I recently returned home from a four week overseas holiday and it was truly blissful. For the most part.
If you followed my travels on Instagram, you may have been mistaken into thinking that the whole four weeks were a beautiful blur of relaxing on beaches, basking under impossibly blue skies, and sipping red wine at sunset.
But, as we know and often need reminding, social media only tells some of the story. As an easily stressed out, type-A individual, traveling can leave me feeling pretty anxious.
This – the unsettled feeling when I arrive somewhere new, the agitation when I’m overwhelmed but need to make yet another decision, the knot in my stomach when I board a plane or train or bus that I can’t get off for three, five or fourteen hours – is the part of my story that conveniently falls off my social feed.
I imagine I’m not alone in this, yet I generally keep it to myself. Holidays are meant to be exciting and fun! People want to hear about your favourite destinations, most memorable moments and top recommendations. While I have plenty of those, this is not that kind of post-holiday blog.
Holidays can help you learn all sorts of things, and on this holiday I realised that sharing my less-than-rosy experiences helped me feel like less of an outlier. Less like I was doing the holiday thing all wrong.
If you’re after tips on the most picturesque beaches in Italy, meet me in the comments section. For those who find the constant change and movement and unknowns associated with travel tiring, distressing or anxiety-inducing, know that you’re not an outlier or an outsider or a weirdo. I’m quietly confident there’s a whole gang of us.
In light of that, here are a few things that helped me while I was away.
I’m not a fan of travelling between each destination on a trip. Days spent navigating foreign public transport systems, blindly trying to anticipate traffic conditions in an unknown city, and locating the nearest taxi rank at 5am. Way too much uncertainty.
To make these days as pleasant as possible, I set aside an hour the day before to map travel times, set alarms, order cabs etc. I contact Airbnb hosts to arrange check in and make sure I have their contact details handy. Having all the relevant info at my fingertips makes me feel much more prepared and (semi) relaxed.
Being offline can be incredibly liberating but, as someone with two mobile phones within arms reach at all times, I find it daunting. I’ve given up on trying to get by using wifi hotspots. I pick up an affordable mobile phone plan at the airport when I arrive. It makes me feel much calmer knowing I can research locations, contact Airbnb hosts or change plans on the go.
We all have that friend who leaves their hotel at 6am only to return after midnight having covered 20kms and every tourist sight known to humankind. I’ve been that friend on one or two occasions but it doesn’t really work for me.
Instead, I build plenty of downtime into my trips. There’s many a late afternoon nap, a lazy breakfast, and even the occasional evening in. Yeah there’s often a feeling of FOMO and a nagging sense that I’m not doing it right, but better a passing case of FOMO, a good night’s sleep (or afternoon nap) than 20 hours of pavement pounding leaving me completely depleted.
I choose my Airbnbs carefully, prioritising somewhere central with a cool vibe so staying in still feels like a bit of a holiday treat. Bonus points if it’s overlooking a cute street where I can watch locals go about their lives, sounds from the street below floating in through an open window, keeping me company during an afternoon journal session.
Be it my partner, a friend or group, I choose travel buddies who understand my style of travel. My partner didn’t mind making home-cooked dinners with ingredients foraged at local markets or taking a few days extra slow when I was craving some at-home comfort.
When we stayed with friends and family, we set out at the start that we’re pretty chilled holiday makers and that the next few days would likely involve a few afternoon siestas. They were either happy to join in or spend a few hours going in different directions. I’d have struggled with any expectations that we’d be out and about 24/7!
When I’m feeling stressed, I always forget to breathe! It happens at work all the time, but apparently also during fun situations like being stuck on a train that has stopped for 45 minutes between stations for no apparent reason and without any appropriate communications from the driver! A technique I like is breathing deeply through my nose, holding it for four to five seconds, then exhaling through my mouth as I tell myself to relax. Three to four times usually does it!
And then there’s the old faithful, meditation. Like a great high school romance, my meditation practice is very on-again off-again. I fell off the wagon recently but in the last week of my trip picked it back up. It was very calming. The Headspace app is my favourite and the annual subscription is well worth the investment.
If your anxiety is really troubling you – travel related or otherwise – speak to a medical professional or contact a support organisation like Beyond Blue. It’s always worth taking some time out to talk to someone. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member for support if you need.
To all the other anxious travellers reading this, hopefully something here helped you in some way. I’m keen to hear your tips for staying calm while travelling, feel free to share them in the comments.