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Well, I can totally relate because I’ve dealt with and continue to deal with travel anxiety and the uncomfortable symptoms that inevitably come along with this real and personal challenge.
In this guide, I’m going to share how travel anxiety affected me and what I did (and still do) to manage it. And, not just deal with it to get through a trip but to actually enjoy traveling without feeling like my head and chest are caving in.
My hope in sharing my own personal experience with travel anxiety is it’ll help you tackle your anxiety before travel, as well.
What is Travel Anxiety?
If your pre-trip anxiety is anything like mine, you may have booked a great vacation only to have the days leading up to the trip be full of racing thoughts about all the things that can go wrong to the point where you’re actually thinking about not going….even after you’ve already paid for your trip!?!?
I’m happy to say, over the years things have gotten much better. How I approach this travel phobia and flying anxiety now has made all the difference in getting past my travel anxiety symptoms.
Before continuing, though, I want to be clear. I am not a doctor. I am not a mental health expert. This guide is not a professional diagnosis or a form of medical treatment. Dealing with anxiety, phobias, and depression is a significant medical issue to be discussed with a qualified doctor.
I’m just a regular guy with some issues whose hoping to share my experiences in the hopes it’ll help you travel more.
Travel Anxiety Symptoms
Those of us who might be afraid of traveling or who experience travel nerves seem to have a lot in common. The fear of traveling away from home, flight and airport anxiety, and even the fear of traveling in a car all come with a common thread connecting travel and anxiety.
Your experience is unique to you but do you feel any of these trip anxiety symptoms before traveling?
- Racing Negative Thoughts
- Panic/ Excessive Worrying
- Difficulty Sleeping/Insomnia
- Hyperventilating/Tightness in the Chest
- Upset Stomach
- Body Pain & Headaches
There’s probably a few I missed but these are the most common for me.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic button to make all of these pre-travel anxiety symptoms go away. If there was, I would’ve jumped on it a loooong time ago!
Travel anxiety hits yours truly in a couple of different ways and these negative feelings and thoughts would build and build the closer I’d get to departing for a trip. Once the wheels in my head started to turn, it was an endless obsession on all things negative.
There were times the anxiety symptoms and panic attacks became so overwhelming the only relief came when I just avoided travel altogether.
Now, it’s not like I avoided traveling completely. I had to travel for work and my wife (a travel blogger!!), friends, and family wanted to travel. But, it was always a struggle and it wasn’t getting better.
It was actually getting worse. The cycle of pre-trip negative thoughts had reached a point where I’d become highly irritable, retreat inward and could be flat out hurtful to anyone around me. Usually, this would peak the night before and on the day of travel. I was not at all pleasant to be around.
The low point came on the morning of what was sure to be an amazing trip. It had been planned for a long time but it came and went with me rolled up on the couch “not feeling well.”
I had such guilt and regret. How did I let this thing beat me?! I vowed to myself and to my all too understanding (& amazing) wife I’d never let this happen again.
5 Tips on How to Overcome Pre-Travel Anxiety
1. Discuss it with others.
It was time to fix this and the first place to start was to ask a really basic and obvious question.
Why is this happening?
It seems overly simple at first but it’s an important place to start.
How to deal with travel anxiety doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. But, I’d recommend you openly talk this question thru with the people you can confide in as a starting point.
Personally, I’d never discussed my pre-travel anxiety openly. I’d just try to plow through but clearly, that wasn’t working. So, I opened up about what I was thinking and feeling more with my wife and with some of my closest friends, even though I felt self-conscious and a little embarrassed.
Inevitably they all asked the same question.
Why do you think this is happening?
One friend even asked, “What are you thinking about when you’re feeling so anxious?”
What am I thinking about?!? It feels like a million thoughts hitting my head at the same time!
Before I knew it, I’d taken an important step. I made a decision to open up about how I was feeling and I felt a slight relief almost immediately. I didn’t feel so alone and locked in my own head.
Also, funny things happen when you open up to people. They open up back to you, too. I actually had a friend tell me he too experienced a good amount of stress before traveling which he described as his “typical pre-travel stress and anxiety.”
Although it didn’t seem to consume him as it did me, it was still a relief to hear I wasn’t alone on this island. In fact, over time I’ve come to realize there are plenty of people who are scared to travel. Not exactly Turks & Caicos but I’ll take it.
In talking, one of my friends had a great suggestion. “Why don’t you write down all these negative thoughts?” Spoiler alert for #2 of my list of travel anxiety tips.
2. Write down your thoughts.
You’re not writing a book or submitting an article to anyone else but yourself so don’t get caught up on what you’re writing on or how it looks. Use the back of a napkin if you need too. Just write down your thoughts and feelings as they come to you.
Focus on what you’re thinking about when you get anxious about traveling. It could be 5 words or 500. It doesn’t matter. It’s for you to reflect on so you can make some sense of these thoughts as you continue to write and read them back to yourself.
But, you have to be honest. Again, you’re doing this for yourself to help YOU.
At first, it looked like I was just jotting down jibberish. Sometimes I’d just stare at my notebook and not write anything, thinking only this was a silly exercise. It’s even ok if you struggle writing at first. I did.
But, I kept reminding myself about the time I bailed on a trip because of anxiety and the vow I made to fight this.
Start by answering, “What’s the worst part of traveling for me?” Then take it from there.
