We woke up in Ho Chi Minh City for the last time and headed to breakfast, where we ate a hearty helping of Pho. I got two pork balls in my broth, so I knew it was going to be a good day. We packed our bags and left them at the hotel reception, and we then travelled to the Buddhist Institute (Minh Dang Quang). We travelled by taxi and it took around 20 minutes. Our driver actually got a bit lost and dropped around the back of the institute which was completely walled off, so it took us about 15 minutes to walk all the way around and finally get inside! Once we were there though, it was a wonderful experience. It was a very hot day but we took our time exploring the grounds and climbing the many steps to the top of the institute.
Buddhist flags were lined like bunting all the way up towards top of the institute, and lotus flowers (Vietnam’s national flower) were placed all over the grounds. It was a really colourful, peaceful place. A gentle breeze blew the smell of intense around. As the city bustled around us, this seemed like a den of tranquillity and stillness.
When we got to the top of the institute we went into the alter room. The floor was cool and cold on my feet, and the entire room was quiet and peaceful. We sat on the cold floor of the alter room, calmly and mindfully resting and taking in the atmosphere.
After exploring the rest of the institute, we headed back down to the entrance and got a taxi to Ben Thanh Market. Stepping out of the taxi and into the market was like going from 0-100 in a matter of seconds. After sitting in the taxi and letting the calm of the Buddhist institute wash over us, we then jumped head first into narrow rows of clothes and bags and jewellery and food. Ben Thanh Market was pretty intense at first. Sellers were very keen to approach us and beckon us towards their products. Eventually though, it became easier and we got used to the chaos.
I felt uncomfortable haggling, even though I was well aware that many of the starting prices were inflated because we were tourists. There’s just something about haggling that I am absolutely terrible at. Luckily my boyfriend is an amazing haggler and we realised that we could easily always walk away from a sale if things were becoming too overwhelming. I ended up buying some trousers from a woman who convinced me by saying “They have two pockets, the one’s you’re wearing now only have one pocket!” She was very observant and she had a point, it’s all about the pockets!
After getting a few souvenirs we headed back to the hotel and booked a taxi to take us to Saigon Railway Station. The concierge at the hotel was considerate and reminded us that we should eat some dinner before getting on the sleeper train. We headed to the station and got a quick bite to eat. As we were eating the heavens opened and it started to pour with rain.
Whilst we were at the station I spent a while searching for toilet paper; every travel blog and Vietnam travel guide seemed to suggest that this was a good idea, and they were right. If you’re taking a long train or bus journey in Vietnam then definitely take your own toilet paper. We then walked over the train tracks and onto the train. I’ll go into more detail about our journey on the sleeper train in the next blog. Next stop, Nha Trang!
To see my previous post about tasting Pho for the first time and seeing breathtaking views of Ho Chi Minh City click here
My travel journey always starts with the excited planning stage. The minute I’ve booked a trip I’m like Bilbo Baggins, frolicking through the house shouting “We’re going on an adventure!”. But as the various tasks and realities of the trip come to light, I will often start to feel a degree of apprehension and worry. I have a fear or flying and severe health anxiety, so venturing into something new, whilst exciting and wonderful, also brings with it a series of worries and fears.
I relate to Bilbo Baggins on quite a spiritual level really. I love my little hobbit hole, and I’m often afraid of venturing too far, but deep down I long for adventure! We all deserve the chance to travel and see the world, and despite my apprehensions I am determined never to let my anxiety stop me from seeking adventure!
So with that in mind, here are 10 ways to deal with travel anxiety:
1. Do your research
Do as much research as you can about the country you’re visiting. Research at the culture, the history, the customs, the cuisine, anything and everything you can. Look at people’s blogs, surf the web for pictures and reviews, and let yourself become excited! The more research you do, the more familiar this place will feel when you arrive. Doing your research will also give you a confidence boost and will allow you to feel more informed and ready to explore!
2. Make some loose itineraries
This might not work for everyone, but I’ve found that forming even just a bare-bones itinerary for each trip is beneficial to me. Even if it doesn’t always unfold as planned and things change as you go along, having a plan can reduce a lot of the stress that comes with travelling. It could be as simple as writing a list of all of things that you are most keen to see and do, and then ranking them in terms of importance.
As an anxious traveller, I often find it hard to cope with too much uncertainty, but having a basic itinerary gives the trip a sense of structure. Again, this isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s super helpful!
