If you’re wanting to travel solo but are hampered by anxiety, you’re not alone. Studies show that having anxiety means you’re less likely to do something considered ‘risky’, and entering into the unknown, from people, places and food, can be a big contributor to that. The pandemic worsened our travel anxiety, but with borders open in most places now, it’s prime time for travelling.
Remy Kloos was 17 when she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. If you’d told her back then that she would become a high-altitude mountain climber, she probably would never have believed you – after all, lack of control has always been the biggest trigger of Remy’s anxiety. But Remy realised she needed to be challenged if we she wanted to be strong. So in 2017 she quit a job she loved to spend a year travelling – alone. Along the way, she discovered a love for climbing mountains. High ones. As in, highest on their continents. Not a sport you’d typically associate with someone who suffers from anxiety! So how the heck does she do it? Remy let us in on her secrets…
1/ Plan the first bit carefully.
One of the biggest anxieties of travelling is that initial moment when you step off a plane into the unknown. So take as much of the uncertainty out of it as you can. “I plan the first few days of my trip in a fair amount of detail, I book my accommodation and research the area,” says Remy. “Then, once I have settled, I allow fate and fun to take me forward.”
2/ Extra care for important docs.
The other biggie? Rocking up at some or other checkpoint only to discover you don’t have a crucial piece of paperwork. Stuff of nightmares, right? Well organisation trumps panic every time. “I take screenshots of all my flight details, directions, maps, etc. in case I don’t have internet,” says Remy. “I don’t leave packing for the last minute and I pick one spot in my bag or I have a designated pouch for all my important items, so that I am less likely to think I have lost them all.”
Trekking through the Himalayas
3/ Be on time.
Nothing spurs on anxiety like the threat of missing a flight. Fortunately, this is something you can usually control. “I make sure I get to the airport stress-free and with time to spare – not having a game plan on how to get to the airport will without a doubt cause major stress,” says Remy.
4/ While you’re at it, budget time for a workout, too.
“I exercise before I fly,” says Remy. “The endorphins keep me calm and help diffuse any built-up stress. I also like to walk around the terminals to keep your muscles loose, which also helps reduce my levels of anxiety.”
5/ Prepare for the unexpected.
Unexpected disruptions can wreak havoc with your emotional wellbeing. A disruption you were expecting, on the other hand, is just a minor annoyance. “I mentally prepare myself for the likelihood of mishaps along the way – I’ve learnt to accept ahead of time that so many aspects of travelling are out of my control,” says Remy. “I now look for and find an adventure in all these so called ‘mishaps.’” Mountain climbing is particularly prone to unexpected hurdles, but Remy trains for these too. “Leading up to my expeditions I always make sure to sign up for activities that I don’t particularly enjoy, for example ice-cold ocean swims. Learning to embrace the swims, with the aim of developing the habit and ability to turn any ‘dislike’ and overwhelming experience into a fun and enjoyable challenge. I now love long icy swims!”
Hiking in Russia
6/ Practise mindfulness.
“Practising mindfulness while I travel has helped me manage my anxiety effectively. This technique coupled with visualisation (for example, I often picture the summit of the mountain I am climbing) has helped me to stay focused on the present moment,” says Remy. On the mountain, she’s careful not to think about the enormity of the climb as a whole, but rather breaks it up into smaller daily victories. “I cannot emphasise enough how focusing on the now is so important whilst climbing. Don’t go through the draining mental exercises of ‘what-if’ and ‘maybes’ of what could lie ahead. Instead of worrying, simply focus on the gift of that day. By staying focused you won’t burn your valuable mental energy exploring unknowns and you’ll stay engaged and present.”
Perspective at Trolltunga in Norway
7/ Create a ritual.
Abandoning your routine is a fast track to feeling anxious, so Remy has learnt to create travel rituals that give her life a semblance of structure. “The power of a morning routine has helped immensely. I couldn’t recommend this more!” she says.
8/ Accept the anxiety and let it go.
“Trying not to feel anxious can sometimes make anxiety even worse, so don’t fight it, rather learn to master it,” Remy advises. “Learning how to decrease the overwhelm to a quiet whisper or even simply being conscious of why you think your anxiety has flared up… believe me these are huge wins in themselves.”
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STRONGER THAN EVER!! Feel it! Believe it! Know it! Own it! You are enough! You are worthy! Let’s do this! Who’s with me? Thank you my beautiful @tasmin_weir for the piccie. This gurl is pure fire! #fuelledbyvitality #iam #onebody #stronger #sheisnotlost #womenwhoexplore #girlsthatwander #letsgoeverywhere #girldiscoverers #ladiesgoneglobal #neverstopexploring #wonderlustcapetown #capetownmag #capetownfeed
And Finally… Just Take The Leap!
Living with anxiety could easily have kept Remy homebound. Instead, challenging herself to leave what was comfortable and venture into the unknown and unpredictable has helped her cope better in everyday life. “Anxiety can be all consuming and can take control of your life, it makes you want to avoid certain activities, situations and adventures. Anxiety can convince you that that you are safe in your comfort zone, but trust me, comfort zones don’t allow you to flourish and grow,” she says. “The best way to tackle anxiety is head on. Even though it is scary and overwhelming, physically your body can learn to deal with these symptoms. Solo travel has been the biggest single thing that has helped me manage my anxiety. It challenges me by forcing me to leave my comfort zone and with every adventure I realise that I am capable of so much more that I expected.”