I was an experienced traveler before I could ride a bicycle, often making the round trip between Canton and Wilmington 4 times a year. I even hopped on planes by myself for some of those trips. Back then, I loved being on the go. It didn’t matter where I was heading. I rolled the window down and hung my head out like an overheated dog. Taking in the scenery and the feel of the wind in my hair. Of course, that’s before travel anxiety set in.
Afterward, I stopped enjoying one of the greatest loves of my life. Travel. It happened out of the blue. Suddenly I had a fear of turbulence and traffic jams. It was frustrating. Before 25, I explored Hawaii, D.C., the Bahamas, Disney, and over a third of the continental United States. After 25, my travel escapades came to a grinding halt. Traffic, big cities, and crowds began inducing panic. I started avoiding going anywhere out of my comfort zone.
I allowed my travel anxiety to rob me of new experiences for a decade. Over the last year, I’ve gotten much better. I still have travel anxiety, but I’m not avoiding vacations anymore. I’m actually looking forward to the trips we have coming up. Today I thought we’d talk about how I went from dodging travel to planning my next trip – and how you can do it too.
Coping Tips for Travel Related Anxiety
Visit your mental health professional.
Before you do anything else, you should visit your doctor. Discuss your anxiety symptoms and come up with a treatment plan for travel. Your doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine to help you while you’re away from home.
Identify your triggers.
Knowing your anxiety triggers can help you avoid panic while you’re out of town. If caffeine sets off your anxiety, you shouldn’t pick up a latte on the way to the airport. If traffic is an issue, travel during off-peak hours. There are workarounds for most anxiety triggers, use them to your advantage.
Learn a few relaxation techniques.
Whether it’s breathing exercises or mindfulness, you should find a relaxation technique that works for you before scheduling your first trip. These self soothers will help you remain calm when you feel anxiety coming on.
Ease into travel slowly.
Don’t expect to hop on a plane tomorrow and head to an exotic island without any anxiety blowback. Consider your first trip to be an exercise in gradual exposure therapy. If you’ve avoided travel for a significant amount of time, it’s probably not best to jump right in. Instead, focus on making local trips to secluded retreats. Build your confidence. You’ll be ready for bigger, bolder adventures before you know it.
Research your destination.
Get to know your destination before scheduling your trip. Figure out the safest areas to lodge in, which restaurants you want to try, and when attractions open for tourists. By becoming familiar with the location, you’ll feel less overwhelmed.
Embrace shoulder season.
Make the off-season your new favorite time to travel. It’s usually cheaper and way less crowded. If traffic and crowds are sources of anxiety, you’ll appreciate the less hectic pace of shoulder season.
Invite a friend.
If you’re apprehensive about traveling alone, ask a friend to tag along. Having someone to share driving duties and chat with can significantly cut down on the amount of anxiety you feel on the road.
Create a loose itinerary.
Don’t make the mistake of over-scheduling your trip. Rushing from one place to the next, to see everything a city has to offer is stressful and unrealistic. Instead, pick a couple activities for each day. Spend the rest of your time relaxing and recharging.
Schedule relaxing activities.
Going too hard on vacation can bring on burn out pretty quickly. Make sure you schedule some time for relaxation. Spend a whole day on the beach or visit the spa. You won’t regret the downtime.
Have a backup plan.
If things can go wrong, they will. From lost dinner reservations to flight delays, it’s pretty much guaranteed your itinerary will be briefly derailed at some point. Expect it and plan for it, so it’ll be less upsetting when things go awry.
Pack for anxiety.
Besides clothes and hygiene products, pack an emergency anxiety kit. Include things like meds for panic, melatonin, and self-soothing items. You’ll be thankful you brought the extra stuff when you need it.
Create a travel playlist.
Create a playlist of calming music, and when you feel yourself getting tense, zone out into your favorite tunes.
When anxiety flares, sometimes a simple redirection of attention can reduce symptoms. Reading works wonders on my racing thoughts, but pack whatever you’re into.
When you’re on the road, ignore the clock. It’s not a race. No one is waiting at your destination with a medal, so make frequent stops. Stretch your legs. Take some pictures. It might take you a couple extra hours to get where you’re going, but you’ll be a lot happier when you do.
Stick to your routines.
Routines have been proven to alleviate anxiety. Keeping up your rituals will boost feelings of stability and confidence while in an unfamiliar environment.
I’ve been implementing these tricks for the last year, and my travel anxiety has improved dramatically. Last year I took two major trips, one back home to Canton and another to Morrow Mountain. Both were amazing. I returned refreshed and ready for the next adventure. So don’t give up on travel due to anxiety! If I can get back out on the road, anyone can.