Maybe I was naive to think that with 40 I would have a little more shit figured out. I didn’t expect my life to magically fall into place overnight but I also didn’t think I would find myself in Mexico crying after a week of great dates, riddled with anxiety, and proud owner of a broken passport about to spend a fortune on an early flight home just so my mother can make it all better. But here I am and not even in Mexico it is tequila o’clock yet which would potentially make me feel better.
This post is a bit of a ramble and quite personal. But I like to think you guys don’t mind it so much, maybe even like the occasional ramble. This is not a Tulum travel guide, this is simply a story of how really didn’t get on with Tulum and couldn’t wait to leave and still think I came here for a reason in the end. And for all of you, who have ever get anxiety attacks when traveling or break a passport abroad I also hope you will find it a little useful.
With that said, please don’t leave any comments of accusing me of not giving Mexico a chance because a) I full well know that I saw little else of the country and b) that Tulum is overrun by tourists and how could I expect to like it? Especially the latter never deterred me, after all, I am still one of those people who like Bali; Tulum and I just didn’t gel.
How did I get here anyhow? It started a few months ago when the idea popped into my head that I should finally make my way to Mexico. For all intents and purposes, I was supposed to like it. I had always been a lover of real Mexican food, Corona was the only beer I liked, and there were two amazing coasts to dive at. I was also aware that this side on my travel map was looking rather gloomy so I did it and booked a ticket to Cancun. While I was going through the motions, I realized I wasn’t excited. I was dreaming of Thailand and Bali instead and longed to go back to Vietnam, a plan that simply wasn’t agreeable with my summer arrangements and I was also very aware – I had been there done that and surely it was time to see something new? My gut feeling, usually a very reliable source was torn: I really didn’t feel like going at the same time something told me very strongly that I should.
So I got on the plane. I arrived late in the evening, already jetlagged and tired but glad to have booked a private transfer which set me back a good chunk of money. I arrived at my hotel, annoyed that I had to fork out cash on the spot for the transfer it being midnight by now but ultimately just grateful to put my head down in a room with aircon and as it turned out great wifi. The fun adventure would surely start the next day.
But for the week that followed, I felt unable to move. While I could blame it all on jetlag which tends to hit me pretty hard and the fact that a cold I thought I had gotten rid off had hit me again in full force, that wasn’t it. I felt like a scared little rabbit and simply couldn’t move, trying to busy myself with an empty work schedule and inbox – a first in months – just so I wouldn’t have to venture outside.
I have written about what it feels like when I get scared of traveling and this felt oddly familiar in this regard though I knew that Tulum couldn’t compare to India when it came to the challenges of solo traveling.
It also wasn’t a completely unpleasant feeling, it felt more like a Sleeping Beauty kind of slumber like I was waiting to be awakened but happily dreaming in the meanwhile.
Eventually, I tried. I found a post about a beach which is public and thus should be free and decided Sunday afternoon was just the time to go. I put on my bikini and sunscreen, packed my bag and an actual book and headed to reception to inquire about taxi prices. Oh, he said $120 or $140 – pesos that is. But the beach is free, right? I inquired timidly because not only had I just packed enough money to get there and back I was also really worried once I’d get there I would only find fancy and expensive beach clubs or restaurants which charge me a minimum of $60 – US dollars that is and an actual quote from a fancy hotel. Well, he said technically they are public but… and started to explain to me how the Mexican government and sneaky restaurant owners work and while he mentioned there were public accesses to the beach I still wasn’t sure what it all entailed. I didn’t feel like spending that much money on a taxi either and biking to the beach was a whole different matter and overwhelming, to say the least in my current state and thanks to the fact, that I hate biking in general. I thanked him and walked on, my beach bag now heavy and useless, I didn’t really need it to explore the roads of downtown Tulum. While I walked away I still pondered about the taxi price and felt bad. At home, this would be a more than acceptable price, here I found it expensive and felt ripped off and at the same time, I was embarrassed by the notion. Just because I hadn’t done my research about local prices, didn’t mean I was being taken advantage off. And who said that all things needed to be cheap in Mexico? I hated that I apparently had become one of those people sporting such allure when traveling.
After my first week was over, I moved to Tulum beach. I splurged on a little cottage that judging by its pictures was going to be worth every cent and just right.
I will write a post about the ins and out of Tulum in the future but let’s just say, that I found Tulum beach to be weird. A pretty Instagram heaven with little substance and overpriced beach access to a beach that left me underwhelmed. Luckily I found a knight in shining armor in the form of a Tinder date who took me to a beach club, bought me Coronas and made me laugh non-stop for the days that followed. A blissful bubble of banter, salty kisses, and the reoccurring feeling of – anything we could say about our feelings for each other was too soon yet it was definitely felt by both parties lounging on this sunbed, grinning from ear to ear completely at ease in each other’s newfound company.
