What’s holding you back from taking your dream trip?
It’s easy to let our personal priorities and fears prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Whether these ambitions are changing jobs, ending a relationship, starting a business or traveling overseas, the constant worries of age, money, health concerns, fear of the unknown and anxiety-filled “what if” scenarios can paralyze us from following our dream path.
Travel absolutely involves a network of conflicting emotions: anxiety and worry about flying, terrorism, extreme weather, privacy wars — the list goes on. As a result, many people are likely to never leave their home country and realize their dreams abroad. Don’t let that be you!
Do the following “what if” scenarios sound familiar? If so, a little advance planning can go a long way to soothing your fears and setting you out on the road less traveled.
What if…I get sick while traveling?
Well, yes, you might get sick while traveling. New foods can certainly have a strange effect on your digestive tract. And just as you can get a cold or upset stomach in your home country, you might also have down days when you feel — and look — like crap while on the road. There’s nothing you can do to prevent sickness 100% of the time, but there are measures you can take toward helping your body and mind stay healthy for the duration of your trip.
- Pack a personal medicine kit with over-the-counter medicines for headaches and colds, plus Tums and Imodium for digestive issues.
- Remember: there are medical facilities and doctors all over the world. People do get sick in other countries!
- Ensure that you have a decent travel insurance policy that covers you in medical emergencies.
- Talk with your doctor and get any recommended vaccinations.
- Stay informed about your destination. Is the water safe to drink? Should you avoid meat?
- Be aware of what you’re eating. Don’t completely avoid foreign foods, but ensure certain foods are cooked properly and that the establishment is hygienic.
- Eat where the locals eat. A place packed with local is more likely to follow food safety protocol.
- Keep your heart healthy. Exercise daily! Walk, stretch and take the stairs when you can.
- Get plenty of sleep. Don’t sacrifice your sleep and health in the name of late night partying or overextending yourself.
What if…I lose my passport while traveling?
Your passport will probably be your most important possession while traveling abroad. If it is lost or stolen, of course, you will need to replace it before returning home. And although this scenario is indeed anxiety-inducing and a pain-in-the-butt hassle, it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. Keep your passport safe by taking the proper precautions and know what to do in the event it happens to you.
- Before leaving your home country, make three copies of the photo page of your passport. Give one copy to someone who isn’t traveling with you; take one copy with you and store it somewhere different from where you keep your documents; and scan one copy to your email address or Dropbox account.
- Research where the nearest embassies and consulates are in your travel destinations and write down their contact information.
- While on the road, secure your passport with a neck pouch, money belt or specially designed apparel specifically for holding your passport and money. If a money belt isn’t your jam, there are many types of comfortable jackets, underclothes and pants with hidden zippers for stowing such items.
- You may have the option of locking your passport in your hotel room safe or hostel’s locker. You can also leave it at the front desk if you feel comfortable doing so. If there is no safe, use proper judgment in deciding whether to lock your passport in your luggage or carry it with you while sightseeing.
- Report a lost or stolen passport as soon as possible.
- By the way, along with making copies of your passport pages, do the same with visa pages, your credit cards and any other important documents or forms of IDs that you plan to travel with
What if…traveling just isn’t safe anymore?
We’re bombarded with constant worries y’all. Our news feeds and television screens are filled with yet another terrorist attack, earthquake, bombing or plane crash. Negative news sells. The media doesn’t always show the wonderful, inspiring and good happening around the world. I admit these unyielding stories are absolutely stomach churning. But being on the receiving end of this gloomy media gives us a negative bias so that we wind up imagining a world full of worse-case-scenarios. Calm your worries by making plans to be safe and behave abroad just as you would at home.
- Be smart and stay informed. Thoroughly research your destination. Learn about any civil or government unrest and educate yourself about the area’s current policies, social norms, cultural taboos and religion.
- Remind yourself that the “unknown” isn’t the same as unsafe, and remember that developing countries and poor countries do not equal dangerous countries.
- Check your government’s travel site for safety updates here: United Kingdom, United States and Canada.
- You can also check your destination’s safety rating on an app like GeoSure, which measures categories like woman’s safety, political freedom, theft, physical harm, and health and medical.
- Register with your government before you leave. Both the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for United States citizens and the Registration of Canadians Abroad for Canadian citizens will contact you in the case of natural disaster or civil unrest. The programs also help family and friends get in touch with you in the case of emergency.
- Find out how women are treated in the country. Will you need to dress differently, cover your head or wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees?
- Have fun, but don’t be an idiot. Never drink over your comfort level. Don’t go home with a stranger. And be cautious when going at night or when navigating neighborhoods that you are unfamiliar with.
Worrying unnecessarily about the world not being safe will only exacerbate your anxiety. Focus instead on researching your destination’s positive stories. Follow blogs that highlight humorous, light-hearted and culturally rich traveler experiences. Read National Geographic to gain insight into the region’s historical and cultural value and highlights. Solid preparation will help you get excited about your impending trip, instead of being afraid.
What if…I don’t speak the language?
Not speaking the local language can be overwhelming; even more so in a frustrating situation. Add to that the worry of culture shock, and it’s enough to keep travel at bay for many. But don’t let a fear of not speaking the language or understanding the culture keep you from traveling. Try these tips next time you head out.