3. Talk to your travel buddy
There’s nothing worse than having to pretend you’re okay when you’re not. If you’re travelling with someone else then try to articulate your fears and worries to them. Tell them what they can do for you in terms of support. Examples of this could be:
Telling your partner you need them to hold your hand on the plane when you take off and land
Telling a friend that whilst on your trip you may need some occasional alone time
Setting boundaries within a group and vocalising any fears you have about certain activities – know that you are always allowed to say no to things!
4. Bring something familiar
This could be your favourite music, T.V shows or films, a cuddly companion like a soft toy, or a cosy jumper or pair of socks that you love. Having something that brings you positive familiar memories can help to ground you when you’re feeling anxious or homesick. T.V shows, films and music are also a great form of escapism and they can help you to get out of your head for a while if you’re overthinking and worrying. (If you bring these, remember to download them onto your device, just in case you don’t have access to WiFi!)
5. Pack an anxiety kit
Create your own emergency kit for when you start to feel anxious. Having this on hand will not only help you in those moments of stress and anxiety, but it will also give you peace of mind throughout your trip because you’ll know that it will be there if and when you need it. Each person’s kit will be very different but I like to bring:
Lush sleepy body lotion – I find sleeping in new places really difficult and this cream has been so helpful when it comes to trying to drift off. It also smells like lavender so it is really helpful for calming panic and anxiety.
An eye mask and earplugs – as someone who also suffers from migraines these are essential for me. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed, sometimes I find it helpful to block out all sights and sounds to reduce stimulation. Most long-haul flights give you these items or you can bring your own.
Headphones – being able to listen to music, watch a bit of YouTube or listen to an audio book when you’re anxious is super helpful. It’s a form of escapism that can soothe you and encourage positive feelings.
The Calm app – the calm app is an absolute life saver when it comes to calming anxiety. They have meditations that can be done in less than 2 minutes, emergency calm meditations, sleep stories and music for meditation and relaxation. I would definitely suggest picking a few of your favourites and downloading them to your phone so that can access them offline.
My kit has a lot of sleep related items in it because my anxiety tends to sky rocket if I become sleep deprived! Whatever you feel will help to ground you and calm you, bring that with you and keep it on hand just in case.
For more information on strategies to deal with anxiety check out my previous post on Anxiety here
6. Be prepared
Being prepared is so important! One of the best things you can do for yourself if you suffer from any kind of anxiety is to be as organised as possible when it comes to packing your bags and sorting travel documents.
Lists are excellent when it comes to this. When you’re planning the trip, make a list of all the things you can’t forget to do like sorting out visas and photocopying passports etc… Then make lists of what you need to bring with you and have it all ready and packed the night before you leave. This way, when you wake up there’s no mad rushes and sudden panics about not having everything with you. There’s nothing worse than getting on a train or a bus to go to the airport and realising you’ve left something behind!
7. Give yourself a break
When travelling, we often put expectations on ourselves to do anything and everything we possibly can. Maybe you’ve felt this before, or seen other travellers on social media and felt like you need to live up to that expectation. However, just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean you should let yourself burn out!
Don’t push yourself to do things that you don’t want to do. Travelling is such an individual experience and you should never compare it to anyone else’s. It’s okay to pause when you’re travelling. Take a nap, read a book, rest, watch the world go by… just give your mind and body what it needs to re-charge. Never beat yourself up for having to take breaks when you’re travelling.
8. Be Mindful
When travelling it’s important to stay mindful. The more mindful you are, the more you can appreciate the experience of travelling without rushing it. Once you’re there, just be. Don’t be angry with yourself if you don’t see everything you wanted to. Learn to see the wonder in the small things; the language, the food, the smells and the changes in the weather. Take in the atmosphere and know that it’s not all about doing as much as possible as quickly as possible. Being mindful also allows you to focus your energy on the present, and can help with feelings of stress, pressure and anxiety.
9. Keep a Travel Diary
This is, by far, the best thing that I did for myself when I went travelling. Keeping a travel diary gave me a routine in which I was able to practise introspection. The process of writing down my experiences allowed me to look at all of the positive things I was experiencing throughout my trip. It gave me a diary full of memories that I may have otherwise forgotten. This was so helpful in calming my anxiety because it allowed me to write down all of my thoughts and feelings about travelling. It was an great creative outlet for me throughout my entire trip.
