Travelling the world is one of my favourite things to do in life, but because I’m out of my comfort zone experiencing new places, food and people, it can exacerbate my social anxiety.
One of the most helpful strategies I’ve developed to help me cope with travel-related anxiety is to plan and prepare as much as possible.
If you also feel anxious about the thought of travelling, whether locally or overseas, you might find the following bring you peace of mind so that when you do travel, you can enjoy it more.
14 tips to get a grip on your travel anxiety through planning ahead:
1. Understand what it is that’s making you feel anxious
The first step in addressing your travel anxiety is to figure out what exactly you’re afraid of.
It’s normal for people who have anxiety to be particularly concerned about matters of security when travelling. Some of my common fears include:
- Flying (including going through security checks, feeling claustrophobic on the plane, worrying about the plane being hijacked by a terrorist, worrying that there will be a mechanical fault and the plane will go down etc).
- Having my money and passport and other important personal belongings stolen (or losing them)
- Being mugged, drugged, attacked, raped, kidnapped
- Having something planted on me and getting arrested
- Terrorism in major international cities
- Getting lost by myself and not knowing how to find my way back to safety
- Being in a bad situation in a country where I don’t speak the language and not being able to communicate to get myself out of the situation.
I think it’s normal to have these worries, but it’s important not to let them dictate your life or your travel plans.
Then again, you may have totally different concerns, and that’s ok too. Having a clear understanding of what it is that makes you feel anxious will determine how you go about overcoming your fears.
2. Be a smart, safe world traveller
If you are someone who worries about any of the common concerns I’ve listed in point 1 above, it’s even more important that you plan ahead, and be cautious and alert at all times when you’re travelling.
Always check the Smart Traveller website before going overseas to check for alerts and advice, and register your travel plans so that if something does go wrong, someone will be able to help you.
Travel with trusted friends, don’t go out and get totally wasted, have copies of your passport in different bags and at home with your family or other trusted friends.
3. Talk to fellow anxious travellers
Talk to people who have been to your destination, because they may have valuable advice you won’t get from reading tourism websites. If you don’t know anyone in person who has been to where you’re planning on going, there are likely to be plenty of Facebook groups or other online communities you can tap into for advice.
4. Write lists. Lots of lists.
I always feel better when I write lists, especially when it comes to preparing for travel. One of the most helpful lists I’ll write prior to travelling details everything I need to go before I go away, such as let my bank know I’ll be travelling (so they don’t think my card has been stolen when I use it overseas) and getting correct currency for the countries I’m going to visit. I also write packing lists for both carry-on and check-in luggage.
Writing lists for everything I need to organise gives me peace of mind that I won’t forget anything important before and during my holidays, which means I am more likely to be able to relax and enjoy myself.
Here is an example of the to-do list I created before my last trip, which was to Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay in 2017.
Want to use the template used in this photo for your own holiday preparation and planning? Here’s the link to download this free printable holiday prep to-do list template. I’ll add the other two templates to the next blog in this series, so stay tuned!
5. Plan what you want to do each day you’re away
It might sound a little obsessive, but having at least a rough idea of what I’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis helps me visualise and prepare myself mentally for what’s ahead. Having something familiar and planned when so much else is different and outside the realm of your ‘normal’ can help you feel a little more in control of your mental state.
Having said that, it’s important to realise that plans often change when travelling, so try not to get too caught up on sticking to the original plan if it no longer makes sense to do so, because that will cause you (and those you’re travelling with) unnecessary stress.
Having a plan will bring you a sense of comfort in an otherwise chaotic period of time, but a certain level of flexibility will go a long way in helping you enjoy your trip, no matter what curveballs are thrown your way.
6. Get a doctor’s note for your medication
If you take medication to help you cope with your anxiety, make sure you get a letter from your doctor specifying everything you take, as well as any medications you’re allergic to or don’t tolerate.
I’ll provide more tips about this in Part 2 of this blog series.
7. Plan travel to avoid the crowds
If crowds tend to raise your anxiety levels, it can be a good idea to plan your trips during the off-season, when there will be fewer people at all the attractions you want to visit (this also means shorter lines!). For more on this topic, check out my blog on the pros and cons of travelling to Tasmania in winter. Even if you travel during peak season, you can still plan your daily itinerary to avoid the biggest crowds.
8. Make sure everything you’re leaving behind is in good hands
Whenever I leave my fur baby to go on holidays, I experience a great deal of guilt and anxiety. I worry that she will be lonely, will eat something she’s not supposed to (she’s a Labrador), will get sick or hurt and maybe even die. What helps is knowing that she will be staying with people who love her and who won’t let anything bad happen to her.
Accidents can always happen, but if she’s with people I know and trust, at least I know they will do their best to keep her safe, happy and healthy while I’m away.
9. Utilise mobile technology
Download meditations on your phone that you can listen to whenever you feel anxious during your travels. I find this particularly useful during takeoff and landing when I’m travelling by plane because I can focus on breathing exercises that take my mind off my worries.
I also use my phone to take pictures of my passport, flight details and accommodation information so that if it takes me a little time to get a SIM card when I arrive at my destination country, I can still get from A to B without too much hassle.
10. Pack all essentials in your carry-on luggage
I always worry that my checked in luggage will get lost in transit, so I make sure to pack essential toiletries in my carry-on, as well as any important documentation and a change of clothing or two. This way, if my bag does go missing, I’ll at least have some essential items to get me through a day or two until I can get to the shops and/or get my luggage back.
11. Maintain your usual self-care strategies
Because you’re in a different environment and out of your usual routine when you travel, it can be easy to let your self-care techniques slip. Whether you practice yoga or journal to help you keep anxious thoughts at bay, it’s important to continue these activities when travelling for your mental health.
Mindfulness strategies you can do anywhere, like reading, colouring or listening to music to help you feel grounded and bring your thoughts back to the present moment can be easy ways for travellers to fit in their self-care practices.
12. Share your thoughts and how you’re feeling with travel mates
If you feel comfortable enough with the people you’re travelling with, let them know that you have anxiety. Having an open, honest discussion with your travel mates about how you might feel during your trip will help them understand why you might lash out if you feel particularly tense about something, or if you’re struggling to get out of your comfort zone. A little gentle encouragement and kindness in moments of anxiety never hurt anyone.
13. Have a plan for those bad days
Always take your mental health kit with you, because no matter how well you prepare and do your best to keep the physical symptoms of anxiety at bay, it’s still good to be prepared for those migraines that sneak up on you.
14. Don’t try to do too much
Travelling to new places is exciting and fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s not physically and emotionally draining. This is true for people with anxiety, but also for people who don’t have a mental health condition. Even when things are going well, it’s important to take it easy and look after yourself. Try to plan a few days during your trip when you can just relax at home and rest so that you can really enjoy all of your trip without burning yourself out.
If all else fails and you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take yourself somewhere quiet like a bathroom stall, breathe and do a mindfulness meditation exercise to calm yourself down.
It might feel challenging and scary at times, but facing your travel anxiety to explore a new city or country will be worth it. If there are moments when your anxiety feels like too much and you can’t breathe, you may surprise yourself with your strength and ability to bring yourself out of a panicked state. Sometimes we need these dark moments to learn how strong and resilient we actually are. Embrace the journey and you will be rewarded with many exciting and happy memories that will last forever.
Pin, download and print the below template, which will help you prepare for your own holiday, and help you get a grip on any travel anxiety you may have.