Anxiety when travelling can really ruin your trip if it’s left unmanaged. When travel anxiety takes hold, it sends you spiralling down that ‘what if’ rabbit hole and make you question everything about your trip.
“Did I book the right accommodation?”
“What if I get lost in the airport and miss my flight?”
“Will my luggage be overweight?”
“What if I get ill with dengue/malaria/food poisoning and have to go to a hospital in a foreign land?”
“What if I break my camera/phone and lose all my photos?”
Don’t worry, I have actually had all of these things happen on my travels and I found my way through – and so will you. Never underestimate how resourceful you can be.
If you have anxiety when travelling in any way, you don’t have to let it dictate your trip or your long-term travels. Even though there are many effective ways to manage general anxiety in the long term, in this post you’ll learn simple, actionable steps that will help you manage your anxiety when travelling.
Some of them you can even start doing before your trip.
So, what is travel anxiety?
Let’s start with what anxiety actually is. Anxiety is a mental health disorder in which someone experiences intense and excessive feelings of worry and fear, which become persistent and strong enough to interfere with daily life.
Everyone can feel a normal amount of anxiety or nervousness in certain situations, such as when taking a test, before public speaking or going to a job interview. But it’s when these anxious feelings don’t dissipate after an event and become excessive, intensified and impede on your everyday life, that it becomes a problem.
Travel Anxiety is defined as having anxiety and fear around travelling to an unfamiliar or new place and the stress involved in planning the trip.
Sometimes people feel depressed and anxious about the travel preparation involved and anxious in the weeks leading up to the trip. Some people experience anxiety when flying, at the airport and persistently when they’re on the trip.
All this can make for a very sad, fearful and anxious traveller. This is not what we aim to get from our trips, our travels should be enjoyable, not distressing.
I am a long-term sufferer of anxiety and when it surfaces it’s always at the most unhelpful times. So I have developed a tried and tested arsenal of coping methods and practices to manage my anxiety and I simply apply these methods when I get a flare-up of travel anxiety.
These really work for me and I encourage anyone to cultivate and create their own set of coping methods and actionable steps, so you can too self-manage your own anxiety when travelling.
10 Tips for Managing Your
Anxiety When Travelling
1. Minimise Anxiety When Travelling by Strategic Planning for Certain Scenarios – on holiday and at home
The best thing you can do to minimise your anxiety when travelling is to put solid plans in place for the what-if scenarios. Not just on the trip but at home as well.
Anxiety often comes from feeling like things are out of your control, so some meticulous planning can actually help you feel more confident about things.
Write down the main things that you would worry about happening on your trip and back at home, then create a plan and potential solution for each scenario.
- Would you worry about who would take care of your pets or keep your home secure?
Get a House sitter or Pet sitter in to take care of everything.
- Worried about getting ill on your trip?
Make sure you get travel insurance, get up-to-date on your vaccinations and have the name & number of a local medical clinic near to where you’re staying.
- Would you fall apart if your wallet or phone got stolen?
Get your phone set up to upload all your photos automatically to Google Photos or iCloud and back up everything to a flash drive before you leave. Consider using a decoy wallet in case you do get pickpocketed.
- Do you get travel anxiety about getting lost in a new place when you’re exploring?
Download Google Maps and MapsMe for general maps and CityMapper and Transit for real-time public transport. And try them out before you leave, so you know how to use them if you’re in a high-stress situation.
It also is useful to have the tourist information numbers saved and the phone number of your accommodation.
By strategically planning for these scenarios – although they’re unlikely to happen – you’ll feel way less anxious about travelling, knowing you’ve got these plans in place and you’ll actually enjoy your trip.
2. Get Travel Insurance
Yes – I know, there are other fun things you’d rather be organising for your trip, but travel insurance is the ultimate solution for your travel anxiety.
When you get your travel insurance, you’ll be covered for most of those things you’re anxious about happening. Like having your passport stolen, missing your flight, getting ill on your trip and having your luggage/belongings go missing.
Whenever anyone asks me “is travel insurance worth it?” my answer is always YES – get it! When you’re in someone else’s country with different rules & regulations to what you’re used to, you never know what could happen.
Even though most insurances in life are designed to rip you off, travel insurance is the exception. You need it every time you go on a trip.
