Social Anxiety and Traveling

Why Traveling Alone is Easy for People with Social Anxiety

by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

I get worked up about any social engagement.

Whether it’s going out for drinks with the guys, playing volleyball with my rec team, or trying something new for the first time, there is a niggling bitch of anxiety that goes along with it. I have to mentally work my way into experiencing the social side of my life, and it’s a huge pain in my ass.

But without getting too much into me, let’s talk more about you.

Social anxiety affects 18.1% of the US population, and that’s just the reported cases. That doesn’t account for the people that think of themselves as just “lazy” and would rather sit at home alone and watch Netflix while chowing down a bucket of Ben and Jerry’s (you may be one of them). Sure, many of you are just lazy and would like a night in for once. But for a huge portion of those people, that’s their default setting because they don’t want to face the outside world in their free time.

As you can imagine, going out into the world and traveling to the other side of the planet can be very difficult for someone with social anxiety. It seems a daunting task. You ask yourself:

What will people think of me when they see me alone at a restaurant?

What will I even do? Who does activities alone anyway?

What if something goes wrong? There’s no one to depend upon but me, and I’ve never done anything like this before . . .

I’m here to tell you why traveling alone is something people with social anxiety should experience for themselves.

Why?

Because it’s so god damn easy.

1) You’ll Never Feel Alone

Even if you are alone, you’ll never actually feel alone on your travels.

At home, people are fine going about their day never talking to new people. We get stuck in a groove, and making new friends often isn’t worth the hassle, because you’re busy and so are they, and finding the time and energy is extremely difficult for anyone.

When you’re traveling, there is no work, or chores or anything to worry about. There is only experiencing new adventures, trying new foods every night, and meeting new people.

I was walking to my bungalow on the island of Koh Kood, Thailand, and it took all of thirty seconds for an American couple to call out to me and invite me for a beer. That simple little interaction created a chain reaction of events that led to another group of friends, and then I met some locals and then . . .

Yeah. You get it.

I didn’t have to initiate the interaction. Friends were handed to me on a silver platter and I didn’t even have to do or say anything.

When the rest of the world is inviting you to be a part of their life, you will never feel alone while traveling. It’s just not the same as home.

2) Solo Travelers Are More Approachable

I have seen and experienced this time and time again while traveling.

When you are traveling solo, people are more likely to engage you. Why? You are a less threatening presence when you’re alone, especially for other solo travelers that don’t want to interfere with a couple or group’s holiday.

But the same goes for couples and groups! When they see someone on their own, all it takes is one person in that group to reach out and pull you into the fold. I spent much of my time in Thailand with groups of random people from different countries that never knew each other beforehand. It’s almost like a locust swarm of fun and excitement. You get sucked into it and the potential is there to have the time of your freaking life.

A random groups of guys, brought together for one purpose: to drink beer and haul in a couple dozen barracuda.

Allow yourself to get sucked into the swarm.

Because what do people with social anxiety know all too well? It’s so much easier to be a part of a group. The social pressure melts away, and it gives you the space to be yourself.

3) You Don’t Have to Worry About Anyone but Yourself

This is the true beauty of traveling alone. In fact, it’s my favorite aspect.

A lot of my personal anxiety derives from the need for my friends, and the ones I care about, to have an exciting time while we’re out on the town. I’m a bit of an empath, so when I see someone left out or not a part of the conversation, I feel responsible for their well-being.

When you’re traveling alone and meeting new people, those worries go away. You’re making new friends, not worrying so much about the ones you have. You don’t need to hold ownership over someone else’s feelings or worries. You have yourself to worry about, and everyone accepts that because they’re doing the exact same thing.

When you’re traveling with someone else, every decision you make carries its own anxiety. You have to concern yourself with their wants and needs, and, for their sake, you want everything to work out perfectly. As anyone who has traveled knows, this isn’t always the case, as things can so easily go awry during short or long-term travel. (ie: my laptop blew up in Thailand and then I spent the next day sitting on the floor of a Cambodian bus for six hours!).

But when you’re alone, the little, and even the big, mistakes can easily be brushed off, as you can internalize them and there is no worrying about someone else.

What it boils down to?

Not everything has to work out when you’re alone, which peels away possibly the biggest layer of the anxiety onion that you have to deal with when traveling.

4) You Can Change Plans

This feeds into the last point.

There is no consulting someone else when something doesn’t go right.

Say you’ve had enough of Cambodian food, and you need a change fast. You can book a bus to Vietnam and be there the next day gorging yourself on authentic pho, then you can hop on your Agoda phone app and figure out where you’re going to stay while you’re in transit.

You don’t have to suffer through food or experiences that you don’t like for the sake of another when you’re alone, and that unadulterated freedom is fucking awesome.

Even when things are going fine, but you feel anxiety settling in and all you want is a cool, dark room to recede to for a while, you can leave and go about your own way without having to worry about your friend or significant other.

Does it sound selfish? Well it is. But maybe that’s what you need right now?

5) Build Your Confidence

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

While social anxiety doesn’t always stem from a lack of confidence, it definitely can.

Traveling solo will build your confidence so you can bring it back home. It will change you.

Financial decisions? That’s completely your call. There is no one to rely on but yourself, and the length of your travel and what you get out of your experience is 100% reliant on you.

Relationship decisions? You choose who and who you don’t associate with when you travel. It’s incredibly empowering, and you begin to find out what kind of person you are attracted to on both a sexual and platonic level. When you meet someone you don’t like, you simply don’t have to see them again. Chances are you’re staying on different resorts or one of you are moving on to the next spot soon.

What about those unanticipated problems?

Every traveler faces challenges along the way, and when you’re traveling by yourself, you have no choice but to overcome them all on your own.

There is great power in this.

No more can you rely on your boyfriend to haggle with the motorbike rental place for a better price. No longer can you rely on your girlfriend to carry the conversation with locals because she has some knowledge of the local dialect. Now you are going to have to learn, and you don’t have a choice, and that lack of choice forces change and builds confidence.

When your travels are all over, and you’ve had time to reflect, you will be proud of yourself. Your confidence, both at home and abroad, will soar. This could be the cure for your social anxiety, or, at the very least, a welcome respite.

So pack your suitcase, spin the globe, pick a place with your finger and explore the unknown!

Because traveling is for everyone.


Thanks for reading!

Thinking about shaking that social anxiety and traveling to a new place? Then check out my travel stories with tips and tricks on some of the best (and worst) places in SE Asia to visit. The list grows every week, so make sure you press that Follow button!

Koh Mak: The Island Jewel of Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand: The Pasty White Eagle Has Landed

And a fun, bonus story about eating monkeys and fishing for barracuda!

Four & A Half Germans, Mr. Butt and One Tiny Fishing Boat