Tips for Traveling When You Struggle with Anxiety

I travel a lot, and people assume that it’s all sunshine and roses, that I love what I do with every inch of me, but when I open my mouth, it all comes crashing down. I always say that I am scared of traveling. I’m not afraid of the destination, what I am going to do there, although I’m sure many people are, but I am scared of the traveling it takes to get to the destination. I know, bizarre, right? 

My biggest issue is packing and the act of getting to the place I want to go to. I am terrified that I will forget something important, so I will pack and repack over and over again until I am exhausted. The journey can be long and who knows what could happen. To make matters worse, I get migraines on long flights, so I worry about that, which makes me get more migraines. Anxiety is fun like that. 

And then there is the shame associated with all of this. I should just be grateful that I get to travel with my family and see new places, yet I am paralyzed by fear that the rest of the trip does not even seem worth it. 

But I have gotten better at managing it. I used to say that I hated travelling. But my therapist and I came up with tricks to make the trek to the destination easier for me, so that I could begin to enjoy the experience. Here are some tips that have worked for me and might work for you!

Before the Trip

 

  • Make a packing list

Make a general list of what you need for all your trips and print it out before each trip, adding what you might need additionally for this trip in particular. Then, just follow the list and when it’s done, it’s done. It’s helpful to physically check off the things, so there is a visual reminder that the item is securely stowed away.

  • Know what will be happening beforehand

For people with anxiety, the worry is about the future and the unknown. If you don’t want there to be any unknowns, know what you will be doing beforehand. If you are planning your own trip, then make a detailed itinerary, but allow for leniency, because rigid boundaries will increase anxiety as well. If you are not planning the trip, find out what will happen beforehand and have an honest talk with the person planning the trip. It can also help to look up pictures of the hotels, or places you will be going to. 

  • Talk it over with your therapist if you have one or can

Talking about my fears and worries with my therapist helped me and can help you as well. A therapist is a great resource in general and they will never belittle your travel related worries. 

  • Prepare for any coping mechanisms you will need in transit

My therapist helped me come up with methods to soothe myself on a flight or car ride or just in general transit, but some of these mechanisms require some preparation. Knowing that you have the tools ready to do well on your trip will decrease anxiety and ensure you are prepared once the plane or car starts moving.

In Transit

  • Do not be afraid to do what you need to do

Coping mechanisms are good, no one will care what you look like. Some things that work for me are bringing putty to play with, pens and notebooks, or keeping movies, tv shows and music on my phone. I also write little notes with positive affirmations and put them in different pouches in my bags. 

  • Do not just focus on the destination and how great it will be when you get there, this part of the experience matters too

I was always told to just think about where I was going and not focus on the travel part, but that’s part of the trip as well. Embrace this section of the journey too and make it work for you, so that when you get to the destination, you have the mental energy to enjoy it. 

Once You’re There

  • Rest and pace yourself

I know this is oversaid, but it’s true. Overextending yourself one day will make the next day worse and if you are pretending you are okay, you are not actually enjoying your trip and gaining a new experience. 

  • Say “No” when you need/want to

This is your trip, own it. If you don’t want to do something or don’t feel comfortable, say so and stand your ground. You know yourself best, not others. 

I hope these tips can help people with anxiety as well as those who travel with people who have anxiety! From me to you, with the right tools, nothing is impossible.