If you hate choosing travel insurance and never know which one to pick, TravelInsurance.com is great because you just enter your trip details in the quote box and they’ll compare different travel insurance plans for you from top insurers, so you can choose one easily.
As a bonus, many travel insurance plans found on TravelInsurance.com will provide trip cancellation, emergency medical and other benefits due to a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Or you can try these travel insurance providers:
TRAVELEX are a world leader in travel insurance and very competitive prices for their comprehensive cover. Travelex even covers some pre-existing medical conditions under some plans, which is rare in travel insurance products.
And do you have kids under 17 years old? Go with Travelex and get your children covered for free – no additional charges.
ALLIANZ GLOBAL ASSISTANCE – From popular insurance provider ALLIANZ, their travel insurance plans provide excellent cover, plus features like a 24-hour hotline and a smartphone app called TravelSmart.
WORLD NOMADS are a great option if you’re doing a lot of adventure activities or if you’re backpacking or having a gap year or three. They accept citizens of most countries.
SAFETY WING are specialists in travel insurance for Ex-Pat’s, Nomads or long-term travellers, Remote Workers, or Digital Nomads.
If you’re currently outside your home country, you can be covered all over the world by Safety Wing. The best part is that Safety Wing’s Nomad Insurance plans now covers COVID-19.
3. Give Yourself Extra Time – Don’t Rush
A few days before you leave, create a rough schedule for the day you leave and stick to it. Rushing is stressful and once you’re running late, anxiety has a chance to take hold and down spiral your thought processes.
As a result, you might skip things you were going to do, you might forget to pack something and you’ll react negatively to obstacles that might crop up. Which will subsequently affect your decision making, turning your otherwise rational, logical mind into an irrational one.
– Pack gradually a few days before and don’t leave everything until the night before or on the travel day. If you have a family, make sure everyone is responsible for their own packing.
– Have all your devices charged! And take a couple of power banks.
– Have your travel documents and I.D packed close to hand, you’ll be getting them out often.
– Have some snacks pre-made for the journey, have your transport booked in advance and always allow extra time for traffic.
– Add on extra ‘buffer time’ for each travel sector or connection.
– Know every place name and departure time of your itinerary or trip and keep digital and hard copies of it.
– In the days leading up to your trip, have a household list and a packing list and check off each task as you go.
Set alarms for milestones in your schedule, when you should have finished packing when you should be leaving the house, etc.
– If you’re going to an airport that you’re unfamiliar with, check Google Maps to see the layout, how big it is etc.
– On the journey, if you are rushing at any point, always check you have all your belongings with you before you leave a place. I always do a ‘cat circle’ before I leave somewhere I’ve been sitting/standing for a while, to check I’ve got everything.
4. Combat Anxiety When Flying – Take Distractions for the Flight
If you have anxiety when flying, make sure you take things to distract yourself on the flight. Nervous fliers can sometimes be ‘threat focused’, meaning you’re always looking for any change that you deem a threat and then focusing on it, which further drives the anxiety.
For instance, on a flight, you’ll look for any small bumps of turbulence and laser focus on it as a threat to your safety on the plane. The key is to trick the emotional part of your mind, focus on the facts and don’t act like the situation is dangerous.
Doing something normal like reading or watching TV counters the anxious thought of “the plane is going to crash”. This is using the intelligent part of the brain to challenge the emotional part of the brain- the part that is anxious.
Keep your intelligent mind doing other things, immersing yourself in a book, mindfully writing or drawing or just watch movies or TV shows that you love. Focusing on something like writing is ideal, as it requires your full attention and takes it off the fear.
Pack a Kindle (or actual books), a notepad, iPod or MP3 player, tablet loaded with movies, mindfulness colouring books, knitting or anything else you can mindfully focus on.
5. Calm Your Anxiety When Travelling on Public Transport – Stay Secure
On a plane, your luggage is stored securely in the hold of the aeroplane, but when you’re on a bus or train, your luggage is often stored less securely. On a bus, this is often in a compartment under the bus and on trains, you store your belongings on a luggage shelf or stash them near your seat.
Because of this, you may feel you have less control over how secure your luggage is, so here are a few ways you can calm your anxiety when travelling on transport.
