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How Anxiety Helps Me Travel

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brooke with big leavesIt’s not easy being a nervous person.

I worry about the most mundane parts of my life, like answering the phone when I don’t know the number on the caller ID. Sometimes I worry just about meeting up with a group of new people. I’ve struggled with these small, minor details for as long as I can remember. Most of the time, I would say my nerves have been manageable, but there have been the times where I have too much stress to subdue and I wake up in the middle of the night in full-blown panic attacks.

The doctor’s diagnosis of “generalized anxiety disorder” a few years ago came sort of as a relief and not a shock.

Finally, my fears of being put on the spot, dining awkwardly alone and riding on a new bus line were justified. Cool.

And yet, a person like myself has managed to travel solo, often to crazy parts of the world. Seems a bit unnatural, doesn’t it?

Ever since I first mentioned on my blog about my anxiety and depression issues in the past, I’ve received a fair few emails from readers who also suffer from these issues — especially the anxiety. One email I recently received talked about one man’s goal to fly despite intense anxiety and fear.

His motivation: to meet up with someone he really likes.

This example proves that people will do something scary or unbelievable when the motivation is strong enough.

brooke with a rental car in the gold coast

Brooke with a rental car in the Gold Coast

For me, I set off to travel solo despite my own personal fears and overall desire to not have to do it alone.

My motivation: the idea that if I don’t do it now, I might not have the chance in the future.

It’s funny. My anxiety, the main factor that makes me all nervous and insecure about travel in the first place, is the same factor that forces me to get my butt out there on the road.

It is for this reason that I know if I can travel the world, you can, too.

Anxiety towards travel affects me in many ways, but I’m lucky that this worry about missing opportunities while I’m alive pushes me to get past it. I’ve mentioned before that my anxiety is also a reason why I tend to be very spontaneous with my travel plans because if I think too much about it, I may psyche myself out. Instead, I’d rather just book a ticket immediately and not plan too much than let my mind wander and race and worry.

Over the coming weeks, I plan to touch more on the different areas of travel anxiety. Those may include:

Be sure to follow along by subscribing to my feed, Facebook or Twitter.

While we’re at it, why not mention something you have fear or anxiety towards and your motivation for overcoming it.

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27 Responses to How Anxiety Helps Me Travel

  1. Bernardus January 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Thanks for encouraging me. I’m planning to visit Finland (from Venezuela) in a couple of months, and I’m anxious like an old lady crossing the street. There’s so much that can fail! It’d be a crucial trip for my life and if everything works I could have to do it again, but I’m spending all I have in this first trip.

    …But you’re right, this might be my only shot, and that’s enough reason.

    Thanks.

    • Brooke January 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      Glad this could be inspirational for you. Good luck — you’ll be fine! 😀

  2. Bernardus January 30, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    By the way… do you have any recommendations about scheduling several flights in a row? I’ve never travelled abroad before.

    • Brooke January 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      It depends on what you’re looking for. Are you looking for round-the-world flights? Are you looking for a multi-stop flight?

  3. Andrew January 31, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    Travel has actually helped me get over my anxiety. I was very fearful living the US, driving every day and living alone. Moving to Germany with no friends or job was not anxiety provoking to me, even though just about everything was at home. I still refused to fly for 10 years going back and forth to Europe on the boat 3 times. Trains the length and breadth of the continent.
    I just started flying a year and a half ago. Since then I have done a number of shorter flights, plus trans Atlantic to get married. I just got back form New Zealand which was 22 hours in the air either direction. .Despite all of this I am still frightened to one extent or another of flying.

    Life still gets to me and my panic, although much less in Europe, is still there. At times of low sleep and high stress it comes back. For whatever reason, the stress of travel where I feel like i can do something about the stress (find another train, eat somewhere else, leave town for another) does not force me into panic mode as much as normal life stresses.

    My list of things that frightens me is pretty long, but still not as long as it once was. And the desire to see the places that one must travel to see and experience are a stronger desire than the fear. This seems to be a way of dealing with fear. Find something to drive you that is stronger than the fear.

    • Brooke January 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      Interesting insight. I do agree that there is far less anxiety for myself when I’m out traveling — in the panic sense. I still get nervous when doing certain tasks, but it is more manageable.

      And kudos to you on overcoming such a powerful fear of flying! I might have to pick your brain for a later article.

  4. Rebecca January 31, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    I would never guess that you have anxiety about travel. You are always so confident in doing what you want to do:-).
    And I am totally the same way in my motivation too. It’s now or never!

