Over the last five years I have travelled to ten different European countries. I have visited bustling capital cities and quaint hidden towns. I have seen stunning natural wonders and craned by neck up at architectural masterpieces. I have mispronounced exotic new words in unfamiliar languages. I have eaten pizza over-looking Pompeii, pastries walking beside the Danube, and a hot chocolate the size of my head in a timber-framed house in Bruges. I have done all of these things mostly alone – that is, without the company of family or friends.
Wasn’t I scared to experience these things alone? Yes, absolutely.
For many of my generation, travel begins in your teens with family holidays and cheap package deals with friends – less travelling, more getting sunburnt and blind drunk on cheap alcohol. My early adult years were focused on studying and a lack of self-esteem, so I was 25 by the time I went on my first holiday to Italy. It was an unforgettable experience in every way, and confirmed what I’d heard and dreamt about travelling – it really can make you happier, calmer, and more confident.
I knew then that, despite my lingering anxieties, I had to keep going.
So off I went, most frequently travelling with an organised tour group for the security. While every new booking filled me with excitement and anticipation, there was in equal amounts a sense of fear and frustration. Self-doubt would creep in warning me I’d get lost, or lonely; I’d be ill, or even bored. This past year saw such thoughts escalate to the point where I decided I would never travel again. However, a few weeks ago I explored Paris for the first time on my own – ‘you cannot find peace by avoiding life’.
Here are some practical tips I’ve learnt from being a timid traveller.
1. Plan ahead.
Most of our worries are organisational, so plan before you go – buy travel insurance; double-check your documents; take extra cash in a separate bag; always carry identification; never leave your bag open; pack medication, plasters and suncream (regardless of the time of year); buy bottled water and snacks whenever you get the chance, and don’t pack more than one book – you’ll be too busy.
2. Start small.
You don’t need to do a six month backpacking trip in a tropical rainforest to be a traveller. Think about what you’d like to experience then find places to suit, so you’ll have plenty to do to distract yourself from your worries. Cities out of season are ideal as they’re used to tourists, they have plenty of attractions to visit, and there are always people around willing to help.
3. Find friends.
One of the greatest things I’ve experienced as a solo traveller is meeting other people. Being on your own makes you a magnet for friendly advice and companions, and you’ll feel far less nervous once you’ve started chatting with a new friend. Group tours are ideal for this, but even just sitting next to someone on the bus, in a cafe or queueing for a museum can be a great place to start. Don’t be shy – just say hi!
4. Keep going.
Having a bad experience can magnify our concerns about future travels. In some cases, as I’ve experienced, successful trips can also make us worry that next time we’ll get lost/robbed/ill. Don’t let the fear of what might happen stop you exploring – push aside the anxiety and book that next trip; the more places you go, the more you experience, and the more cherished memories you make, the more you’ll keep going.
5. Stay positive.
We can be so focused on the potentially transformative power of travel that we forget to treat it just the same as any other life experience. Like getting a mortgage, going for a job interview or falling in love, there are always going to be concerns that rub up against the potential happiness – but you find a way to get through them, just as you will when you’re travelling.
So if you’re thinking about going on a trip but feeling nervous; please, just book it. If you don’t go then you’ll never know what life-changing adventures might be waiting for you.