (usually for cheaper than I could in the US). 

Missing my flight

airplane on ground surrounded with trees

I am so guilty of this one.  I really think this stems from my desire to be in control of the situation and the helpless feeling I have when trying to get to the airport.  I just hate the idea of missing my flight because there was traffic on the road, my Uber gets a flat tire, or an unexpected road closure causes an unforeseen delay.  This is different from feeling helpless since I can’t control the plane since that is out of my control. However, when I get anxious about missing a flight, it’s because I didn’t give myself enough time and that is something within my control.  That said, here’s what helps me. 

I’d strongly urge anyone to get Global Entry (you can read my post on Global Entry and TSA precheck here).  Global Entry allow you to skip all the lines when you return to the US and just use the kiosk to zip through immigration.  I’ve traveled through some of the busiest airports in the US like LAX, SFO, and JFK and regardless of how busy it is, it has never taken me more than 2-3 minutes to get through immigration.  This really helps me out when if my arriving flight is delayed for some reason and a comfortable connection turns into a tight one. It really helps knowing that I can sprint to through immigration and get to the correct gate for my connecting flight with Global Entry. 

TSA Precheck somes with Global Entry and it’s worth it because it allows you to zip through security before your flight.  It’s rarely taken me more than a few minutes to get through security with TSA Precheck. Now this doesn’t mean I stroll up to the gate 5 minutes before boarding (I’m not trying to tempt fate here) but I have run into situations where I ended up cutting it very close and not having to wait in security helped me make my flight.  

If you don’t have either, leave yourself plenty of time if you’re getting to the airport and for connecting flights.  Of course, if you’re driving, give yourself plenty of time. Check the traffic before you leave, give yourself extra time, and check in early so you don’t need to waste time at the airport.  

If I’m flying to an airport to catch my main flight, I give myself at least 6 hours of leeway.  Now that may seem excessive (and in many ways it is) but in my defense, San Diego does have days where the marine layer comes in and flights get delayed.  Also, if I’m flying to San Francisco, that city is prone to fog as well. For those reasons, I give myself more time than is really necessary since you can’t really plan for that.  Also, regardless of whether you’re on one ticket all the way to your final destination or on separate tickets, there is only so much time that a plane will be held for you so you really want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make your connecting flight.  

Falling for a scam

No one likes being scammed. To be honest, nothing makes me madder than falling for a scam (although I’m not sure if I’m angrier at the scammer or myself for falling for the scam).  Scammers suck and if it happens early in my travels, it can affect my state of mind for the remainder of my trip. That can affect where I go, what I do, and how I interact with people.  Obviously that isn’t how I enjoy traveling since to me, traveling is about stepping out of my comfort zone and seeing things from a different perspective. But when a scam happens early, I tend to be weary of everyone, I’m less open to meeting and interacting with people, and I don’t feel comfortable traveling.  It sucks.  

The best thing you can do is educate yourself of possible scams before you travel (you can see my post of travel scams here).  It isn’t a foolproof method and this doesn’t mean you can travel without having some sense of caution.  But it doesn’t mean it has to consume you at every turn. You can identify potential scammers by educating yourself on their tactics before you arrive.  Don’t take the services of someone asking if you need a taxi as you come out of the arrivals hall. Google the price of something before you buy it so you know what a fair price is and then bargain for it or walk away.  Seeing the signs of a potential scam will help you avoid them.  

Finally, the bigger picture here is that understand and accept the fact that you will probably be scammed.  Accept it and learn from it. But when it happens, don’t let it affect you (too much). Even if you got scammed, it probably (or hopefully) wasn’t life changing money.  It might be a lot of money for the locals but it might end up being $20 to you. No one likes being scammed but if $20 is life changing money, then you have bigger problems.  All you can really do is learn from your mistake and then continue to enjoy your trip. If you let it affect your travels, you’ll end up losing more than $20. You’ll miss out on experiences, memories, and some great stories to tell when you’re back home.  

