I just got back from a life changing trip to Thailand and you know what? The trip almost didn’t happen. Why? Because of my anxiety around travel. I absolutely LOVE traveling but for the longest time, I let my anxiety stop me from experiencing all that the world has to offer. My ah-ha moment was when I turned down three trips last year because of my travel anxiety. I was asked to go on three separate trips with friends last year, all of which would have been amazing opportunities, and I turned each of them down. My excuse? That I was “too busy”. Now, this wasn’t a lie as I actually was very busy, but I definitely could have made it work if I really wanted to. But instead, I let anxiety control my actions and I missed out on three really amazing trips.
After that, I made a decision to no longer let my anxiety control my decisions. And you know what? I practiced what I preach to my own clients, made some positive changes, and was able to successfully go on a trip of a lifetime, (mostly) anxiety free! It’s important to note that those who suffer from anxiety will never magically be “anxiety free”, but instead can learn helpful tips and skills to implement to help manage symptoms of anxiety when they arise! After this trip, I felt so inspired, refreshed, motivated, and rejuvenated and I realized just how much I had been missing out on because of my anxiety. So, if you’re a travel junkie who suffers from anxiety, keep reading! I am going to be sharing some helpful travel tips for those of you who have a gypsy soul, with an anxious mind!
For those who suffer from anxiety, planning ahead is key. This is true of everyday situations as well but especially true when it comes to travel. It is important to ensure that trips are carefully planned and not rushed, i.e. don’t wait until a month before your trip to start planning. If you are planning a trip, make sure you allow yourself enough time to research where you are going, flight options, accommodation options, as well any other pertinent information, especially if you are traveling to a different country. When traveling abroad, it’s important to be aware of what is needed to enter the country (i.e. passport or visa), as well as be aware of languages, foods, laws, cultural norms, vaccination requirements, weather, what to wear, what to pack, etc.
What was helpful for me was making a Pinterest board full of blog posts and other helpful tips specific to my destination. So, my specific Pinterest board had a ton of blogs, articles, and website links all about Thailand, which was incredibly helpful for me to narrow down exactly what I needed to know before I went. This also helped offset anxiety because I kept pinning pictures of our destination, which got me SUPER excited to go! It allowed me to visualize myself on a sunny beach, happy and carefree! (Which I totally manifested by the way, because that’s exactly how I felt!) If planning itself feels too overwhelming for you, talk to a travel agent! Yes, they still exist and can be incredibly helpful as they do all of this for you!
If your anxiety is rooted around flying (as mine was), it’s important to do your research around different flight options. This is why planning ahead is helpful, because if you give yourself enough time, you can usually book flights at good rates without breaking the bank. This also means you have time to research the best seats on the plane, best airline ratings, etc. If your budget allows, I would recommend upgrading from economy class, especially for longer flights. Again, when you plan ahead, you may be able to book a better class for a lower rate vs. waiting until the last second.
For me, the idea of being stuck on a long flight in economy made me feel incredibly anxious and overwhelmed as part of my anxiety stemmed from a panic attack I experienced on a plane, years ago. So, when I say “stuck”, that’s truly how I felt and claustrophobia is no joke. For our trip to Thailand (which was 16 hours to our layover, plus an additional 4 hours from there to our destination), we flew premium economy for the 16 hour part of the trip. This was one upgrade up from economy (the airline we chose had economy, premium economy, business class, and first class as options). This was probably the best decision I ever made. Was it pricier than economy? Yes. However, it made a world of difference in how I felt. I had so much leg room, a seat that reclined, and I never once felt stuck or claustrophobic because I was able to get up, move around, and stretch out. Also, premium economy had its own cabin, so I was able to get up and walk and stretch and never felt “stuck.”
Additionally, one of the perks of flying is that you can create accounts with the airlines and start earning points. Premium economy earns you more points than economy, which can be used for future flights. So, instead of fixating on the cost, I reframed my mindset as an investment in future travels…because after I conquered this trip I knew I would be traveling more, so having points to use towards future flights will help offset future costs.
Another way to earn points is to use a credit card which helps you earn points towards travel as well. We found a ton of really great information all about general travel tips and flight tips, HERE. If you truly are not in a position to upgrade from economy, there are still ways you can secure seats which offer more leg room and will help you feel less claustrophobic, such as booking an exit row for example. When ready to secure a seat, I recommend checking out THIS site to see which seats get the best reviews and why! We used this site for the second part of the trip, which was in economy, and it was incredibly helpful!