- Start out simple and travel to places similar to your own before jumping into a destination where English isn’t the first language.
- Educate yourself. Learn a few words and phrases before you go, such as “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” “good-bye,” “where is the toilet,” “I need a taxi, please,” and “where is the bus station.”
- Carry a notebook with the names of cities, plus the names and addresses of your accommodations, and any attractions you plan on visiting. Keep it handy to show a taxi driver or whip out when asking directions. Having the information written down correctly may be a life-saver in the likely event you pronounce it incorrectly!
- Even if English (or your first language) is widely used in your destination, carry a travel phrase book for exploring smaller towns and the countryside where people may have different dialects. Though you may not understand the response you get, attempting to communicate in the local language can go a long way with the locals.
- Speak slowly and clearly when communicating with locals. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, also raise your voice. They don’t need you to speak louder, just more clearly.
- When in doubt, don’t hesitate to draw, gesture or mime. We’ve all been there. No shame, folks!
What if…I get lonely?
I’ll be the first to admit that solo travelers get lonely. Across 55 countries, I’ve had my fair share of lonely afternoons and questionable moments when I ask myself why I love to travel alone. Solo travel is exciting, fulfilling, empowering and freeing, Solo travel allows you to learn about yourself, to see the world from a different perspective and to follow your own heart and desires…wherever they may take you. Solo travel is enriching and powerful. And yes, there are moments, sometimes stretches, when you will most definitely have bouts of loneliness. But here’s the thing — you’ll come out on the other side just fine!
The first step of “surviving” loneliness is being aware of your emotions. Check in with yourself often. If you notice that you’re feeling down, ask yourself, “why am I feeling this way?” Are you yearning to share a special moment with someone? Then hop on Skype and call a friend at home. Are you most lonely when eating alone? Grab a seat at the bar next time you’re in a restaurant. Chances are there will be other solo foodies perched up there with you. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation! These tricks and the following tips will help you stay sane on the road while also following your own solo path.
- Choose sociable accommodation. Hostels and B&Bs offer more social opportunities and common areas than hotels or resorts.
- Get out of your comfort zone and talk to people. You’ll find that locals and travelers alike are usually willing to engage, chat and share experiences.
- Join a cooking class, day tour, free walking tour, language class or dance class.
- Break up long trips with an organized tour or day trip.
- Volunteer, teach English or walk dogs at a local animal shelter.
- Stick with travelers you like. If you meet people along the way, ask if you can travel with them for a few days. These are the types of situations where friendships truly bloom!
- Search for opportunities to meet locals by joining Meetup, expat websites, Global Greeter programs or Women Welcoming Women Worldwide. You can meet people with similar interests and have a local contact while traveling.
Finally, remind yourself that, “this too shall pass.” Emotions are a funny thing. They ebb and flow, sometimes depending on the weather, the meal we just ate…and so many other considerations. Indulge yourself if you begin feeling down and give yourself a break. Practice self care. Remember that solo travel does not mean that you have to always be by yourself. Solo travel simply means that you are following your own path and doing what makes you happy.
What if…I can’t afford it?
Many people worry that traveling breaks the bank, leaving them to a destitute life of living on bread and water. But this is one of the biggest myths about travel. I’ve traveled to destinations that cost me $7 per day and some that cost $70 per day. Basically, it’s up to you to determine your travel style and to design a budget around what your “must-dos” and “don’t needs.” Are you willing to forgo 5-star hotels so you can travel to additional countries? Will you eat street food once a day in order to splurge for dinner? Can you take public transportation — or walk — instead of taking taxis or Ubers everywhere? You can further reduce your spending with these pointers:
- Check major booking engines for flights, car rentals and accommodation.
- Take budget airlines to or within your destination.
- Stay in private or shared accommodation in affordable hostels.
- Travel slower and deeper: Spend longer in two or three destinations instead of exploring an entire region or continent. It’s expensive to continuously stay on the move.
- Use a credit card that earns miles. (Just try to pay off your balance each month!)
- Prioritize your expenses and give up unnecessary luxuries.
- Before booking online. call or email to inquire about better rates and/or discounts for seniors, YHA or AAA members. During off-peak hours, you may also be able to bargain for cheaper prices.
- Buy your groceries, fresh bread, wine and cheese at local markets and neighborhood stores. If you have a kitchen in your AirBnB or hostel, cook two meals in your accommodation and enjoy one meal out each day.
- Join free accommodation services like Couchsurfing, GlobalFreeloaders, or Servas. You can stay with locals and learn about the best deals, the cheapest hot restaurants, best connection for deals and how to get around on the public transportation system.
- Or participate in a house swap, where you trade houses with someone at the destination of your choice.
So…what are you waiting for?
Don’t let your fears and “what ifs” keep you from experiencing life-changing, humbling travel opportunities. Take the plunge. Once you make the decision to travel abroad, you’ll feel empowered enough that your worries about loneliness, money, health and culture shock will wash away. And when you return home, you’ll look back on the time when you were hesitant to travel and say, “darn it, what took me so long?”