Getting lost 

person's hand over brown floral field during daytime

So admittedly, this might not be as common a problem today especially with smartphones being what they are today.  However, that doesn’t mean you still can’t get lost. Losing reception, forgetting your phone, or your phone running out of battery are all issues we’ve all dealt with.  Let’s be honest, the anxiety you get when you see your phone is at 10% battery life is the same as the anxiety you feel when trying to find a toilet when you have explosive diarrhea.  You need to recharge your phone and it needs to happen now.  

Simplify your thought process

When I get a little lost, I try to overly simply the situation.  It helps make it easier to digest and find a solution to the problem.  Depending on where you are, you can probably get away without having a map if you use some common sense.  If you’re in Venice, you really don’t need a map. Why? Because you’re on an island. You can’t get lost because you’re surrounded by water.  As long as you remain on the island, you’ll be fine. It’s just like a cruise ship. It might be large and you may not know exactly where you are, but eventually you’ll find your way back because you can’t get off.  

If you’re in a city, get to a subway/metro station and find your to the city center.  From there, you should be able to find your way back or at least get to a tourist information booth (since they’re usually around the main station where there’s the most tourist traffic) to ask.  

Getting to a point where you recognize the area around you will help get you back to where you want to be.  I wouldn’t suggest cutting corners here because if something goes wrong, you’ll just be compounding the error.  

Getting in an uncomfortable situation

This is one of those times where you just have to remove yourself from the situation and do it quickly.  Remember that your safety is always priority one and whatever money you lose can always be replaced.  

Now it may be a situation where you meet people you think you can trust but it turns out that’s wrong.  Or it may be a situation where you’re minding your business and a huge fight breaks out in the bar. Heck, it could be a simple as having to deal with an overly pushy vendor who is desperate to make a sale and looking for a tourist to overcharge.  Whatever it is, the situation isn’t as important as the fact that you feel uncomfortable. There is nothing that should keep you from remaining in an uncomfortable situation. If you feel trapped you may have to force your way out. It may be a misunderstanding but it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  The hope is that you won’t be in that type of predicament but if you are, don’t ignore your gut feeling and remove yourself immediately.  

Getting sick 

For starters, see my post on getting sick overseas here to give you some ideas on how to plan your day when you’re sick.  From personal experience, I can say that getting sick while traveling solo is a horrible feeling.  

Having tablets of pepto bismol or some antiacid is a great start since you can chew those as soon as you feel like something isn’t right.  Most of the time, when you get sick, it’s going to be some form of stomach virus that will make you want to move the hotel TV into the bathroom and surround yourself with a toilet paper fort.  In those cases, I usually just ride it out and try to make myself as comfortable as possible. After a day or two, I’m usually back to normal. In some cases, I may decide to stay in that particular city a day longer (if I was originally scheduled to move to another city or country) since the last thing I want to be doing is traveling in a cramped space for an extended period of time while worrying about having an extra pair of pants on me.  

white ceramic mug on white table beside black eyeglasses

However, if you’re having more serious issues that may require medical attention, you’ll want to contact a doctor.  Remember that a lot of countries have doctors that make house calls and will even come to a hotel to see you so don’t be afraid of calling the front desk to request help in getting a doctor.  If you have a more serious emergency, get yourself to a hospital and get treated. Know that many countries have some sort of public funded healthcare system so although it may not be free, it shouldn’t be a problem being seen and treated.  

Again, if it is a serious medical condition, you will also have to determine if you need to come home to be treated by your own physician.  Depending on your situation, you may have to make that decision pretty quickly but always remember safety is your number one concern. When traveling solo, you don’t have someone to look after you or any sort of support system that you may have back at home so definitely take it seriously.  

Eating alone

Eating alone is a fact of life for the solo traveler.  More times than not, we’re eating alone and it’s something you just have to get used to or you won’t be able to handle it.  You can see my post on how to eat alone while traveling here.  

