8 Tips To Conquer Travel Anxiety

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Travel anxiety is a real thing. It creeps into our best-laid plans and can cast a dark, dreary cloud over our dreams of seeing the world.

As a travel consultant and social worker, one would think I have it all figured out when it comes to planning and executing my own adventures. But anxiety happens to the best of us.

It’s not logical. It can fill us with fear, uncertainty, and doubt about getting back out into the post-pandemic world of travel. Mostly, it can get in the way of enjoying the privilege it is to travel.

Oftentimes, being honest about your worries can be a good first step in being able to work through them. I have decided I will no longer allow my worries to hold me back from discovering and enjoying the experiences and adventures this incredible world has to offer.

What Is Travel Anxiety?

Anyone can experience travel anxiety at any point in their life, as well as in different ways. Some may be uncomfortable going to new and unfamiliar places, while others may struggle with the transportation modes that go into travel.

You do not need to have past experiences with anxiety to experience anxiety while traveling, and it is completely normal to have these feelings in preparation, before, and during your trip. It is important to recognize this anxiety and take the steps that work for you to ease the worries to have the best trip possible.

Tips On Managing Travel Anxiety

In preparation for a trip that is well outside of my comfort zone, I have been facing my travel anxiety head-on by moving through the following steps:

1. Planning

Making a plan is the first step in easing my anxiety. Where am I going, and how am I getting there? If you are not someone comfortable flying by the seat of your pants, with the ability to just show up and poke around, planning is your best strategy.

Once I know where and how, I like to Google Map the address and do a little searching for what will be around me. Is there a grocery store, coffee shop, bus stop, etc.? Or is it secluded, requiring a drive, or public transit to procure the necessities?

What will the weather be like? What is the best way to travel around the town/city? What are the “must-see” things happening in the area? 

All of these details help me better understand and visualize where I am going to be, and help me to form a plan. I don’t need to know where I am going to be eating every night, but some people do. Having a plan allows me to be able to best experience the adventure – make the reservation, book the time slot, and buy the tickets!

2. Consult a professional

I know what you’re thinking. “Okay travel consultant…of course you are going to recommend talking to a professional.” Yes. Yes, I am.

Travel consultants know the ins and outs of travel. And what they don’t know, they can access via many outlets to help you get the scoop.

For some, planning the trip is the most anxiety-provoking part of the adventure. A travel consultant can help narrow down the search by recommending what all-inclusive has the best food, water park, or the best reviews. They may have a local connection or have stayed at the places you are traveling to.

A consultant may be able to help you make travel arrangements, book connecting flights, suggest properties to consider, best forms of transportation, cabin placement, and so on.

Most travel consultants do not charge a fee for this kind of assistance, as commissions are already built into the pricing. This commission comes to the consultant directly from the business.

Using this kind of support makes a lot of sense, and might be what you need to ease the pressure when it comes to making the best possible choices.

3. Travel Clinic

My next adventure is to the jungles of Costa Rica; a place I’ve never been to. In order to not fret about what I can eat, or drink, or the things that might bite me, I visited a Travel Clinic.

The nurse there reviewed my itinerary and made suggestions of the immunizations that would best protect me against insect bites, Cholera, Hepatitis, and Typhoid. She noted I was due for my Tetanus shot, and threw that into my arm, as well! She reviewed the things I should avoid eating and drinking, in addition to the general care of myself when in another country.

Additionally, she provided me with several “just in case” prescriptions to take with me. All of this provided me with peace of mind. I have what I need to be physically safe on this adventure. Fortunately, all of these medications are covered by my benefits.

4. Addressing Past Experiences

I have had the amazing gift to have been raised in a family that exposed me, from a young age to the thrill of new places and cultures. These wonderful experiences have also included some traumatic memories. During my teens, my family was on a small propeller plane.

I remember massive turbulence, beeping instruments from the cockpit, and the intense feeling we were going to crash. Thankfully, we didn’t. However, that scary event launched a long period of time when I experienced major anxiety symptoms every time I set foot on a plane, such as racing thoughts, hot flashes, panic, and inability to settle. 

In order to overcome my long list of travel traumas, I started seeing a therapist. She has been instrumental in helping me work through the trauma using a psychotherapy modality known as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). This type of therapy consists of retelling the story of the traumatic experience while feeling stimuli (my Therapist uses a pair of paddles that buzz, you hold them in your hands, other Therapists utilize different methods of stimuli).

