Soaring in the Clouds: Managing Travel Anxiety

“A mind that is stretched by experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

It is fascinating how many variations of travelers there are. Ranging from those who plan meticulously, to those who toss whatever in a bag one hour before a flight and are good. Personally, I fall somewhere in between. I do make a packing list and pack in advance. I prefer to have a set destination when I arrive, where I will stay, etc. My sense of adventure is freed where I am satisfied to have arrived, then it’s time to wander and explore.

If you’re like me, the travel anxiety occurs before the actual travel. Anxiety is the feeling of fear that develops when your body responds to stress. Traveling is stressful. It takes us out of our routines and involves arrangements that we don’t make in our daily life. When travel doesn’t go to plan or the unexpected occurs, managing the fear of things going astray can be a challenge.

Some reasons for experiencing travel anxiety are:

  1. Being outside of your comfort zone and in an unfamiliar place. The phobia of public places and being outside a living space is called agoraphobia. Some travelers experience this any time they are away from familiar surroundings. Not knowing the language of where you are going or not being able to communicate can add extra anxiety to this as well.
  2. Fear of Mode of Transportation (flying, driving, boats, trains, etc). Fear of flying is a very common concern mostly because of conditions such as turbulence, takeoff and landing, claustrophobia, being so high above the ground, or the potential to crash, and not being able to be in contact with loved ones while in the air. Driving could cause fear due to past accidents or trauma, motion sickness, traveling through sketchy areas, traveling at night, etc. Boats and trains can also produce anxiety because of motion sickness, walking on a moving object, etc. If you have not had an adverse experience, anxiety could be from that you have never utilized that mode of transportation before and are worried about what could happen.
  3. Horror Stories from Bad Experiences of Others. Being bombarded with negative experiences will have a psychological affect on you as well. It is human nature to internalize and relate what we encounter to ourselves. So if you see on the news someone got hurt, died, or was sick in a place or circumstance, naturally that will plant the idea in your mind that could happen to you too.
  4. Genes, Medications, Medical Conditions, Caffeine/Substances Intake, or Family History. All can affect your propensity to experience anxiety.

Challenging Travel Anxiety

Ok so we know what we are anxious about, how do you challenge it?

Planning. Considering incidentals and worst case scenarios can be incredibly beneficial to alleviating anxiety.

For example: what if I have my bag stolen with my passport and all my money? That would suck. However, knowing the address of your country’s embassy is a good idea so you can have your documents replaced, identify a couple safe spaces like businesses or your hotel that would assist you if you needed to use a phone to call for help. Know the area code and how to make a call.

Ask yourself ‘What steps can I take or research can I do to make myself feel safe if this were to happen.’

Best practice is to consider an anything can happen at anytime mentality during your planning and be as flexible as possible to adjust as needed while you are traveling.

Travel and Health Insurance. Determine if your existing health insurance covers travel and to what locations. Insurance can be purchased for affordable prices and can cover a variety of travel and activities. AIG and TravelGuard are my go- to choices. Familiarize yourself with what health risks you could encounter at the destination. Know where the nearest hospital or clinic is to seek medical care in an emergency.

Relaxation and Mindfulness. Mediation is a great way to reframe anxious thoughts into reasonable ones. Sometimes it makes it easier to mentally escape a stressful situation and focus on the positive aspects of the experience. I personally like to write out affirmations such as: ‘I am going on an adventure!”, ‘A little risk is necessary for living life to the fullest’, or I just review what my plan is when I arrive. Time a set period to worry, when the timer goes off, I shut those thoughts off. This helps to consolidate that anxiety into one moment that is then over. You can also write it down then highlight what is rational and what is not. The brain can then move on to other thoughts or next steps to progress in the journey. Breathing exercises are also great to practice.

Distractions. I enjoy reading or listening to music. Longer flights I watch movies. Having an activity to occupy your time is critical. I will never understand those who can just sit on a plane. Even sleeping the entire trip makes me antsy. I was on a plane recently where the person next to me brought nothing to do. He was shaking his leg, tapping his fingers, eyes darting around nervously- it spiked my anxiety. Be kind to your fellow passengers and don’t be that person, bring something to take your mind off your worries.

Identify your Triggers. Know what brings on the anxiety. This is critical to managing anxiety of any kind. If you know what starts the anxious sensations, you can learn to expect it, and move yourself out of that headspace. I prefer stating ‘I notice I am feeling _________’. Sometimes I can explain the why, sometimes I cant, regardless, just bringing the emotion into focus, keeps me in the present, and creates awareness I am experiencing an emotion.

Self Care. Hydrating, eating healthy, moving your body in whatever way you prefer, will all balance your emotional well being and responses to stress. The healthier of a lifestyle you lead, the less likely a challenge will impact you negatively. Don’t chug an energy drink then expect to sit peacefully on a plane for 10 hours, that’s just not realistic and ignoring your own basic needs- it’s self abuse. Be kind to yourself, treat your body well, and your mind will be at ease too.

Medications. Doctors will prescribe Xanax or sleep meds to anxious travelers to make you better able to rest. I personally avoid medications; I choose more natural ways to relax. However, I do bring the Ollie melatonin tabs to be prepared for insomnia or needing some help with relaxing. The tablets are natural and won’t fully render me comatose. Everyone is a little different on this. It is certainly best to do whatever is best for you as an individual, and perfectly ok to ask a medical professional for input.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

~Mary Anne Radmacher

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