How to Love the Journey and Check Your Travel-Related Stress at the Gate
Is it easier for extroverts to travel than it is for introverts? Can travel be learned? If so, what does it take to overcome the fear, anxiety and logistical challenges often associated with long-distance travel?
In search of answers, I asked several seasoned tourists and travel converts for their stories and advice. As it turns out, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. People who travel as children are far more likely to travel as adults.
“Thanks to my parents, I started traveling when I was young,” says Avery Blank, an avid international traveler and strategy consultant from Philadelphia. “That made it relatively easy for me now to adapt to new cultures, surroundings, ways of doing things.”
If you were raised by homebodies, you’re at an immediate disadvantage. But so are risk-averse individuals who are particularly scared of the unknown. Traveling to a new place with new customs and sometimes new languages can cause stress or keep people from taking trips that can enrich their lives and careers.
“Much of the anxiety arising from travel revolves around being infantilized,” says Sheridan Becker, an American art director living in Belgium. “For example, not knowing how to do anything in a foreign language, asking for a bathroom, what to do if you lose your wallet, where your next meal will come from (and will you be able to stomach it) or how to handle medical emergencies.”
All are disorienting questions, no matter a traveler's personality. Your propensity for travel is more about how you're raised -- your "normal" -- coupled with a willingness to try unexpected things.
The good news is you can learn wanderlust, to a degree. Here are six ways to do just that.
1. Find strength in numbers.
“Traveling with a tour group is a good first step,” Becker says. “The most common concerns are almost always solved by the tour guide. As one comes to realize that most of these questions are easily handle by hotel staff, you can learn to survive without the parental assistance of a chaperone.”
2. Reach for packaged planning help.
Several people I spoke to expressed a distaste for logistics. “I’ll only go with the help of all-inclusive packages, travel agents, or friends that connect all of the dots,” admits Spencer Oldsen, a merchandise salesman from Provo, Utah. It's the driving force behind the appeal of cruises, whose structured programs, dining halls and nightly entertainment do all the legwork for you.
3. Start with convenient destinations.
There are several reasons more Americans travel to Europe than any other continent: convenience, ease of communication and more familiar culture. “Try easier cities first,” Becker says. “Head for Paris or London -- where you can always find English speakers -- before traveling to Abu Salaam.”
4. Seek comfort in routines.
“Traveling is easier if you follow routines and anticipate little treasures along the way,” says Stephanie George, a self-identified introvert, solo traveler and yoga instructor from Huntsville, Ala. “For example, if you run in the mornings at home, do the same when you travel. To further ease anxiety and enjoy yourself, create a specific playlist, download a movie to watch later or plan to wear a new outfit while adventuring. This will give you something to look forward to as you navigate unchartered territory.”
5. Establish fail-safes.
“Use a cell phone that works in the country you're visiting,” Becker says. “Find out how to contact the nearest American government office. If you plan to take an excursion outside the city limits, tell the hotel staff and use them further for recommended guides, restaurants and points of interest.”
6. Consider travel an education.
“To overcome fear or anxiety when exploring, you have to see travel as a learning experience,” Blank says. It makes good sense. If you treat yourself as a student rather than expert, you won’t feel so bad when you make mistakes or embarrass yourself. As you strive the above, you’ll likely find greater confidence and momentum. When that happens, who knows the places you’ll go?