Five Tips for Group Travel When You Have Anxiety and Depression

This Sunday I returned to Connecticut after a two week trip out west. My friends and I arrived in San Francisco and then drove up throughout the next two weeks and flew out of Seattle. This trip included a lot of camping, hiking, rock climbing, and driving. In total there was six of us, but throughout our travels, the people involved ranged from three to six.

This trip was very different than any other trip I have ever taken. When I was younger, most of the vacations I went on were with my family at a resort. In college, I went on one service-learning trip where I cried nonstop for the last three days of it and then I also studied abroad in Cusco. Last summer, I went to San Francisco and Steamboat Springs mainly as a solo trip.

Then, this most recent past trip included many activities that I wasn’t the best at with people I wasn’t extremely close with. Don’t get me wrong; this trip was a dream of mine. It is something I always wanted to do but never thought I had the right to do. Sounds weird, right? Then there was the dynamic of the group. I’m used to traveling on my own. Doing my own thing. Deciding when to go and where to go. Adding a group dynamic threw me for a bit of a whirlwind.

Road trips. Sleeping under the stars. Exploring the great outdoors. Being in a group of good people. How did I deserve that? Now, this trip was incredible. I did things that I never thought I would be able to do. It obviously wasn’t all perfect moments. It was filled with times when I wanted to disappear and that I let anxiety take over. Since this was a new type of trip for me, I didn’t know what to expect or how to handle it. Throughout the experience, I did learn many mechanisms or ways it could have been better for myself for the next time. Below I listed five tips that could have helped me.

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1. Speak your opinion before your trip.
Before this trip, I had this idea that I could be “just go with the flow” type of girl. During the planning phases, I did not vocalize my opinions very much. I added some things to the group planning map, but that was about it. I didn’t push to do things that I actually wanted to do. I didn’t vocalize my wants or needs as much as I should have.

During the actual trip, this came back to bite me. I became frustrated and resentful, almost. I found myself doing my best to bite my tongue when I became frustrated that we didn’t do much of what I wanted to do. We stayed in Portland, Oregon for less than twenty-four hours, when I wished we got to explore the city more. The trip focused on the people who voiced their wants during the planning phase. I was becoming frustrated way too late. It was my own fault.

Even during the planning portion, they asked was there anything that I was dying to do. I answered “Nope, I’m good with anything,” which looking at it now was complete bullshit. But I didn’t want to cause issues or be a burden. In the end, it did the exact opposite. If I pushed to see things that I really wanted to see at the beginning, I don’t think I would have been as resentful during the trip. It caused unnecessary tension.

Speak your opinion before the trip. Speak your mind and your desires. Mention it then, because if you don’t, you can’t blame others, like I did, when you don’t get to see or do something you wanted to.

2. Designate alone time.
When you’re traveling in a group, surrounded by people all the trip can be heavy. During normal life, you usually get a break from people. Whether you leave them at work or home, or you only see them when you decide to meet up. You also usually have your sanctuary. It can be your room, a corner of your house. Being surrounded by the same people can be draining, no matter how much you like them. It can easily trigger particular types of anxiety, well it did it for me at least. I lost that separation that I sometimes need. I felt guilty if I listened to my headphones in the car or retreated to my tent early. I found that sometimes you just need to say screw it and take the time you need solo. It can be listening to a podcast on your headphones in the car. It can be going to your tent to read. It can be deciding to stay in town instead of hiking one day. Do not feel guilty about that. Designate it and make time for it. It will be worth it.

3. Recognize new triggers and adapt your coping mechanisms.
Traveling to new places and experiencing different things can lead you to triggers that you never had to face before. Recognizing it at first may be hard. I often questioned myself, “Why am I feeling irritated and anxious right now? Why do I want to hide away at this moment? What happened?” It wasn’t always easy to figure out. For example, when driving in the car, we were often on dirt or winding roads in national forests. I thought I loved that shit. Instead, I found myself becoming anxious and irritable while we were traveling on them for extended periods of time. I wanted just to run away from the car. Obviously, I couldn’t do that. When I finally found out what was triggering me, I put on my essential oil during those times and zoned out. It helped.

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It’s also strange when I found out what I thought would trigger me but it didn’t. I thought not knowing where we were going to stay every night was going to give me intense anxiety. Instead, I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I loved the not knowing what to expect.

My point is, you may not actually know what might trigger your anxiety or depression when you are traveling. Things might surprise you. You can try to anticipate it. Try to plan new mechanisms. You will probably also need to learn and adapt along the way. This will also help prepare you for your next adventure.

4. Talk with who you are with.
For a lot of the trip, when I was feeling anxious or depressed I just acted irritably. I took out my frustration on the people I was with, by complaining mostly. It didn’t look good on me. I usually get annoyed by individuals who complain all the time, but I felt like I couldn’t help it. I felt all these anxious or depressed feelings that were new, and I had a hard time expressing it with others especially since I wasn’t super close with all of them. It was an awkward dynamic for me to wrap my head around.

One night, when I drank a bit, I finally expressed some of the anxiety that I was having and why I was acting the way I was acting. I also heard others express why they made some of the decisions that caused me some of my irritability. Eventually, I was able to have these discussions with others on the trip without drinking. I was able to calm myself down a bit more, by understanding other people’s perspectives and needs. If I started expressing my anxiety or depression with others earlier on in the trip, it could have lead to some smoother parts. It would have also lead to me understanding myself a bit more too. Even if it’s weird or uncomfortable at first, talking with who you are traveling with can be extremely beneficial for everyone.

5. Be open to new experiences.
When you are traveling with others, you are bound to do activities or go places that you would never choose to do, or your anxiety and depression would have stopped you from doing. My anxiety and depression can prevent me from experiencing a lot of things. Sometimes I would feel anxious about just getting somewhere, so if it were just me I wouldn’t have stopped to walk through the redwoods, but we did, and it was magnificent. If I was traveling by myself, I don’t think I could have pushed myself to do an eighteen-mile hike in a day, but I freaking did it. I wouldn’t have chosen to go to an American-Chinese restaurant for breakfast, but we went, and it was delicious. Here’s the thing, when you do things that others are choosing to do you are opening yourself up to a new array of experiences. To a new outlook on life that you wouldn’t have gained otherwise. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometime’s it doesn’t work out. One day we went some Ape Caves, something I didn’t want to do, and I ended up not liking it. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you are still doing it. You still see something new. Doing something you wouldn’t have done. It’s teaching you about the world and yourself. It’s a really incredible thing to do once in awhile.

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Overall, this trip was fantastic. I saw and did things I would have never done otherwise. It’s a trip I will probably never forget. It did come with hard times and life lessons. I learned how tough I could be. I wish I knew these things before I ventured off on my first friend-group trip. But hey, I learned and now I know for next time, and I think that’s what life is about.

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