I’ve been a worrier from a young age: ‘an anxious personality’ as someone once described me. As it turns out, there were several issues just waiting to be diagnosed behind that ‘anxious personality’.
In the last few years, I’ve decided that I quite like travelling. The day, nay, the moment that I decided to go on a trip on my own, I was sat on a bus breathing very fast and crying. If someone had asked me what was wrong, I doubt I would have been able to answer them and if I had, I would have probably just screamed “I’M ON A BUS!!!!!!” Last week, I actually wrote a little on what it’s like for me on public transport.
Plenty of people in my life know how I struggle when I’m travelling around Sydney, so I often – very reasonably – get asked how on earth I manage when I’m abroad, so I thought I’d share a few things with you. Some might be obvious, some are things specific to me but I hope someone somewhere finds them helpful or at the very least, you learn something about me.
I travel alone. Nothing makes me more stressed than not knowing what’s going on and not being in control. I’ve travelled with other people on shorter trips before and it’s worked out okay, but I often feel like I’m at their mercy (if I’ve travelled with you before, this is nothing against you, it’s all my own problem, trust me). By travelling alone, I get to dictate where I go, what I do and when I do it. Being alone does bring its own set of problems, especially because you need to be hyper-vigilant all the time and you cannot drop the ball, because there’s no one there to pick it back up. Overall, however, I find being alone much easier to manage than being with others.
I plan everything. You cannot begin to understand how much I plan. The night before I go exploring a city, I have a timetable. Exactly when I will go somewhere, how I will get there, how long I will spend there, how long I can reasonably go over time and what I will cut out of my day to make up for that time. If I need to catch a bus, I do my research meticulously. I will know if the drivers accept notes or coins, how much it is and whether they’re able to give change. I know the layout of every plane I go on so I don’t hold anyone up looking for my seat and I know where the exits are before I even board. I realise this makes it sounds like a job more than a holiday, but if I don’t know the details, my brain collapses.
I walk … a LOT. Most cities have got the public transport thing down-pat, but I still walk everywhere. As I’ve talked about previously, I find it difficult to cope on public transport, so I manage the fear and anxiety by simply avoiding it when I can. Unsure if this is a healthy decision but it’s been working for me! I walk a ridiculous amount and I have to say, I don’t mind it, even if I am exhausted by the end of the day. I see a lot more of the city this way and find my way around easier the more I walk. When I get to a new city in the afternoon, I check into my hotel and then head out to find some kind of landmark, a grocery store, a restaurant or even just an ATM. I wander around a little and get my bearings. It means that when I go out the next day, I’m not walking out into a city I know nothing about. I’ve found this really, really helpful.
I don’t go out after dark. This does depend on whether I have made friends where I’m staying and how close my hostel/hotel is to the city centre. If it’s close, I may venture out to see the city lights but I never go far. If I have made friends, I’ll go out for dinner or maybe to a pub but I always make sure I know how to get back to wherever I’m staying and that I don’t get dragged into going OUT. I don’t enjoy doing that at home and the idea of having alcohol in my system in a strange place freaks me out. Of course, I am missing out on an aspect of travelling – I know this, I am fine with it. I feel much better knowing I’m in control of the situation.
I have a good cry. Guess what – travelling is hard work! Especially when you have so much to remember all by yourself all the time. When things aren’t going quite to plan and all your friends and family are thousands of kilometres away, you can start to feel very small in the big, big world. When you have no one to vent to, things can overwhelm you very quickly but you also have no one to pretend to. I found, especially this time ‘round, that being honest with myself was so much easier than pretending I had it all covered. Consequently, I cried a lot.
I often feel guilty that I’m not as carefree as other travellers, but there really shouldn’t be a blueprint for the way we travel – you do what works for you! As long as you’re having fun and seeing the world, who cares how you do it?
If you’re a bit like me, what do you do to help yourself stay calm when you’re out exploring new cities?