Almost anyone can get anxious about travelling, including those who have never had any form of anxiety before. Travel anxiety stems from the acknowledgement of the fact that there’ll be a lot of unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar places.
There’s no way to make sure anxiety completely stays away throughout your trip. So, instead of trying to get rid of it, how about you learn to accommodate it? Like other feelings, anxiety only gets worse the more you run from it. You should, therefore, be happy to learn that letting your anxiety point you in the right direction can make travel planning easier.
3 steps to proper travel planning with anxiety
Here are some ways to make sure anxiety improves — rather than ruins — your getaway:
1. Figuring out your triggers
It’s worth mentioning — again, yes — that anxiety is like every other emotion. An overall reaction to something is usually caused by a minute, yet fundamental, part of the whole; some parts are so minute, it’s a surprise they matter. However, when it comes to dealing with anxiety, nothing is too small to get you unsettled. So, ‘small’ things matter, and they should probably be your first stops during the search for your triggers, after which you can make your way up the ladder of importance. This way, whether it’s a major trigger like a fear of heights or a minor one like not wanting to get homesick, you have a decent lot covered.
People who have dealt — or currently deal — with anxiety in other forms, for instance, social anxiety, are aware that the thought of pulling your phone out to take a selfie in public can be unsettling. Where others would do one thing in a heartbeat, you get anxious about it because somewhere in the back of your head, you recognise such activity, place or thing as a threat.
This doesn’t mean the activity will actually hurt you on your trip, but you can't help how you feel about it, and that's alright. Rather than just worry, do a thorough search of your mind and the situation before you. Take note of the things you find and you have taken the first step to plan a holiday that provides for your needs, physically as well as emotionally.
Major triggers associated with travel anxiety include:
- Gender: Solo travel for women and non-binary people can be a little unnerving because of societal vices.
- Previous experiences: According to PubMed Central, 65 per cent of people who had been in a vehicle accident before had travel anxiety. Such accidents had to have happened at least 2 years before the research was conducted.
- Reports and hearsay: Negative travel experiences and reviews of travel sites can affect people going to a travel destination for the first time.
- Biological factors such as fatigue, low blood sugar and more.
2. Catering to your triggers
Note: This step requires that you find the problem solver in you. Can you take on the challenge? Don't worry, you can ask for a little help along the way!
Now that you have identified the things that make you unsettled about the trip, you can make plans that cater to the triggers. For instance, if one of your triggers is a health issue, you can research accessibility to the healthcare facilities at your destination. If you find out a must-see location can’t provide the services to ease your body (and mind), you're now aware you have to find a way around that hurdle before you take a trip there.
Research is a great path to a (literal) place where your anxieties are eased, and you may rest assured that looking up regulations and statistics can be crucial stepping stones on the sometimes slippery path. Information about laws protecting women’s rights and the levels of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) of vacation spots are factors that should be considered when planning solo trips for women. With the necessary information, you know what steps to take to make sure anxiety during your outing is at a minimum.
Other tips on how to cater to triggers in your travel packing list are:
- Have emergency funds
It's expected that people have travel budgets based on costs they’ve been able to identify. Accommodating your anxiety in this part of the travel plan would involve finding yourself somewhere or someone you can turn to for money, should the need arise.
- Get yourself a map of the area or a tourist guidebook
You should not only have one of these but also take it with you anytime you’re leaving the building you’re staying in. If you're going to have it on your phone, making sure you get the offline version is a good mile to go to relieve anxiety.
- Get insurance if you can
This is especially if it happens there are a lot of vacation spots calling your name. Travel or health insurance are wonderful ways to accommodate anxiety that stems from health concerns.
- Look for ways to keep in touch
Carry a power bank with your phone so the battery never dies. Identify places with free Wi-Fi and phone services in the city you're visiting. This way, if you still can't use your phone for reasons other than a low battery, you know where to go if you need to reach out to someone for any reason.
3. Following your plan and enjoying your trip
By making room for your anxieties, your travel packing list now includes both physical and non-physical entities like a power bank, a map/guidebook, emergency funds and insurance. With a solution to possible problems (before they are even problems), your worries are minimised. Once you’ve done enough to attain the Hakuna Matata state of mind — as much as you possibly can — all that’s left to do is to enjoy.
Dealing with a panic attack
Certain triggers can't be fully accommodated in your travel plan, no matter how much you try. Fear of heights, for instance, isn't something you can do much about until you're in that situation. A good step to take beforehand is practising relaxation techniques and mindful meditation. When these techniques are learned, you can put them to use when the need arises.
But how do you handle the situation when none of the plans you already made can cater to the anxiety you feel at the moment? Anxiety can get the better of anyone; even someone who is well equipped to deal with the situation can freeze up. Panic attacks are very sudden, so if you ever find yourself in the middle of one, here are a few ways to handle the situation:
- Find a distraction
If you can spare time for a movie or quick game, you’ll get yourself a visual distraction. This is particularly helpful in situations where the trigger is something you can see, like the outside of a plane’s window. An auditory distraction is music through headphones which can keep out the noise of turbulence. Read a book, solve a puzzle, play with a fidget spinner or any other helpful toy. Just make sure you keep your body and mind reasonably occupied so you don't bombard yourself with fearsome thoughts.
- Breathing exercises and meditation
Even if you couldn't practice the relaxation techniques before your trip, you can try some anyway. Try inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time to help bring rhythm back to your breathing. Shallow breathing and stiffness are anxiety symptoms, so be intentional about taking deep breaths and relaxing your muscles. To help you stay aware of your environment, mentally note the things around you. A common exercise practised by people who get panic attacks involves identifying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
- Keep your eye on the positives
People are more willing to take risks once they can identify the rewards waiting for them on the other side. If you feel your anxiety levels escalating, remember the reasons you're going on the trip. The fun, the experience, the wonderful pictures, the memories. In no time, you're more inspired to do the uncomfortable things.
Now you know anxiety doesn't have to kill the explorer in you. So, find out what unsettles you (or what might), then figure out what steps will help ease — if not avoid — those situations. When you do this, you can then plan a trip that guarantees peace, even in situations you have minimal control over.