Alayna Fender is bubbly, magnetic and hilarious. She's also a cat-loving LGBT+ YouTube content creator from Canada. Oh, and she also suffers from anxiety and agoraphobia.
In September, we sent Alayna on Contiki’s Berlin to Budapest trip with the mission of exploring what it’s like to just say yes to new experiences. And that’s exactly she did.
Here’s Alayna’s take on Eastern Europe, and how she handled her anxiety and agoraphobia whilst travelling with Contiki…
"Even though everything in my anxiety was telling me no, I said yes"
For those of us who aren’t familiar, tell us a bit about anxiety and agoraphobia and how these conditions have impacted your life…
Whew, big question. Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree; the issue is when that anxiety begins to stop you from living a full life.
Agoraphobia can be one product of that anxiety. For me, I would have one negative experience with somewhere or something (eg. I would feel anxious, or panicky, nauseous, nervous, etc.), and then that thing or place would become something I wouldn’t ever want to do again.
This anxiety starts to spread and grow within your mind, until really the only thing that feels safe and “okay” is staying home. For me, this has created what feels like a “no-brain”. No matter what the opportunity is that’s presented to me, in my personal or professional life, my mind wants me to say, “No. No I can’t do that.”
What were you hoping to get out of this trip?
I wanted to open myself back up to travel, and the experience of being in a new country.
I hadn’t travelled outside of Canada or the USA for anything other than a family vacation in nearly 7 years. The idea of travelling to Europe had become this foreign thing to me – this idea that seemed absolutely impossible.
Did you suffer from anxiety or agoraphobia once you were actually on your trip?
Yes and no. The plane ride over was the biggest challenge for me. I hadn’t taken a flight over the ocean in years, and I was quite anxious about it. Once that was over, I was able to translate most anxiety I experienced into feelings of excitement and thrill.
Of all of the places you visited, what was your favourite and why?
I absolutely loved Berlin, and Germany in general. There was so much history there, and the city was just beautiful. Budapest, with its natural beauty and culture, came in a close second!
How would you describe this trip in one sentence or less?
Exploration is transformative.
Tell us about all of the food and drink experiences you said yes to in Europe.
After becoming more comfortable with the Contiki trip format, I realized that I had a lot of freedom of choice in the places that I could eat. So I made it my mission to seek out vegan restaurants in each city we visited!
I had delicious vegan food in every city, but my highlight was finding a vegan restaurant in Prague that served traditional Czech foods like goulash in vegan form. Tasting vegan goulash was one of the highlights of my trip.
Tell us about the group and how they impacted your trip.
The group impacted my trip in every way. Being a solo female traveller, having the group to hang out with and lean on and be around was amazing. The group felt safe and fun, and added a bunch of incredible people to share these once in a lifetime experiences with.
What was your favourite thing that you said yes to?
The Prague biking tour! Next time, I want to bike around every city!
In the past week, I feel like I've found comfort in the uncomfortable. Throughout this trip I have been outside my comfort zone so many times, and I kind of love it!
What was the most impactful moment for you from your trip?
It was actually the quiet, solo moments that were the most impactful. The moments where you stop and think, “Woah, I’m on a different continent right now. I’m doing this. I’m LIVING!”
What has been your biggest takeaways from this experience?
My biggest takeaway has easily been a newfound commitment to saying yes, even when my anxiety tells me no.
Has this trip changed you at all? If so, how?
The trip reminded me of the importance of certain things I felt that I had been slowly forgetting. The importance of the people around you. The importance of surrounding yourself with family and friends who bring joy to your life, and the importance of in return bringing joy to theirs.
What are you looking forward to saying yes to next?
I’m looking forward to saying yes to the needs of other people. Seeing what other people want to do, and just saying yes to whatever it is! I’m looking forward to getting out and spending time with family and friends, taking part in new experiences and creating new memories together.
What travelling advice would you give to others who are struggling with anxiety or agoraphobia?
GO ON A CONTIKI TRIP. And I’m not just saying that. Genuinely, the Contiki format is the best way I’ve found to travel for someone with anxiety.
Everything is planned for you, and laid out for you to see. You know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and where you’ll be staying once you arrive. You have a Trip Manager who is always telling you the most important information that you need to know about each city and country (for example, what currency you need to be using and where the safest place to get that currency is).
You have an instant group of friends to connect with, explore with, and hang out with. New experiences that you may not have taken part in on your own are offered up. It’s an all around incredible experience, and I would highly recommend it.
Just say yes and explore the world!
November is officially mental health month on six-two, where we’ll be exploring the how’s, why’s and what’s of travelling with mental health issues. If you suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, body confidence issues, or anything else that stops you from being your happiest self, we’d love to hear you story – especially if you’ve found that travel can actually help keep these issues at bay. Head to our community contributor page to find out more.