Some people want to make us believe that travel is the cure to everything and can heal anything from a broken heart to mental issues. I don’t believe that to be necessarily true and sometimes quite the opposite takes place. While travel is a big part of my life as a digital nomad, I have come to realize how hard it can be to deal with certain issues when I am on the road and sometimes no amount of good healthcare and travel insurance can help.

I have been actively traveling on my own for the past 15 years and very few things phase me when I am on the road. However, I am also an anxious person in general and have had my fair share of anxiety attacks which at their height I had to battle with medication and therapy. While I have learned how to deal with certain triggers over time, others still come back to haunt me from time to time and they tend to hit me a lot harder when I am on the road. From conversation with friends and family I have come to realize that I am not alone and that there is little worse than having anxiety or panic attacks when you are far from home.

On my recent trip to Mexico, it happened again and I had to grapple with anxiety, sleepless nights and neverending tears while stuck in what others presume to be paradise: Tulum.

It started innocently enough when after a week of enjoying myself over tacos & Coronas I met a guy on Tinder. We hit it off immediately until he left without a word. What I may have written off with a shoulder shrug at home triggered something in me as it collided with another major incident: my passport literally tore and I was stuck in Mexico. Countless calls to the German consulate, a very expensive one-way return ticket later, and my only contact person gone without a trace left me spiraling into anxiety that no amount of tequila (believe me I tried) nor beach views could cure.

Now a few days later, I am the proud owner of an emergency passport, said return ticket home, and a much clearer head. What helped me was a mix of helpful little tactics that have proven their worth countless times which I want to share with you today should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, alone and in a foreign country.

Know yourself

If you ever had to deal with anxiety in the past, chances are you already know what your triggers are. For my friend it is tight, enclosed spaces for me it is a feeling of abandonment (thanks, dude, a Whatsapp would have been nice!). Whatever your trigger might be, if you know about it you can try to plan ahead to avoid the situation altogether. Don’t fall for the illusion that just because you are on holiday all these triggers will go away. For good or bad, we take ourselves (and our issues) with us wherever we go.

Prepare for the worst

After a really bad time in my life when I was battling with anxiety for months at a time, I never went anywhere without some Ativan and Bachflowers. Years later, feeling “normal” most of the time I forgot about the comfort of just having these medications on me. Needless to say, you shouldn’t take any prescription drugs without a doctors supervision but it helps to have at least to have some natural remedies at hand. Especially should you find yourself in a country where any kind of anti-anxiety meds are not sold over the counter like in Mexico or you don’t know what local products are available it helps to stock up your first aid kit with some tried and trusted pills and remedies.

Have a support network

The most important thing that helped me through these difficult days was my support network of friends and family back home. Make sure you have accommodation with wifi or even better get yourself a local SIM card so you can reach out when you need to. I am a huge fan of Whatsapp calls and also have Skype on my phone so I can call my parents on their landline for cheap regardless of where I am.
In addition, I was incredibly grateful to know people from Mexico who could advise on local pharmacies, consulates and how to ask for help in Spanish. If you happen to find yourself in a country where you don’t know anyone, why not reach out to the girls in our Travelettes Facebook group? Sometimes a local girlfriend tops any Tinder date!

Get moving

This holds true whether you are on the road or battling with anxiety at home. As much as you just want to lay in bed and pull the covers over your head, get moving. This can be as little as a walk or a jog around the block or in my case booking a week of scuba diving, my version of therapy. Alternatively, find a local yoga studio or book yourself a nice relaxing massage.

Feed yourself goodness

When I get anxious my appetite vanishes completely and if I don’t want to eat, I know something is wrong. At the same time, I know by now that hunger and anxiety don’t mix well so I make a point to eat something even if I don’t want to. Healthy, small portions tend to do the trick for me and when it gets really bad I forgo the healthy and go for comfort food in form of pizza or pasta. There are some things that even tacos al pastor can’t cure.

Watch your liquids

As much as I like to drink tequila & Co. at times when I am not feeling well, deep down I know that any kind of stimulates only makes it worse. So cut back on caffeine and alcohol and instead opt for a healthy smoothie and lots of water. Drinking water really is a miracle cure so make sure to restock your refillable water bottle frequently – I promise you, it instantly helps!

Creature of habit

We travel to escape routine yet sometimes nothing is more soothing. Even simple acts like taking a shower and brushing your teeth help. Stick to meal times, schedule a workout, and try to get as much normality into your day as possible. Even mastering little tasks will make you feel accomplished and will give you a sense of feeling grounded.

Treat yourself

As much as we like to travel to get out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves, sometimes we need to call it quits and forgo the 20-bed dorm and bucket showers for something a bit nicer. I am a firm believer that tears spilled on a nice hotel bed are not as bad as those spilled on the lumpy mattress of a cheap hostel bathed in neon light. So if you can – now is the time to treat yourself. Get yourself a nice hotel room, book a spa treatment or buy yourself all day access to the fancy beach club – whatever it takes, get comfortable.
For me, another biggie is noise, something I am very susceptible to especially at night. So when anxiety hits, I try to be away from big crowds and loud music and if nothing else helps I have a pair of good earplugs as well as an eye mask at hand.

If all else fails – go home

We travelers are funny creatures at times who think we need to stick it out and just get comfortable within the discomfort. While that holds true a lot of times when serious issues hit us like anxiety attacks I am a firm believer there is no shame in just going home. Make sure you have good travel insurance in place (I personally like Worldnomads) and have a credit card with a big enough spending limit for emergencies so you can book a flight home if nothing else helps.
I cannot stress that enough but there is no shame in quitting, in taking care of yourself, and in knowing that sometimes the only thing that helps is sitting on your Mom’s couch and being spoiled like a little girl again. Fly home, take care of yourself, and know that the world will still be there tomorrow for you to explore when you feel better.

Have you battled with anxiety while traveling before? Any other tips?