I try to eat street foods mainly because it’s informal and I can eat on the go.  It’s also a great way to meet locals because they’re proud of what they serve and are happy to see you enjoy their food.  You don’t have to speak to understand the meaning of a happy smile and I’ve never met anyone who isn’t pleased when I smile to show that I like the food.  

Eating alone can be tough to get used to at first but much like anything, once you do it a couple times, it’s pretty easy.  And you’ll quickly notice that no one is paying any attention to the fact that you’re eating alone. Just use the quiet time to journal, send out emails to friends, or just reflect on the day you’ve had.  You might find that it’s pretty enjoyable.  

Being alone/no one to talk to

I think this feeling hits mainly when we’re eating but can also hit us when we’re doing the most mundane things.  I know I typically notice it when I’m driving because I often feel like it’d be nice to have someone navigating or just talk to help pass the time (especially if it’s a boring drive).  But you might feel lonely at the simplest times like when you’re waiting for a train, walking through the local market, or riding in a taxi to your hotel.  

man sitting on brown wooden bar stool beside backpack on wooden bar stool

Understand first that it’s normal and the only way around it is to meet people along the way.  There are a lot of ways to meet people if you’re willing and open.  I think many of us get overwhelmed or intimidated by speaking to strangers but I bet if you start talking to another solo traveler, they’ll be just as excited to talk to you as you are to talk to them.  If you both speak English, it’ll be even easier. An easy icebreaker for me is to just ask for directions. From there, it can be pretty easy to start a conversation about anything (except politics and religion of course).  

It feels odd to not have anyone to talk to sometimes and I completely understand that.  I feel it too. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way for your entire trip. Meet people at a cooking class or a tasting tour.  Maybe you’ll meet someone at museum. I’ve met people at a market because we’re both trying to figure out what a food item is. It’s fun to buy a couple things you’ve never tried before to share so you can both experience it together.  It may even make you feel bolder to try something you would have never tried. The spontaneity of meeting someone random is pretty much what makes it fun.  

Running out of money

As an older millennial, I like to think I’ve gotten better at budgeting my money over the years.  But every now and then, an unexpected cost or an urge to spend money “because I’m vacation” certainly hits.  If I haven’t budgeted correctly and don’t have a backup plan, it could really be disastrous.  

two Euro banknotes

Obviously the easy solution is to budget and stick to it.  However, living in the real world tells us that isn’t always possible.  So I like to have emergency cash and a credit card tucked away. The card is a visa (it’s typically accepted everywhere over the other card issuers) and has a zero balance so I have the full credit line to work with.  Again this is for emergencies and regardless of where I am in the world, I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t accept US currency. It does a long way as a universal currency so it’s nice to always have a mix of bills tucked away. 

Aside from begging, you should see how for credit cards will get you.  Unfortunately, depending on where you are, this is going to be severely limiting since you may not be in a place that accepts cards.  You can also try to have money wired to you via moneygram or western union.  

However, your best best is going to be getting to a location that accepts cards so you can move forward.  Pretty much every major city is going to accept cards so you can purchase food and transportation tickets.  If you’re completely out of money, you’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers or barter what you have to get there.  Once you’re in a city, you have options. You can get a cash advance or just make purchases on your card. But without options, you’re screwed so your main focus should be to get to a major city.  

Running out of money should never happen unless you’re in a really dire predicament.  If you decided to go splurge on something stupid, well you won’t get any sympathy here.  But there are times when things come up. In those cases, it’s good to have some emergency money tucked away just in case.  

Final thoughts

These are some of the big concerns I have that give me anxiety when I travel.  Of course there are differing degrees of anxiety and some are worse than others.  But it still makes me anxious. All that can be done is to be prepared and to keep your wits about you as you travel.  Most importantly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Your first few trips are not going to be perfect. Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned. To be honest, I still make mistakes after all these years.  But I don’t let it bother me because being in a good mental space is important for me to have a good time and that’s ultimately what I want. I can’t dwell on the mistakes or scammers because it would suck all the joy from my travels.

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