I often hear from readers that they simultaneously have a great desire to travel solo and are afraid of traveling alone.
Some of their fears are about travel in general: fear of flying, for example, though a serious case requires professional support. Others are specific to solo travel.
In this post I'm going to try to address both. But first, let's look at fear.
Doubts and fears are actually there to keep us safe. But they can also be unnecessarily paralyzing. It's this side of travel fear that I want to address. But, I'm not doing it alone. I put out a call on the question of travel fears and concerns to a site called HelpAReportOut. I asked what prevents people who want to travel from doing so and received a lot of great advice to share here. Let's dig in.
Facing the Fear of Traveling Alone Head-on
One of the first steps in facing any fear is to name it. Break it down to see the source of the fear and determine whether it makes sense or not. Below is a list of reasons people might be afraid of traveling alone. Click on each fear to read recommendations on how to overcome them.:
- Worry about being lonely
- The media suggesting that the world is dangerous
- Concern about one's own safety
- Feeling awkward eating alone
- Health challenges and pre-existing conditions
- Mobility issues is a challenge
- Culture shock
- Fear of not liking the food of another country
- Mental health
- Concern for pets
- Family responsibilities
Solutions to Travel Fears
- Have faith. Solo travelers are rarely lonely. It's not that solo travelers are never lonely. They are on occasion. But the readers of Solo Traveler frequently comment on how many people they meet because they're traveling alone. Certainly, that's my experience. Read How to Travel Alone Without Being Lonely: 10 Tips & 12 Posts.
- Avoid reading and watching the media if they make you anxious. This fear and solution was offered by Aaron Edwards of Life Travelers Traveling Life. “The media does not show all the good happening around the world, just the bad” he wrote. He's right. So, if the news makes you anxious, stop watching it before you travel. Go cold turkey on the crime shows as well. Read Great Advice for Solo Travel Confidence: You’ll Be Okay.
- Plan to be safe. There's a difference between worrying unnecessarily about the world not being safe and planning to be safe just as you have to do at home. Read 5 Principles of Solo Travel Safety for an overview of the fundamentals or for more, Solo Travel Safety: 50 Tips.
- Eat alone with confidence. For some solo travelers this is the issue that makes them most afraid of traveling alone. But it's not that difficult to eat alone comfortably or find a great dinner option for solo travelers. Read Eating Alone is Easy When You Know How.
- Dealing with physical limitations in travel. Kristen Hovet raised this issue. Here's her story and solution. “I am 37 years old and love to travel, but I have a connective tissue disorder that affects my joints and several organ systems. This means that any kind of sustained travel (most especially long flights), change in diet that often comes with visiting new places, and disruptions to my sleep schedule are particularly hard on my body. …I still travel just about every year… But I always have to take special measures to include the down time I need to feel better again and actually enjoy my travel destination.” Jessica of Independent Travel Cats mentioned the fear of travel for people who have a pre-existing health problem or have had a health scare. “I always recommend that people first check with a health professional about their concerns. If they are cleared to travel by their doctor, they should research the destination and be prepared in case they do need medical care while traveling. So this might include getting travel medical insurance, wearing a medical bracelet, making sure they have an adequate supply of medication for the trip, knowing which medical facilities in the region they are traveling are equipped to handle their problem, letting travel companions know about their condition, etc.” Concerning insurance, read Going Alone? Travel Insurance is a Must.
- Overcoming mobility issues when traveling. Elizabeth Avery of Solotrekker4U.com specializes in solo travel. For her clients with mobility issues she recommends
- “cruises as well as small ship/river cruises. They generally have elevator access and may have to meet different jurisdictional requirements as to those with disabilities. In addition, shore excursions are optional allowing travelers to pick and choose what works for them.
- Look for destinations like Hong Kong with new construction and high rises since elevators would be required making it easier to use wheelchairs and scooters. In contrast, research carefully before selecting charming, remote European destinations as they are unlikely to have accessible lodging and sights.
- Find out if you can rent scooters or other aids at your destination for short periods. If you cannot, check requirements for meeting enhanced security for travel through airports and ships.”
- Getting past culture shock. Julien Mordret of Exploration Junkie, who has been traveling for eleven years, mostly solo, says that “it is important to realize that we all have some sort of comfort zone, and it is going outside of it that makes us grow as a person. I think careful planning and a lot of reading about the destination can help reassure yourself and increase your self-confidence before the trip.”
- Getting excited about foods in new countries. Julien also suggests that “some people already feel picky with food in their own country, so it makes sense that it might be even worse in a different country with a different cuisine. A solution could be as simple as trying some exotic food from your local market and you will realize that it's totally fine. If the fear is about spicy food, there is always the possibility to ask to have it non-spicy.” Here are some tips for researching local food before you travel: Culinary Travel: Top Tips for Food and Wine Travel Planning.
- Mental health challenges and travel. Cat from Body with Mind was suffering from depression and crippling anxiety before her first trip so “obviously, the thought of jumping on a plane and going to a country I'd never been to, was the last thing I wanted to do. … Did I mention I was also claustrophobic and so flying was an unpleasant experience? All it took was one moment of bravery to just book a flight and a hostel and the rest was history. Take advantage of that one fleeting moment of adventurous spirit and book in a solo trip. Once it's booked and there's no going back, you'll be surprised how quickly your brain starts to adapt.” Tabby from JustCantSettle.com also shared her approach to her mental health challenge. “The two key things for me were mental health and nerves around the safety of solo travel as a young woman in countries where I didn't speak the language, know anyone I could call in an emergency, etc. … Different people's experiences of mental health vary wildly and how they deal with their problems will be different for every individual, but for me it was having conversations with my friends, sitting and mapping out my goals and what made me happy and what didn't. … After stewing on it and taking small steps – facing a small fear every day, setting myself little life challenges like going to a gig alone, staying overnight alone in another city, taking a weekend break alone instead of with someone else – I put pen to paper and worked out that my chances of being miserable and anxious were much greater if I stayed at home, that my mental health was not being helped by staying where I was and doing the same old thing. I had panic attacks in busy markets in Vietnam, I had down days in Thailand, but overall I have always had incredible experiences as a solo traveler and would do it all again in a heartbeat.”
- Concern for pets. Lindsey Danis wrote that her concern for her dog was a challenge. “While it didn't hold me back from taking a 5-week trip, I did worry about whether something would happen to my senior pet while I was gone. … What helped me leave my furry friend behind was finding someone trustworthy to care for him while I was away (my roommate and my mom shared caretaker duties), placing pictures of my pet on my devices so I could look at him while I was away, checking in on Skype, and accepting that loss could come at any time, whether or not I traveled. It wasn't easy to go, but I had a great time and managed to worry less when I was away. While my pet has since passed away, he did survive the trip.
- Family responsibilities. Katherine of Bright Lights of America says that “perceived familial responsibility was the biggest factor that held me back from travel for a few years. I'd been an expat in London for a while and moved back to Australia when my mother became ill. After she died I felt that I couldn't resume expat life and the travel that I wanted to do because I didn't want to leave my father or my brothers alone. It felt as though I was abandoning them to deal with the ongoing grief and the family business to pursue a selfish dream. Talking through that guilt with a psychologist and then with my family was what eventually set me on the path to take up work in San Francisco. It was a long road to working out that I could support them from wherever I lived, and that we all had to move on with our lives. I've been in San Francisco for two and a half years now and while it can be tough sometimes, it helps to remember that I am not solely in control of other peoples' happiness.
Have you moved through being afraid of traveling alone to taking a solo journey? Please share your story in the comments section below.