I spend so much time searching for new stories in the world that sometimes I neglect to tell my own. Why do I travel? What do I love about it so much?
It’s simple, really. I have anxiety and I have found it to be one of the best ways to push myself out of my comfort zone and confront it head on. I am in my early 30s and it wasn’t until I took a day-long seminar last year about anxiety that I fully understood what I was going through and had been since I was a child. Being an independent, opinionated, anxious person has always been very confusing for me. One minute I am marching off to take over the world and the next minute I am curled up under a blanket on the couch not wanting to talk to anyone. Welcome to the world of anxiety.
As a child and young adult my anxiety manifested itself as separation anxiety. If I was with my family or people that I trusted like family then I was fine, but if I wasn’t I would become severely homesick, sometimes even to the point of incapacitation. Many a sleepover was cut short and my parents even had to pick me up from a two-week long summer camp when I was a teenager. It never bothered me if friends cancelled plans because it meant I could stay home. I knew being a recluse wasn’t going to get me far in life, though, so when I hit high school I tried very hard to be sociable and outgoing, but I had to work at it each and every day.
Yet, simultaneously in 1994 I was bitten by the travel bug. That summer my family and I traveled to England so that my father could join my grandfather in Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing. My grandfather had landed on Utah Beach as a member of the U.S. Army. For two weeks we explored England and its idyllic countryside and spent a weekend in London. I absolutely ate it up. I couldn’t get enough of it! The second place we stayed in was located in the Peak District of northern England with its rolling hills and low stone walls that went on forever. Our rental was an apartment in North Lees Hall, a stone tower house built in the 1590s. For a budding history buff I was in heaven.
In high school I had another chance to travel overseas, this time with my school. Although they don’t do it anymore, it used to be that every year the junior class would go on missions trips around the world the week before spring break. There were always two overseas options and one in the states. Before the trips were announced I had already told my parents that I was going to Europe. Period. I would sell fruit in the fundraiser and get a part-time job to help make it happen. As a result, I traveled to Rome and Florence, Italy, for ten days. As soon as we hit our hotel in Rome I was homesick. As anyone with anxiety knows, we all have triggers and one of mine is exhaustion. We had just flown around the world, taken a long bus and subway ride, been marched around the city to keep us awake until Rome bedtime and arrived at our hotel absolutely wiped. I survived the first night solely because I was so tired I was able to pass out but the rest of the trip was a continual battle with myself. By the grace of God and the help of a wise chaperone, I managed to enjoy the trip and make the most of it. I did throw my coin in the Trevi Fountain so I will go back one day!
Yet, even as I hit college I was still dealing with anxiety and trying to find ways to cope. I knew I couldn’t always cling to my family so I found comfort in routine and, crazily enough, in making myself try new things. I still had panic attacks but nowhere near as frequently as I did as a child. In college my classes and my friendships opened my eyes to new things and I always tried to surround myself with people more outgoing than me. I knew they would help pull me out of myself. I finally started taking roadtrips on my own, even if they were to visit family, but for me that was a big step.
After graduation I moved back home to work full-time and attend grad school. I continued to travel to see family and friends but I knew that I wanted to take a trip fully by myself. The summer of 2013 gave me that chance after I ended a long, bad relationship and quit my job in order to move to Washington, DC. Another passion of mine is genealogy and I had always wanted to travel to Wisconsin to see where my paternal grandmother had grown up and where my father had traveled to every summer as a child. There were distant relatives a few hours away but my week-long trip to Milwaukee and the Wisconsin countryside was all by myself. I booked my flight, rental car, and hotel and mapped out my week. There were plenty of times I felt anxious and ended up having to skip a couple things because I could tell a panic attack was imminent if I didn’t get some rest, but overall it was an absolutely amazing trip. No matter who you are and no matter what struggles you may be dealing with, everyone needs to experience traveling alone at least once. It is so refreshing and a great way to build self-esteem.
I will never be “cured” of anxiety but my goal is to continue to hone my coping mechanisms to make it manageable. Do I still have panic attacks? Yes, about once or twice a year. Do I still avoid situations because they make me anxious? Yes, but not as frequently as I used to. Anxiety will always be a part of my life but I refuse to let it rule me. Life is always going to happen but I do have the ability to choose how I respond.
So many thanks to my followers for listening to my story and continuing to read about my adventures. You have become a part of my solution. I continue to push past my anxiety because I need and want to travel to new places to write about for you. Happy travels!