Pre Solo Travel Anxiety: Flip Your Mindset

I'm not sure what it is, during the run-up to a big trip, that makes your brain turn to mush.

Perhaps it's the sense of a deadline, and the thought of the days or weeks where you won't have phone signal (BILLS, TAXES, SPONTANEOUS EMAIL THAT MUST BE REPLIED TO IMMEDIATELY).

Or maybe it's the annoying purchases that are so boring you pretty much forget about them until the week before you leave, when you realise that they are absolutely essential (I simply MUST have 3 different types of aftersun and itch cream). 

And of course once you're swimming in that cesspool of worry, the atomic bomb of anxiety hits - what about all the things that could go wrong?! (this list is infinite).

Joking aside, pre-travel anxiety is real, and can leave you spinning out to such a degree that you completely lose control and end up questioning why you booked the trip in the first place. You shouldn't have to tolerate this sort of uncontrollable worry. 

I remember before travelling to Iceland (where I stayed for just over 2 months) I had never travelled alone before, and whilst I didn't consciously feel too worried about this (since Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world to travel around), the anxiety started to seep out in worried thoughts that I now recognise are completely irrational. It was obviously buried in some unconscious place, ready to come to the surface when I was caught off guard.

For example, in the week before leaving, I panicked over any tiny sign of possible illness, and started to worry that I'd get sick and be unable to travel - that I'd end up missing out on an opportunity that I'd spent months building up to. I don't usually have any sort of health anxiety or hypochondria, so this way of thinking was very unlike me - I barely recognised myself.

As a person who’s long dealt with persistent anxiety, I’ve realised that I’m always looking for reassurance - for outside opinions that validate my warped inner thinking. I want guidance, reassurance, a solid plan, but of course adventurous travel is the complete antithesis of all these things.

Of course this leads to me seeking out stories and personal accounts on why solo travel as a woman is a bad idea, just for the sense of having someone to relate to. I start to question my ability to get by on my own, and unconsciously absorb other peoples’ apprehension. I start to feel guilty, naive and nihilistic for wanting to visit countries that the Western world considers dangerous.

To the outsider it may seem that the whole idea of travelling isn’t worth my emotional stress. I even question it myself sometimes, when the anxiety is at its worst, but then that feeling in my gut always comes back - the sense that I was born to explore and have daring adventures and if I don’t at least try then the sense of ‘what if?’ might just kill me.

I worry sometimes that travel is at risk of becoming an exclusively male pursuit.

If women stop travelling alone, because they accept that it’s simply too dangerous, they never get the pay off.

The joy of realising that despite what they believed their whole life, they can navigate unexpected crises on their own. The crackling excitement of stepping into a territory where only ancient civilisations remain. The sheer sense of power you can only get from being completely alone and with only yourself to rely on.

When I first firmed up my plans to travel to Panama, I was told by a few people I hardly even knew that Central America is an extremely dangerous place for women. Quite simply, I decided immediately that wasn’t going to let this perception in.

I feel as though I owe it to adventurous women everywhere, and to my future daughters should I ever have any, to throw myself into experiences that pull me in, for reasons I can’t quite explain, as these are the experiences that will shape my very being for years to come.

If you’re at that point of overwhelming anxiety before a trip, try to step out of fear and into courage. As your trip draws closer, you need to start building a forcefield to block out the opinions and negative energy of others. It may seem harsh, but simply refuse to engage with people who only have negative opinions, or make comments that make you feel apprehensive rather than excited.

Trust that the universe has your back.

That people are out there to help you, not hurt you.

Remember that you’re an intelligent woman who knows what she’s doing, and that you’ve probably done way more stupid and dangerous things in your home town (getting so drunk you black out, walking home with complete strangers - we’ve all done it) than you would ever dream of doing half way around the world.

You’ve got a pretty small window to travel, before life gets complicated or you become physically unable.

So throw yourself into the wild, and discover the woman you were always meant to be.

When a young person is moved by a passion and feels compelled to go on this sort of quest, I think you have to let her. You can’t stop her. In our culture we don’t have formal rights of passage like in some ancient cultures. Subjecting yourself to risk... may be something you have to go through to be a woman.

— Jon Krakauer

Image - Pixabay


How To Paint With Gouache On Paper

Gouache and paper are a match made in heaven.

When you get the paint-to-water ratio just right, the end result is a highly-pigmented paint layer that dries into an opaque, chalky surface.