10. Enjoy the journey!
Remind yourself why your travelling. Do you want to experience new cultures? To open your mind to new ideas? Travel can be such a wonderful experience. It’s important to enjoy the journey! Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. Don’t force yourself to do or be anything other than exactly who you are. Journeys are full of ups and downs, and that’s okay!
As for me, well… let’s just say I never in a million years thought I’d be sharing a sleeper train carriage with two strangers and riding on the back of a motorbike through paddy fields. Sometimes you CAN and WILL surprise yourself. This anxious little hobbit managed it, and you can too! Seek out your adventure and you’ll return home with a head full of memories, just like Bilbo.
I’ve not written a blog for a long old time. I’ve written posts and kept them safe and sound in the drafts folder; I’ve jotted down poems and penned notes in early morning delirium, but nothing has quite come together to form one coherent post. So this time I commit to writing this with a clear head and a calm heart, and posting it without hesitation.
I was recently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which to me was simply the official term for something I have been experiencing since childhood. As an incredibly introverted Anxiety Sufferer, my mind serves as both a sanctuary and a carnival hall of mirrors. Through a life of ups and downs, doctors visits, deep conversations, painful bodily sensations and the occasional mind earthquake, I like to think I have learned a fair amount myself. The most important lesson I have learned throughout this time, however, is that many of the steps I have taken to help stem from the power of perspective. Perspective is perhaps an umbrella term, covering a multitude of things such as mindfulness, awareness, reflection, hope and gratitude. Perspective is not only what shapes the way I see the world, but it is also what allows me to observe myself in a deeper way. Last summer I went through a health scare which brought on a myriad of triggers for my anxiety. During this time I was forced to commit to taking care of myself. I wrote this, wrapped tightly in a blanket and sitting on the sofa, right in the grip of anxiety:
“When going through a hard time there are few things more helpful than Nina Simone, Otis Redding, home made chocolate cake, white tulips, lush bath bombs, Yankee candles and funny YouTube videos. I just watched the most ‘so bad it’s good’ film on Netflix called Monte Carlo, and it made me feel a little better.”
It was almost as if I was in safe mode. Have you ever had your computer crash? Usually when you do, it comes up with the option to boot up in safe mode; everything is simpler, less confusing, safe. I had to turn down the volume, and that’s exactly what I did. In this particular post, I want to share with you a list of the four main aspects of perspective, which helped me through that time, and continue to guide me through the twists and turns that Anxiety can cause. I like to think of them as ways to better my peace of mind, live reflectively, learn, grow and improve my inner strength and awareness. Anxiety is a struggle, it is difficult and it is different for every single person who experiences it. This list is simply my personal treasure chest, into which I often delve in times of intense strain and struggle, but also in times of joy and peace. Whether or not these things help you, please know and trust that you are deeply loved and that you are never alone in your journey; we all walk with you.
Observing your own thoughts and physical sensations is one of the most tried and tested methods of relaxation, this is also more commonly referred to as mindfulness and/or meditation. Mindfulness is a huge part of observing, and one of the best things I ever did for myself was download the Calm App. This app is a wonderful tool. You can listen to guided meditation, soothing music and wonderful sleep stories, which are a particular favourite of mine and can help with the insomnia that Anxiety can often induce. The app can be used on your phone, tablet or even computer and is available here: https://www.calm.com/
The other aspect of observation is looking outside of ourselves at the world around us. Through times of stress, I believe that quietly observing nature can be extremely helpful. I like to observe anything from wide sprawling landscapes to small intricate details:
The first of these images is aptly taken from a lake hide. It is a place to observe the nature around you without being seen, a place to simply look and listen, I believe this is a wonderful symbol. The second is a picture of a large red damsel fly, which flew onto my knee and just sat contently for about 5 minutes. This was one very special and calming experience. In both cases, I was actively observing what was happening around me and to me, and simply taking in the beauty of the situation, as well as a whole lot of fresh air!
For me, the countryside is a particularly calming place, but everyone has their own preference. Perhaps you enjoy people watching, or looking at the city lights at dusk. Whatever it is you enjoy watching, do it. Consider the details, the stories and the origins of what you are looking at. Try to listen to and accept the noises, the smells and the atmosphere around you. I find that this is a useful strategy for staying calm during times where you are unable to look within yourself for comfort. As someone who lives in a big city, I am well aware of the stress that can be brought on by commuting around the city and the unrelenting hustle and bustle. In these times, I try to accept what is around me, and look for the positive sights. It could be as simple as a cat strolling down the street, or a brightly coloured front door.
