I was on my way back from Kawagoe the other day and I was a little anxious. Rush hour trains in Tokyo are a very intense experience, and not entirely dissimilar to London. There’s a lot of people and you want to find a place you can feel sort of okay for the ride to your stop but sometimes you just end up squashed or awkwardly placed. Shinjuku Station is the busiest station in the world and I landed in it at rush hour in the evening. I got off the train and it’s just a sea of people, and before I could read any signs I found myself getting swept in a tide of bodies. It’s not loud with conversations but more loud with the sound of walking, neon advertisements, speakers from shops and platforms all making announcements. It’s hard to keep your focus on anything, and hard to regain your centre when you’ve been swept away. My combat in this is usually my headphones, but they are uncharged and at the bottom of my bag. I can feel this slight sense of panic building up and I consider just leaving at the first exit and waiting it all out for a few hours.
But I don’t. I find a pillar to hide behind and scan signs around me for the Odakyu Line which will take me away from this sensory nightmare. I know I need to be at platform 8 but there is more than one platform 8 because that’s how big this place is. Finally, I see a small Odakyu Line arrow and join another flow of human bodies. This flow starts to thin out and by the time I reach my beloved Odakyu Line you can breathe again. This isn’t the first time I’ve been overwhelmed by myself. One of the downsides of solo travelling, especially when you have anxiety, is that there’s no-one to take control when you feel like you’re not okay. You have to have a plan, either an exit strategy or a way to take yourself back to steady ground so you feel comfortable again. In Kyoto, I had a mild panic attack and just went and found ice cream, sat down and ate it and regrouped in my head. Then I had a hot milky Sakura drink in a big comfy warm chair and made a plan. The other day in Shinjuku it was just being able to find one spot away from the surge of people to calm down and then carry on with my journey home.
A lot of the solo travellers I see on YouTube don’t seem to have these issues, or at least they don’t talk about them. They float through countries and are cool, calm, collected and oozing this chill happy energy that I envy. I want to be that person, but I also need recharge time and planning. I need days off to regroup and I hate being in rush hour squeezes. Sometimes things overwhelm me and sometimes I don’t have the confidence to just start talking to the people next to me. I can’t be the carefree travelling person but I think that’s okay, and I think it’s perhaps an important thing to mention because I’m not the only person who has anxiety, and I want to tell you that you can do this too no matter what. You just might need to make some extra plans. 85% of the time I am just so engrossed in my surroundings and so in awe of all I see, trying to take it all in and trying to learn that I don’t find myself feeling lost or anxious. Solo travelling pushes me out of my comfort zone and my routines, and I think every trip helps me to understand myself better.
I’ve been taking the last few days since I’ve arrived back in Tokyo to just try and not write, film or photograph, but to just enjoy where I am. There have been moments of loneliness, wishing I had people to share moments with or to come to restaurants with me, but those are few and far between. When I arrived in Japan I didn’t know anyone but I leave in a few days and I’ve made some really brilliant friends. Sat and Misato have been amazing in Tokyo, we went to punk shows and had some delicious food and tracked down Godzilla everywhere. It was brilliant to meet Adam after knowing each other for almost 20 years and I’m so grateful to him and his wife Halee for showing me around Kawagoe and giving me an opportunity to get out of Tokyo for the day. Also, it was lovely to spend the afternoon with Kat and her little boy, who was the most adorable and to just chat about life and living abroad. I am so grateful to everyone for taking time out to meet up with me, showing me around places they live and for making this trip even more special. I’ve also just made friends hanging out in places, Irish exchange students in Nikko, fellow My Hero Academia lovers in Tokyo, Ito who worked at the Ryokan in Atami and this awesome fellow solo traveller from Hong Kong who shared lunch and a lot of wisdom with me at Sushi Ten. I’ve learnt so much from everyone and I can’t wait to come back again.
My advice to anyone about to plan a big solo adventure? You don’t need a full-on itinerary for where you want to go, but you need to know how you plan on doing some self-care while travelling. Solo travelling is intense, mentally, physically and emotionally, and you need to know how much downtime you might need if you need plans for when you’re mental health is at a low point, and people back home you know you can count on if you need to just WhatsApp chat with someone (shout out to Heather and Mat and Abby). I’m not going to sugar coat it and I don’t know if you’ll have an Instagram influencer or YouTuber perfect happy sunshine trip. I hope that you do! But I will say that even with the lows, they are few and far between for me and far more easy to handle personally because I know myself better than I ever have. Solo travelling is the most rewarding thing, you never come back the same person, you will always grow and I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity, even small scale around your own city or state or country.