From the outside, it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Following an unwelcome 5.30am alarm and a guelling 11 hour journey through three different airports, I’d finally made it to nHow Rotterdam. After heading upstairs to check out the hotel’s flexitarian restaurant – a concept that I can totally get behind, by the way – I gazed out at the city through floor to ceiling windows as I proudly snapped photos of my incredibly attractive plate of food. All that awaited me was a huge bed, complete with fantastically squishy pillows, a hot shower and a weekend of exciting activities. It really does sound pretty good, right?
In reality, I could barely see the river, the skyscrapers or the sunset from the restaurant windows. I struggled to taste the food in front of me. Holding back tears felt impossible and after a struggle to keep myself in check, complete with some frantic blinking, I failed.
My Relationship with Solo Travel
Solo travel isn’t something that’s new to me: in fact, this was the smallest, easiest trip I’ve ever done alone. Almost exactly three years ago, I took my first solo trip when I was heartbroken, low on confidence and absolutely terrified at the thought of spending three weeks with 45 strangers. But that trip transformed my life in a very real sense – I definitely wouldn’t be here writing a travel blog if I hadn’t walked into Bold Street STA Travel that day – and my outlook on solo travel was overwhelmingly positive.
Actually, it was so positive that a year later, I boarded a plane with a one way ticket to Australia. But after leaving the UK with the highest of expectations, I was caught completely unaware when the lows hit. I thought that I was going mad, that I’d made a huge mistake and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling cripplingly lonely, even if I’d only said goodbye to one of my newfound friends a few minutes earlier.
You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re nervous? Combine it with the back-to-work dread when you just don’t want the weekend to end and it’s a pretty accurate description of what my anxiety feels like. No matter how much I try to rationalise my thoughts, anxiety tunnels its way into my body, digs its feet in and refuses to let up. At the time, I assumed that I simply wasn’t strong enough to cope with the circumstances I’d excitedly placed myself in. It was only when I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder six months ago that I started to come to terms with the fact these feelings may not be entirely within my control.
Finding Coping Mechanisms
So, as you can see, this weekend break for a blogging conference was a drop in the ocean compared to flying to the other side of the world alone. Attending the Traverse18 was a source of huge excitement for me in the months leading up to the event and yet when I finally made it to that hotel room in Rotterdam, all those anxious feelings inexplicably overwhelmed me again. From feeling the desperate need to talk to another human to searching for earlier flights home while trying to hide my tears in the restaurant, it’s pretty obvious that I still have some way to go when it comes to handling the onset of anxiety.
One important thing that six weeks of counselling taught me was that coping mechanisms might not banish those feelings but they can certainly lessen the onslaught of scared, swirling thoughts. I worried that speaking to someone on FaceTime might amplify those feelings of loneliness but actually, it was a fantastic distraction and left me smiling as I went about my evening routine.
We’re lucky in that sense – all this pesky technology surrounding us means that our loved ones are only ever just a phone call away. That night, I also knew that tiredness was almost certainly contributing to my overflowing emotions so I tucked myself up into bed and predictably woke up feeling a whole lot more stable the following morning.
A Weekend in Rotterdam
All in all, I consider that solo weekend a success. I started chatting to Rianne in the queue ahead of me on the first day and we spent a lunchtime bathed in beautiful sunshine eating poffertjes (that’s traditional Dutch pancakes to me and you). I met lovely people I’d chatted to on social media, learned from some incredibly inspiring people in the blogging industry and walked into a party completely alone – honestly, if you don’t feel terrified at that idea alone then please teach me your ways!
But that evening showed me, as those occasions almost always do, to remember that you will never be alone 100% of the time if you put yourself out there. As humans, we love to group together and no matter where you are, fellow solo travellers are almost always warm and open to new people.
At times, I think solo travel is completely suited to me. Sitting in a restaurant alone, taking in my surroundings or enjoying the rare delight of being able to read at the table without feeling rude, is something I can genuinely enjoy. Being in complete control also appeals to my overly organised personality because I get to rock up early to catch a train or plane without having to chivvy along a sleepy boyfriend.
At the same time, it’s important to have coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and solo travel as well as acceping that sometimes, you won’t always bounce back straight away. Sometimes, it’s a case of just riding the wave, hoping all the way that you won’t teeter and fall off your board. And if that’s the most that you can manage, never forget that it’s okay to feel a little lost or a little scared.
The truth is, that I never thought I’d write about being diagnosed with anxiety. It’s with slight shame that I acknowledge how my past self would have reacted to a blog post like this; ‘oh look, another blogger with anxiety’, probably with a slight eyeroll thrown in there for good measure. But while I do think that self-diagnosis can be dangerous (almost all of us have anxious traits but it’s when they come to us in extreme foms that they become a real issue), the last few years have taught me a lot about mental health.
So, after attending Elle Croft‘s fantastically empowering writing workshop that weekend, I knew that this was a story that needed telling because struggling with anxiety doesn’t mean that you can’t travel solo. It may present some difficulties along the way but it doesn’t need to hold you back for good.
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