Skip to Content

Dealing With Social Anxiety While Traveling

When you travel, you constantly encounter social situations. You have to talk to people when buying tickets, passing through immigration, ordering food at restaurants, and checking into your hotel. You’ll spend most of your time in public spaces. In some countries, you may be approached by people on the street trying to sell you things or just chat with you. If you stay in hostels, there will always be other people around. You’re constantly meeting new people.

If you suffer from social anxiety, travel can be overwhelming. Your anxiety can hold you back and prevent you from enjoying your trip. You may struggle with eating alone, asking directions, or just being in public spaces. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to mentally prepare yourself and control your anxiety to make traveling alone a little less stressful. 

I’ve suffered from social anxiety for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, it makes travel a real challenge. I struggle with eating alone and starting conversations with strangers. The good news is that you can travel with social anxiety. So far, I have traveled to 66 countries on 6 continents while suffering from social anxiety. It hasn’t been easy but it is possible. It just takes a little more effort and planning.

Social anxiety is a mental health disorder that causes people to feel anxious in social situations. Even the thought of social interactions can cause stress. People with social anxiety may appear awkward or weird. Real physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, rapid heart rate, and panic attacks can occur. 

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia
You don’t have to miss out on travel because you have social anxiety
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Travel Can Be a Treatment for Social Anxiety

Travel can help treat your social anxiety through exposure. Exposure is one of the most common treatment methods therapists use to for patients with social anxiety. Therapists put patients situations that cause anxiety. Eventually, they get used to the discomfort. This may not be a cure but it makes the anxiety more manageable.

You will be forced into social situations when you travel. You’ll have to talk to people while buying tickets, checking into hotels, buying food, etc. You may get lost and have to ask a stranger for directions. You may face a language barrier. Someone sitting next to you on a bus or train might start a conversation with you. You’ll also have to go into restaurants and eat alone. All of this can cause anxiety.

Constantly exposing yourself to these social situations can ease the anxiety over time. You simply get used to the feeling. Your social skills also improve over time so you have fewer awkward encounters. You learn how to socialize. It will be uncomfortable and you will have to work at it but it will help. 

One really nice thing about travel is that you won’t have to see the people that you meet again. This can make you feel a little less anxious when talking to people. If you say or do something embarrassing, it doesn’t matter as much. You also won’t run into anyone you already know. You’re anonymous. I always remind myself of this while I’m feeling anxious. It helps to ease the anxiety. It gives me the confidence to take some risks and speak up. 

Another nice thing about solo travel is that you can leave if you’re feeling uncomfortable. Maybe you meet a group of people at the hostel and decide to go sightseeing with them. If the socializing gets to be too much, you can excuse yourself and go do your own thing. You don’t owe them anything. Knowing that you can just leave can give you the confidence to put yourself in more social situations. It gives some peace of mind. 

Solo travel can also make you feel more confident in yourself. After you solo travel for a while, you realize that you can get around, go sightseeing, go out to eat, and meet new people all on your own. You are capable. There will be some unexpected setbacks and awkward encounters but you can just move on. Realizing this can help you in real life when you come home. 

I use travel as an opportunity to work on my social anxiety. It’s one of the reasons I like travel so much. It’s important to note that your anxiety can get worse again when you return home if you don’t continue working on it. When I’m traveling, my social anxiety fades. When I return home, it comes right back if I don’t continue exposing myself to social situations. 

Istanbul, Turkey
Simply exposing yourself to crowded places can help reduce your anxiety over time

Do Your Research and Plan Ahead 

Researching every aspect of your trip and making a plan can help reduce your anxiety. Most people who suffer from social anxiety fear the unknown. They fear being unexpectedly put into social situations. They fear starting conversations and being the center of attention.

If you research everything and plan ahead, you’ll experience fewer unexpected surprises. If you’re prepared, you can reduce the number of social interactions by being prepared. You won’t have to ask a stranger questions. You can’t plan for everything but you can be prepared. Knowing what you’re doing and where you’re going will help to calm your nerves.

Before your trip:

  • Make a detailed itinerary.
  • Research how to travel from the airport to your hostel.
  • Study the location of all the places you plan to visit and how to get there.
  • Research different things you want to do. People with social anxiety often prefer quieter activities like visiting a museum or art gallery instead of going to a crowded and chaotic market.
  • Research different foods that you want to try.
  • Write down important information such as emergency numbers and the name and address of your hostel.
  • Read about the local culture. Learn a few important words in the local language.

The more information you have, the more comfortable you will feel. 

