How to combat travel anxiety: worried about taking a holiday abroad? Here's how to ease your concerns

Does travelling cause you feel fearful and anxious? Fret no more - here are our techniques for coping with holiday stress
How to combat travel anxietyHow to combat travel anxiety
How to combat travel anxiety

The notion of going abroad can cause many people to feel discomfort, unease, and worry. It makes perfect sense: out of your daily routine, travelling on mass transportation with strangers, encountering new foods, customs, modes of life: there are plenty of things to make you feel uneasy, even before you consider issues such as safety or health in a new place (is the water potable? will that street food give me gastroenterological issues?).

Travel anxiety“ - while not a medical condition as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) - is nevertheless a genuine issue for many people. It may not be a diagnosable disorder, but travel anxiety is a manifestation of more generalised anxiety: the primitive part of our brain hitting high alert and making us concerned for our survival (this is known as 'fight or flight'). As a result, we become hypervigilant, start to feel uneasy and worried, reinforcing the belief danger is imminent.

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A modicum of worry can be a good thing, and productive: being alert to the timings of your flights, for example, or conscious how to carry your money to keep it safe - a healthy does of vigilance is appropriate and natural. But if it becomes intrusive - if the thoughts of things going wrong play on your mind to the point you can't enjoy yourself - than it is time to enact some coping strategies.

What is travel anxiety?

Taking travel anxiety as an offshoot of regular anxiety, what do we mean by it? Feelings of tension, worried thoughts, physical discomfort are all signs of anxiety. Travelling can provoke these feelings for all sorts of reasons, be it fear of flying, traffic jams, worries about weather or your travel partner, fear of crashing, social anxiety, fear of guns/danger, fear of disease, and fear of the unknown. But none of these concerns are insurmountable. Here's how to cope.

What you can do to ease your travel anxiety and enjoy your trip

Travel within your means

There is nothing - nothing - relaxing about getting into debt. Ahead of travel, be clear and honest with yourself about what money you have for the trip. Break it down into a daily allowance and stick to it. Spending money you don't have in the belief that you're 'treating yourself' is a false notion and will leave you with much, much more to worry about.

Before you go, put a name to your worries

Anxiety, by its very nature, can feel vague and nebulous: something is wrong, but you can't always say what. Before you travel, try and articulate to yourself what you're concerned about. Breaking down your worries into constituent parts can make it easier to come up with strategies to cope with them. Once you know what the exact worry is, make a plan to help manage it.

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For example, if you're worried about getting Covid, you can then run a checklist: am I vaccinated? When did I last have it? Do I have a decent mask for the plane? Addressing the contributing factors to what is causing you distress is an effective way of combating it.

Be gentle on yourself

It doesn't make you odd, feeling anxious. It's a natural offshoot of the uncertainty that comes with heading into the unknown. We have also, in recent memory, encountered a global outbreak of an easily communicable disease - there's little wonder if we're feeling more antsy after years of being told to be on high alert. Accepting intrusive thoughts as natural can be a better way of dispelling them that trying to block them altogether - imagine the worry as an item on a sushi train, gently ambling into view. Acknowledge it, then let it on its way.

Find an outlet for your nervous energy

A task - more specifically, something that occupies your hands - can be a good way of alleviating nervous energy and channelling the jitters in transit. Colouring books, Sudoku, fidget toys, knitting, sewing - these are great for requiring a level of focus and keeping your hands busy. Writing can also work, but only if you don't find yourself fixating on what is worrying you.

Plan your meals

Some people find the uncertain timing of meals or new foods a stressor when travelling. If this is the case, remember, you can take matters into your own hands - you can pack food for transit, if you're worried about what is available and when. By doing so, you're asserting control over your situation, one of the best ways to alleviate stress. If you're headed somewhere where the cuisine is new to you, research it ahead of going: by doing so, you'll have a clearer idea of what you're getting yourself into.

Allow yourself extra time

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If you know that airport security, for example, is somewhere you start to fret, give yourself extra time to negotiate it, so you won't feel pressed. It's a good idea to bring something to keep you entertained once you are through security too, so you don't dwell when you're sat in the airport lounge.

Breathing techniques are useful

Anxiety, being the modern manifestation of our urge for 'fight or flight' can release adrenaline into your body, and cause you to physically tense up for action. Deep breathing and meditation can be a great way of getting your heart rate down and physically relaxing your body, to help process and release your stress. Meditation apps, like Calm.com, can be great if you're after someone to guide you through how to do diaphragmatic breathing to ease anxiety.

Move around

Try to get on your feet once an hour and move around - it's good way of dispelling nervous energy and reducing stress.

If you need to, know that professional help is available

Anxiety levels can ebb and flow, and if you find stress is holding you back from travelling or preventing you from enjoying yourself at all, professional help can be extremely effective for overcoming your worries. Not only can an appointment with a psychologist or therapist help you in the immediate future, they'll provide you with coping techniques to help you with future journeys, too.

Noise cancelling headphones are useful

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Sometimes, forming your own safe zone - a little cosy bubble - can be good for getting through tougher situations. Popping on a great pair of noise cancelling headphones and listening to a soothing piece of music or podcast can calm you right down.

Remember why you are travelling

One of the best means of mitigating discomfort is to remind yourself of why you are doing something in the first instance. You will have a good reason for your trip - be it to see a particular landmark, try the local cuisine, visit friends, or simply recharging. Reminding yourself of that reason can be a good way of combatting any fear, and reinforcing that you are able to handle temporary discomfort - because it is worth it in the long run.

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