Take a seat, take a breath, and loosen your collar if you must. Things might get a bit uncomfortable. I’m going to explore something that I myself struggle with as a solo traveller and it isn’t pretty. I’m talking about social anxiety.
There is no shame in this. So stop beating yourself up, emotions are good. It is okay to feel. And feeling out of place in an unknown space is not at all taboo. As an avid traveller, I have come across many fellow solo travellers. Particularly during my time in Australia, backpacking and hitching rides all around the country. And upon getting to know these people, this topic has arisen countless times. Not just social anxiety, but loneliness and all of the ugly accessories that accompany it. We all have felt this way to some degree. Although some wrestle with these issues and reservations much more intensely than others; none of us are alone in the fact that we share the same mind set. No matter how isolated you may feel you are surrounded by like-minded people feeling the same things. The only difference here is that those who are more experienced with solo travel have learned to channel these emotions and overcome them, just like you will.
I’m going to take you through the motions. You’ll start to realize that I’m just strumming your pain with my fingers. As if I’ve plucked the thoughts from your subconscious and splattered them onto paper. We’re kindred spirits you and I. You, myself, and countless solo travellers who’ve taken on this glorious challenge of taking on the world on our own and found ourselves faltering. No one wants to talk about it, because we’re afraid that we’ll be judged for not embracing this incredible experience. But remember that many people, including locals in the area that you’re visiting have chosen not to partake on these expeditions in fear that they may encounter these same dramas.
It’s a bit of a contradiction, isn’t it? You’ve thrusted yourself out into the vast world to open yourself up to new experiences and people. But then you found yourself falling back into those old, familiar bad habits and shrink down inside of your torturous subconscious. Where everything you say is wrong, and nothing feels quite right. Sound familiar? Do not fret; you’re already doing better than you think.
You’ve taken the plunge and bought that ticket. You’ve chosen to follow your dreams despite the confines of society and expectations. You got yourself on that plane or train, taken the ride to your destination. And now you’re here (wherever that is). You’re well on the path to self- healing and self-discovery. That is the whole point of traveling after all (okay, maybe not the whole point, but a decent chunk anyway.) You’re about to discover new places, new cultures, new philosophies of life through the eyes of those who are so different from you, stepping outside of yourself, to discover another side of you. To “become” someone “new”. But there are those parts of yourself that you can’t escape.
For a time, your anxieties had been displaced. They were lost in the streets, the bustle of a new city, the shock of a new culture. It’s all been so electrifying, shaking you to your core. It’s woken you up showing you the best side of yourself. You’ve started to acclimate to your new surroundings, and everything just clicks. This is the reason that you are alive. Overcome with ambition, you know that the world is completely within your reach. And this is it. This is life, and it’s happening right now. These are the moments that validate your purpose. But underlying all of this magnificence you have those deep, dark impulses that you’ve managed to ignore while the glimmer of a new environment had taken hold.
At some point, you’re going to be alone. Perhaps you’ve moved into a new hostel, leaving your recently acquired travel family behind. Maybe you’ve moved into a new flat, stepping outside of the backpacker circuit. Whatever the reason, you find yourself on your own. You’re going to have to face yourself. This time you don’t have the day to day distractions and obligations like your job, family, and lifelong friends. You’ll question every choice you’ve ever made that led you to this point. You’ll be left defenceless, with no shield from the inner workings of your mind. Fierce and unpredictable like merciless ocean, it crashes down, washes over you, threatening to swallow you whole. Let’s face it; anyone who suffers from some sort of depression or anxiety is accustomed to going through these waves more commonly known as the “motions.” A new city, new group of friends, new language, whatever it may be will eventually lose its shiny captivation, and the darkness will creep in.
Suddenly you’re not feeling so outgoing. Group activities make you feel uncomfortable; among a group of wandering souls and misfits you somehow still manage to feel like the odd man out. The reality of this is beyond comprehension. You are among your people. How have you managed to alienate yourself among a crowd who for once, is so like you? You’re surrounded by people who ”get it” and yet, you still feel so estranged. Your flourishing optimism has started to fade away. That nagging, familiar anxiety has taken hold. You start avoiding eye contact, declining invitations, making a recluse of yourself; this isn’t what you wanted. But then again, is it?
You find comfort in the hole that you’ve created for yourself. Nestle in, make yourself comfortable. You might be here for a while. Eventually it will all blow over. A breeze of change has swept in. You’ll sprout from the captive stronghold that you’ve built, like a dormant annual. Blossoming, flourishing, reaching for the sun. The skies the limit. Stretch out your cramped limbs and ambitions.
Now you’re ready to go to that bar you’ve been wanting to check out. Maybe even go alone; mingling with the locals, you social butterfly you. Now, you’ll take that guy (or girl) up on that date you’ve been avoiding. Perhaps you’ll even approach someone you’ve had your eye on, captivating them with your charming wit. Why not? You’ve got nothing to lose. Revel in these moments. You’re reminded once again, this is why I’m alive. These experiences validate your purpose. You live to drink in the euphoria of life. Now you’re overwhelmed by your senses. The sun tickles your face and warms your vibrant soul. The air smells extra sweet. The smiles of strangers who pass you by are contagious, and you kept help but share in their joy. Embrace it. This moment, this life is yours. You are in control, and you can take your life in any direction that you wish.
Perhaps it’s true, these moments are only fleeting. This euphoric sense of independence and confidence will not last. Eventually you may begin to feel yourself wither once again. But that too is fleeting. Life is a series of glorifying moments and drastic downs, and when you feel that you’re at your lowest, your roots are gaining foundation and you’re already on your way back up. All you need is a little downtime, self- assurance and a bit of nurturing. Just give yourself the time you need, and surely enough, you will grow.
More by this author on her very excellent food-related Vegan blog, vegobond.