In this post I'll highlight 3 different techniques for painting with gouache - each one gives a slightly different result, and it's worth having a go at all 3 to see which suits your painting style best.

I first started painting with gouache a few years ago, where for the most part I was creating small-scale illustrations, and was looking for paint with a bit more substance than ordinary acrylic.

It seemed as though acrylic and watercolour were just okay. They still made for interesting paintings, but neither packed the punch of colour that I was craving. Gouache is somewhere between the two, combining both the heaviness required to provide vibrant colour, and the liquidity to create a smooth, flat surface (there's no claggy-ness as there sometimes is with acrylic).

It seems to me as if gouache is overlooked as a medium. 

When I first started painting with it, I followed lots of designers and illustrators on Instagram who used it, too. Their work was great, of course, but I didn't see many visual artists using gouache, and especially not in large-scale paintings.

Perhaps one of the benefits of being self-taught is that I feel zero pressure to work in a certain way. I don't have any fear of making mistakes, or making work that turns out crap, because it's all part of the learning process.

This sense of freedom lead me to try using gouache on larger paintings - both abstract and figurative - and the result was a rich colour spectrum that was unlike any other medium.

Gouache & Mixed Media on Paper

So, here's how to paint with gouache, in the simplest possible terms. Set aside an afternoon, crack open a new sketchbook, go wild.


1. Treat It Like Watercolour

Essentially, gouache is intensified watercolour. It contains the same water-soluble colour pigment, but has a higher concentration of a binding agent like white pigment or chalk to create a much thicker consistency. 

Gouache is designed to be an opaque medium, but you can water it down to act more like watercolour, giving the paint a looser texture.

In a palette, mix a blob of gouache with about 1 teaspoon of water, and go from there, adding a little water at a time until the paint gets to your desired texture. It's worth keeping in mind that gouache can change in colour and texture as it dries (which is part of its beauty) so do a few test paintings first, and see how the dried result measures up. 

A painting made with gouache that was watered down to create a loose texture with overlapping shades

2. Mix It With Acrylic

I'm not sure why I started mixing gouache with acrylic - they're two very different mediums - but it just seemed natural. A little bit of gouache, combined with acrylic, goes a long way, and since gouache usually comes in teeny tiny tubes this method makes your paint go way further.

Start off by mixing a small blob of gouache with a little water. You don't want it watercolour-texture this time. Here you just want to add enough water to make the paint smooth and mixable.

Keep in mind here that when you add in acrylic, the colour of the gouache will be diluted and the shade will lighten. I see this as a good thing! Usually gouache paints come in punchy, vibrant colours, which is great, but a bit irritating when you're after more natural tones. Mixing it with white acrylic results in more subtle, pastel tones. 

Anyway, back to the painting.

When you've got your gouache to a nice smooth texture, add in double the amount of white acrylic, with a tiny bit more water. As you play around with the amount of acrylic, you can dictate the exact shade of the end result. 

This does take some trial and error. Like I mentioned before, sometimes the pigment can develop as the paint dries, so it's up to you to conduct a tester first. Also, not all gouache is created equal!

Some colours seem thicker than others (I assume this is down to the different pigments used) and some brands can go weird and grainy if you add in too much acrylic. Again, it's just about experimenting until you find the combinations that work for you.

A simple painting of gouache mixed with white acrylic - giving a pastel pink result

3. Mix It On The Brush

If confident, expressive brush strokes are your thing, have a go at layering a bit of gouache over some acrylic, straight onto your paintbrush. Then, without hesitation, make your brush marks on paper, and see what you create.

You'll see that the bristles of your brush take up the paint in intermittent blobs, and as a result the paint gets distributed in a way that looks completely intuitive and organic. You won't have the same level of control as with techniques 1 and 2, but the result will be that much more interesting because of it. 

This would also be a great time to try out some different tools - the image below is a painting I made using a small sponge. I layered black acrylic onto the sponge, with just a tiny blob of white gouache on top, and curved the sponge in on itself to form a rounded pebble shape.

The result was a perfectly dispersed amount of grey that would have been almost impossible to achieve if I attempted to paint it slowly and methodically. 

Since beginning my love affair with gouache, I've learned that Matisse used it to colour the paper used in his famous Cut-Outs. If it's good enough for a master, it's a medium worth getting to know.

I hope this post has shown you that painting with gouache doesn't have to be complicated. I think the medium deserves just as much attention as oil and acrylic, and remember - you don't have to stick to the rules of how gouache should be used.

Have fun and see what you can create!