I’m going on a holiday I’ve always wanted to go on. I got the flights really cheap and the accommodation is booked. But I’m just not excited about it.
I can feel that old feeling coming back. I’m jittery but I can’t really explain it. My stomach feels funny and I’m a mix of emotions. My breathing is uneven and my palms are sweaty. It feels like everything will go wrong and I can’t control or stop it…
Hello, Travel Anxiety. I was wondering when I would see you again…
(Secret #1) I’m a sufferer of severe travel anxiety
But, how?! And, why!? Jacqui, you travel so much! Surely it’s not possible for you to have travel anxiety?
It’s true: I’m an experienced and frequent traveller with severe travel anxiety. In the past 12 months I have spent almost a third of my time travelling. I’ve travelled internationally, flying to Australia and many places in Europe. I’ve travelled domestically, on buses and trains. I drove across Malta and through the Balkans in Eastern Europe. I’ve stayed in almost every type of accommodation available, from hostel dorms to tents to hotel executive suites to airbnb and couch surfing.
Nonetheless, my travel anxiety comes with me on every trip. Like extra cabin baggage I just can’t get rid of. It weighs me down, makes me nervous and can spoil my holiday. I hate it.
Strangely, this doesn’t happen in any other part of my life. I can sail through a job interview confidently and effortlessly, I’ve moved house more times than I can remember, I can easily present to a room full of people, I love to learn new things, change excites me, and I need to find my job challenging to enjoy it.
Still, my travel anxiety can come at anytime and in almost any form. It can be as small as opening an accommodation confirmation email and experiencing that gut-loss feeling, like when you’re approaching that first big downward spiral on a roller coaster. It usually lasts for a few minutes, but sometimes it will stick around for a few days and I am paralysed into avoiding everything to do with travel. In those circumstances, I usually leave all of the holiday planning up to hubby until I feel comfortable enough to look at it. (I wonder if he realises…)
(Secret #2) Travel anxiety has caused me to miss out on holidays and waste a lot of money
In February 2014, my travel anxiety was so bad that I completely abandoned a week-long holiday – literally at the last minute.
In the time it took to check-in our bags at the counter and start making our way to the security area, I panicked so badly that I had no choice but to bail out. My panic attack came in the form of severe and immediate diarrhea and vomiting that lasted until the minute I got on the bus at the airport to go home.
Why is this a secret? Because, ashamed of the real reason, I’ve always blamed missing the flight and ski holiday to Serbia on a stomach bug (parasite?) that I had caused me to be very ill for a number of months previous. In reality, I suffered a major panic attack. In hindsight, I think my anxiety was heightened because of an experience we had two months earlier when I was so ill with my stomach bug that I fainted just after boarding a flight to Krakow, Poland, was escorted off the plane, and spent a couple of days in hospital.
So, how do you do it? How do you still travel?
Sadly, I’ve not yet found a way to completely eliminate my travel anxiety (I’m open to helpful tips if anyone else has). But, I do have a few techniques that have helped me deal with travel anxiety and my fear of flying (yes, I also have a fear of flying).
(Secret # 3) My top tips for dealing with travel anxiety
Know your triggers and your symptoms
Making a list of your triggers and learning what to avoid will help bring control back to your life. Learning your symptoms will also help you deal with them when they appear.
Everyone will have different triggers for their anxiety. It could be arriving at the airport, the holiday planning stages, consuming alcohol, hunger, being sleep deprived, eating certain types of food, or simply the fear of missing out. If you’re like me, it could be a mixture of them all!
I carry a packet of plain crackers and a can of tuna because it’s food I know that I can eat without the fear of triggering my Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – which can be caused by eating certain foods and/or by the stress of ordering foreign/unknown food. It helps to be prepared.
Anxiety can stem from the feeling of not being in control. Negate this by planning out the first few days of your trip, or your entire holiday. Have transport, accommodation and transfers pre-booked. Keep a list of things you would like to do while you are at your destination. Print your documents and ensure your paperwork, passport and visas are up to date. And, always get travel insurance!
Think ‘what would I do?’
If you are anxious because you worry about of all the things that can go wrong on your trip, you can reduce your stress by thinking about what you would do in each scenario. In other words, work through the solution to the hypothetical scenario.
What if your luggage gets lost on route? Take a change of clothes in your handbag or take carry-on luggage only. But remember, you can always buy something new at your destination and your travel insurance should cover you.
What if you fall over and break your leg in a foreign country? (been there, done that!) If you have a medical emergency, simply go to the nearest hospital or urgent care facility. Your travel insurance will help you sort out payment, paperwork and possibly a translator if needed. And, because you are covered by insurance, you will be treated as a private patient and you could get better health care than your home country.
What if your passport or wallet is lost or stolen? (Again – been there, done that!) Contact your travel insurance and go to your nearest Embassy – they will both help you. And, check out my practical tips and advice for what to do if your passport is lost or stolen.
What if your plane crashes? Firstly, the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million. The odds of dying in a car accident are around 1 in 5,000. Take a moment to let statistic that sink in. Secondly, count the number of rows between you and the emergency exit, listen to the safety message, and know where your life jacket is. Then, sit back, distract yourself with a good book or movie and try to enjoy the flight. It sounds hard, but distraction is a great tool.
Anxiety is like a small child building up to a tantrum. Distract your mind by starting up a conversation with your travel buddy (avoid trigger topics), have a good book to read, make sure your tablet has enough films for your journey, and sort out your favourite music playlists. Most of all – make sure all of your devices are charged and ready to go!
Be open about it
It was only this year that I finally admitted to myself that I suffer from travel anxiety. After recently witnessing a friend go through something similar, I started to talk about how I’ve been affected by travel anxiety and think about what I do to prevent it. Writing this down has helped me a lot – and I hope this list will help her, too.
Being open about my travel anxiety means I can ask others to be more understanding and sensitive to my triggers. Now that I’ve explained why I listen to music rather than his second-by-second account of how wonky the pilot is flying the plane, hubby is no longer offended and forgives me for being slightly disconnected while I distract myself during take off and landing.
As a last resort, medicate
I don’t like this option and I don’t recommend it. But, if I’m being honest, a small dose of doctor-prescribed anti-anxiety medication has helped once or twice when I’ve been at my worst. Alternatively, a glass of wine or a relaxing scotch (if consumed responsibly) has also helped. Be warned, while alcohol can act as a relaxant, for some people it can also be an anxiety trigger.
Remember, set money aside for the bad days, have appropriate travel insurance, and remember that bad luck or an unfortunate event can often turn into a good thing (my broken foot meant that I got to spend an extra 10 weeks in France!). And, if it gets to a point where you can’t take it anymore, you can always change your plans.
Looking for more travel inspiration?
Check out my recommendation on what to do in:
Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Noosa, Paris, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.