It was just what the doctor had ordered not just for my Tulum trip but for my life in general.
He left without a word due to a family emergency and left me riddled with anxiety, doubt, and constant tears. Not so much because he had left but because of the way he did, hitting the trigger hard for all of my insecurities and the perfect recipe for some juicy anxiety attacks, something I thought I had gotten under control by now. Apparently, that wasn’t the case and I had only forgotten that something similar had happened not even a year ago. Adding to this, my passport literally broke when I moved back to Tulum town and the receptionist at my hotel tried to make a copy only to hand it back to me in two pieces – the laminated page with my picture and all important information had come undone.
Within 24-hours I found myself constantly on the brink of tears and no kittens to console me (what is it with Mexico that there are so few cats here??), on the phone with the German consulate and having to pay an overprice flight home on Easter as I realized that all that I could help in this situation was to be home with my mother. Even at 40, I wasn’t ashamed to admit that.
Luckily the German consulate was amazing and organized my emergency passport without any hassle and I was glad for a big enough credit card limit to pay for the flight back and the realization that while I am constantly on the go I have the most amazing support network in the world.
And with that, the ramble is over. What about the guy you may ask. Truth is, I don’t know, time will have to tell. In an instant of meeting him, he felt like home and that is something that doesn’t happen every day so needless to say, I hope he doesn’t become that Tinder date which is always going to remind me of a broken passport and anxiety attacks alone in Tulum.
For the time being, I cherish the fact, that if I learned one thing in my 40 years it is how to take care of myself in a crisis and that it is okay, even now, to just want my mother to make it a little better.
Tips for traveling with anxiety
Sometimes we think travel can heal us, that travel is the answer to our problems. I don’t believe that to be true, in fact, I have found the opposite to be the case. Especially if you are someone like me prone to anxiety attacks, it can be incredibly challenging if the dark wave hits you and you are far from home. With that said, here are some tips that have helped me in the past even when it is not tequila o’clock yet.
Please keep in mind that I am not a licensed doctor, these are just some things that have helped me in the past.
- If you have battled with anxiety in the past you may have your stash of Bachflowers, Attivan or Xanax at home – make them part of your medical kit when traveling even if you haven’t had an attack in a while. I found it incredibly challenging to find myself in a country where I don’t speak the local language well enough and know what is available over the counter or by prescription (or find out that nothing is!) and would have been grateful to have a little emergency back up with me.
- Get moving. In any shape or form. Walk around the block, put your feet into the ocean (or in my case emerge your whole body and go diving) or find a local yoga center.
- Breathe. It sounds so simple, yet it is something I always struggle with. Remind yourself to take some deep, conscious breath every so often.
- Take a shower. That one is really simple and I find that something about warm water rushing over me is incredibly soothing and somehow marks a new start. And if you need to cry and sob, the shower is also good for that.
- Have a contingency plan and the necessary funds and/or travel insurance to make it happen. For me it was literally the biggest relief, knowing that I could just book a flight home and go to a place that felt completely safe – my mom’s couch. Also, know that there is no shame in cutting a trip short. Travel while challenging at times should first and foremost be enjoyable. If you don’t feel it, get out.
- Have a support network and wifi. Honestly, my friends and family, even some random strangers on the internet have been so helpful to me every time I find myself abroad and in a slump. While they may be far away, even a virtual hug can do wonders.
- Eat. This is another thing I tend to forget when feeling anxious. While I get hungry I usually don’t have an appetite and the combination of hunger and anxiety doesn’t bode well. So I eat, even if I don’t feel like it. Small, healthy portions of comfort food usually do the trick for me.
- Another trigger for me is noise especially with strong beats and at night. It can make me anxious at the best of times so I try to make sure I have a quiet place that doesn’t overstimulate me when I am feeling down so I can sleep as exhaustion is another thing that doesn’t mix well with anxiety.
- While I have mentioned tequila o’clock a few times in this post, avoid too much alcohol and caffeine as those just help for a moment but tend to make anxiety worse overall.
- Read a good book. Something exciting, something soothing, whatever floats your boat as long as it takes your mind off of things. I am currently reading “Shadow Divers” because for some reason even talking about a mysterious WWII U-boat in the depth of the Atlantic the matter of diving is soothing to me.
- Structure. Cry if you need to but then return to a bit of structure. Take a shower, brush your teeth, set some time for work or working out – routine helps. If only so you can tell yourself at the end of the day (or in between) that you have accomplished something before you go back to crying.
- Treat yourself. As you may know, I am a huge fan of spilling my tears on nice sheets. While I don’t think living in paradise and feeling depressed are mutually exclusive, I do think it helps to make your situation as comfortable as possible. Book yourself a nice quiet hotel, get a massage, and if nothing else works – get yourself that plane ticket to go home to your mom.