Actually, after I did this for a while I found it was a cathartic exercise just to write. It eventually led me to the core of the anxiety, the worrying, the negative thinking, and the accompanying physical symptoms.
And just so you don’t think I’m an experienced polished writer, here’s a snippet of the babbling stream of consciousness that came out.
I dislike flying well flying is ok I like planes they’re fascinating airports make me crazy I can’t get comfortable in a plane seat or sleep so I’m shot when we get there and annoyed but that turbulence kind of sucks what is that anyway? I mean we’re stuffed in a metal tube going 500 mph over dark oceans and mountains getting bounced around how long is this flight? Do we have to connect? the security lines make me nuts is there a terror threat? and did I pack right why do I have 16 t-shirts for a 5-day trip what time do I need the car? traffic always stinks and it’s probably going to snow or rain and we’ll be stuck do I have my passport? what if I get sick? I got sick the last time it was probably the plane and its germs who will I end up sitting next to? the middle seat is horrific is the healthcare there good? how hot is going to be? is the water ok? wait we need a car I have to drive? what side of the road are they on? who’s watching my dogs? are they ok? and blah blah blah…
Notice there wasn’t one positive thing in there. Not ONE! I’m headed out on an amazing trip to Paris and all I can think of is what might go wrong.
Once you have a better understanding of what’s consuming your mind, you can plan what to actually do about it. I went back to my writing and ranked things in order of what seemed to cause me the most anxiety.
As I ranked this mind-flooding negative stream of thoughts, I was astonished to come away with what has been my biggest insight to-date.
3. Most of what you’re thinking about & anticipating doesn’t actually exist.
As I read and re-read what I had put on paper, it just popped out at me.
Most of what’s in there is not actually happening!
Before traveling, I’m in an endless loop of anticipation & thinking. When you’re in this perpetual state and it’s all negative, it’s actually impossible NOT to be anxious.
Remember perpetually anticipating the pure excitement of Santa Claus arriving back when you were a kid? Same premise here. But instead, it’s the twelve days of hell for the middle-aged guy with plane tickets to Finnish Lapland.
You are what you eat AND what you think. If you’re constantly thinking about the 10-hour flight in the middle seat sandwiched between a crying baby and someone coughing up a lung…well then you’re going to FEEL like that’s your reality.
Cue all the uncomfortable symptoms associated with anxiety. You’ve literally thought your way into a sleepless night and given yourself an upset stomach and headache!
You. Are. What. You. Think. So, change what you’re thinking about. Not to be dramatic but this was my Aha! moment.
Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. Controlling your thinking is far from simple. If I tell you not to think of turbulence while flying you’ll, in all likelihood, think of turbulence while flying.
Thoughts happen fast because the human brain is amazing. BUT, it can also be your own worst enemy because it can AND IT WILL create a reality for you that doesn’t exist if you let it.
While doing a little research, I came across a bit of amazing information.
The brain doesn’t distinguish between what is real and what is not!
I was blown away!! This means you’re likely to have travel anxiety symptoms just by imagining things going wrong before and during your trip.
Do your best to start changing what you’re thinking about and use the brain like any other muscle. The more you work it out the stronger it will be.
This won’t happen overnight. (Not even close!) BUT! The more I reminded myself that what was making me anxious were scenarios that weren’t actually happening, the better the days leading up to a trip got.
4. Accept what you don’t have control over.
My writing also revealed I was getting anxious and worked up about scenarios over which I have ZERO control. This is a total waste of time.
In general, humans tend to fear what we can’t control, right? These things make you uncomfortable.
I learned the hard way, it’s also a waste of energy. Imagine how awful it was to spend the entire week of a ski trip in the Swiss Alps sweating out a fever because my anxiety before flying had taxed my immune system to the brink.
I don’t want to sound too simplistic because I get how frustrating and annoying it is to be told by someone “Hey, you can’t control this so just don’t let it bother you.”
But, it does make sense if you stop, take a breath, and tell yourself not to get worked up about things out of your control, like a snowstorm or airport delays. Get to a place where you know this and FEEL it!
5. Control what you can.
Mitigate the uncontrollable by taking the wheel of the controllable.
You can’t control the long lines to check your bag but you can control what you pack, the time you leave for the airport, and who’s taking care of your home and precious pooch.
If getting to the airport 2 hours before your flight feels rushed and causes stress, leave earlier and make use of the airport lounge access you get with a travel rewards credit card.
If you’re nervous about forgetting your passport, set up a reminder on your phone. Create a packing list for yourself or confirm your flight and hotel reservations.
Also, overcome travel anxiety by taking care of yourself in the days before your departure. Do what you need to get enough sleep. Eat healthy foods, drink water. We even take travel probiotics for extra immune support.
Above all else, be kind to yourself. Remember you’re a human being, not a robot. Feeling anxious or a little nervous before a trip is actually pretty normal for nearly everyone. But these feelings shouldn’t own you.
For me, I let go of the things that didn’t exist and stopped dwelling on what I couldn’t control. Little by little, this made dealing with my travel anxiety manageable and allowed me to fully enjoy my travels.
Your pre-travel anxiety will get better the more you put into overcoming it.
Think of what you do when beach weather approaches. You work out and eat right to get in better shape. It’s the same approach here. You need to put the work in to get the results you want. (You know if you’re sneaking donuts and doing a half-hearted workout!)
Workout the brain and the results will come. The world is wide and just waiting for you to get out and explore it!
What are your tips for overcoming pre-travel anxiety?
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