“Welcome to Canada, the temperature outside is 14 degrees, please stay seated until…”
I sit up in the aeroplane seat, rubbing my eyes and struggling to get my jet-lagged body and sluggish mind to catch up with the whole you’re-now-a-solo-traveller-and-have-to-make-it-alone thing.
A sleepy walk through the airport – one that’s now blended in my mind with countless other airports – plus a train ride, and I’m spat out into the centre of Vancouver. Disoriented, overwhelmed and utterly alone. At this point, early into my solo travels, I lacked confidence in my ability to successfully navigate this new lifestyle, and felt like an intruder in my new metaphorical backpacker shoes.
This, combined with social anxiety, makes for an interesting concoction of emotions when dealing with an onslaught of new experiences, places and people. But it’s not impossible; it can even be fun.
This is why I thought it could be helpful for other first-time solo travellers if I compiled a short list of tips for building confidence and lessening anxiety when travelling alone.
Research, research and research some more
This is not a quick fix, but a surefire way to grow confidence and keep anxiety at bay. Making sure I had fully researched a place before even setting foot there is how I coped with the a lot of my travel situations. Buying the guide book, reading blogs, studying maps, working out the public transport options, there are loads of ways you can be knowledgeable about a place without ever having seen it. Once I had more confidence in myself to deal with new situations, my obsessive research did lessen slightly, however I still try and find out a lot about wherever I’m visiting next because it’s definitely true that you get more out of a place if you’ve done your research.
Focus on a goal
It is extremely easy to start catastrophising when travelling as it’s the perfect breeding ground for ‘what ifs’. ‘What if I get on the wrong train/it takes me to the wrong place’, ‘what if I don’t meet anyone I like and I get lonely?’, ‘what if I run out of money/something is unexpectedly more expensive?’, ‘what if I misjudge a place/person as safe?’… You get the idea. The most effective way to battle these, along with solid research, is to keep your goals small and clear. For example, when arriving in a new city for the first time the goal could be ‘locate my accommodation’. Stick to your goal – you’ll look more confident walking through the streets and your mind will be less likely to wander off into anxiety-inducing territory.
Know where your basics are
This is similar to researching, but in a more practical everyday way once you’re in a certain place. The true basics when travelling are sleep and food. Make sure you have an accommodation situation you’re happy with and have somewhere to buy simple edibles. It’s also important to get good amounts of rest and nutrition so that your mind is clear enough and your body is strong enough to do everything you want to do. These steps will help improve your confidence abroad as you’ll start feeling like a local, won’t have to walk around with your nose in a map all of the time, and will feel mentally, physically and emotionally more resilient.
I know, if you suffer with social anxiety and you were on board with all of the other suggestions so far, this might be the idea that turns you away. But just hear me out. If you’ve missed something out in your research, want to know more about something or even want to establish some connections, asking questions is the way forward. The most approachable people to ask are hostel staff and other travellers in your hostel; they’re very likely to be happy to share information and tips for navigating your new surroundings.
If you’re anything like me, sometimes the continuous waves of new experiences can start to drain you and there might be moments you feel wobbly. Perhaps you mistaken this for a lack of confidence, but the way I see it is your confidence batteries need recharging just like your energy levels have to be restored with food and sleep. If you begin to feel less confident and not so capable, seeking out familiar creature comforts can help to rejuvenate you. For example, finding a coffee shop you have back home, buying snacks you ate in your childhood, taking a stroll in nature or allowing yourself to aimlessly walk the streets, depending on what’s familiar for you. Wherever you are, it is likely that you can find something you’re used to.
However you choose to manage anxiety and build confidence when travelling, try not to let negative emotions associated with these get in the way of the experiences you have. Many of us have ‘down’ days, where sightseeing or going on an adventure can seem too big a feat, but with these tips I hope that nervous travellers can begin to work on building themselves up and having more energy to focus on having a great time.