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- Traveling can cause stress and anxiety.
- Anxious travelers should make sure to be as prepared as possible for their journey.
- Traveling with others, using relaxation techniques, and talking to a mental health professional could also help ease travel anxiety.
Travel can be a thrilling adventure, but for some people, it can also trigger major anxiety and stress. Whether it’s spending hours in a cramped airplane cabin or finding your way around a new city, traveling can present unique challenges and stumbling blocks for people with anxiety.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you deal with travel anxiety.
Don’t leave anything to the last minute
Preparing for a trip can be stressful even if you don’t struggle with anxiety. In order to make your travel experience as calm as possible, try to make sure you’re completely ready to go a full 24 hours before you actually need to depart.
According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT), planning ahead is a crucial part of avoiding anxiety during travel.
For most people, this preparation will involve having your bags completely packed, printing out any tickets or reservations, and checking in to all flights. You might also want to book taxis in advance, prep your meals for your travel day, and set out your traveling clothes.
If possible, try to travel with others
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Solo travel can be a rewarding experience, but anxious travelers might benefit from having someone at their side. Enlisting a trusted friend or relative to share the burden of planning, provide reassurance, and help navigate unfamiliar surroundings can decrease stress levels.
If you need to travel alone, try scheduling regular check-in times with family members or friends to keep you feeling connected and help you talk through any travel-related stress you might be experiencing.
Squeeze in some exercise before your trip
For an easy way to quickly allay anxiety before a trip, try scheduling a bit of pre-travel exercise.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins that can reduce tension, improve mood, and decrease stress. In fact, just five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
If you’re feeling anxious about being cooped up in a crowded plane or worried about navigating an unfamiliar city, a brisk walk might help.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine to keep your anxiety in check
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Being on vacation might seem like the perfect reason to indulge in a cocktail or extra cup of coffee, but experts warn that alcohol and caffeine should be avoided if you’re looking to keep anxiety to a minimum.
According to the ADAA, these substances can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Opt for an alcohol- and caffeine-free treats like a fruit smoothie, sparkling water, or decaffeinated coffee instead.
Indulge in soothing activities at your destination
Self-care can be an important part of dealing with stress in everyday life, but it’s especially crucial to give yourself plenty of downtime for relaxing if travel triggers anxiety for you. Try scheduling soothing activities like massages, spa trips, yoga sessions, or walks out in nature to combine holiday indulgence with anxiety-reducing self-care.
It’s also important to make sure you’re not packing every spare moment at your destination with demanding activities: Know your mental and physical limits. If you need an hour or two of solitude in order to decompress and recharge, don’t worry about “wasting” vacation time or disappointing others.
Take the time to make sure you’re psychologically ready to tackle planned activities and know when to change your plans to keep your anxiety from escalating.
Practice relaxation techniques even before you go
Practice finding calm through breathing exercises, meditation, or journaling even before you set off on your journey. The more comfortable and familiar you are with relaxation techniques, the easier it will be to employ them during stressful travel situations.
It can also be helpful to have a go-to relaxation toolkit that might include things like a playlist of calming music, a bottle of calming essential oil, or particularly soothing visualization exercise. It can also be helpful to practice body-based relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense the muscles in a particular body part for 10 seconds before releasing them.
Research your destination thoroughly and save important info offline
If you are someone who needs to feel in control in order to relax, planning an itinerary and researching your destination is a good way to relieve some of those pre-trip jitters. Knowing which local restaurants cater to your dietary needs, when must-see museums or attractions are open, and how to access public transportation can go a long way to making you feel prepared to spend time in a new place.
Once you’ve done your research, be sure to you can access all that important information offline. You can go the old-fashioned route and print out hotel and restaurant reservations, maps and a day-by-day itinerary, or simply save the info to your phone in the form of notes or screenshots.
Try a fear-of-flying program or app
If your travel anxiety is rooted in a fear of flying, you might want to check out a program or app specially designed to help nervous flyers overcome their aversion to plane travel.
The SOAR app was designed by Captain Tom Bunn, MSW, LCSW, and a former US Air Force pilot and commercial jet pilot. It’s part of the larger SOAR fear-of-flying program and includes anxiety-allaying creatures like turbulence forecasts and videos of Captain Bunn walking you through each step of the flight process.
And according to Verywell mind, experts agree that the best way to overcome the fear of flying is actually controlled exposure through flight simulation or actual flight. That means that every time you fly, you’re actually helping yourself become more comfortable with the experience
Get travel insurance that covers emergency mental-health situations
Travel insurance is a good way to protect your health and financial well-being while traveling. According to IAMAT, however, most standard travel health insurance plans don’t cover mental-health conditions. This means that if you require emergency medication or hospitalization due to your anxiety or panic disorder, you could be left paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
In order to avoid this scenario, make sure your travel insurance is from a company that covers psychiatric care. Depending on your individual situation, you might also want to look into coverage that includes emergency medical evacuation and repatriation.
Talk to your doctor to identify possible treatments for your travel anxiety
Some people who don’t otherwise experience anxiety may find that traveling can trigger episodes of panic or extreme stress. If that sounds like you, it may be worth checking in with a healthcare provider to figure out if therapy or medication might help you deal with travel-related anxiety.
According to Verywell Mind, a doctor may be able to diagnose any underlying issues or conditions that are stopping you from enjoying your travels, as well as recommend medication to help you deal with panic symptoms.