When I was 19, I traveled to Barcelona on my own for about two weeks. During that time, the things I did are something my current self can’t believe I did. For example, I was eating out alone at a restaurant after 6 pm or asked strangers to take a picture of me while visiting an attraction. I even met and talked to people at a bar I went to by myself (groundbreaking).
But this time around in Barcelona, especially during the first week, I would get so much anxiety that I wouldn’t even want to go pick something up at the convenience store. Before going somewhere, I would build the most irrational fears of what could happen from point A to B. This fear existed even before leaving for Spain, and I pretended that it would all go away when I left the states. Instead, my anxiety was magnified.
I blame this heightened anxiety entirely on the pandemic. I was spending weeks locked in my room with the blinds shut and watching Netflix, I turned my camera off during class, and I would check in on my friends ever so often. I was just completely isolated from everyone besides my family. Most people can relate to these same behaviors during the pandemic and the anxiety that cultivated.
So how is social anxiety connected to my time in Barcelona? If you are not a social person, then Barcelona may not be the best destination for you. Of course, with all traveling you do solo, you need to push yourself to be social. However, Barcelona is a city that is hard not to feel alone in. Everyone here constantly goes out with their friends/family, no matter the day of the week. It is rare to find anyone eating at a restaurant, at a bar, or even at the beach alone. In contrast, other destinations like Tokyo are suitable for people who struggle with social anxiety because some restaurants are designed for you to eat alone.
After a few weeks of being angry at myself for being so afraid, I decided that I would not let anxiety take away from literally being in Europe. So, I found the best practice to overcome this struggle; exposure therapy. I was diving straight into situations I have deemed scary and facing it head-on without preparation. For example, taking public transportation in different cities can be very difficult and embarrassing for me to navigate. The best practice is to walk down a metro stop and figure it out; even if I take the wrong direction, I am still trying and figuring it out. Or, during my time living with my host family or with roommates, I would leave my door open during the day to make myself available and not shut people out. Also, as scary as going out to eat or to a bar alone, please do it! You have to go with absolutely no expectation but that you will enjoy the night no matter if you don’t meet anyone. And most likely, you will meet someone, or a conversation will spark up, and you need to make yourself available for eye contact and small talk.