- Make sure you secure your luggage yourself and use padlocks on the zip closures if you can – especially if it’s going out of your sight.
- Keep sentimental or valuable belongings in hand luggage and with you at all times.
- Identify critical items and divide them between your bags – critical items being things you’d be screwed. without – so if one bag goes missing, you still have some of the items.
E.g. I divide up some cash and pack in different places and I pack my multiple hard drives & flash drives in different bags.
- And I keep copies of my travel documents in different places too. For example, copies of my passport are in multiple pockets and notebooks which are packed in different bags.
- Stay awake if you feel you’re in a situation in which your belongings are at risk. Some bus or train journeys in Asia have a reputation in travel circles of being less than safe and pose a potential risk for pickpocketers.I sometimes nap in airports but I always tie or secure my bag to myself using the zip or a climbing carabiner. So, if anyone tries to steal it or cut into it, the movement will wake me up. This works well if you’re sleeping alone in an airport, train station or at the beach as well.
6. Research the Basic Travel Specifics of a New Place
If you’re travelling overseas or to a new place you haven’t been before, make sure you read up on all the logistics and do’s & don’t’s before you go. Outlining these things before you go, will help you overcome the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of entering a new domain.
- Find out if you need a tourist visa (or a longer-term backpacking/working holiday visa).
- Learn how to say “Hello”, “Thank You”, “Where is” and “How Much” in the local language.
- Some countries only allow passengers with return tickets/onward flight – check this out if you’re winging it on a one-way ticket.
- Find out (and pre-order) the correct currency. Consider taking a blend of cash, loaded travel card & credit card for your funds.
- Find out what voltage is used there and take travel adaptors.
- Ask your doctor what travel vaccinations are needed.
- Discover how much your mobile provider will charge you for overseas roaming (a tonne probably) and consider getting a local sim card when you arrive.
- Learn the location of your countries Consulate or Embassy and store the emergency numbers in your phone.
7. When Negativity Takes Hold – Have Confidence in Your Plan
To stop your negative thought spirals in their tracks, be mindful and start recognising when your mind is catastrophising things. Remember that you have put backup plans in place and your catastrophic scenarios will rarely play out.
Counter your anxiety with facts and take comfort in your planning and your ability to deal with diversity.
Remind yourself of previous travel wins, where you have been on a trip and you’ve overcome some issues and draw on those experiences.
8. Recognise Your Triggers
In the time leading up to your trip, start to recognise your triggers – the things that trigger negative thoughts that lead to travel anxiety – and try to stay away from them.
Don’t read only the bad reviews of places, don’t google ‘how bad is dengue fever’ if you have travel anxiety about foreign illnesses and DO NOT watch plane crash investigations/disaster movies if you have anxiety about flying.
Arm yourself with facts and gain enough knowledge to feel confident but don’t focus on the bad things.
9. Practice Breathing Techniques and Meditation
Breathing is linked with stress, tension and nervousness. Being mindful of your body is being aware of your bodily sensations and changes. At times where you feel anxious or afraid, focus your attention on your body and try to feel where you’re holding your tension or anxious feelings.
Then focus on slow breathing to try to calm down and regulate your breathing pattern.
Breathe: Inhale through your nose for a count of 5, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of 5. I know it sounds too simple to work but trust me this breathing, mindful technique is really effective.
10. Don’t Suffer in Silence – Speak to your GP
Anxiety when travelling is a very common condition, so visit your GP, tell them about the worries you’re having and they can help you find a manageable solution.
However, if your travel anxiety is starting to develop into more generalised, longer-term anxiety that interferes with your everyday life, then it’s time to visit your GP for a more long-term approach to treatment. Medication is one option but there are many other approaches to treating anxiety if you don’t want to take meds.
The important thing is to know you’re not alone, anxiety of all kinds is very common but it is treatable and you don’t have to suffer in silence or let it stop you from living your life. Work with your GP or another health professional to create a treatment plan that works for you.
That concludes this post on Managing Anxiety When Travelling, I truly hope you have found something you can take away from this and apply to your own life.
Have you struggled with travel anxiety in the past and overcome it? Do you currently suffer from anxiety when travelling and if so, what do you do to manage it? Share your own experiences in the comments below.
Happy and Safe Travels 🙂