As a person with social anxiety, I have to research more than the average traveler so I feel comfortable. Two things make me particularly anxious while traveling. One is not knowing how I’m going to get somewhere. I spend a lot of time researching directions and transportation options so I don’t get lost.

Another thing that causes me anxiety is not knowing where I’m going to sleep at night. I like to know where I’m staying at least a week in advance. Once, while visiting Amsterdam, I ended up having to spend a night on the street because I arrived late and all of the hostels were fully booked. I never want to experience that again.

Choose the Right Destination

Some destinations are better suited for people with social anxiety than others. This is because cultures vary. In some countries, people are very loud and extroverted and social. In other countries, people are quiet and keep to themselves. Those with social anxiety will probably feel more comfortable traveling in countries where people keep to themselves. 

Some of the best destinations for people with social anxiety include Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the U.S., Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland, and Switzerland.

Last year, I traveled to Japan. I think it’s the perfect destination for people with social anxiety. People are friendly and helpful if you need help but they keep to themselves. Nobody will bother you while you’re out sightseeing.

I have also traveled to some places that aren’t ideal for people with social anxiety. For example, traveling through East and Southern Africa was difficult because people would stare at me, which made me uncomfortable. I was also approached frequently by beggars, scammers, and friendly locals who wanted to chat. People are very friendly in that part of the world. It’s nice but it made me uncomfortable at times.

Outdoorsy destinations can be great because you don’t have to interact with as many people.

Give Yourself Some Days Off

Going someplace new and going out of your comfort zone can be draining. If you suffer from social anxiety, you know that you will need some time to yourself to recharge. Plan some rest days into your itinerary where you can just stay in and do nothing. 

Stay in your hotel and relax, watch a movie, play a game, or read. Order delivery or cook for yourself so you don’t have to go out into the world and interact with people. Alternatively, you could do something easy that doesn’t take much social interaction. Go for a walk along the waterfront, through a park, or in a natural area. This way, you won’t have to interact with anyone.

I need to schedule a few down days into my trips so I have time to recover after a stressful travel day or after a particularly social day. It may feel like a waste to spend a day in when you’re traveling but it is necessary for some people.

Consider Traveling With Friends

You don’t have to travel alone. Traveling with friends can make things a lot easier if you have social anxiety. Having a familiar person with you will make you feel more comfortable in social situations. You also won’t have to worry about making friends because you’ll already have a friend. When social situations come up, you can rely on your friend to help. You won’t have to make as much small talk.

You will have to be careful when choosing who you travel with. People have different travel styles. If you choose to travel with a friend who is very extroverted, they may want to go out and make new friends. You might not be comfortable with that. You’ll want to choose a friend that has similar interests and a similar travel style as you. If you choose the wrong friend, it can make travel difficult. 

Find a Way to Distract Yourself

If you have social anxiety, you may begin to think that the people around you are looking at you and judging you. This is a common problem when traveling in a country where you look different from the locals. People will stare at you. This can mess with your mind. Even though you know they don’t mean any harm.

If you start to feel judged, find a way to distract yourself. You could read a book, listen to music, write in a journal, or just mess around on your phone. It’s better to be distracted by something else than to be in your head worrying about nothing. 

Plan Around Your Energy Levels

If you are socially anxious, you know that you won’t always be up for going out. Anxiety can really tire you out. After a day of socializing or running around sightseeing, you might not have the energy to do it again the next day. 

You may not have the same energy to go out sightseeing every day like other travelers. You might have to take a day off to recharge every once in a while. This means you might not have enough time to see everything in the city. That’s fine.

Plan around it. Pick and choose the sites that are most important to you and forget about the rest. You don’t have to see and do everything if you don’t have the energy. 

Staying in Hostels With Social Anxiety

Many people stay in hostels to meet other travelers. Staying in hostels can also be a good way to expose yourself to social situations if you have social anxiety. 

You may read online about how hostels are extremely social places and that it’s easy to meet other travelers. That you’ll be surrounded by other people at all times and you’ll have no choice but to make friends.

This isn’t always the case. You can absolutely isolate yourself at hostels. I’ve done it many times. If you don’t put in any effort to meet people, you probably won’t. 

People won’t just approach you and ask to be friends. Once in a while, someone might strike up a conversation with you but you can’t rely on that happening every time. You have to put in some effort if you want to make friends. 

I’ve stayed in many hostels where I didn’t meet anyone. Usually, it’s my own fault. If the hostel is crowded or if everyone seems to already have a group of friends, I end up keeping to myself. Some hostels just aren’t social. It can be surprisingly hard to meet people in hostels.

