There are so many of us whose dreams are consumed with fantasies of moving abroad or travelling the world with nothing but a backpack, but we suppress our curiosity and stick to what we know. “I’d love to do that”, we sigh at those #travel pics on Instagram, and look back at the TV. Good for others, but not for you, right? How many times have you thought, “I could never do that”?
Why? Because the great unknown terrifies us as much as it tantalises us. Its not that we don’t want to have an extraordinary life; it’s that a nervous disposition holds us back. If only we were braver, more confident, less incapable of facing challenges head on, we’d be out there waving our passports in the air, right?
We’re the ones who crave adventure but also have days where we don’t want to leave our bed and it feels like everything is just too much. If this sounds familiar, keep reading.
How do you overcome fear and pursue wanderlust?
Don’t you know that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?
When life presents you with the opportunity to see the world, don’t turn it down because it means – shock horror – going it alone or stepping out of your comfort zone. Envision yourself at 80, looking back on life and wishing you’d had the courage to make the days count instead of repeating the same year over and over again.
Feeling determined yet?
Solo travel, or even moving to another country where you don’t know a soul, are the ultimate ways to overcome your fears and show yourself just what you’re capable of. I recently moved to Dubai, where I didn’t know a soul, and I did it all by myself – EVEN THOUGH I’M A BIG BABY. If I can do it, so can you.
Nobody should have to miss out on what this world has to offer because they’re too scared to take chances, so here are some tips on managing and mastering those horrible inner thoughts when you move or travel abroad. If you’re an apprehensive traveler who wants to conquer your inner battle and wander the glorious globe, read on.
6 tips for overcoming anxiety abroad
1. Accept that there will be no-one there to calm you, comfort you or take the responsibilities away if you have a meltdown.
It sounds harsh and almost counter-intuitive: surely having this danger bell in the back of your mind will have you trying to open the airplane’s emergency exit? Actually, quite the opposite. Our minds are conditioned for survival, and this awareness of your reality is the ultimate survival tactic. What choice do you have but to make things work? You’re on your own, so throwing a fit or hiding in a hotel room until you turn to dust isn’t an option. Get on with it. You have to do this for yourself.
Tell yourself that you aren’t afraid frequently, as and when you need to. You might just start believing it!
2. Understand that there’s a difference between feeling afraid and actually being not safe.
Fear is a useful emotion; it helps us avoid situations that pose a potential threat. It’s always wise to follow your gut instinct when you’re in a foreign country. If something doesn’t feel right, you have a bad feeling about getting into that car or people are genuinely threatening you; walk away. Or run, depending on the level of threat involved.
However, it’s important to recognise that your anxiety isn’t always founded on anything real. We’re constantly told as children to, ‘be careful’. This emphasis on precaution is handy because it teaches us not to leap into the flames, but it’s a reservation that has followed us into adult life and become a hindrance. It makes us afraid of new challenges and potentially wonderful experiences because anxiety stops us being able to differentiate between an actual dangerous situation and just being out of our comfort zone.
Are you in danger, or just living life to the fullest?
Take care, but not too much.
3. Set yourself small daily challenges.
One day at a time is the best approach if you have a tendency to get overwhelmed with huge life changes. Starting a new life in a foreign country comes with many tasks that can induce stress, and worrying about doing everything at once can stop you getting anything done at all. Take it slow.
On the first day, you might want to focus on walking around your new neighbourhood, figuring out how to feed yourself (i.e. finding a supermarket for basic supplies), and getting to grips with local public transport. The next, how about getting yourself around one particular area and setting up a bank account? Each night, decide upon your tasks for the next day. This way you can plan your route and prepare yourself.
Take it day by day and you’ll soon realise you’ve ticked off most of your to-do list, with minimum drama.
4. Recognise and celebrate your successes
At the end of each day in your new country, take a moment to congratulate yourself on the things you’ve done since waking up. Got the metro without getting disorientated? Well done. Chatted to a new neighbour? Pat on the back. Think about how nervous you were about doing these things, and how simple they really were. Use that confidence to go on to the next day.
If you’re an anxious person (and we all are, to some degree), you deserve extra credit for managing to move abroad. There are so many people who couldn’t or wouldn’t, preferring instead to stay in their safe, boring routine. The fact that deep down you are one of the worriers, but you’ve instead chosen to break free and experience what a new country has to offer, is something to be proud of.
Don’t regard your worrisome soul as a character flaw – look at it as something to embrace as you learn that only you can place limitations on yourself.
5. Don’t make things hard for yourself
On a practical level, there are many things you can do to make the big move abroad less daunting. Often, anxiety can lead you to pretend that whatever is stressing you out isn’t happening. Ignoring your looming moving date will only make the relocation more jarring when it happens.
Instead, prepare. Do your research, read local forums where other expats share their knowledge and join relevant Facebook groups. It doesn’t matter where you’re moving; there will be a huge network of expats who have gone through all of the same things you are and they form an online community. Groups like these are great for finding out everything from where to buy bedding for your new home to what the local take on feminism is.
Aside from dipping your toes into the expat community online, you should also study maps of your new area which will make it less likely you’ll get lost and start hyperventilating, read up on culture and customs so you don’t commit a social faux pas, and most importantly; make sure you have immediate access to a phone and wifi – seriously, you’re gonna need it for Google Maps alone.
6. Remember to stop and smell the flowers
Don’t forget why you did this! You’re immersed in a new country, living your best life and carving a path for yourself that will be devoid of regret when you’re old and wrinkly. Enjoy it!
There’s nothing wrong with playing tourist in your new country. Explore your surroundings and pause to take delight in the intricacies of the local culture. Go on trips, take pictures, remind yourself of why you came. Sure, you’ll still have to pay bills and do laundry but you can still appreciate the view.
Your sweaty palms and thumping heart will get the best of you at times, but don’t let that spoil your experience of life on the other side.
I used these strategies for fearlessness when I moved to Dubai and hope they will help someone else who is hesitant to travel or move abroad because of their tendency to freak the eff out. If you did find it helpful, please share this post!
What are your tips for staying sane abroad? Please share them in the comment section.