Photo Credit: Yewande Akinrodoye
Overcoming Anxiety And Panic Attacks To Enjoy Solo Travel
Earlier this year, Nigerian-American Yewande Akinrodoye traveled solo for the very first time. Though the 28-year-old DMV-based tech analyst had already visited twenty different countries, she had not yet ventured out to travel alone.
As the owner of a travel business that curates trips for other travelers, it is important for Wande to travel frequently to remain knowledgeable about the destinations she recommends to her clients. Since she works remotely, she enjoys the flexibility to travel anywhere and still be able to work. But this is not the case for all of her friends.
“So, one day I decided to just try solo travel and see what happens!” says Wande. “I see so many people talk about how amazing solo travel is and how it allows you to get to know yourself better, so I was like why not?”
One of her first solo trips was to Thailand and Singapore. Destinations that had been on her bucket list for a very long time, she looked forward to finally having the chance to experience the culture and authenticity of Southeast Asia. She booked her accommodations, planned her activities, and purchased new outfits, all the while full of excitement.
“But then, two days before my trip, I woke up having severe panic attacks. So many questions were running through my mind: Are you really about to travel solo to two different countries and five cities for one month? Are you sure you will have fun by yourself? How will it be traveling from island to island by yourself with no help? Are you going to miss out on all the activities at home with your friends?“
Her panic attacks usually consist of a racing heart, chest pains, shortness of breath or tightness in her throat, and sometimes chills. Having experienced panic attacks in the past during very important moments of her life, Wande was aware of the signs and knew that what she was experiencing was due to anxiety and fear.
With so many things that could possibly go wrong, Wande was worried about her safety being in a foreign country alone as a woman; she was afraid of being raped, kidnapped, or having her things stolen, among other things.
I started thinking, maybe I shouldn’t do this. I can just wait till my sister or one of my friends wants to travel with me. After that, I called my mom, who prayed for me and told me I would be fine.”
With the support of her loved ones, Wande decided to continue with her planned trip. She boarded her flight and the first stop was Singapore. She checked into her beautiful hotel and panic once again set in as she realized that not only was she alone, but that, with everyone she know 12 hours behind, communication will be difficult.
“At this point, the fact that I was alone on another continent really started to set in. I actually started crying and asking myself, what am I doing here? Why would I come on a trip alone? This is going to be a lonely four weeks.”
In order to reassure herself, Wande thought about her passion for travel and remembered why she had set off on the trip in the first place, which was to get to know a new culture and meet new people. Often referred to as a social butterfly by her friends, Wande enjoys meeting new people and making connections during her travels.
“Having said that, because I paid so much for this trip, I had to snap myself out of those tears pretty quickly. I asked myself, what is the reason for my tears? What am I doing crying in a beautiful country, at an amazing hotel with an infinity pool? Because I feel alone? In a hotel where there are people everywhere, how can I not interact with them? And there are so many fun activities I have planned out. At that moment, I forgot about the feeling of loneliness and got back to business. Sometimes you really just have to remind yourself of everything going on in your surroundings.”
Wande found that getting out and meeting others helped eliminate her fears and feelings of loneliness. Meeting other travelers who were traveling solo like her and participating in group activities was refreshing for her and helped remind her that she was not alone.
“Anxiety triggers vary from person to person. And for me in this situation, the sense of loneliness or feeling unsafe during my travels is where my anxiety was high. So just being surrounded by other travelers made me feel safe, and that sense of loneliness disappeared. Also, I was able to make so many friends on this trip and connect with people I wouldn’t have been able to connect with had I been on a group trip. I met friends in all the different islands I visited! I remember meeting a group of friends and one of the guys had traveled to all the states in America on a motorbike! You begin to learn more and see the world in another light, and at that point, you don’t even remember ever feeling anxious.”
Kind gestures from locals can go a long way in making visitors feel welcomed and that they’re part of the community. When Wande’s Grab driver dropped her off at the wrong place in Chiang Mai, Thailand, she felt lost and alone. However, a local stopped to help her, even walking her all the way to her destination.
