I am a frequent traveller. I travel both for business and privately. I have travelled to many different countries on various continents. And luckily enough, I have never experienced major incidents during my travels apart from the occasional missed flight connection or my bags gone missing (but so far always delivered to me eventually).
But believe it or not, even I suffer from travel anxiety.
Admittedly, it’s rather stupid things that cause anxiety before leaving for a trip like ‘have I really everything I need with me; have I though about all necessary precautions, and just before leaving my house I will run around checking if I have pulled all the plugs and turned off the stove at least ten times. Even then, I will still worry I might have not turned off something that potentially could go off in flames and burn down the whole house at least for the first hours of travelling.
It’s stupid I know, but it will happen every time I leave for a trip. Even if it is only for a weekend.
Once on the way, most of my concerns are around getting lost somewhere like taking the wrong way and running out of gas, or having to navigate unfamiliar public transport (which often results in taking a taxi instead; not very sustainable and often unnecessary, I know).
There are definitely worse travel anxieties. For those suffering really bad anxieties like severe panic attacks, what I have described above might not seem a huge barrier.
But anxieties can hit nearly everybody and regardless how severe these are, they can make you feel highly uncomfortable and frustrated when you travel. In fact, having anxiety when you travel can be quite normal.
So what can you do if you suffer from travel anxiety?
Oor better maybe how can you keep all those concerns in check that can make leaving home really unpleasant?
It is a very personal thing an in the end only you can figure out what really helps you to overcome your anxiety.
Indeed, the first step in overcoming or at least keeping your travel anxiety at check is to identify the cause of your anxiety. Like, are you most worried in getting lost somewhere, not speaking the local language, fear you can’t deal with unexpected situations, get stressed packing, panic you might arrive late at the airport etc.?
Once you know what causes your fears, you can work on appropriate steps to overcome them.
There are a couple of things that can significantly improve any fears you have before and whilst you are on a trip.
- Use checklists. Concerned you will forget something essential, like your passport? Put together a checklist regarding your travel documents, what you need to pack and what to do at home just before you leave (like checking everything is turned off / shut down).
- Organize your documents and itinerary. Keep all essential travel documents like your passport, flight or train tickets, any bookings you’ve made in advance, etc. in one place, like a special holder or small bag.
Actually, print all the tickets and booking confirmations and take a paper copy with you. A relic of the past that makes you look foolish as we live in the digital age and everything could be stored on your I-phone? Uh, well technology can fail you. Or you can lose your phone (hope you won’t; fingers crossed, knock on wood). In these moments, you will be glad having a paper copy.
- Get ready early. Whether that means packing your bags (mine will be usually ready the day before travelling to avoid I get panicked running out of time before I have to leave) or even leaving early for the airport to allow for heavy traffic or long lines at check-in or security.
- Plan your itinerary carefully, in particular the first two or three days. Most travellers will be concerned about how to get around a place, how to get from A to B, or finding a place to eat, etc.
If you are new to a location, familiarize yourself with the public transport network before you arrive. Have a plan what you want to do and see at least for the first day or two and already check out how to get to these places.
Check out where the tourist office is and if there is a hop-on hop-off line you could join the first day to get your bearings about the place.
Check out restaurants (what do they offer, how are they rated, where are they relative to where you stay) and maybe even book for your first two evenings.
All this will eliminate a lot of unknown in unfamiliar places making you feel more confident.
- Familiarize yourself with local customs, traditions, local currency and language. When you travel to a foreign country, make sure you have familiarized yourself with local customs and traditions. This could be requirements how you should dress, if tipping is expected (and how much you should tip), general shop opening hours, major public holidays, any behaviour you should avoid (as it might be thought of offensive or at least impolite, even though it might be not in your own country). Being aware of these things will make you less concerned about making mistakes that could cause you embarrassment.
Check out the current exchange rate so you know approximately what you are actually spending.
Learn a couple of phases that might be useful. Even thought today you get pretty far with English everywhere, at least knowing how to say hi in the local language, or maybe ask directions can be a tremendous help.
- Practice positive thinking – Picture your travel goals. Think about the main reason you want to travel in the first place: See new locations, experience new adventures, learn more about local customs and traditions, meet other people. Picture yourself at the destination, like standing in front of a monument you really want to see, sitting at a beach in the Caribbean watching the sun go down, and so on. Picturing yourself in these situations, will make you feel much more positive about get going!
- Embrace potential inconveniences. Being positive about your trip does not mean you should not have a plan in case something unexpected happens. Indeed, you can actually anticipate a lot of these ‘unexpected’ situations. Like, your bag has gone missing, you miss a connection flight, you are falling ill during the trip, etc.
Planning ahead for the unexpected can reduce a lot of stress once one of these scenarios will actually become reality. Like for example, a bag is missing. In most cases, the airline will deliver it to you after a few hours or a day. Thus just pack a few clothes and essential in your hand luggage. Say, pack all the change you need for two days in your hand luggage.
Likewise, think about the steps you need to take when you have missed a connection (i.e. go to the information desk of your airline, etc.).
Think of the things that might cause you falling ill, like drinking tap water where it is not safe or buying fruit from a street truck, or maybe getting a cold caused by air conditioning. Ask your local pharmacy about the usual travel medication you should have with you, especially going somewhere exotic and make sure you have the basics with you.
- Join a travel forum dealing with anxiety. There are numerous forums where you can (virtually) meet with others dealing with travel anxiety. Here you can freely talk about your fears and concerns and learn what others do to overcome their fears.
Do you suffer from travel anxiety? What are you normally doing to control it?
Do you think the points above will help you to control your travel anxiety?