It is believed the process helps your brain to resolve the trauma and lessen the intensity of emotion, or distress, of the memory. I have found it most helpful in reducing anticipatory anxiety and reconciling some of my past experiences.

As a social worker, EMDR is a type of therapy I often recommend to people who are struggling to let things go and experience distress as a result of their trauma and anxiety. I feel it’s an effective support to those of us struggling with travel anxiety.

5. Connect with your travel buddies

Important questions I ask myself: What is your connection to the people you are traveling with? How well do you think you know them? Would they support you if something were to go wrong during your travels?

When I am traveling with my husband, I know the answer to all of these questions. For my impending trip to Costa Rica, I only have my best guesses. I will be traveling with three beautiful souls I am acquainted with, through yoga.

The four of us will be venturing deep into the jungle for a yoga retreat and will spend nine days (216 hours) together. It was bothering me that I didn’t think I could answer the questions above, about my acquaintances. While we had practiced yoga together for some time, we didn’t know one another outside the studio walls.

So I put out an invitation to spend time with them, and they accepted. We went out for Central American food, bevvies, and attended some local events together.

Are we best friends? No. Do I feel more comfortable answering the questions? Yes.

I know we would help one another in a heartbeat. I feel a connection to these women now, and connections mean everything to me.

6. Packing the right things

Packing requires things. All the things. You know – bug spray, medication, sunscreen, extra undies.

But have you ever considered a photocopy of your passport, itinerary, addresses, maps, insurance information, or list of emergency contacts? These are all things that help keep me calm and cause me not to worry about what I’ll do if I can’t get on wifi, or if I were to lose my phone (can you imagine?!).

It is a wise idea to back everything up old school style, on paper. Is it archaic? Maybe. But it is what helps ease my mind, and stops me from perseverating on the ‘what ifs.’

Paper copies all the way!

7. Leaving a plan behind

When I’m not traveling with my family, I wonder what is happening at home while I’m not there. I am so lucky to have a husband who is more than capable of taking care of himself, and our children, but I am the mom.

You know, the one who makes the appointments, sets up the carpool, and reminds everyone what is on the calendar. To maintain this feeling of order (ish), I have created a calendar for my time away. Each day it lists who is going where, and what needs to be done.

I did this for me, not for them.

Completing this plan gives me the feeling of dumping what is in my head, that needs to happen, while I am away. I won’t be waking up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking I forgot to remind them to take their gym clothes, or that Friday is pizza day.

I have also enlisted some people to check in on my crew. My neighbors and parents know I will be away, so they may or may not send me a quick message to let me know how everything is on the home front.

On a morbid, yet practical, note, I also made sure my will is accessible.

To keep me feeling connected to my peeps at home, I will FaceTime every few days. As excited as I am to be family-free for 9 days, I am also unsure how I will be without them. I will look forward to seeing their beautiful faces and am certain they are about to see a most relaxed, chill, fabulous version of their wife and mother.

8. Finding gratitude and acceptance

It is a privilege to travel. Those of us fortunate enough to have the time, money, and ability are incredibly lucky. This knowledge sometimes helps keep me in check and focus on just how lucky I am.

I try to ground myself with the reminder that I chose this adventure. I take a deep breath and remind myself everything is okay. I am okay.

I try to move through the anxiety by acknowledging it exists, and then focusing on something positive. Sometimes this is effective, other times it is not.

I also remind myself I deserve to take care of myself, spend money on myself, and nurture my well-being. I don’t need to feel guilty about traveling without my family, or that I am leaving them behind.

Gratitude is a powerful strategy. The “attitude of gratitude” will help you journey with a gracious heart.

Am I overthinking it? Yes, absolutely! But this is what I do to cope, as I know I will be a mess if I don’t combat some of these things as part of my planning and preparation.

If you’re someone who can show up and figure things out as you go, with an ability to roll with it and go with the flow – good for you! That’s just not my disposition. At all.

The above strategies allow me to relax into vacation mode. They make it so I can be present and grateful, which means I can soak in all the goodness that world travel can offer.

My “Going Places with Sarah” travel business is built on helping my clients have the most positive travel experiences possible. I will find you as many options as possible and plan with you to the degree you desire.

I have recently started posting about travel anxiety on my social media accounts, and how I can assist in alleviating some of yours.

Who knew that being a full-time social worker, and a part-time travel consultant could be the right mix to help you, and me, combat wanderlust woes.

man sits in airport
Courtesy of jeshoots (via Unsplash)

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Murphy. You can follow her travel account on Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

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