What Solo Travel Taught Me About Anxiety



This post was contributed by Tina Pishofta.

As travelers, we all have memories over which we constantly reminisce. There are the hazy snapshots from our first time on an airplane, the impromptu 8-hour bus ride because tickets went cheap, the spontaneous road trip with friends and that dreamy European city that made us take the leap and move abroad. Every experience is meaningful in its own right but the one milestone I tend to think about the most is my first solo trip to Lyon because of what it taught me about anxiety. One of my 2019 resolutions was to explore more in France. Yet, May came along and I had still only managed to visit one city… Paris. With the academic year over, I was determined to make the most of my summer. Some googling away and my itinerary was set: for the first leg of the trip, I would visit some friends in Grenoble and then I would travel solo to Lyon. To top off the solo experience? Going to the Nuits Sonores festival to watch live my favorite artist, James Blake.

Lyon, France’s third biggest city, was an absolute joy to discover. It is a luminous city, and I mean this quite literally: it is famous for the Fête des Lumières in December and the Lumière brothers are lyonnais. Located in south-east of France, the people are incredibly welcoming (dare I say they’re the sweetest in all of France?).

After checking into my hostel room and as I was ready to set out for a first glimpse of the city, I felt my all too familiar anxiety bubbling up. Here I was, the epitome of an introvert in a city I’ve never been before, with hardly any research done prior to my arrival and barely knowing anyone. But, as J.D. McClatchy said, “anxiety is sewn into the lining of euphoria.” So I started wandering around aimlessly and my feet eventually carried me to the Cour des Voraces. Through the shortcut there, I climbed up the slopes of La Croix-Rousse and took in the beauty of the city from above, before entering Vieux Lyon where I fueled up on the local cuisine. And you can’t possibly be in France if you don’t visit at least one cathedral. There are two must-sees in Lyon; the Saint Jean Cathedral and the Notre Dame de Fourvière up on the hill. The fact that I didn’t properly do my research came back to bite me because I wasn’t aware of the fact that there was a funicular and I had to climb some very steep steps. For those wondering, by the end of the day I had walked 20 kilometers.

In the evening, I was at a bar by the river with some friends, drinking an overpriced pint and being blissfully happy before going to another bar with a game-night where I was getting tipsy on Piña Coladas and giggling at how invested the French can get with trivia games.

At the Museum of Fine Arts the next day, I marveled at all the art students filming a performance in the gardens, the countless artists sitting on uncomfortable stools working on their skills and the chic Art History students speaking in hushed voices and emotional gestures before breath-taking sculptures. Before getting to the festival, I dined at a Thai restaurant with a woman I met that same morning at the hostel and after the concert, I discussed French cities and what makes each of them unique with my Uber driver. During my last morning in Lyon, I sat down for breakfast and chatted in franglais with people from France, La Réunion and Switzerland before getting on my FlixBus back to Strasbourg.

The misconceptions about solo traveling are endless. Some say it gets lonely or that it can be dangerous. Others think that their solo trip will be a life-changing experience where they’ll meet the love of their lives or have a moviesque romantic escapade with a local at the very least. There can be a grain of truth in all of that: I was feeling embarrassed when I was eating at a restaurant by myself and felt families staring my way, I was awkward when I was at the festival all alone and my heart fluttered when the waiter at the café of the Fine Arts Museum told me that the macaroons I ordered were his treat.

But the kernel of truth I wasn’t prepared for my solo trip to offer, was the insight it gave me about anxiety. For the first time, I organically treated my anxiety with compassion and understanding instead of my usual disregard. I was actually obliged to spot the reasons for my discomfort and find a solution so I could enjoy what little time I had in Lyon. I considered my wants and actually worked around them by also taking into account, instead of ignoring, my anxiety. Recognizing all these things resulted in a two-night stay in a city where I knew I would feel safe for this new adventure, letting go of the societal expectations of enjoying a trip, eating at a restaurant or going to a concert in groups, asking for help when I needed it and defocusing from myself when too overwhelmed.

Travelling solo might be nerve-wrecking, especially when anxiety is added to the equation.

But everyone has their own methods to deal with it and finding mine was much easier when I was out travelling by myself. Now, whenever I feel anxious, I actually analyze how I feel instead of overthinking and I can only thank my solo-trip for turning my anxiety into a resourceful asset.

Meet Tina: I’m Tina, a 22 year-old Cypriot studying in Strasbourg. Keep up with me on IG. 

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