Earlier this year, Nigerian-American Yewande Akinrodoye traveled alone for the first time. Although the 28-year-old technology analyst based at the DMV had already visited twenty different countries, she had not yet ventured into traveling alone.
As the owner of a travel business that curates trips for other travelers, it’s important for Wande to travel often to be knowledgeable about the destinations she recommends to her clients. Since she works remotely, she enjoys the flexibility to travel anywhere and still be able to work. But this is not the case for all her friends.
“So one day I decided to try a solo trip and see what happens!” says Wande. “I see so many people talking about how great solo travel is and how it lets you get to know yourself better, so I was like why not?”
One of her first solo trips was to Thailand AND Singapore. Destinations that had been on her bucket list for a very long time, she was looking forward to finally having the opportunity to experience the culture and authenticity of Southeast Asia. She booked her accommodation, planned her activities and bought new clothes, all the while full of excitement.
“But then, two days before my trip, I woke up having severe panic attacks. So many questions crossed my mind: Are you really ready to travel alone to two different countries and five cities in one month? Are you sure you will have fun alone? What will it be like to travel from island to island alone without help? Will you miss all the activities at home with your friends?“
Her panic attacks usually consist of a racing heart, chest pain, shortness of breath or throat tightness, and sometimes chills. Having experienced panic attacks in the past at very important times in her life, Wande was aware of the signs and knew that what she was experiencing was due to anxiety and fear.
With so much that could go wrong, Wande was worried about her safety being in a foreign country alone as a woman; she was afraid of being raped, kidnapped or having her belongings stolen, among other things.
I started thinking, maybe i shouldn’t do this. I can wait until my sister or one of my friends wants to travel with me. After that, I called my mom, who prayed for me and told me I would be fine.”
With the support of her loved ones, Wande decided to continue her planned journey. She boarded her flight and the first stop was Singapore. She checked into her beautiful hotel and panic set in again as she realized that not only was she alone, but that with everyone she knew 12 hours later, communication would be difficult.
“At this point, the fact that I was alone on another continent really kicked in. I started to cry and wonder, what am I doing here Why would I come alone on a trip? This is going to be a lonely four weeks.
To calm herself, Wande thought about her passion for travel and remembered why she had set out on the trip in the first place, which was to learn about a new culture and meet new people. Often described as a social butterfly by her friends, Wande enjoys meeting new people and making connections during her travels.
“Having said that, because I paid so much for this trip, I had to burst into tears very quickly. I asked myself, what is the reason for my tears What am I doing crying in a beautiful place, in a wonderful hotel with an infinity pool? Because I feel alone? In a hotel where there are people everywhere, how can I not interact with them? And there are so many fun activities I have planned. At that moment, I forgot the feeling of loneliness and went back to work. Sometimes you have to remind yourself of everything that’s going on around you.”
Wande found that going out and meeting others helped eliminate her fears and feelings of loneliness. Meeting other solo travelers like her and participating in group activities was refreshing for her and helped remind her that she was not alone.
“The causes of anxiety vary from person to person. And for me in this situation, feeling alone or feeling unsafe during my travels is where my anxiety was high. So just being surrounded by other travelers made me feel safe and that feeling of loneliness disappeared. Also, I was able to make so many friends on this trip and connect with people I wouldn’t have been able to connect with if I had been on a group trip. I met friends on all the different islands I visited! I remember meeting a group of friends and one of the guys had traveled to all the states of America on a motorcycle! You start to learn more and see the world in a different light, and at that point, you don’t even remember ever feeling anxious.”
Kind gestures from locals can make visitors feel welcome and that they are part of the community. When Wande’s Grab driver dropped her off at the wrong place in Chiang Mai, Thailand, she felt lost and alone. However, a local stopped to help her, even walking her to her destination.
“On the way there, I asked her about some Thai words I was having trouble pronouncing and she helped me with them. This happened during my entire trip! The locals were very welcoming and made us feel at home. You don’t even have to be social to engage with the locals, but you have to try!”
