Recently, I publicly shared that I have social anxiety and it’s something I’ve suffered with for a long time. But I’ve still managed to travel the world and find great joy in it. Having been to 20 countries, lived in 4 different ones, and 9 different cities/towns, social anxiety hasn’t stopped me from traveling and it shouldn’t stop you either. But how do we make it enjoyable? Because if we’re being honest here, if you travel you’re going to actually have to talk to people. There are a few tips to note to make the experience easier and more pleasurable.
Even though it won’t all be nice and easy, like that time you froze your ass off in a long car ride in India because you could not get yourself to ask the driver to turn the A/C down, or you made a fool of yourself (or at least it felt that way) when your mom asked you to use the little French you know to ask the museum person where the Monet paintings are, or there was a problem with your food at a restaurant in the USA, a familiar place, but there’s no way you’d tell the waiter that. All are true stories for me and very memorable because the struggle is real.
I know the Indian driver wouldn’t mind turning down the A/C, and I know locals in France appreciate it if you try to use their language, and I know waiters usually don’t mind taking back your food to the kitchen if there’s something wrong with it. I know that neither the Indian, the Frenchwoman, or the American were going to humiliate or judge me. But this is the problem. Knowing that all the fears of what could possibly happen are completely irrational, and fighting your way out of irrational feelings and thoughts is a tremendous battle which I lose often.
But social anxiety is a weird animal, because on the other hand, you’ll be perfectly fine traveling between airports completely alone, buying metro tickets in Moscow with the little Russian you know, and weirdest of all, sharing a stranger’s home for a few (or way more than a few) days. It’s called Airbnb. Well, the latter is not necessarily perfectly comfortable, but I keep doing it. Maybe I’m just a masochist sometimes.
If any of this resonates with you, you’re not alone. There are lots of us out there.
Anxiety disorders are said to be one of the most common forms of mental illness, and social anxiety disorder, characterized by an extreme fear of judgment in a social context, affects 6.8%, or 15 million people, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (source)
And if you’re a millennial… the odds go up.
In a new survey with 1,188 respondents, 70% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 experience social anxiety, more than any other age group. (source)
During social situations, people with any amount of social anxiety turn to their smartphone, eating, or drinking to get them through the situation. I know I’m guilty. Or animals, have you done that? Avoided talking to people by talking to the dog or the cat or even the bird (I swear I’ve done that) at someone else’s home?
Why are we so afraid of judgment and rejection? And why do so many of my generation experience this fear? I pose these questions to society.
The world can be a scary place, full of strangers, unfamiliar ways of living, and foreign languages. So how do we keep social anxiety at bay while traveling?
4 Ways to Deal with Social Anxiety While Traveling
1. Prepare Mentally
Talking to people and crowded places will be inevitable but keep in mind that people move on quickly. If you do happen to make eye contact with someone or bump into someone, or you believe you embarrassed yourself, they will mostly not even be aware of it and will quickly return to focus on what they were thinking or doing. Remember it’s all mostly in your head.
2. Choose a Travel Companion Wisely
Think about who you want to travel with if you want a companion at all! Traveling solo may sound scary, but I’ve read and have been told that solo travel was actually a big help for their anxiety as it pushes you to try new things and you can simply move on to the next thing if it gets too uncomfortable. Solo travel gave people more confidence.
But if you’d rather be accompanied, keep in mind the things you might want to do and who would be a good fit, also make sure you express and help them understand your needs. Towards the end of the day, you might want to go straight to your room and relax with a book, but they might be expecting to go out and have drinks. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you choose someone more extroverted, they could do more of the talking when needed.
3. Remember That Hosts and Other Travelers Don’t Bite
Whether you’re staying at a hostel, booking a hotel, or a room at an Airbnb, remember that travelers and hosts mean well and are just trying to be friendly and be helpful and accommodating and are just curious about your travel plans and adventures.
4. Visit the Ideal Budget-Conscious Places for Introverts
Museums, local bookshops, local coffee shops, parks, and cemeteries. All these places allow you to keep to yourself and still will teach you so much about the local culture.
One favourite pastime of mine, is people watching. Find a bench at a park, or a coffee shop where you can sit outside or by the window and watch the locals go by to your heart’s content. The other great thing about these places is that it’s totally acceptable to hang out solo!
Above all, remember that most people are focused on themselves and not you.