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Anxiety is a menace that plagues many twenty-somethings. So is the travel bug. So what’s a girl to do when she’s got both? One doesn’t cancel out the other, as our guest blogger Gabi shares with us today! In fact, traveling with anxiety can be a really incredible adventure full of growth. If you do it right!
Gabi is a third year Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s a biostatistics major with a minor in computer science, and she blogs with Medium. But somehow, she has found time to travel! Her blog posts are chock full of tips to help millennials travel more comfortably. And today, she’s visited Uninspired to talk about how to scratch that travel itch, even when you’re anxious by nature.
I thought this would be an awesome post for the Mental Health Monday series because it hits on a lot of salient points for you, my millennial readers. Many of us have a desire to see the world and grow as people by seeing other cultures. However, a lot of us also have crippling anxiety that makes us afraid to make phone calls, never mind leave the country.
Gabi’s tips for traveling with anxiety will help you plan ahead so you have as little to worry about as possible. They’ll allow you to enjoy your trip and not spend the whole time worrying about how to handle the different customs, if your flights get delayed, or how to find food you’re familiar with. (That can be particularly helpful if you’re allergic to something!)
Top 10 Tips for Millennials Traveling with Anxiety
10. Explore to see if the place you are traveling to has different bathroom-centric customs, showers, or toilets.
People do not often know about the bathroom differences when traveling. So if bathroom hygiene is a major concern for you, make sure to do your research. One difference I have encountered is that you don’t flush toilet paper in China. Another is that many Irish showers don’t use knobs to turn on the water, and most places outside of North America and Europe has what I call the ‘squatty potty.’ If you’re traveling with anxiety, knowing this ahead of time can save you a lot of stress.
9. If you are traveling for longer than a week, buy a SIM card.
If you are traveling with anxiety and you’re solo, or with a small group of friends, it is important to be aware of where you want to go and how to get there. The easiest way to make sure this goes smoothly is to have a SIM card. This allows you to have data wherever you are.
Honestly, this will help you feel reassured because you can use map apps. It is way safer than being lost on the side of the street! Nowadays, many people rely on finding Wi-Fi, but that’s not always reliable. If you have an unlocked phone, you can easily slide out your old SIM card and put in a new one. If it’s locked, buy a cheap phone or bring one from home.
8. Check out the mobile applications in the new country before you arrive.
Often people forget that outside of the United States people have different mobile apps. For example there are other taxi apps besides Uber and Lyft. In Ireland, many people use Hail-O. In China, many people use something called Didi. It’s important to be aware of this so you are not caught without a ride. People also use different communication applications. In Israel, people mainly use WhatsApp, in China it’s WeChat, just to name a few examples. The easiest way to check this out if you’re traveling with anxiety, is to do a little research and ask if you have friends who have been there before.
7. If it is your first time traveling by yourself, have a plan and a backup plan.
Traveling for the first time for anyone is scary, let alone when someone lives with anxiety. So, if you are traveling by yourself for the first time, I recommend having a plan. Meaning, if you have a connecting flight, see if you can find a contact in that city in case your flight is cancelled.
Honestly, this is a good idea to do even if it is not your first time flying. But having a plan for that first time helps keep nerves down. I had long days of travel my first time flying, and I think I could have avoided a lot of worry if I’d done this. At least now I know the Chicago airport like the back of my hand since I was stuck there for so long!
6. Check out which of your must-have foods might not be available.
This can be done through some research. It’s definitely worth taking the time to do. If you find that you don’t know any foods in the new place, you are going to need to pack ahead. Or, you can find out where the western food stores are.
There are a handful of foods I typically check for. If I find I can’t find a certain food, I ask myself why I like to eat it, and if there’s a replacement. For China, I could not find almond milk, but using some skim milk wouldn’t hurt. Important to note, China has a lot of soy milk, so do not worry if you cannot drink dairy, there are options!
5. Check out where the expat communities are wherever you are traveling.
I am a big advocate for learning about the culture of wherever you are traveling to. However, there is something comforting about seeing your usual snacks and drinks for the first time in months. This is true for most people, not just if you’re traveling with anxiety. So, if you are gong to be living abroad for a long period of time and want to know where your ethnicity’s markets and restaurants are located, I would recommend finding the expat community from your country.
4. Do not handle home-sickness with food.
During my travel experiences, I have seen many people go to American style or their specific home-country’s restaurant to cope with missing home. But unfortunately, they’re not comforted with the type of food they receive. This is because when going to these restaurants with foods from other countries it is still mainly marketed to the specific country you are in.
During my time visiting Shanghai, we visited a steak house. On the menu were mini tacos and steaks, and some of my friends ordered this and were very disappointed when the food arrived to the table. The mini tacos were practically doll size, honestly barely a bite, and the steak was an over cooked piece of meat that definitely did not resemble anything that we had ever seen. So, when attempting to find some home comforts, I would recommend a call to family or buying an American snack that does not need to be cooked.
3. Check out the transportation infrastructure before you go to your new location and once you are there.
Traveling the streets of a new place is very scary, especially with new traffic rules. Especially especially if you’re traveling with anxiety. So, take the time to observe people’s biking habits and what the public transportation is like. This sounds funky, but every place I have traveled to had different bike and general traffic rules, including bike lane directions, carpool lane rules, and general public transportation regulations. Check out what mobile application works best for your specific country. Not all countries use Google Maps. MooveIt and Gao De Di Tu have worked well during my travels.
2. If you take anxiety, depression, or another form of mental health medicine before you travel, keep taking it when you are abroad.
Start talking to your physician as early as possible. I take anxiety medication every day and my body does not react well when I go off of this cycle. So it is critical for me to work with my insurance and doctor to have an accurate prescription while I am outside of the United States. I work with my doctor to adjust my prescription with my insurance supplier for a vacation supply. There are ways to manage this, but again, START EARLY.
1. Continue talking with your therapist or psychiatrist if this is part of your normal routine.
For therapy sessions, I mainly use Skype when I am outside of the United States. I have tried FaceTime, but typically the connection is not very strong. Using Skype where I can call my therapist’s cell phone number typically works best and has the clearest connection.
Before my sessions when abroad I prepare a little more than I would for my sessions at home. I like to think about what I ask before hand more since there is less of a connection over Skype. However, I definitely think it is helpful to keep therapy sessions going regularly if you do this when at home. Going abroad is a time of transition, change, and excitement and maintaining some sense of normal always helps me remain calm and collected when everything is changing.