Some people might consider themselves to be an emotional person, but that’s not me. It may seem strange I’m going to tell you how my emotional state has affected my travels, but as I learned from a recent trip it has.
Before we continue, this is a disclaimer to say I’m not a mental health professional. If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues, you’re not alone. Please talk to a qualified mental health professional; you are worth it.
A Tale of Two Cities
I went to Asia for the first time in March, first visiting Hong Kong and then Tokyo. As a solo traveler, Hong Kong is a great travel city. The public transportation system (MTR) is quick and easy to use. There’s fantastic food, and lots to do. While learning some key phrases in Cantonese is helpful, many people speak English (and there is lots of English signage around). And while it’s completely random the weather was pretty great.
Then I went to Tokyo, and it was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated. I landed at night (not ideal for solo travel), and my phone battery died before I could figure out how to get to my hotel. It rained a lot, so I spent a lot of time in stores to stay dry/warm. I got lost (a lot). Although Tokyo public transit is extensive, it was also confusing. There is also, not surprisingly, a lot less English in Tokyo.
The Good Emotions and The Bad Emotions
A variety of not-so-random and random factors started my trip to Hong Kong on a high note. The MTR was easy to use, which made me feel pretty confident in myself. I got a random upgrade at my guesthouse in Kowloon (unexpected and awesome). On my first morning, I went to Kowloon Park and randomly found the Avenue of the Comic Stars, which made me feel like a kid. Not everything was perfect, but overall I was pretty happy in Hong Kong.
Random and not so random factors started my trip in Tokyo on a lower note. Getting lost on the subway, not being prepared about where to go, feeling embarrassed about trying to ask for help in Japanese. I wasn’t rude or angry at anyone because everyone I met was friendly and polite (and being rude wasn’t going to help). And there were a lot of things I loved about Tokyo, but I felt frustrated with myself during my time there. Frustrated I wasn’t enjoying things as much as I’d wanted. Frustrated I couldn’t do everything I wanted. Frustrated that I was underprepared for how I would feel.
Emotions vs. Logic
While earlier I said I’m not an emotional person there is scientific evidence to prove me wrong. It turns out people are emotionally motivated. The biggest factor in decision making is emotions, and not logic.
In Hong Kong, I was happier, more self-assured, and confident. That led me to make better decisions, like skipping out on the famous Peak Tram up Victoria Mountain when it was cloudy. If I had done this I would have been frustrated I paid money to take photos of clouds (plus it gives me something to do next time I go to Hong Kong). Even when I made mistakes on my trip, I wasn’t hard on myself. It just became a fun little adventure and a story to tell for later.
Alternately in Tokyo, I started my trip off feeling confused, tired, overwhelmed, and anxious. In hindsight, it makes sense that I made some poor decisions while I was there. Like how I walked miles away from the subway station I need to get to, because I was too embarrassed to ask for help. When I made a mistake, like taking the wrong subway I felt like a failure, which made me feel more anxious and led me to make more poor decisions.
What I Learned
My trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo taught me a lot about myself, and how I approach things. I know travel isn’t perfect, and I understand I was in two foreign countries, and things wouldn’t be the same (or as easy) as they were back home. I assumed any imperfections in my travels, and myself wouldn’t matter to me. I’m not always a calm and rational person like how I thought I would be. Emotions affect the decisions we make and affect how we travel. When I tried to make myself “get over it” it only made me feel more frustrated. What I learned
- You’ll never feel fully prepared for everything, and that’s okay. Not everything will go the way you think it should, which might not feel good, but it is how it is.
- Deal with whatever emotion you’re feeling (whether or not you think it’s warranted) head on, instead of trying to rationalize it, or bury it, or pretend it doesn’t exist.
- No matter how you feel, you still have control over how you behave. This isn’t an excuse to treat other people poorly because you’re upset.
- If you’re traveling with others, don’t make them guess how you’re feeling. Let them know and if you need space or want to talk.
- Take a moment to appreciate where you are. Even when I was frustrated, there were lots of little things that made me smile and be grateful for where I was.
My time in Hong Kong was easier on me emotionally, but I find myself reminiscing about Tokyo more now. I think about all the strange and beautiful and new things I saw there. The experiences I had, even the frustrating ones, which have made me into a better traveler and a better person.
The morning I left Tokyo I was sitting on the train heading out to the airport. At one point I glimpsed out the window and saw a giant Godzilla-type figure on the side of a skyscraper. Then I knew I had seen nothing of Tokyo, but one day I’d like to go back and try again. Next time I’ll know not to try to change or control how I feel. I’ll just take my emotions as they come and let that lead me to a better travel experience.
Alouise Dittrick is a writer and travel enthusiast from Edmonton, Canada. She writes about travel and the performing arts on her blog Take Me to the World. You can follow her upcoming adventure as she moves to Ireland on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.