Another memorable moment was when her Thai instructor taught her how to grind peppers using a mortar and pestle during a cooking class in Bangkok.
“She was very shocked to see me doing it over and over again. Like one Nigerian, I have used this at home before so I was used to it. There was a feeling of caressing at that moment. There are many similarities between cultures that you are not aware of.”
After such an enjoyable trip, Wande is glad she decided to push past her anxiety and venture around the world as a solo traveler. For others who may suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, Wande wants to share a technique she finds helpful.
“My therapist taught me one way to stay grounded was to think about these 5 things:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can enjoy”
“It’s really helped me, especially when I’m short of breath or feel like the world is closing in on me. Then I always remember why I am where I am. I travel because it usually brings me peace, so even if it’s a single trip, I can do the same if I just take the single part out of my mind.”
Wande also found it helpful to avoid her triggers as much as possible, which were being too lonely and having FOMO due to missing her family and friends. So instead of being on social media, she focused on enjoying her trip. In times of anxiety, she exercised. In Phuket, she even took a Muay Thai class.
So if you’ve been thinking about traveling alone but have been stuck because of fear, Wande recommends taking a leap of faith and going for it. Chances are you’ll end up having a ball, meeting new people and experiencing lots of new things.
“I found myself riding a prancing horse in Egypt. It was such a great time and I know when my mom saw the picture she probably started praying for my safety lol. But really, go have fun and do things you wouldn’t normally do! Just remember why you are doing it. Make sure it’s something you feel very strongly about as it will help ease your anxiety when you remember your ‘why’ behind it. If you’re worried about safety, remember that nowhere is truly safe. You just have to be careful wherever you go.”
“It’s okay to be afraid of the unknown. As humans, we all have fears. Your fear will be valid on your journey. As a result, you become more aware of your surroundings, which helps you stay safe! And, remember you can’t fail at something until you try. There is no limit to what you can achieve. Why? There have been others who have done it, and if they can do it, you can do it even better. That’s my philosophy on everything! Additionally, I won’t recommend you stop reading travel blogs before you travel, but don’t take everything you read or see as gospel. Remember to take everything you read with a grain of salt.”
“Also, you can do the following to help with security issues:
- Share your location with at least one friend before you travel
- Stay in touch with your family and friends so they know where you are from time to time.
- Stay in a hotel for sure than stay in an Airbnb.
- Buy portable locks for your hotel doors for extra security”
“And much more! Start your solo trip in the country before flying 10 hours away from home. If you live in the US, you can fly from Miami to Arizona for a weekend trip. Also, don’t start with long breaks. Start with short solo travel weekends.”
“Then, I’d recommend planning at least part of your trip before you leave (ie, finding activities to do, restaurants to eat at, and more). Make sure you have a flexible goal in mind. Don’t plan too much because, in real life, you may not be able to do or see half of what you planned, which can cause you anxiety. But be flexible and plan part of your trip. It excites you and helps relieve your anxiety.”
“Furthermore, I wanted to discuss why solo travel may not be suitable for everyone. Before embarking on this solo travel journey, I researched so many travel bloggers to see how they approached it and what they experienced. Most of the blogs I read emphasized the importance of knowing yourself. After reading this, I decided that when I take my first solo trip, I need to pack my books, book a spa treatment, and isolate myself on this journey of self-discovery.”
“However, solo travel is about experiencing everything to the fullest. Getting yourself out there is what it’s all about. Traveling and isolating yourself is something you can do in your own city, so why travel? You must be willing to interact with the locals. Being open to new experiences and trying new things in a new place is essential. It’s all about expanding your community as you interact with others. Not saying that you shouldn’t spend a moment to yourself during your travels! Please read that book or get that massage, but make sure you’re putting yourself out there as much as you can!”
This year, Wande is looking forward to a mini trip and visit to Europe Africa. You can follow it TIK Tok AND Instagram and visit her site at www.wanderwithwande.com.
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