You know the drill. You book a trip and you’re filled with excitement. Then just as quickly as you hit the “Book Now” button, the excitement drifts away and is replaced with anxiety. You try to ease this anxiety, but that only leads to feeling anxious about how much anxiety you’re having about the anxiety you’re having. It’s a vicious cycle that rears its ugly head before every trip you take, and without fail, you don’t know what to do to manage the thoughts.
Well, the good news is… you’re not alone! Whether it’s stemming from being apprehensive about experiencing new cultures, navigating unfamiliar roads, a fear of flying, worried that your luggage will be overweight or that you will forget to pack something, or if you simply have anxiety and can’t pinpoint why, travel anxiety is far more common than you may think; thus, there is a mountain of information out there to help calm your over-consumed mind.
Some people find solace in relaxing music, others in exercise, and others are still looking for that magic button to push that will alleviate their anxiety. While that magic button may not exist, sometimes it just helps knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle and that there are ways to cope with it.
Be prepared for everything
William Shakespeare once said, “All things are ready, if our mind be so.” Oftentimes, anxiety, specifically travel anxiety, stems from feeling like you are out of control of a given situation so if you take measures to ensure that you’re ready for anything, your mind will be put at ease. Remember to control what you can, and accept what you can’t.
Concerned about losing your passport, ID or driver’s license? Make photocopies to keep in your carry-on or in a passcode-protected app on your smartphone.
Worried about not being able to communicate with locals in the country you’re visiting? Learn a few sentences in the local language and download translating apps to your phone.
Nervous about missing your flights? Allow for wiggle room. Leave early before your flight to beat traffic on the way to the airport and only book direct flights/flights with layovers no shorter than three hours long.
Worried something will go wrong with one of the bookings you’ve made? Be sure to make reservations with companies that offer 24/7 support (there are many of us!)
Afraid you’ll get sick? Invest in travel insurance that will cover you in case of illness or injury and memorize the local 911 equivalents.
Do your reading
Read food blogs to learn about the local cuisine, what/where to eat and drink, and even what/where NOT to eat and drink. You’ll find tips about the most popular spots to hit up as well as local, hidden gems that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Check out fashion blogs to find out the appropriate clothing to wear at your destination based on weather, local style or religious restrictions. The Internet is your friend. Take advantage of your access to it and read what peers have to say about your destination or journey. You’d be surprised how helpful it can be.
Act and talk your way into feeling calm
Positive affirmations go a long way, and repeatedly reaffirming the idea that you can successfully and peacefully travel anywhere in the world will help you to comprehend it.
Regularly remind yourself why you want to travel and why you booked this trip in the first place. If you decide to cancel your trip, it’s likely that a year from now you’ll be sitting in the same place thinking of the great opportunity you passed up. The fear of living with regrets can compel you to jump into the deep end and go on that adventure that you know you so badly want to go on.
As much as you can trick your mind into calming down, you can also trick your body. We are quick to tense up during bouts of high anxiety, so make it a point to take a relaxed stance, keep your muscles from tightening and to keep a calm tone. Regularly check your body language and adjust it. You are what you act. To be calm, you have to act calm. The more you do it, the more you learn. The more you learn, the less stress you feel and the less anxiety you have.
Be a thorough planner, but don’t OVER plan
We are a lucky bunch. Most of us live in a world where planning any aspect of our lives has never been easier. As previously mentioned, because anxiety can come from the feeling of not being in control, there are actions you can take to counteract this. Planning the first several days of your trip will put you at ease, knowing that you have nothing to worry about other than having fun once you’ve arrived at your destination. Book hotels and transport that have flexible cancellation policies, with companies that have all the information you need directly on their website. A helpful tip is to also make sure these companies have 24/7 support, so that contacting them won’t be an issue. A big plus is if they have online chat support, so you don’t have to worry about international calls if you’re out of the country!
Keep in mind though: there is a fine line between a well-planned trip and an over-packed one. If you plan so many activities that you feel rushed to get from one to another, you’ll just be finding yourself in a different cycle of stress.
Remember, you can always go home
If you take the leap and feel like it’s too much for you, you always have the option to come back home. It doesn’t mean you failed by any stretch of the imagination; it simply means that you tried something you didn’t like, and there’s no shame in that.
When anxiety meets travel, it can be tough to find yourself out of the “sink or swim” state of mind. The challenge is very real and very personal, but it doesn’t need to hold you back. Recurrent exposure to and understanding of your fears is more successful at treating anxiety than avoidance. The feeling can be overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome; so replace that fear of the unknown with curiosity and perseverance and see the world!