“On our way there, I asked her about some Thai words that I had issues pronouncing and she helped me with them. This happened throughout my trip! The locals were so welcoming and it felt like home. You don’t even have to be social to engage with the locals, but you do have to try!”
Another memorable moment was when her Thai instructor taught her how to grind peppers using a mortar and pestle during a cooking class in Bangkok.
“She was so shocked when she saw me do it without breaks. As a Nigerian, I have used this at home before, so I was used to it. There was a sense of homeliness in that moment. There are a lot of similarities between cultures that you are unaware of.”
After such an enjoyable trip, Wande is glad she decided to work past her anxiety and venture across the world as a solo traveler. For others who may suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, Wande would like to share a technique that she finds useful.
“My therapist taught me one way to stay grounded was to think about these 5 things:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste”
“This has truly helped me, especially when I have shortness of breath or feel the world is closing in on me. Then, I always remember why I’m where I am. I travel because it usually brings me peace, so even if it’s a solo trip, I can do the same if I just get the solo part out of my mind.”
Wande also found it helpful to avoid her triggers as much as she could, which were being alone too much and having FOMO due to missing her family and friends. So, rather than being on social media, she concentrated on enjoying her trip. In times of anxiety, she exercised. In Phuket, she even took a Muay Thai class.
So, if you have been considering traveling solo but have stalled due to fear, Wande recommends that you take a leap of faith and go for it. Chances are, you’ll end up having a ball, meeting new people, and experiencing many new things.
“I found myself riding a jumping horse in Egypt. It was such an amazing time and I know when my mom saw the picture she probably started praying for my safety, lol. But really, go have fun and do things you wouldn’t normally do! Just remember the reason why you’re doing it. Make sure this is something you feel very strongly about as it will help ease your anxiety when you remember your ‘why’ behind it. If you are scared because of safety, remember nowhere is really, truly safe. You just have to be cautious everywhere you go.”
“It’s okay to be fearful of the unknown. As humans, we all have fears. Your fears will prove valuable on your trip. As a result, you become more aware of your surroundings, which helps you stay safe! And, remember you can’t fail at something until you try. There is no limit to what you can accomplish. Why? There have been others who have done this, and if they can do it, you can do it even better. This is my philosophy on everything! Furthermore, I will not recommend you stop reading travel blogs before you travel, but don’t take everything you read or see as gospel. Remember to take everything you read with a grain of salt.”
“Also, you can do the below things to help with safety issues:
- Share your location with at least one friend before you travel
- Stay in contact with your family and friends so they know where you’re at occasionally.
- Stay in a hotel with security than staying in an Airbnb.
- Purchase portable locks for your hotel doors for additional safety”
“And so much more! Start your solo travel locally before you fly out 10 hours away from home. If you live in the US, you can fly from Miami to Arizona for a weekend trip. Also, don’t start off with long holidays. Start with short solo travel weekends.”
“Then, I would recommend planning at least some portion of your trip out before you leave (i.e, finding activities to do, restaurants to eat at, and more). Make sure you have a flexible goal in mind. Don’t plan too much, because, in real life, you may not be able to do or see half of what you planned, which could cause you anxiety. But be flexible and plan some of your trip. This gets you excited about it and helps ease your anxiety.”
“Additionally, I wanted to discuss why solo travel might not be suitable for everyone. Prior to embarking on this solo travel journey, I researched so many travel bloggers to see how they approached it and what they experienced. The majority of blogs I read stressed the importance of getting to know oneself. Having read that, I decided when I take my first solo trip, I ought to have my books ready, book a spa treatment, and isolate myself on this journey of self-discovery.”
“However, solo travel is all about experiencing everything to the fullest. Putting yourself out there is what it’s all about. Traveling and isolating yourself is something you can do in your hometown, so why travel? You have to be willing to interact with the locals. Being open to new experiences and trying new things in a new country is essential. It’s all about expanding your community as you interact with others. Not saying you shouldn’t have a moment to yourself during your travels! Please read that book or get that massage, but make sure you’re also putting yourself out there as much as you can!”