Hostels can also be difficult for people with social anxiety to handle. New people are constantly arriving. There are always people around. There will be people in the dorm, in the common area, in the bathrooms, and in the kitchen. In hostels, there is zero privacy. 

Something as simple as walking into the dorm could cause you anxiety. You’ll have to greet the other travelers if you don’t want to come off as awkward and weird. Constant little interactions can be draining. Even if you’re just saying hello.

In addition, the friendships you make at hostels are usually surface-level and short-lived. If you meet someone, you might chat about each other’s trips and go sightseeing or grab a bite to eat. After a few days, they will leave and you’ll be on your own again. This happens over and over again. You’ll just start to get comfortable around your new friends then you’ll have to leave each other. This isn’t so easy. 

Constantly meeting new people and then having to say goodbye is difficult. Particularly if you have social anxiety. The friendship may feel more significant to you than it is to the people you meet because it is more difficult for you to make friendships. Saying goodbye can be hard.

My Airbnb in Bali
These days, I stay in Airbnbs most of the time because I like to have some time to myself

Taking Tours With Social Anxiety

Small group tours can actually be a good choice for people with social anxiety. The first couple of days of the tour will be anxiety-inducing because you’ll have to meet your tour group. After you get to know everybody, things will be easier.

The nice thing about tours is that you are with the same group of people for the duration of the tour. Once you get to know them, you have friends for the rest of the trip. You don’t have to constantly try to make new friends and talk to new people. You will have people to eat with and to go sightseeing with. 

The drawback is that it’s hard to spend time alone when you’re on a tour. You have to stick with the group. That means you will have to socialize a lot. It can be draining.

Personally, I like to take day tours once in a while while I’m traveling. That way, I can socialize with the group for a day then be on my own most of the time. Day tours can be a great way to meet people.

Making Friends

When you suffer from social anxiety, making friends is a challenge. You may not make the best first impressions. People might find you awkward or strange. You can and you will make friends while traveling. You just have to put in a bit more effort than other travelers. 

There are a few ways you can increase your chances of making friends while traveling. Staying in hostels is your best bet. There will be a common area or bar where you can hang out. Sooner or later, someone will chat you up or you can start a conversation. You won’t meet people in every hostel but you will in most. Choosing the right hostel can make it easier. Some hostels are more social than others.

You can also use online dating apps and social apps such as Couchsurfing and Another way to meet people is to join some Facebook groups about the region you’re traveling in. You can meet other travelers and locals online before you arrive. For people with social anxiety, sometimes it’s easier to meet people online than in person.  

Day tours and free walking tours or day tours are also good ways to meet people. You will spend several hours with the same group of people. It’s easy to start a conversation about the sites you’re seeing.

For more ideas, check out my guide to meeting people while solo traveling.

Travelers are often a bit eccentric. I have found that lots of weirdos and misfits enjoy solo travel. Don’t worry about not fitting in, even if you’re a little strange. You will make friends if you try.

Of course, you don’t always have to make friends. You can go sightseeing and go out to eat alone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. If you don’t have the energy to talk to other people, it’s fine. 

Travel Won’t Cure Your Social Anxiety

For whatever reason, some people believe that their anxieties and depression will magically go away when they leave home and start traveling. I used to believe this. I thought when I was in a new place, I would be more social because I wouldn’t have to worry about embarrassing myself in front of people I knew. 

This isn’t the case. Travel won’t cure your social anxiety. If you go to Spain, you will be socially anxious in Spain. It’s also pretty easy to isolate yourself when you travel. You can keep to yourself in a hostel. You won’t automatically make friends. If you want to reduce your social anxiety, you will have to put in some effort.  

Of course, everyone is different. Solo travel can temporarily reduce fear and doubt for some people. Sometimes, when you’re traveling, you’re exposed to so many new things all at once that you forget to be anxious. Solo travel can make social anxiety worse for some people. If you have a severe case, your mental health could decline. Everyone’s case is different.

In my experience, it can be easier to expose yourself to uncomfortable situations when you’re traveling because you have no choice. You also know that you won’t have to see the people that you meet again. When you’re regularly talking to ticketing agents, hotel reception, etc. you’ll also get a little more used to talking to people. Over time, you will become more comfortable but it’s not a magical cure. You have to work at it.

Amman, Jordan

Reasons Not to Solo Travel

Solo travel isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t enjoy it. Even for people who don’t suffer from social anxiety, solo travel can be stressful. You have to organize everything by yourself. There is a lot of research involved. You constantly have to pack and unpack. You have to find hostels and train stations and learn about transport systems in all of the cities you visit. It gets exhausting. 

