Let me just start this off by saying that I am not, obviously, a medical or mental health professional, just someone who has experienced travel anxiety and learned to deal with it. Anxiety can be a very personal issue, but talking about it with others (or the entire Internet) and sharing experiences can be helpful for everyone.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower. I was a junior in college, studying abroad in the South of France, and a group of us took a trip to Paris over Easter weekend. After an early start to the day and a train ride North to the city, we arrived tired and a little frazzled. We couldn’t find our hotel and spent a good amount of time wandering around trying to get our bearings. Once we finally found the place and dropped our bags, we had one goal: to see the Eiffel Tower. We rode the Metro, smashed between people, to the nearest stop, walked up the steps, turned a corner, and there it was.
I started crying. Then I started shaking. Was it the beauty of the moment overtaking me? Nope, it was a panic attack. After a day of hectic travel in a foreign country, I finally had time to catch my breath and let the events of the day catch up to me, and they did, all at once. My friends were (rightfully) concerned. I was embarrassed and after a friend (Hi, Danielle!) took me back to the hotel while the rest of the group explored, I felt guilty.
Anxiety affects every aspect of your life, and while it’s not always bad (I am hella prompt due to my time-related anxiety), it can certainly put a damper on things that someone with a non-anxious mind might view as no big deal, like traveling. I’ve gone on a few big trips since then, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at managing my travel anxiety. Here are a few things that help me combat travel anxiety on big trips:
Acknowledge your Travel Anxiety
This may seem obvious, but the first step of dealing with travel anxiety is actually acknowledging that you have it. Be honest with yourself and with your travel companions about what you can handle in a given day. Know your limits and stick to them.
Make a List
I love lists. If I don’t write something down, I’ll forget it. So, I make crazy-detailed lists for every trip I go on: what to pack, what to do before leaving, what to do when we arrive, etc. If everything is written down, then I know I’m not forgetting anything and I can relax.
Pack Snacks and Water
This is just a general life rule, but it is especially helpful when traveling. A surefire way to speed up your anxiety is to be hungry and/or dehydrated. Throw a bag of almonds in your purse and keep a water bottle with you at all times.
Plan, or Hand it Off
This might just be a me thing, but I either need to know absolutely everything that we’re doing on a trip or nothing at all. Either I’m in charge or I’m just a little sheep following the herd. This worked really well for our trip to Thailand last year.
I was VERY nervous about traveling to Asia. It was way out of my comfort zone and I felt sure that I would be having daily panic attacks, or just shut down altogether. My sister was living there at the time and Michelle, Robin, and my boyfriend were all more than happy to take over planning, so I just sat back. There were a few things that I considered “must dos” but other than that, I let everyone else plan and I just went along for the ride. Obviously, I trusted all of them to make sure we had a good time, but not having to worry about the daily details let me just enjoy the experience.
Plan Plane Luxuries
Buy a face mist. Go to Sephora and get a bunch of samples of luxurious hydrating face masks to use mid-flight. Bring a ridiculous travel pillow.
In short: Treat. Yo. Self. Spending hours cramped on a plane is never going to be your favorite thing in the world, but making it a little more luxurious gives you something to look forward to.
Oh, and wear compression socks. Your ankles will thank you.
Go Where you Know Someone
This sounds kind of lame, but I think it’s a lot easier to go places where you either know someone or where someone you know has been and can give recommendations. When my boyfriend and I went back to France, we visited a friend (Hi again, Danielle!) first before bopping around the country. This helped me reaffirm my paltry language skills, and she was familiar with stuff like the trains and metro that I hadn’t experienced in a while.
I honestly don’t think I would have ever gone to Thailand if my sister hadn’t been living there. It was so different from anywhere else I had ever traveled, and I really psyched myself out of thinking it was going to be a good time. But, because my sister had been there for months and had learned some of the culture and daily life, I was more comfortable just following her lead. There’s no way I would have gotten on the back of a motorcycle taxi if she hadn’t assured me it was perfectly normal!
If you don’t have friends or family living in far off places, I suggest getting a TON of recommendations from others about the city or country you’ll be visiting. Hotels, restaurants, things to do and see, tips on public transportation; make a list of what other people suggest and you won’t feel like you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Perhaps most importantly, if you do start to succumb to travel anxiety, don’t beat yourself up about it. The panic always passes eventually and you can move on with your trip. And, if the people you are with aren’t understanding, then why are you even traveling with them? Travel anxiety is perfectly normal and affects more people than you think. There’s no shame in being overwhelmed by being thrown into a completely new environment.
If you do end up having a panic attack, don’t forget to MOVE FORWARD. Drink some water, take a nap, and then move on with the trip. Don’t let that define your entire vacation.
So, does anyone else out there have tips for fighting travel anxiety? I’d love to hear what you guys do to keep a level head. Let me know in the comments!