From weekend getaways to international trips, I love getting bitten by the travel bug! There is nothing more thrilling than going out to explore someplace new. But what if you have anxiety?
Many women that I talk to often mention that they have dreams of travelling and seeing the world, but they shy away from travel because of their anxiety. Even though anxiety can make travelling to new places feel difficult, it is possible to be adventurous and travel despite being anxious.
- List Your Triggers and Know Your Non-Negotiables
When you think about situations that increase your anxiety, what are they? Make a 3-column chart labeled: low, medium, no-go. Then, list all of the factors that affect your anxiety. This is helpful when choosing a place to go or activities to try because you can preliminarily assess how stressful it might be. As a general guide, your “low” category should list things you don’t feel warm and fuzzy about but things you know you can often deal with on a daily basis. Your “medium” category lists situations you can handle if you mentally prepare and give yourself a pep-talk. You also might have some coping strategies you can use easily and discreetly to get through them. Lastly, pay special attention to the no-go category; those are things that nine times out of ten you can absolutely NOT deal with even in the most familiar of settings.
- Choose A Travel Buddy
I am much more likely to travel if I am with ONE other person. Yes, just one. That one person needs to be someone who I am very comfortable being honest with, and someone who is generally calming and easy-going. Usually, that person is my husband. Travelling with a large group or with people who are “agenda packers” can be challenging because if for some reason you’re not feeling up to something and need to opt out, you are at the mercy of the rest of the group. If you are traveling with a group, make sure that you have at least one person whom you can talk to and use as a bit of a cheerleader and buffer between you and everyone else if you need to excuse yourself.
- Choose Direct Flights
Airports are the worst. There is nothing about air travel that is generally a stress-free experience. Places are crowded, people are grumpy, flights get delayed–it’s all just miserable. Even though it is usually more expensive, try to get as direct a flight as possible for your trip. The less time you need to spend in a bustling airport or worrying about managing layovers, the better.
- Bring Your Comforts
Keep a little wellness kit in your purse or carry-on. It should be small enough that it is easy to carry with you at all times, but it should also include as much of what you’d need as possible. When I travel, I tend to get headaches and feel super nauseous. I always make sure to carry a migraine stick and peppermint chewing gum for this reason. Additionally, some people keep a fidget keychain or bring my headphones in their purse so they can “escape” in an unobtrusive way if need be. Also, the meditation podcasts and apps are really great for travel!
- Plan A Flexible Itinerary
Don’t over-pack your itinerary! I cannot stress this enough (for anyone travelling). When my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Thailand, we did and saw a ton! However, I still made sure that I only ever had something planned for 2/3 sections of the day. I also tried to balance the intensity levels of the activities each day. For example, one day we signed up for a canal tour that began early in the morning and ended mid-afternoon. I knew that since it was a tour, I would be with a group of strangers for a significant amount of time. Knowing that I was probably going to need to decompress afterwards, we had no other plans than to come back to the hotel for the better part of the afternoon and evening before going out for a nice dinner later on. At the same time, remember that it’s okay if you need to move some things around on the fly to accommodate what you need in any given moment.
- Give Yourself A Day To Adjust
This is especially true for places that are further away or are unfamiliar. Don’t ever schedule a tour or major activity for the first full day. Oftentimes you will be tired from travelling beforehand, and fatigue only increases anxiety. I’m not saying that you need to stay cloistered in your hotel room the entire day, but give yourself an open day to acclimate to your new environment and explore. Go and just leisurely wander around your hotel to get a feel for the area and the culture without putting a lot of pressure on yourself.
- Start Early And Avoid Popular Times
When it comes to main tourist destinations, my best tip is to get up early and go as soon as it opens. Most vacationers are not early risers, and you will minimize the amount of time waiting in lines and beat some of the crowds if you’re up n’ at em’ first thing. Additionally, when it comes to mealtimes, try to eat a bit off-schedule if busy, packed restaurants are a trigger for you.
- Have A Plan
Have plans, backup plans, and backups for backup plans. Sure, this might seem excessive to people who don’t have similar struggles, but it might be what you need to do in order to have the best time you possibly can. Make sure that you research all of the transportation systems, read up on cultural norms (if applicable), and make sure that your travel buddy knows what to do if you have a panic attack. It’s sometimes helpful to make sure that you or your buddy takes a second to look around the area you are in to look for a bathroom and a semi-secluded space as well.
Even though anxiety seems like it can put a real damper on your travel plans, it does not need to be a complete deterrent! Making sure that you have support, comforts, and the most information possible can help you navigate all of the adventures your heart desires.