Summer is upon us and many of us are anticipating a return to travel. Whether staying stateside or going overseas, travel conjures up images of exciting new places, beautiful or unusual sights, visiting with family or friends, and in general, lots of relaxation and fun. But for many people, travel can also create feelings of discomfort and worry — a sensation psychologists refer to as "travel anxiety." If this describes you, you are not alone: feeling anxious about travel - before and during a trip - is very common.
And of course, if you have a mental health diagnosis, you’ll want to check with your medical professional before your trip as they can make sure you are up-to-date on prescriptions, and even provide travel advice for your condition. In addition, this article offers 8 ways to cope with travel anxiety, from giving yourself extra time for transportation transitions to packing a calming item or book that provides comfort during stressful situations. Hopefully these suggestions will help reduce the anxiety and allow you to enjoy the journey!
Alleviate potential anxiety before you go
Experts suggest you start by thinking in advance about what situations on the trip might cause anxiety, recognize when your anxiety may be disproportionate, then challenge it with facts and planning. It’s a good idea for any traveler to do upfront research to make sure destinations and activities are safe. But if your fears about possible disaster get in the way of fully enjoying your experience, your anxieties may be at least partially unfounded. It may help to look at statistics to see how rare certain scary events really are. You can also find out in advance where to go or who to call if you do have an emergency. Often these upfront methods can provide a better sense of control and therefore alleviate some of the advance anxiety.
Other Tips for coping with travel anxiety during your trip
- Build in extra time. This probably goes without saying. Almost every form of transportation - plane, train, even car rental - will almost certainly experience delays, lines, or schedule changes - causing even the most patient among us to feel overwhelmed. It makes sense to allow for extra time for each, as well as to plan what you’ll do in case of delays (bring a book, load up a movie on your phone, etc.), and learn to accept - rather than fight - these common inconveniences.
- Keep important documents handy. To reduce freak-outs at the airport or at border crossings, always keep your passport and ID in the exact same holder or bag while you travel (as well as in the same spot at home when not traveling!). Make paper copies of important documents just in case. Consider printing out copies of maps or have an up-to-date, hard copy guidebook in case GPS doesn’t work.
- Establish a routine that sets the tone for your trip. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings, and if you can, integrate activities that you’re used to doing at home (e.g., getting coffee at a local coffee shop each morning, reading before bed, etc.) to bring a sense of comfort and routine.
- Practice relaxing breathing exercises. Use these in traffic, in security lines, and whenever necessary. Also integrate physical activity like walking and stretching to relieve stress. Get the appropriate amount of sleep, eat a healthy diet, and stay hydrated.
- Try to stay positive — or at least neutral. Frustrating or disappointing situations are bound to happen while traveling. However, your attitude may make a difference. Boston University clinical psychologist and phobia expert, Dr. Todd Farchione, says, “A lot of times, by pulling from a mindfulness and acceptance-based approach, you can go into a situation in a way where you’re not judging it so negatively… To be calm, you have to act calm.”
- Know your mental and physical limits. Regularly reassess your original plans and change them to minimize stress levels. Let your fellow travelers know in advance that you will be prioritizing your mental health and that there may be activities along the way that you may not partake in.
- Finally, give yourself time on the back end of a trip. If possible, plan an extra day or two off after you return, to mentally and physically recover from your trip. This will help you get back into your daily routine with less stress.
If you are still facing travel anxiety after trying these stress-reducing tips, a qualified mental health professional can help you work on further coping strategies for dealing with travel anxiety, or help you consider whether medication can help fulfill your wanderlust with as little stress as possible.
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT): Travel and Anxiety
Conde Nast Traveler: What Does Travel Anxiety Look Like?
CDC: Mental Health and Travel