If you suffer from severe social anxiety to the point where you can’t function in society, solo travel may not be the best idea. It could make your mental health worse. Solo travel is a very lonely and isolating experience at times. You will spend a lot of time alone. You will also find yourself in a lot of social situations all at once. This can cause a lot of stress, which can take its toll. 

Before you take a big solo trip overseas, consider taking a small trip locally. Visit a nearby tourist attraction or go to the beach. Spend a night in a hotel or hostel by yourself. Go out to eat by yourself. Do a bit of sightseeing.

This will give you a taste of what solo travel is like. If you enjoy the experience, you can plan an extended trip abroad. If you struggle, you may have to work on yourself first. You can easily bail and go home if things get really bad. Once you gain a bit more confidence, you can plan your solo trip. 

I didn’t do this. Instead, I kind of just jumped in the deep end. I took a 3 month trip backpacking around Europe. It turned out alright but it could have been a mistake. Luckily, I was able to adapt.  

Zac at Wadi Rum, Jordan

My Experience

Looking back, I now realize that I have suffered from social anxiety since I was a little kid. My condition isn’t too severe. I can still function in society and behave relatively normally. I may come off as a little bit awkward or strange at times but I can live my life just fine. For me, making phone calls is a challenge. I just feel anxious talking to people. I don’t like eating in restaurants alone.

When I first started traveling, I didn’t realize I had social anxiety. I thought I was just a naturally nervous and introverted person. 

My first solo trip started out pretty rocky. The airline lost my backpack when I flew from LA to London. I had to talk to the airline multiple times over the course of 3 days until they found it. Luckily there was no language barrier. It was still draining. 

I also didn’t meet anyone for the first couple of weeks of the trip. I was too nervous. It was really isolating. I spent my entire time in London and Amsterdam alone. I still got to do some sightseeing but it was lonely wandering around alone.

Another thing I noticed was that I was struggling to eat enough because I was nervous about going into restaurants alone. For most of my meals, I would buy food at the grocery store and make something simple, like sandwiches. I realized that I was avoiding social interactions but I didn’t know what to do. 

Finally, at a hostel in Stockholm, I was sitting in the common area and I decided to ask a girl a question. I don’t even remember what I asked her. All I know is that it started a conversation. We started chatting. Some other people joined in. Pretty soon, I had a group of friends. We ended up spending the next 5 days together exploring the city and going out at night.   

From there on out, things went smoother. I still spent quite a bit of time alone but I did make some great friends here and there. I also got more comfortable eating out alone after doing it a bunch of times. 

At this point, I have been traveling for over 12 years. I still suffer from social anxiety. Sometimes I isolate myself when I’m not feeling like socializing. I don’t meet people everywhere I go. I spend quite a bit of time alone. Sometimes I still feel nervous when going into a crowded restaurant alone. I often choose to eat in smaller restaurants and street food stands. I also cook for myself quite a bit. 

My condition has improved through exposure. I can talk to hotel receptionists and ticketing agents without any issues. When a scammer or beggar approaches me, I have no problem telling them to go away. I also have no problem being in crowded places. Walking through a packed market or riding in a busy metro has never bothered me. I actually kind of enjoy crowded places. 

I would say the hardest place to travel with social anxiety has been Africa. A few years back, I traveled from Ethiopia to South Africa overland a few years back. It was my favorite trip I have ever done but it was challenging at times. People would regularly approach me and chat. People often stared at me as I walked by because I looked different. I don’t like being the center of attention. It was a struggle but that turned out to be my favorite trip I have ever done.

I also struggled when traveling in Latin America. Talking to people was particularly anxiety-inducing due to the language barrier. I speak intermediate Spanish. Having to communicate in a foreign language is a challenge. Brazil was particularly difficult because I speak almost no Portuguese. I can travel in the region but I don’t enjoy it as much.

The point is that I can travel with social anxiety. So far, I have been to over 60 countries on 6 continents. Some countries have been easier to travel in than others. It has been a struggle at times but if I can do it, so can you. 

You can travel with social anxiety. It will be difficult. You will feel uncomfortable at times. Sometimes you will misunderstand someone and feel awkward. You might accidentally say something embarrassing or offensive. That’s okay. Just remember that you will never see these people again. If you put in some effort and go out of your comfort zone, the anxiety will ease with time and exposure. 

Do you travel with social anxiety? Share your experience and tips to help other travelers!

Pin it for later!

More from Where The Road Forks

Sharing is caring!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!