Surely, I should be outside? How could a girl travel all the way to Vietnam, and not go out? I should be adventurous and explore the streets of Hanoi. It was stupid not to. I was only here for one night. And there was a chance I would never return. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of the busy streets and beautiful gardens of the city.
Or maybe I could?
Because, the truth was, I was at my limit. I had had enough. I had nothing more to give. I decided to stop. No more making friends with strangers in hostels, or worrying about where I was going next. I was giving up.
I didn’t want to explore the dusty city streets of Hanoi or fail miserably as I tried to speak Vietnamese. I wanted a rest. I had done enough self-exploration and pushing the edges of my comfort zone, to last a lifetime.
In fact, my comfort zone was nowhere in sight. I was so far from the shore, it wasn’t even a speck on the horizon, it was totally invisible.
And anyway, what was so bad about a comfort zone?
I wanted to spend an evening firmly in my comfort zone, watching Love Island and eating an industrial size box of cereal bars. It would be bliss. And it had been a long time coming.
I had surfed in the monster ocean of Canggu in Bali, survived an isolated cabin in Batu Karas, and made it to Hanoi safely, with mild food poisoning from a dodgy meal of fish and red wine.
I was sick of travelling.
It was totally over-rated. I had been alone for four weeks. I hadn’t made any friends (bar one for two days). Everyone had said I would make loads of friends, but I hadn’t. And now I was in a foggy city, with the busiest roads in the world.
Was I experiencing agoraphobia? It did tend to come in waves. Plus, I had experienced it in the past before. But, it didn’t make any sense. I had come all this way and been totally fine. Why would I be scared to go outside now?
The National Institute of Mental Health defines agoraphobia as, “an anxiety disorder that involves intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult. This involves avoidance of situations such as being outside of the home; travelling in a car, bus, or aeroplane; or being in a crowded area”.
So, was it my anxiety catching up with me again?
The crowded streets of Hanoi certainly didn’t appeal to me. I felt a surge of fear at the idea. But were my emotions simply a healthy reaction to all the energy I had exerted over the past few weeks? It had been intense. Plus, I had logical reasons for not wanting to go out. My main three were:
- How would I ever find my way back to the hotel? I didn’t have roaming internet so I couldn’t use Google Maps.
- I couldn’t cross any of the many roads — dusty cars, bright trucks, wagons full of animals, people pulling carts full of clothes sailing in the wind and tourists running around, made it impossible.
- I felt sick. I had eaten a lot of seafood in Phu Quoc a few days ago and was still recovering.
Plus, I’d finally found a peaceful, clean hostel. Why couldn’t I enjoy a bit of quiet time and watch Love Island?
I just had to hope these cereal bars would satisfy my hunger.
Otherwise, my increasing fear of going out would clash with my need to find food. And the hostel didn’t stretch to refreshments. The white bunk beds with handy curtains for privacy and USB ports for charging were more than enough luxury.
It was too much to ask for an ice-cold lemonade and burger. Plus, it wasn’t very Vietnamese of me. I wanted to try all things local. I would feel guilty eating a burger… or a McDonalds. My eyes lit up at the thought. But I ignored my hunger and continued to analyse my emotions.
I wondered whether anyone else had dealt with agoraphobia while travelling?
A quick check on Google told me, yes.
It was called travel anxiety. Hannah Pasternak in Self explained,
“Once I arrive at wherever I’m going, I am keenly aware of the possibility that everything I’m afraid of (food poisoning, getting lost, terrorism, civil war, natural disaster) may finally happen.”
I wasn’t alone. Feeling encouraged, I started reading more and more articles about travel anxiety. On the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, I read,
“40 million people adults in the USA are affected by anxiety”
“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year”.
Anxiety can occur due to a variety of reasons including life events, personality, and genetics. But it is treatable. In fact, the association say “it is highly treatable”. Therapy and medication are suggested as effective treatments.
The self-subscribed treatment for me, however, was self-care and meditation. Without therapy and medication on hand, these two practices proved to be highly successful.
I enjoyed my night of relaxing, watching Love Island and eating cereal bars. Then I flew to Thailand in the morning and went straight to a meditation retreat in a Buddhist monastery in Mae Hong Son.
This was my travelling cure.
I went to sleep at 8 pm and got up at 5 am every day. I meditated for hours in silence. After ten days, my familiar shadow of anxiety finally bid me farewell. I felt disbelief. Had meditation cured my anxiety for good?
Walsh, RN, & Shapiro, S. define meditation as “a self-regulation practice that focuses on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration”.
A study in 2014, Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being showed, “mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety at 8 weeks and 3–6 months” of practice.
One of the researchers, Madhav Goyal, said: “it was surprising to see that with so little training (about 2.5 hours of meditation practice per week), we were still seeing consistent effects.”
So, meditation has been proven to combat anxiety.
And it is simple for anyone to do. Find a private space, put a time of ten minutes on your phone, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath as it moves in and out. The more you practice meditation, the quieter your mind will become, and the more peaceful you will feel.
So, take it from me, it’s totally OK to need time off when travelling.
Whether you suffer from agoraphobia, travelling anxiety, or are just feeling totally exhausted, a little self-care and meditation will work wonders.
Meditation helps to calm the restless feeling you can get whilst travelling, and reminds you to rest. Travelling is a life-changing, and often challenging experience. So, don’t forget to be kind to yourself during your adventures. It’s totally OK to feel scared, and it’s 100% fine to need time to yourself.