If you have a general fear around flying, here are some additional helpful tips:
- Tell your travel companions how you are feeling. There is nothing worse than suffering in silence and this typically increases feelings of anxiety. Be honest with yourself, no shame and no judgement. If you are anxious, that is OK! It’s important for those traveling with you to know how you are feeling so they can support you along the way and not inadvertently put you into situations where you may feel more anxious, not realizing.
- Make sure you wear comfortable clothing. Layers are recommended as temperatures vary during your travel. This is important because if you feel physically uncomfortable, it’s going to increase your anxiety. I like wearing yoga pants, tank top, comfy cardigan, and I always pack slippers to wear on the plane, too! Easy to slide off, but great to slide on when you need to walk around!
- You can also pack a blanket and neck pillow, but some airlines provide these, free of charge, so double-check before you pack! Either way, this will help you feel cozy so you can get some rest!
- Bring/download books. Books are a great distraction because they allow us to escape reality. So, if you’re a bookworm like me, make sure you have a few books handy to read. I always like to start reading as soon as I get on the plane and settled into my seat, because then I can just immerse myself in the book vs. waiting until panic has set in and then trying to read.
- If books aren’t your thing, download a custom calm-down playlist of songs which calm and relax you. Make sure you bring comfortable ear buds and allow yourself to zone out to the music.
- Download some podcast episodes to listen to and bring a notebook + pen to take notes. This will distract you as you’re focusing on another task.
- Most longer flights have TV/Movie options, but to be safe, download some movies or shows onto your tablet or phone to watch. Think about it, when you are binge watching a show at home, time flies by. It’s no different on a flight!
- Drink a lot of water. This is helpful for two reasons:
- One, it’ll allow you to stay hydrated which is incredibly helpful when flying as dehydration will make you feel like crap, which will then increase anxiety because nothing is worse than not feeling well on a flight.
- Second, it’ll force you to get up and move around to go to the bathroom. When we get anxious, we want to stay put and hold onto our seatbelt for dear life, but that doesn’t help. When we get up and move around, we reduce anxiety by physically moving our body, seeing other passengers happy and relaxed, as well as seeing that the flight attendants are happy and relaxed. This also reminds us that we are not “stuck”, and have plenty of room to move around.
- Watch the flight attendants. We are usually on planes for leisure, but flight attendants are doing their jobs while we relax! Just like when we go to work, they are at work. It’s just another day in the office for them. If they seem happy and content, you have no reason to worry!
- Avoid alcohol. I know, I know, most people say have a glass of wine to relax on a flight but alcohol can actually increase your anxiety because it dehydrates you as well as makes you feel less in control, both of which can increase anxiety. Stick with water.
- Travel with friends or family who make you feel less anxious. We all have those friends or family members that just instantly calm us down and make us feel good. We also all have those friends or family members who amp us up. If you fly with someone who makes you feel good, it’ll help relax and calm you. If you travel with someone who is just as anxious as you, this may increase both of your anxieties, so be mindful of this when planning trips!
- Reframe your mindset around flying. This was actually a tip my friend gave me and I found it so helpful! So, instead of thinking, “Omg I’m going to be stuck for x amount of hours”, reframe it to, “Wow! I have x hours to sleep, read, relax, and not be bothered!” Because the reality is, when else do you have that uninterrupted time? Once I looked at it that way, I couldn’t wait to vedge out and unplug!
- Bring a journal with you and record your thoughts throughout the travel. If you find yourself recording negative thoughts, reframe them in real-time to more positive thoughts. Make sure you write down all of the good things about the trip, too! This will serve as a wonderful reminder for you in the future that despite your anxiety, you went on a trip and actually had a great time!
- Talk to your medical provider about medication or natural supplement options for flight anxiety. Unfortunately, sometimes anxiety around flights become so heightened that individuals are unable to get themselves to a calm enough space to even implement the coping skills discussed. There is no shame in having to take something to offset the flight anxiety if needed. This should be discussed with your physician though, as there are many OTC, herbal supplements, and prescription options available and your provider can help you find the best fit for your personal needs.
I will always promote therapy, not just because I am a therapist but because it works! Therapy is a wonderful venue to begin working on travel anxiety. It allows you the space to talk openly and honestly about your fears and worries with a trained professional who can help you develop the tools and skills needed to reduce and manage your anxiety. A lot of the anxiety thoughts we experience are irrational and when we truly start to analyze our fears, we realize that much of what we are worried about isn’t really valid and more exaggerated in our minds. This is work a therapist can assist you with.
