I recently embarked on a three-week Western Europe adventure, stuffing my face with pasta, wine, and pastries from each region along the way. And while there were countless unexpected occurrences during my time abroad, I never imagined how quickly anxiety would creep in and threaten to ruin my trip of a lifetime.
After over 24 hours of travel and landing in Rome, I thought I would be excited, nervous, and ready to eat my weight in local gelato and pizza. Instead, I was sleepless with a lump in my throat and a furiously racing heart. I found myself taking 2–3 hour naps every night, staying up to keep in touch with people in a completely different time zone. And what started out as uncharacteristically bad anxiety soon turned into a bacterial infection that needed antibiotics.
While I posted photos from the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum, there was so much more going on under the surface. Even now, when I see photos taken from the balcony of our quaint little Airbnb in Rome, I remember how tough those first few days were, and how I overcame the thoughts and physical reactions to anxiety that threatened to poison my trip.
If you’ve ever experienced anxiety while traveling, here are three things I found helpful during my journey. Do you have any tips and tricks for better mental health while on the road? Comment below!
Surround yourself with supportive people (and pay for a data plan):
There is no shortage of A+ friends in my life. My first night in Rome, I texted a handful of them using the data plan I had purchased, and I was immediately overwhelmed with virtual support. Though it didn’t help the pounding in my chest or the racing of my mind, knowing that I had people encouraging and praying for me forced me to realize that pain is temporary. Being able to call my mom thousands of miles away made a huge difference in my mental health.
I was also blessed to travel with one of my best friends, who understands my weaknesses and didn’t shy away from comforting me at 4am while I cried on the couch. She graciously decided that if we didn’t make it through the whole trip, and I needed to go home, she would support me — and looking back, I don’t think either of us would have wanted to do that (that is NOT who I am, even remotely. Adventures are my favorite), but in the moment, that was what I needed to hear.
Surrounding myself with people who genuinely care for my best interests, even when I was on the other side of the world, was crucial for me in acclimating to a new culture and ultimately conquering my anxiety.
Save room in your suitcase for things from home:
What do you do when you’re overwhelmed with life and need to de-stress? Some people love to read, paint, draw, or go for a run. While I love doing all of those things (except running… even without a broken ankle, real talk — that’s probably not happening), because my life is fairly active and busy already, laying in bed and watching Brooklyn 99 on my iPad is my biggest guilty pleasure. I hadn’t planned on packing the iPad because a 50 pound suitcase allowance for three weeks is no joke to me, but I threw it in my backpack the night before we left, and I’m so thankful I did.
During some of the worst panic attacks, I was able to escape to the NYPD 99th Precinct and have a semblance of normalcy for a few hours. Jake Peralta helped ease my insomnia and made me feel like myself again.
Whatever brings you comfort from home, consider that while packing.
Prioritize your physical needs over what you “have” to see:
Going in, I had a “YOLO” mentality that this trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I had to see and do everything I could in each city. But seeing all of a city like Barcelona in three days isn’t feasible — you will have to miss out on some things. For us, we decided early on that we would listen to our bodies and head back to the Airbnb when we needed to rest.
A lot of nights, we were in bed by 10:30pm instead of experiencing the city’s nightlife, which is not something we planned to do and even sounds crazy to our friends when we recount our favorite moments. But if you suffer from anxiety or want to maintain physical health on a long trip, listening to your body is essential. After the first few days, I was usually able to sleep 8–10 hours every night, which made a huge difference in my mental, emotional, and physical longevity.
Is it possible to have wanderlust and anxiety, adventure despite panic attacks? Yes! Not only is it possible, it’s empowering — I learned so much about myself, what’s important to me, and how beautifully diverse humanity is around the world.
Where should I go next? Happy traveling!