Traveling can be equal parts exciting and stressful. For some of us, it can be the source of great anxiety. It’s unfortunate that the fear brought on by thinking about visiting a new place or getting onto an airplane can really put a damper on your trip. We’ll chat here about some common symptoms and telltale signs that travel anxiety affects you. Then we’ll deliver proven anxiety hacks that you can put to use when preparing for your next adventure. Let’s see 12 ways to help cope with your travel anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms
A big question you may be asking yourself is “Does travel anxiety even affect me?” The nature of travel anxiety is different for everyone, but there are some common themes. Some people may find that they suffer from full-blown panic attacks when traveling. In contrast, others might have trouble with crowded spaces or enclosed areas like planes and buses. Still others experience intense feelings of fear during takeoff and landing while on an airplane.
If you struggle with travel anxiety, you may experience fear and panic, such as cold sweats or elevated heart rates, due to these symptoms. But the good news is that you don’t have to. Keep reading to find out how to best deal with these issues in a variety of ways.
How to Handle It
Whether you’re feeling uncomfortable in certain situations or have been experiencing physical reactions like chest pain, dizziness or nausea, some things can help alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with traveling:
1. Use Lists: Make a list of what bothers you most when traveling and find ways to avoid those things as much as possible. For example, if crowded spaces make you uncomfortable, fly outside the busy travel season to avoid overcrowded airports. Or if the loud noises associated with public spaces put you on edge, pack earplugs for your trip and use them as needed.
2. Breathe: Practice deep breathing exercises before boarding an airplane, bus or train. This will ensure that any anxiety you feel during those situations is lessened. According to research, this breathing style positively affects your central nervous system to give you more control over your body and mind. If you’ve never tried deep breathing before, it’s pretty simple. First, breathe deeply through your nose for about 5 to 10 seconds and try to “fill” your stomach with air. Hold for a few seconds. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for another 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat this at least three times.
3. Set Time Limits: When traveling, set yourself a time limit for each activity to avoid it dragging on and causing more stress. For example, if you know hotel rooms make you uncomfortable because there is a lack of natural light or they’re too small, plan to get out after one hour of being inside your room.
4. Bring a Buddy: Travel with a good friend who knows all about your anxiety and is willing to be there for you when needed. Having someone there who understands your needs can help take the stress out of travel. This must be a person with whom you can be comfortable being open and honest so that being around them doesn’t trigger more anxiety.
5. Establish Rituals: Set up some pre-travel rituals that will make it easier for you to get on an airplane, bus or train, such as listening to relaxing music or reading a favorite or exciting book. These little things can help take your mind off what you’re about to do and might make it easier for you to get where you want to go.
6. Consider Body and Mind: Keep your stress levels under control by exercising, meditating or doing yoga while traveling. This is especially important if these activities are part of your usual routine. You may not know it, but they could be helping you out already with some much-needed stress management. Conversely, abandoning them may cause more stress and, in turn, trigger many physical and emotional symptoms that make you feel vulnerable when traveling, including heart-pounding, shortness of breath, nausea and changes in appetite.
7. Plan Ahead: Research the area you’re visiting in advance so that you know what to expect and don’t feel like a lost soul when arriving. You’ll also be better prepared for any potential challenges, such as language barriers or food choices not familiar to your palate. Use online translation tools to prepare some simple phrases and have them ready on your smartphone to show locals in their native language. Avoid long sentences that these apps might not translate well. For example, “gluten-free” is more easily translated than “Hello, what gluten-free options do you have on your menu?”
8. Fuel and Hydrate Yourself: Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods before departure, drinking plenty of water during travel time and getting enough sleep the night before. These self-care habits will help put you in control over your travel anxiety symptoms. It’s hard to stay calm if your thoughts are racing about all sorts of bad things happening while on an airplane, train or bus ride without being well-rested. And it will all be even worse if you’re edging into the hangry territory, or your brain is chugging along slowly due to dehydration.
9. Embrace Positivity: Keep a journal or list of positive affirmations and read these before going anywhere that makes you nervous, whether it’s a plane or a crowded market. According to research, these activities activate brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward, which may decrease stress. For example: “I am brave.” “I am strong.” Remember that all travel involves risk. Some are just more common and manageable than others, such as driving on highways with poor visibility due to rain. In this case, you can postpone or delay the trip. But when it comes to thoughts of being caught up in a terrorist attack at an airport in Europe, realize you have no control over this kind of situation, so don’t let fear take hold of your life.
10. Use Natural Supplements: Consider using natural supplements that are known to ease anxiety and provide a sense of relief. Many of these exist. Some are available in essential oil form, such as lavender, while others can be taken orally or sublingually like CBD oil and valerian tinctures. Sometimes these kinds of supplements can bring on feelings of drowsiness or encourage sleep, so it’s recommended that you test them out before traveling so you can use them most effectively.
11. Keep Busy: Plan activities before departure so there will always be something else to focus on besides anxious thoughts while traveling. This could include listening to audiobooks, watching movies or TV shows downloaded beforehand onto smart devices via streaming services, reading an ebook on your favorite app or even video chatting with friends or family. The idea is to get out of your head so you don’t get lost in your thoughts.
12. Ask for Help When Needed: Be mindful of your thoughts. It’s normal to feel anxious when traveling. Still, if you can’t stop worrying or obsessing about the worst-case scenario, it might be time to seek professional help. If anxiety is a chronic issue, seek therapy or talk with a therapist before the trip so that they have time to work through any underlying issues that may cause stress during travel. Also, consider a therapist specializing in anxiety issues because they may have some tips to help you manage your symptoms better before or during the trip.
Combine for Best Results
While all these tips and tricks are excellent on their own, if you combine a few or most of them, you’ll be setting yourself up for success. Remember, anxiety triggers can vary from person to person and even day today. What bothered you on your last trip may not on the next one. Do yourself a favor and be as prepared as possible by putting these strategies into place. This way, you can enjoy traveling and say goodbye to your anxiety.