    • Brooke January 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      I guess it’s because I know what I want to do regardless of the scary thoughts 😉 Like when I used to play in a rock band — I was sooooooooo scared but had to make myself do it to live the dream ahhh. You never really tell people how worried you are when you’re doing it.

      Carpe diem, eh?

  5. Megan January 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I have similar anxiety issues. I find that it helps like you said to buy the plane ticket but not plan too much. I recently went solo in Europe for the first time and i was really impressed with myself by the end of the trip and i came back to the US very relaxed.

    I’m glad your writing a series on this subject. It should be very interesting!

    • Brooke February 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

      Thanks, Megan. I figure a lot of people have some sort of anxiety that keeps them from traveling, so I wanted to highlight some of these issues. I, too, feel that traveling has relaxed me.

  6. Jane January 31, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    I’m really glad you wrote this Brooke! I think a lot of subjects like this are taboo, so it’s always nice to hear first hand, postive accounts that make it seem very normal… which of course it is! 🙂

    I definitely have a little anxiety. I’m petrified of flying, but have had to just force myself onto planes of late because I just won’t give up travel. I also have that anxiety of needing to see as much of the world before I run out of time! It definitely helps sometimes, but it can be hard not to let it infiltrate into other parts of my life where it isn’t so helpful.

    Anyway, just wanted to say what a great post!

    • Brooke February 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Jane! I also think anxiety is quite normal, but it is also something that keeps many people from traveling so worthy of being highlighted. See, I would never have known you were scared of flying if you hadn’t just told me — and I think that truth is very motivational for others on the fence. Cheers!

  7. Amanda January 31, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    Nice words of encouragement, Brooke! And it’s great that you’re actually able to look at your anxiety as sort of a positive motivator for your travels.

    As for my anxieties? I share a lot of yours, actually. Meeting new people, making friends, navigating a transportation system I don’t know… The thing that I think causes me the most anxiety is getting lost while driving. I don’t deal well with that.

    • Brooke February 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Cheers for the feedback 🙂 I think my bf might have that getting lost while driving anxiety, too. I always tell him we can turn around or ask for directions if needed, but he must always have the GPS or freak out a little bit behind the wheel.

      It just shows that we all have things we worry about 😉

  8. Kieu ~ GQ trippin February 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    I joke that I’m a bit of a neurotic, obsessive compulsive planner but in actuality, it’s true. I hate not having a plan. More like.. I panic not having a plan. Makes me nervous and anxious at the same time. Funny now that Gerard and I started our round-the-world, it’s not as bad as it use to be. I’m taking baby steps and some days, enjoy the idea of not knowing what we’re going to do next or where we’re going to be. Great post and thanks for sharing! ps- We’re in Sydney!!! 😉

    • Brooke February 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      Oh, Q, you probably just experienced the worst Sydney weather! When are you guys leaving? I’ve been SWAMPED this week.

  9. Jennifer February 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Great article, Brooke! I wrote an article similar to yours on my blog. It’s called “The Art of Traveling with Agoraphobia” Check it out: http://importedchocolate.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/the-art-of-traveling-with-agoraphobia/

  10. Scott April 11, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    I too am a highly stressed/anxious person and I can talk myself right out of doing anything. Despite my anxiety over almost everything, I have managed to travel much of the world solo! I think part of it is just the knowledge of doing something so adventurous that I know I will never regret. Just as you said, I always book flights on a whim! I’m so worried that I will talk myself out of traveling that I just book a flight before doing any real planning! And then counting down the days begins, along with the pre-travel anxiety!

  11. Kim Perez August 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Great article, thanks for sharing! I have OCD and love to travel, and find them an odd combination at times. I would agree with Andrew’s statement about travel helping the anxiety — every time I face something stressful and get through it successfully it reduces anxiety overall, at least for a time. Love your blog!

  12. talic February 5, 2015 at 5:12 am #

    reading this just gave me so much relief. this is my third day in barcelona, while ive done the meetups, met some great people already, and i adore my airbnb host, I am plagued with this worry and anxiety in the mornings and before bed. Im trying now not to personalize the anxiety as a flaw, but as a normal part of the process it looks like everyone goes through. trying to resist the urge to shorten the trip and just breathe….

  13. jenna March 27, 2015 at 6:20 pm #

    Dear Brooke
    I love to travel but when I know I am travelling, I get that sinking feeling and that makes me difficult to eat. But once I m at the airport, I am fine. I get that anxiety feeling until I go. Is it normal? I have no social problems. Is it home sickness? Please help as this takes the fun in my life. Thanks

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