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Stress-Free in Patagonia, 2011

Stress-Free in Patagonia, 2011

Edit: This article was written as part of a campaign for Stress Awareness Month (April) by Dropcam, a home security company that allows you to be in two places at once. Check them out here!

Calmness is not my forte.

Those who know me personally probably know about my tendency to worry, and to think about the worst possible things that could happen. My sister calls it being an emotional superhero. I wish my catastrophizing were that cool. A former teacher of mine once said that he could never have imagined me moving abroad each year to a new country when I was younger. I was always (and still am) introverted, shy, and nervous.

Despite all that, I travel. I find it really important to get out into the world and see a little bit of everything. It’s a big part of my life, and may be my lifestyle for many years to come. How did a nervous, worrying, shy teenager become a circumnavigating nomad?

It’s a long story, but it boils down to three concrete steps. I’ll not list them in a convenient listicle for you, because I hate that format. But follow me here. I truly believe that anyone can become a globe-trotting traveller, and that stress is one of the things you have to master in order to get there. Luckily, the steps are relatively easy.

Tuscany, 2007

Tuscany, 2007

First and foremost, get yourself some travel mantras. No, this isn’t some new agey thing I picked up in India while backpacking there for two months. This is a practice that I began when I took my first trip abroad alone at the age of 19.

I was so nervous that I threw up in the airport after security. I had never been on a plane alone before, and I was flying to a city most Americans had never heard of (unfortunately it’s now infamous, thanks to the Amanda Knox murder trial). I was inexperienced and green. I thought you had to bring shampoo to Italy and a boatload of deodorant. You know, because Europeans are smelly (Not actually true).

A lot changed on that first trip, but one of the biggest things was the addition of travel mantras. They’ve become my words to live by, the things I turn to when the shit hits the inevitable fan. Or my face. The very first one, after getting thrown off a train from Perugia to Assisi on my very first venture into solo travel:

Get on the next train. 

I’ve since added many more to that list, but my favourite is a shameless reference to Game of Thrones. Did I mention that this traveller is positively terrified of flying? The only thing that gets me through takeoff and turbulence:

The only time you can be brave is when you are afraid. Be brave. Be brave. Be Brave. 
At the summit of Mt. Bierstadt, August 2011

At the summit of Mt. Bierstadt, August 2011

Travelling alone is the second thing that truly helped transform my stress into travel. Beyond travel mantras, I found it so empowering to wander alone in the world and seek out experiences that I could treasure as my own forever. This is especially important for women. Women must take time to travel alone. There is nothing better for changing into a confident being than being forced to rely only on yourself.

You’ll find that you are far more capable than you ever imagined. Travelling alone removes distractions. It demands you watch out for yourself; there’s no one else to mind your bag! It makes you realise how much good there is in the world, and how kind most people truly are. It opens up the possibility of trips you’d never take if you sat around waiting for someone to follow you.

Travelling alone is the true way to reorganise your brain about stress. You alone are responsible for your experiences, and it feels good! Who knows? If you go on that random hiking trip alone, you might just meet your perfect travelling partner!

Rafting the Ganga, 2013

Rafting the Ganga, 2013

Perhaps the biggest thing that helps my nervous arse get out there into the world and travel is planning. Planning ahead eases my nervous mind, and tricks it. Other nervous people will recognise the feeling that you are in a constant battle with your nervous self, trying to outsmart them. Planning, with spreadsheets (yes, travel spreadsheets), is my favourite trick.

I plan meticulously. I make it concrete. I make lists of packing supplies and run trial packs up to a month in advance of a trip. I budget. I focus. The nerves fall away.

I always know that I will have to let go of my tiny plan at some point in a trip. Sometimes practically immediately. But the planning is a travel ritual, a means to an end. I can let myself off the hook and just travel, knowing that everything is taken care of at home and in my bag. My minuscule level of control, keeping my nervous brain satisfied.

The London Eye, 2013

The London Eye, 2013

People often ask me how I travel so much. Or why. I don’t have concrete answers to those questions, but I know it’s right for me. And it’s right for you, too. The most discouraging thing is to see someone give up on travelling, just because they are nervous.

Travel through your stress, and gain the world. Take it from someone who knows.

7 comments on “How to Travel Through Your Stress, By Someone Who Should Know

  1. Anne-Marie Colwell says:

    Such good advice. You only forgot: travel light.
    And by the way, even through your “shyness” you always struck me as knowing exactly what you wanted (or not wanted).
    You suffer from the same illness as my hubby (worried and nervous); my take is that it is an illness shared by very bright brains

    1. Coleen says:

      Good to know that it was obvious even at a young age! Bright brains have to keep tricking their worried parts, or we never get things done.

  2. mmonroe841 says:

    “no plan survives first encounter with the enemy,” or the train schedules, apparently! nice piece

  3. Nana says:

    Very well written. You are so good at this. Love you.

    1. Coleen says:

      Love you too, Nana! Can’t wait to see you in June.

  4. Sarah E. says:

    It’s great to hear that you have worked through your hesitations to wander the world, that must be your true passion, or you wouldn’t be doing it, right? I tend to be sporadic, plan-less, and always late so it seems there is no “perfect” traveler personality, but rather a perseverance of the soul!! Safe travels, I enjoyed your writing.

    Sarah E.

    1. Coleen says:

      Thanks for the compliment! I definitely don’t think this is the only way to get around to travelling, but it works for me. Travel on!

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