Hi Elaine: I’m moving to Vietnam in a couple months to teach English and I am going to be incredibly outside of my comfort zone. I’ve never traveled anywhere by myself or done anything remotely like this in my life. I’ll have to find a place to live and make friends, all in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language or know anyone. I also tend to be socially anxious. Do you have any advice on giving myself the confidence and courage to put myself out there and meet people, make friends, and overall just make the absolute most out of the adventure I’m about to embark on? I want to be able to say I gave it my all and I didn’t just stand on the sidelines and let life pass me by.
— Anxious Traveler
Anxious Traveler: How exciting! And brave. You’ve already taken the advice I would start with, which is to set a clear intention for what you want to get from the experience. You’ve sent a clear, powerful message: that you don’t want to “just stand on the sidelines and let life pass” you by. I believe this will help attract what you’re after.
But what I learned recently, after temporarily relocating across the country for work, is that intention setting isn’t enough. You need a plan. And not just a grand master plan. You need weekly, even daily goals. Get as granular as possible. Write down all your desires, research how to tackle each one, and then schedule exactly when you’ll incorporate them into your life. Otherwise, even in an unfamiliar place, you can quickly fall into a familiar routine that doesn’t activate all that new energy.
You want to learn the language? Sign up for a Vietnamese class and add it to your calendar before you go. You want to make friends? Join a Facebook group to tap into the local expat community and start making connections now. It may seem antithetical, but you should even schedule spontaneity, because the best experiences often emerge during in-between moments. For example, when you have extra time, take advantage of leisurely walks to the market instead of hopping in a cab.
You won’t be reinvented simply by traveling. You reinvent yourself by reinventing your routines. Which isn’t to say that your life will go according to plan. In fact, you’ll likely have the best excuses to abandon your plans. But building structure around your intentions will help you execute them. I learned this the hard way.
As the rush of my new adventure hit, I set a similar intention and was flooded with visions of a new me, taking daily jogs to Pilates, joining a ceramics class and hosting lively dinner parties. I hoped a new life would suddenly unfold around me in my new environment. Two months later when packing up to head home, I realized the exhilarating life I’d envisioned had passed me by. The lure of my old routines was stronger than my will to make new choices. My best memories are of the times I pushed myself to do an adventurous thing outside of my norm, even when I didn’t feel like it. I wish I’d done more of that and if I could do it all over, I’d take the advice I’m giving you now.
Gaining confidence in new environments is like building muscle. It sucks at first. But the more you flex it, the more it grows. Trust the same confidence that guided you across the globe will continue growing. Start small — initiate a conversation and invite someone from the Facebook group to join your Vietnamese class. Exploring shared interests is a great way to make new connections, especially when you’re in unfamiliar territory where organized group activities can feel safer. Plus, when you commit to a date with someone else, it makes you accountable to following through on your own plans.
You have every reason to feel a little freaked out by going all the way across the world alone to explore the unknown. Plenty of people feel anxious just thinking about venturing out of the house to go to the grocery store (especially after spending the last two years mostly at home). But a jolt of new experiences is exactly what you’re after. Don’t miss the opportunity to actively harness that energy by taking action. Watch your confidence build with each step as your world continues to expand.
There will inevitably be awkward moments along the way. That’s normal any time you decide to put yourself out there. But, trust me, it’s better than having regrets about not following your instinct to try.