One of my favorite exercises is writing down every single fear around travel, then going through the list and coming up with rational and logical reasons as to why these irrational fears aren’t valid.
So for me, one of my biggest stressors when traveling is food as I have food allergies, one of which requires me to carry an Epipen. When we were planning our Thailand trip, I was very anxious about the food situation as I was not familiar with the authentic cuisine, ingredients, cooking methods, etc. Again, I did my research in advance so I knew what to expect. Then, I had dining allergy cards made in Thai to ensure my food allergies could be appropriately relayed to restaurants or other vendors. This was very helpful and I recommend this when traveling abroad with food allergies!
Additionally, I packed my own snacks. For those of us with food allergies, this is something most of us do anyways, but it’s incredibly important when traveling as well. I went on the TSA website to ensure the foods I brought on the airplane were TSA approved and packaged correctly. Also, most airlines allow you to request allergy friendly meals up to 24 hours ahead of time, which is incredibly helpful and I highly recommend this! I also ensured I always had my Epipen and other allergy medications on me at all times, as well as ensured my travel companions knew what my allergies were and what the signs/symptoms were of a reaction. This preparation allowed me to feel safe and secure in my travels.
Another reason people often become anxious around travel is leaving their pets or home for extended periods of times. It is common for those who suffer from anxiety to find safety and security in their home, which is usually why they avoid travel. Here are some helpful tips:
- Ask a friend or family member to check-in on your home while you are away. This is not an uncommon request, and most people are fine helping out! Then, just be sure to go over any specific concerns you have before leaving as well as ensure they have a way to reach you while you are away to check-in.
- Share your travel itinerary with close friends or family, that way someone knows where you’ll be, who you’ll be with, addresses and phone numbers of where you can be reached, etc. This will ease anxiety around knowing that if needed, someone can reach you.
- Ask a friend or family member to pet-sit. It is always helpful to have someone you know and trust watch over your beloved fur baby, but if you cannot find someone to help out, talk with your veterinarian about pet sitters and/or boarding. Veterinarians usually have great recommendations and can go over all of your fears and worries with you, to help ease any concerns you may have.
- Make sure you inform your veterinarian that you will be out-of-town, and leave an emergency contact for them to speak with in the event of an emergency. That way, if there is a crisis and you are not available, someone you know and trust can be reached in the meantime to assist in your pet’s needs.
Packing is one of the most stressful parts of travel! The best thing you can do is begin packing early! When anxious, it’s easy to overpack because you want to have everything, “just incase”, but this leaves you feeling amped up as well as leaves you susceptible to overweight baggage fees! So, start packing about a week before your trip. Once you’ve done your research around what kinds of clothing and accessories you’ll need, make a list of everything you need from undergarments to clothing to toiletries to shoes and accessories. Then, start making piles in your suitcase for each day you’ll be away. This will help you visually see and organize your items vs. furiously throwing everything into your luggage. Organization is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety! Also remember, most destinations have access to stores, so if you forget something, you can just buy it!
LEAVE YOURSELF TIME
There is nothing worse than rushing. Make sure you leave yourself enough time the day of your travels to get to the airport on time. For example, don’t work the day of your travels up until you have to leave and then panic when you are running behind. Know yourself. Know your travel companions and their time management. Know traffic and weather conditions. I always recommend taking the day before and after travel off as a buffer. That way your preparation prior to and arrival back are less rushed and you can travel with ease knowing you have extra time.
So are you feel more confident around traveling? Traveling is stressful, even for those who do not suffer from anxiety, but it does not need to be impossible. If you are someone who suffers from anxiety but have a desire to travel, start small. Maybe don’t jump into a 20 hour flight as your first adventure. Maybe pick a destination a bit closer to home to get your feet wet. Also, making a vision board on Pinterest is something I find helpful too, as there are so many places I want to see and explore. So, when I pin pictures of those destinations, it excites and motivates me and my anxiety seems further and further away. Also, once you have successfully been able to travel, no matter how near or far, celebrate that small victory! You need to allow yourself to recognize that you accomplished a goal and there is NOTHING more powerful and motivating than that!
I would LOVE to know what spoke to you today and encourage you to comment below and share with me!
If you are interested in learning more about my therapy services, check out my website HERE. Seeking mental health services can be daunting and if you are finding my posts resonate with you, it is likely you are feeling ready to take that next step to work on leading a happier, healthier life! I would LOVE to support you in starting this journey and welcome you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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