Partying abroad can be a real conundrum for us anxiety sufferers. On one hand, it’s a huge component of a lot of people’s travel plans (or, in some cases, the sole reason), but on the other hand it can be a real source of anxiety and stress. Pressure to fit in, keeping safe whilst you’re not in full control, or just having a fear of parties themselves – all of these play a part in turning what should be a relaxing experience, into one that fills you with dread.
Partying abroad isn’t something that I’m comfortable with myself, yet. So, this article is a guest post by the rather awesome Gilad at Anxious and Abroad who’s bringing his experience here to share with you all! And me: I’ll be taking notes during this alongside you all. I want to go partying abroad too, darn it!
So without further ado, here’s Gilad’s guide to partying abroad!
Partying Abroad: How to Let Loose When You Think Your Anxiety is Necessary
I have a love-hate relationship with partying — I always have. I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol until college, and even when I did, I couldn’t shut my brain off the way other people seemed to be able to. In the back of my mind, regardless of how drunk I was, I always had these nagging questions locked and loaded, ready to keep me on edge.
What if I want to leave early?
What if I’m pressured to drink more than I want?
What if I don’t have a way home?
Because of my anxiety, I’ve never seen partying as a way to let loose. It just doesn’t happen for me. Unfortunately, when I spend so much of my life worrying, alcohol doesn’t magically press the off switch on that part of my brain. But that’s not to say I don’t like it — it definitely has a particular place in my life. Partying in college was a gateway to trying new experiences, creating and fostering stronger bonds with my friends, and doing fun things I wouldn’t normally do in my sober life. But when I went on my first trip abroad and noticed everyone partying almost nightly, I panicked.
What if I don’t want to go out?
Am I going to be the hostel loser if I go to bed at 10?
How would I even get back here, anyway?
Will I have FOMO if I stay in?
Partying abroad, and hostels
There’s no denying that partying is somewhat central to hostel culture; almost every hostel you’ll stay at will have a bar or lounge filled with chatty travelers — and there’s good reason for it! Hostels are compiled entirely of strangers; why not have a common area for everyone to chat and swap stories, especially after a strenuous day of hiking and exploring? The fact is that partying abroad, while intimidating, can be incredibly fun and rewarding. It helps you bond quickly and efficiently with other travelers, it shows you an entirely different side of the city you’re in, and its hangovers are far better than they’ll be in 5 years (trust me on that one). The problem is that knowing this doesn’t do a damn thing to ease your mind about it.
What I’ve noticed in myself is that I can’t let loose because of one very good reason: I’ve convinced myself that my anxiety is necessary. There are so many things that could go wrong on a night out in general, let alone in a foreign country, that it’s only natural to think of all the “what if’s”:
- What if I get mugged, taken advantage of, or worse?
- What if I get lost on my way home?
- What if I get rejected by other travelers & end up alone?
- What if I get pressured to drink more than I want?
- What if I get pressured to to stay out later than I want?
- What if I get pressured to sleep with someone I’m not interested in?
- What if I get pressured to have fun? ( just let me enjoy my beer, Chad!)
With so many “what if’s” swirling around at once, I’ve managed to convince myself that worrying about them is going to prevent them from coming true. Simply put — if I worry about a possibly shitty night, I’ll effectively manage to prevent it from happening. If I’m stressed about getting lost or mugged, for example, then I’ll prepare myself enough to stop myself from getting lost or mugged. The big issue with this rationale, however, is that it’s a thinking error — a big, fat, bold-faced lie. The long and short of it is this — Your night is going to be what it is regardless of how much you think about it, and you can’t change the outcome of an already-happening party by worrying about it.
So what, then, can you do?
Remind yourself that horror stories are the exception
People go out partying every night of every year all over the world. For almost all of those people, their nights wind up just fine, and those horror stories you’re focused on are the outliers and exceptions. It’s only natural for an anxious mind to zoom in on that .01% and become convinced that it’s a part of it. Zoom out and remember that your likelihood of getting into serious trouble is far smaller than you think. As long as you’re street smart and courteous, you really shouldn’t have any trouble.
Remind yourself that no one wants to drink alone
It’s very easy for anxious people to assume that strangers aren’t interested in chatting with them, but people at hostel bars aren’t there to drink alone. Most everyone at hostels are easygoing and eager to make friends, and quite honestly, many of them will be in the exact same position you’re in. Don’t assume they don’t want to talk to you, and don’t be afraid to break the ice, because chances are they’re just as interested in making friends as you are.
Create a group when going out, or hop in on someone else’s
Your going-out group can be your pseudo-safety net in an environment where your normal one isn’t available. They don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be lifelong friends, but they will make you feel much less alone, and will allow your mind to relax a bit, knowing that you’ll be going home together. Locals are also far less likely to mess with big groups than with individuals, so having your group can kill two birds with one stone.
Drink at your own rate & don’t judge others for drinking at theirs
Inevitably, others in your group will try and make you drink more — it’s just the nature of the beast. Don’t be put off by this, and don’t let it shake your confidence. Remember that people don’t pressure others drink with the intention to shame and guilt them. Rather, they just want to make sure everyone’s having a good time. Politely decline drinks you don’t want and go at your own pace. This is just as much your night as it is theirs, so you do you, and let them do them.
Have an exit strategy
If you’re going out with a group, chances are you won’t be the only one who would like to be in bed before 6AM. Check with others and see what kind of night they’re trying to have, because someone is bound to be on the same page. However, if you do find yourself the only one who wants to leave early, opt for a cab over walking back alone. If you did walk, chances are you’d be totally fine, but cabs are relatively cheap, faster, and worth the peace of mind. So don’t stress! You’ve got your out.
Don’t feel bad for staying in
FOMO is one hell of a beast — it can and will try to make you question your decision to stay home. Don’t feel shame for choosing to listen to your body and mind when they tell you to stay in. You know yourself better than anyone else, and if you felt like staying in, chances are you made the right call. And besides, hostels are filled with people who are taking a night off, so chances are you may even have company.
Allow your night to be what it is
Too often, insanely high expectations have made otherwise great nights seem lame. Do your best to quiet the part of your brain that’s trying to predict what bar you’re going to, who you’re going to meet, and how hungover you’ll be the next day. Think of your night as a ride you’re going along for rather than a ship you can steer. All too often, things change in an instant and you end up at a different bar, or heading home early. Don’t feel bad for missed opportunities — you’ll have plenty more.
Gilad is a traveler in his 20’s who takes advantage of every opportunity to travel. He has Hypochondriasis, OCD and moderate anxiety, but doesn’t let it stop him from experiencing the world, and in fact, has managed to turn his mental shortcomings into positives. His website Anxious & Abroad aims to show other nervous travelers and first timers that travel isn’t just for the carefree nomadic types, but can be fun and rewarding for any kind of person — neurotic, meticulous, anxious or organized. Follow his adventures on Instagram and Facebook!
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