Let’s talk Planet Earth. If you know anything about me, you know I very obviously…
Do you love going on vacation, but despise flying? Do you find yourself daydreaming of Italy, but are too nervous to actually go because don’t speak the language? Do you love planning a trip, but become so overwhelmed on the actual trip that you can’t enjoy yourself? And traveling during the time of Covid brings up many, many travel anxieties for people– wearing a mask for hours on end or sitting closer to someone than you’d like isn’t exactly fun.
All of these scenarios are tied to travel-related anxiety. According to some sources, it affects 20 percent of travelers. I’d venture to say that number is actually much higher. Whether its fear of flying, changing up your routine, or spending time in a completely foreign culture, anxiety is the killer of fun. Here’s a few ways to keep travel anxiety at bay.
Before you go
Talk to your doctor.
Travel anxiety is a real thing, and you shouldn’t hesitate to bring it up with your doctor. There is no shame in getting a professional opinion about your mental health, and a doctor can help you come up with a plan. Whether its breathing exercises or medication, just knowing what you will do if you start to panic helps put your mind at ease.
Plan, plan, plan.
From travel itineraries and hotel addresses to passports, take photos of all your documents. That way, you can access whatever you need without WiFi. Take it a step further by emailing all of these photos to yourself should you lose your phone.
Book your seat near the front of the plane.
And no, not just so you don’t have to sit by the bathrooms. Martin Seif, a clinical psychologist and founding board member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that 70 percent of people with flying anxiety aren’t afraid of crashing, but of panicking while on the plane. Sitting in the back can create more of a claustrophobic, tunnel vision experience, which can definitely make you more anxious. Sitting near the front feels more spacious (for airplane standards, anyhow). Plus, you’ll be one of the first ones off the flight!
Run through scenarios.
Make a list of all the things that worry you about an upcoming trip. Next, figure out the steps you would take in order to resolve the problem. For example, if you’re afraid of getting food poisoning in a foreign country, what would you do? Write down what medications you’d like to have on hand, how to contact your physician or nurse at home, and how you’d find a doctor locally.
Download the SOAR app.
In 1982, Captain Bunn established SOAR to help travelers overcome their fear of flying. Bunn’s course, based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, is now available in a neat and tidy app for iPhone and Android. It’s free to download, but has in-app videos and audio for purchase. Lessons include how to control in-flight anxiety and panic automatically, and the app features an in-flight G-Force monitor designed to give you peace of mind even during the worst turbulence.
Take a test run with your mask.
Masks are great for keeping our germs to ourselves (and keeping others away). Even in post-Covid times, I’ll bet they stick around. Make sure whatever mask you’re wearing is comfortable– that it fits properly, isn’t too thick, doesn’t keep slipping or give you a headache. A good mask should feel ALMOST invisible.
Day of travel
Get to the airport early.
Simply arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare alleviates 90 percent of stress-related travel. Nothing intensifies anxiety like being in a rush, feeling lost in the airport, or sprinting to the gate like it’s your own personal running of the bulls.
Arrive 90 minutes before your boarding time. If it’s the summer or a holiday, make it two hours. What’s the worst that could happen? You should up early enough to have a pre-flight coffee or cocktail? Exactly.
Sometimes, it’s worth paying a little extra.
Stressed about parking at the airport, or not sure you can count on your brother to pick you up on time? Take a cab, Uber or Lyft. Depending where you live, it’s probably cheaper than parking at the airport anyhow!
Did you know curb-side check-in is usually free? It’s true, and is a great way to check large bags and get your boarding pass. It is customary to tip about $5 a bag, but I say that’s worth every cent if it means avoiding long lines.
Designate a place for important documents.
I used to constantly worry that left my passport behind. That’s why I always designate a specific spot for all important things. Every time I take out my passport, I immediately put it back in the same place.
Prepare for security.
Holding up the security line can be incredibly stressful. Make it easier by wearing easy on-off shoes, removing everything from your pockets, organizing any liquids into a plastic bag (and storing it in an easy access spot). Hate taking your belt off? Why not wait until after security to put it on in the first place!
Eat and stay hydrated.
This is just great life advice, and it’s especially important when you travel. Pack high energy snacks like nuts, fruit and protein bars for when hanger (that’s hungry + anger) strikes; and a water bottle with a reliable cap to refill once you pass security.
Listen to your favorite music, binge on your favorite podcast (This American Life, Dirty John and Invisibilia are great options!), or watch the Queer Eye reboot on Netflix (you can download episodes now!). Whatever will get your mind off the flight.
Don’t be afraid to assert yourself.
If someone is making you uncomfortable (not keeping their mask on, getting too close, etc), say something. If that makes you uncomfortable, ask a flight attendant to say something on your behalf. It’s their job.
While you’re there
Create a daily ritual.
This is how I get centered on the road. Whether it’s the coffee shop in the morning or afternoon (or both!), enjoying a glass of wine on your patio, the reading of your emails at the same park bench, just that sense of really slowing down time will actually enhance your travels. It really only needs to take 20 minutes, and will help you relax and live in the moment.
When you’re visiting a new place, it’s easy to pack your calendar to the brim. Rushing from one activity to the next is stressful and, honestly, not that enjoyable. Instead of filling every minute, decide on one activity a day. This allows breathing room for rest, plus you’ll have more flexibility to be spontaneous, which is when travel’s most fun and memorable moments always seem to happen!
Book a tour.
You might find the idea of, say, a double-decker bus tour, a little cringe-worthy. I LOVE them! An organized tour of any kind takes the pressure off planning. You simply get to go with the flow and enjoy yourself, not stress about the details. Embrace being a tourist—you are one, after all!
Take a break.
It’s okay if you need to spend a few quiet hours holed up in your hotel room. Don’t feel guilty about “wasting time” on your vacation. Travel is fun, but it can be really hard. Sometimes a break is the best thing you can do to ensure you actually enjoy your trip.
What do you do to decrease stress and anxiety when you travel? Share in the comments!
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