To travel alone as a solo female can be liberating, exciting and full of discovery, but it can also be very nerve racking. I know, because I do it. For Caitlin Foreman the author of the blog Anxiety and Wanderlust, there is the additional challenge of managing the potential, overwhelming and at times paralysing emotions that can come with anxiety. This does not stop Caitlin however. Having left Canada originally in April 2012 on her first trip, Caitlin is currently in the throws of planning the next adventure to add to the list of many 4 years on.
1. You talk in your blog about travel being the thing you desire and fear the most. Tell me what is it about travel for you, that makes you fearful?
I wouldn't necessarily say fear; travel makes me incredibly anxious. I'll get scared before I travel that my anxiety will be[come] overwhelming. I have had my anxiety get so out of control that I have had to come home a week into [a] trip, that was supposed to be three months. The thought of feeling that way again is terrifying because I felt completely out of control.
2. Do you know what creates this anxiety?
It is difficult to answer. I suffer from anxiety at home but [it] has been its worse while travelling. I have separation anxiety which goes back to my childhood. I couldn't even spend the night away from home without my parent until high school, but that is a story for a different time. I am still trying to understand where this anxiety comes from about leaving home and why it persists still despite having spent months at a time away.
On a side note, I always miss my cat. I skype with her, but it's just not the same!
When it comes to anxiety it's about over thinking. The thought process might [start with] "What if something happens to someone while I am away?" or " What if something happens to me in a country?" It's the worst case scenarios and I might not be fully conscious of the thoughts that are causing the anxiety. All I know is that I am anxious. Let's be honest, a lot can happen when travelling and if you are someone who deals with anxiety you have thought of every possible bad scenario.
3. What in reality has been your worst experience whilst on the road?
Earlier this year I was working in Tanzania. One morning my roommates and I were to take a dala dala (a small bus). They are not my favourite: they get crowded and sweaty plus I always have to be extra aware of all of my belongings. However, it is the cheapest way to get around.
This morning it was so full so we had to stand. This man stood incredibly close to me which was uncomfortable, strangers touching me makes me anxious. The longer this went [on] the higher my anxiety was. I kept trying to back away but he continued to be right on top of me.
Finally, some people got off the dala dala. This man gestured for me to sit so I did. He put one hand on the seat in front of me and the other on my seat so he faced me. He moved his hand onto my shoulder as he was grinding his crotch into my arm. I was horrified. I tried making eye contact with my friends as I leaned away from him and into the man beside me. I felt completely helpless. I didn't want to be the white girl on the bus who made a scene and to be honest, I didn't think anyone would help me if I did.
I was near[ing] tears when I told my friend I needed to get off. They had no idea what was going on until I explained it to them at the ferry terminal as I tried not to cry. I felt so violated. It was awful. I never wanted to take a dala dala again.
But I did get back on a dala dala after that, many times.
4. How have you overcome your anxiety in these kinds of situations?
I'm not going to lie, I still struggle with anxiety when I travel as well as at home. For me, it's not how I have moved past my anxiety but how I am living with it. It's still a trial and error process for me. I try new coping strategies to see what works for me and what doesn't.
Awareness is key and most of the time it's just trying to ride out the anxiety. I'm aware of certain triggers or when my anxiety will be at it's worst. For example, the first few days of any trip are usually the worst including on the airplane. For my last trip I took an anti-anxiety pill before take-off on every plane and it helped. I also accept that it may take a few days to overcome my anxiety. I might only get out to one place on my first day or two and as I adjust to being in some place new. The sooner I can talk myself into going out and learning about my new surroundings, the quicker my anxiety goes away.
The other huge thing is making friends. Hostels were my best friend travelling through Europe. I found having people just to have conversations with or to go out with eliminates my anxiety. I have met so many amazing people through my travels who probably don't even realise how much they have helped me.
5. Do you have any advice for people who suffer from anxiety and want to travel or people that are on the road at the moment and are struggling with anxiety currently?
If you suffer from any mental illness seek help. I always viewed it as a weakness; I could do it all myself. I was wrong. I believe that it takes great courage to seek help. It was incredibly difficult for me to admit I needed treatment. I was embarrassed. It takes a while to overcome the negative feelings associated with mental health issues. I am still working on it despite having an entire blog dedicated to talking about [it]. I recommend therapy to anyone.
I [also] recommend researching meditation and mindfulness exercises. A therapist or support group can teach you different exercises and practices. Meditation can help calm your anxiety. I have done mindfulness exercises in the doctor's office, on planes, or anywhere that I feel anxious. It is all about getting yourself to focus on the moment or being mindful of what you are doing which prevents anxious thoughts.
It's essential to have your own positive thoughts to repeat to yourself. For example, I remind myself that I have been anxious before but it goes away or in this moment I am fine just breathe.
Anxiety doesn't have to stop you from travelling, there are ways to get it under control and live with it. It takes time, patience, and some help. As importantly it's okay if your anxiety keeps you from travelling. I felt so much shame when I had to come home early from a trip, I didn't want to tell anyone. I had friends who travel solo without worries. I wanted to be like that. It's still difficult to acknowledge that I was not built that way. I am anxious when I travel, I may cry, make myself sick, or want to go home at times. That's okay. It's part of my experience. Don't compare yourself to others. Find the balance between pushing yourself and accepting yourself. If you never travel solo that's cool. If you never leave the country that's cool too. Just do what makes you happy!
Read more on Caitlins adventures at Anxiety and Wanderlust
Ask Catlin questions at caitlinmforeman
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