For years, people have told me how brave they think I am for all the travel I do. They say, “I could never do what you do because I’m just too afraid. I have too much travel anxiety.” And despite my commitment to travel, I always could relate because even the most seasoned traveler feels a twinge of excitement and fear just before a trip. But more recently, I’ve started to not just be able to relate to these fears, I’ve been experiencing them myself.
Ever since I started traveling on my own I loved airports. When I would arrive at a terminal I’d feel an extra bounce in my step and a smile would spread across my face. The good things that awaited me at my destination always trumped any discomfort in getting there.
But that carefree excitement I used to feel when embarking on a new journey has been dampened due to a near death experience I had at an airport. I witnesses a live shooting event. And suddenly now I feel stress around travel in ways I never felt before.
This is a big challenge for me, being someone who has built their life around travel. And as I see it, my only viable option here is to confront travel anxiety to regain my freedom. As I battle through it, I’ve created useful methods. And I’d like to share them with you in case they might help you through your anxiety due to your travels or in life in general.
So here are my top travel anxiety combating tips:
1. Make up stories
One way we really get ourselves worked up into anxiety about travel is by imagining potential negative scenarios. Personally, I might imagine missing my flight, feeling bored and frustrated on a long-haul plane journey or not packing the right stuff, etc. I have become quite the master at crafting these stories.
Remember, these narratives are fiction you are making up in your mind! That is the reality. So for every doomsday scenario you imagine in your head, also make up a detailed counter-story that is positive and outlines an ideal chain of events. Because most often it is the ideal situation that ends up happening. And if something goes wrong, it most likely won’t be what you were worrying about. So don’t waste your time futurizing your demise!
2. Illuminate the shadows
Not knowing what to expect once you are on the ground at your destination can cause fear for some. To a certain degree, it is human nature to be weary of new surroundings. And this unfamiliarity can become a source of stress.
Take it into your own hands to eliminate as many unknowns as you can. Do your research and prove to yourself you’ve done all you can to prepare.
Don’t just read travel publications that make every destination seem ideal. Find blogs by regular travelers to get a more full understanding of your destination. Also, watch travel videos on YouTube because if you watch videos, they can provide you with a more visceral impression of your destination, easing your fears.
And finally, once you’ve researched, let it go. You are not going to cancel your trip. So, you might as well enjoy the journey!
3. Engage in self-care
Our emotions are not simply governed by our surroundings – they are highly impacted by our activities and hormones. And if you are anxious about travel – it is especially important to take care of yourself leading up to a trip.
Exercise and balanced blood sugar levels are your best friends!!
Do exercise the morning of your travel day so that your blood is circulating well. This decreases the chance of swelling or restlessness on your flight. And it releases endorphins that make you see the world more positively.
Eat a balanced diet with frequent snacks on your travel day to make sure to keep your metabolism fired up and your blood sugar leveled. Ever heard the saying, “fights always happen when you are hungry?” When we are experiencing dips in blood sugar irritability and any dormant fears or anxieties can become amplified.
Personally, I now tend to eat more frequently on travel days just to stay on top of my emotions. But be sure to eat healthy things like nuts, fruit, and protein packed meals throughout the day. Don’t go for the snacks that are high in artificial ingredients, sugars, fast food or empty calories because those will cause your blood sugar to peak and then crash. And the crash is when you go to stress city!
Also, drink lots of water the days leading up to your trip. It helps!
4. Find a musical distraction
If anxiety sets in for you while you are at the airport or on the plane – you know it can be tough not to fall victim to the fictional stories from tip #1. It can get rough. I’ve been there.
Anxiety is like a little child. Distract your mind away from it and it will subside. That’s why music is an important tool. Make yourself a few playlists a calming one, a groovy one, and even a playlist that reminds you of another time in your life when you were more carefree. For example, I’ll use a 90’s R&B mix that takes me right back to an 8th grade dance or I’ll put on salsa music that makes me think of having fun on the dance floor. Sometimes this provides just enough distraction to get me through a tough moment.
5. Relocate your body
Sometimes stress gets us going and it is hard to stop the mental processes that are making us anxious despite our best efforts. And when music or talking to another human doesn’t distract us enough, we have to get creative. The goal is to get back into the body and into the reality that is around us rather the one that is being imagined in our heads.
A powerful technique that we can use in any stressful situation is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It helps calm you down by bringing your attention to the physical world and to your physical body. And you can do it standing in line or siting down–anywhere.
A basic example is as follows. Make a fist and squeeze your hands tight for 3 to 4 seconds, then release. Next, flex your forearms for 3 to 4 seconds, and release. Then do the same with the biceps. Cycle through these muscle groups a few times over and your thoughts will find themselves out of your fast moving mind and into the physical world. Use this as much as you need. And if you are sitting or laying down, you can include a wider range of muscle groups. The more you use, the more relaxation it induces.
That’s it for this list of anti-anxiety travel tips. Remember, it is when you do something that takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you that you feel most triumphant and free. This is how growth happens. But please, listen to yourself and be patient. Everyone reacts to stressors and stimulus in their own way. And if anxiety plagues you, I challenge you to find a way to move on through.
If you would like to read more about ways to cope with travel anxiety I find this book, The Anxious Traveler: How to Overcome Your Fear to Travel with World by Rita Anya Nara to be helpful.