Traveling with anxiety is a big, messy balancing act. Deeper than a fear of flying, my chronic anxiety manifests itself through excessive, non-specific worry about every day things (translation: sometimes my brain is triggered, often by nothing in particular, and I start to get really nervous or just have a good old fashioned panic attack). Despite mental illness, my story is a happy one because in the end, love wins.
My anxiety used to tell me I would never be an adventurer. It told me I wasn’t good at talking to people, I don’t have enough money, and that growing up in a small town doomed my chances of surviving in a big city. Unfortunately I believed it, yet at the same time I was desperate to travel the world. The moment I looked at my world atlas and realized how many countries there are, it made me sad that I would never see them all for myself. Sometimes at night, on the huge rocks that towered over my tiny island town, I would squint my eyes and pretend it was Seattle across the water and not just an oil refinery.
If I wanted to travel so much, why was my brain telling me I couldn’t? I still don’t know why my anxiety told me I wasn’t good enough to walk the Great Wall of China, road trip across the US, or backpack through Europe, but I do know it’s wrong.
From Fearful to Fearless
Anxiety instilled fear in me: fear of financial problems, fear of life-threatening illness, fear of being alone, even fear of pooping in a public bathroom. I said no to every day adventures because I was scared. It made me believe I would never be an adventurer, no matter how badly I wanted it.
When I finally started ignoring the negativity that filled my brain, I inadvertently launched a beautiful domino effect that has changed the course of my life. It started when I chose a college out of state. My sophomore year I spent spring break volunteering in New Orleans – it was the furthest I had ever been from home. My junior year I took off for a study abroad program in Ireland – my first time abroad. I backpacked through Scotland, Amsterdam and Prague. I fell in love in Las Vegas. I lived in China for a year, stood in front of Angkor Wat at sunrise, solo hiked in Hong Kong, and got a bamboo tattoo on the dirty floor of a bar in Thailand.
Every new flight, bus, and train ride pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I kept forcing myself to say yes to travel opportunities. It’s been 7 years since I told my anxiety it’s a lying SOB, and since then I’ve traveled to 14 new US states and 11 new countries.
Still An Anxious Traveler
My anxiety still lives with me every day – in fact it rode alongside me on every one of those flights and bus rides. Traveling with anxiety makes adventuring harder for me than for my husband. I get nervous in cabs. I over-think how much time I need to catch a flight and end up at the airport hours before I need to. When I get lost I have to spend more time calming myself down than figuring out where to go. My first night in Ireland was spent sobbing on an expensive phone call to my mom. I cried myself to sleep every night for almost a week when I first got to China. The amazing thing is, I would do it all over again. I feel sad for all the times that I said no to adventures, and I laugh when I think of how I wanted to leave Ireland as soon as I arrived. The experiences I’ve had on my travels make me feel more alive than most things in this world.
Why Travel Is Worth Anxiety
This may sound crazy, but I swear it’s true: the further I push myself out of my comfort zone, the bigger my comfort zone gets. I used to be scared of talking to people. Now I’m just happy they speak English. I used to be scared of pooping in a public bathroom. Not after experiencing Chinese public toilets! My fears will only hold me back from traveling if I let them. All any of us have to do in order to travel is want it enough – everything else will fall into place. When I see a travel opportunity I take it, because my anxiety is wrong – I am an adventurer.
My Advice To You
So you suffer from anxiety and you want to travel. First of all, you are not alone! I’m a fairly new vlogger, but this topic strikes a chord in a lot of people, and at least a dozen subscribers have reached out to me with stories like mine. My advice to you is to start with a single decision that excites you, but forces you out of your comfort zone (that’s that voice inside your head saying you’re not good enough to have what you want). Go see a movie by yourself. Grab a friend and go on a stay-cation in a neighbouring town you wish you lived in. Find the nearest trail on Google Maps and go hike it, like right now. Start making decisions because of what you love, not what you fear, and I promise you won’t regret it.