Another useful Perspective I have frequently called upon is the use of ‘Doing’. This could be anything from physically doing things to being creatively and intellectually engaged.
The two physical activities I personally find the most helpful for soothing of Anxiety are walking and practising Yoga. I am not an athlete, I still have flashbacks of the middle school bleep test (if you’ve not heard of this save yourself and don’t look it up, it’s the stuff of nightmares). However, I really enjoy practising yoga. Finding an exercise you enjoy can be a really important tool for combating anxiety as it allows you to actively observe your body in an incredibly healthy way. I believe Yoga is the perfect exercise for Anxiety sufferers, not only because it has strong ties to meditation and mindful practise, but also because it is an exercise you can do in your own home. I practise yoga right from my living room by watching this wonderful woman:
Her practise relies heavily on self belief, free breathing and being kind to yourself, and she has several videos related to combating stress, anxiety and nerves specifically.
The other aspect of ‘Doing’ relates to the stimulation of the mind. This aspect of Perspective is something that helped me tremendously. The main outlets I began to use were cooking and baking, writing, and colouring:
These are a few of my little creations. I found that actually making things with my bare hands was a welcome channel for my mind, and allowed me to focus on something physical that I enjoy and is aesthetically pleasing. With each creation I felt like I had accomplished something, however small. With cooking, especially, I found that making a meal for myself and my boyfriend was really rewarding and therapeutic. Admittedly, for many people cooking is more of a source for stress than it is therapy, but there are a countless other pleasurable ways to stimulate the mind and the imagination in a constructive way, things like writing stories, doodling, gardening, pottery, carpentry, learning to knit or make origami animals, or even something as simple as buying some freshly cut flowers and trimming them before putting them on display. It’s about finding what makes you feel calm, but stimulated.
This is very much the most self-care centred aspect of Perspective. Rest is primarily about giving yourself the space to deal with the physical and mental sensations that your Anxiety is causing. It is about allowing yourself the opportunity to do things you enjoy; perceiving the things in your life which make you happy; and seeking out the time to do them. These should be activities that make you content and calm; things that allow your perspective to shift into a calm state in which you are simply resting and allowing yourself to heal. Rest is the balm that anxiety so desperately needs. It is the breath of fresh air and the calm after the storm. An important aspect of rest is also literal sleep, and this is often something which can shape our perspective of the next morning. When I was having trouble sleeping through a particularly stressful bout of anxiety and worry, I decided to purchase a body lotion from Lush called ‘Sleepy’. I’m sure a lot of you will already of heard of this product, and I want to assure you that is simply amazing. I use it for migraines, getting to sleep, and general times of stress in which I need a soothing and calming smell:
We all relax and rest in different ways. I like to eat tiramisu, take long baths, see my family, watch Steven Universe and listen to audio books. For you it might be a different list. I truly believe this aspect of perspective is one that everyone should observe. Taking time for yourself, even in the smallest ways, is always important. As you grow and change the list will get longer, and perhaps at certain times the amount of time you are able to give to yourself may change too, but please look after yourself, please rest.
Reflection is perhaps one of the most important Perspectives. Reflection is about considering and in some cases documenting the way you feel. At times this will be about documenting how your anxiety is affecting you, what physical sensations you feel, what made you feel better, why you feel this way. At other times, and hopefully more frequently, your reflections on life will be filled with wonderful memories and times in which you felt good, calm, relaxed, brave, proud, happy or all of the above! It is important not to dwell on reflection, but to use when you need or want to, and when it will serve you well. Reflection can be harnessed through writing and journaling, speaking to loved ones or trained professionals, and also artistic outlets like photography and art.
I have personally used all of these methods to observe the way in which I am feeling and the sensations I am experiencing. As well as being a useful outlet for inner thoughts and feelings, it is also helpful and insightful to look back at these musings and see how far you have come since those moments. For me personally, reflection allows me to feel a great deal of gratitude, which is a precious thing indeed. Reflection is an important tool that has helped me grow and develop not only as someone with Anxiety but also as a human being.
I hope that this post has been of some use to those who have come upon it. Whether you have Anxiety or just want to feel a little more at peace with the world and yourself, I hope this list will help you to become aware, observant, reflective and content with the world around you.