"The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page"
YOU HAVE TO TRAVEL WHILE YOU'RE YOUNG! Said everybody, ever.
I've always been told to travel. By friends, by family, by goddamn Pinterest quotes. It's everywhere! You're robbing yourself of the wonders of the world they say, you won't know who you really are until you travel.
Spending a portion of my early 20s living in a backpacker town, I got a taste of the wonders of traveling. My closest friends at the time were all nomads, bouncing from one country to another with endless stories of their ventures. Once you catch the travel bug, they said, there will be no turning back.
But those debortourous years of my 20s took me in another direction, and I'm so glad they did. Looking back on my younger years, I wasn't in a state mentally or financially to travel. The years went by and my 30s began to creep up on me.
So during the pandemic, over a serious game of frisbee, Anna and I began discussing the T word.... Traveling!! After 3 hours of throwing a piece of plastic back and forth, we had planned our first overseas trip together... SOUTH EAST ASIA!
But there was one small problem... my anxiety. But traveling cures all, right? Every traveler, every backpacker, and every nomad I had ever met had one thing in common; they were outgoing and had the confidence I had been searching for. So with optimism in one hand and my anxiety in the other, Anna and I booked a one-way ticket to Asia.
In the months leading up to our big trip, I embarked on a pretty big self-healing journey. It began by quitting my full-time job followed by countless hours of cognitive behavioral therapy. But something no one tells you is that when working on your mental health, it's going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better.
Here I was, juggling my depression and past trauma while trying to plan a 4-month backpacking trip. Just one day at a time was literally my morning mantra in the months leading up to leaving the country. But as the days passed and each therapy session I attended, I slowly learned the tools required to recognize the thoughts and feelings that I once felt controlled me.
I was feeling optimistic and hopeful that I would continue working on my mental health and that immersing myself in another culture would allow a shift in my perspective and perhaps allow me to realize how small my problems were as I take on a different view of the world.
With these new tools in my back pocket, I packed my 65L backpack, shaved my head (because why the fuck not?!), and off I went to the airport. I was going to kick my anxiety's butt and return home in 4 months' time a brand new fucking woman.
But my anxiety only got worse.
My social anxiety causes me to disassociate, especially when asked a question I don't know the answer to. It's as though everything is at a distance, your vision becomes blurry and voices muffled. You become light-headed and time stands still for a moment.
Not ideal when you're trying to cross the border into a foreign country.
What the fuck was I doing?
After 3 weeks of traveling through Malaysia into Thailand, nothing had shifted. And I found myself leaning on Anna for the most simple things. The days became a blur. I struggled to make the smallest decisions as I searched for this 'life-changing moment' that Pinterest had guaranteed.
Anna was booking our transport, applying for visas, and even deciding where we ate each day. And there I was, feeling like I was merely existing as I followed her from one country to the next.
I felt trapped by my own thoughts and more dependent on someone than I had been in years. But I realized I was searching for something big, a life-changing moment. The hope for a sudden epiphany of my place in this world. Caught between a rip tide of anxiety and hope for a miracle I had completely forgotten to look up, to look at the people around me. To smell the streets that were filled with food stalls. To smile at strangers that I brushed past. To greet locals and appreciate their handmade art. To acknowledge that I am on the backpacking trip I have wanted to do for 8 years.
I sat down with a pen and paper and wrote down the things that are currently in my control.
And so that's where I began. Taking the smallest steps, I started each day soft, slow, and with my full attention on regulating my nervous system.
For me, that involved 5 minutes of stillness, another 15 of movement, and my honest feelings written down in my diary. On the travel days when this wasn't an option, all I could do was give myself space.
I wish this is the part where I give you the 10 best tips to conquer anxiety while traveling but I'm sitting here with empty hands and a racing heartbeat. I know my future self will be thanking me one day but right now it's just one day at a time.
As always, thank you for being here, your support means the world to me! 🌻
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I am NOT a qualified health professional, just a girl battling her mental health one day at a time. If you resonate with the words I speak, please remember you are not alone and my inbox is always open. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a medical professional. You are loved and so fucking appreciated, trust me.