Travel makes me anxious — there, I said it.
It’s not all the time, every time; there are just instances when travelling makes me particularly antsy. Call it pre-travel jitters or travel anxiety. Call it whatever you want. I just know I feel it rising in my gut sometimes to the point that I lose sleep or have a hard time breathing. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
They say travel is food for the soul — that it’s the key to finding yourself and letting your hair down. But what if travel is the very thing that makes you anxious? Does that mean you’ll have to live without the many joys of exploring the world? Here’s why travel anxiety is real and how anxious people like me can cope with this kind of emotional turmoil.
1. Anxiety is anxiety, no matter the cause or manifestation
Everyone experiences anxiety. It comes and it goes in many forms, no matter the source or cause. I wouldn’t say that my anxiety is the kind that’s crippling and needs therapy, but I do think I suffer from really bad bouts of it from time to time.
But first, story time…
My first brush with anxiety was in first grade. I attended a pre-school that only had four to ten students during afternoon sessions, which my parents preferred since it fit their schedule pretty well. That small school also employed individualised learning or instruction, which means that I worked closely with just one teacher.
Before I knew it, I was in grade one and I was transferred to a “big school,” which had about 40 students per class and a regular morning-to-noon schedule. That proved to be a very emotional phase for me. The transition was, at times, too much for my eight-year-old self to handle. I wasn’t used to a full classroom. I wasn’t used to the noise of a big school. I wasn’t used to interacting with five or more teachers in a single day. There were instances I couldn’t bear to be in class so much so that I would refuse to leave the guidance counselor’s office. Sometimes, I would lock myself inside one of the washroom cubicles, where I would stay for hours.
The lesson: Anxiety is normal
But let me stop there. What’s the point of this sharing? …that anxiety hits anyone and everyone, even if “you don’t have anything to worry about”. It’s just how our brains are wired and how certain chemicals make our bodies feel.
It happens when I travel, too. I was very excited during my first trip abroad, but somehow, I found myself crying on the way to the airport. I still miss my parents when I travel and I do worry about my dogs. But now I just take a deep breath, chuckle, and look forward to coming home in a few days.
What will help: In the case of travel anxiety, consider this: Maybe something about travelling worries you. The first step of coping is accepting that you’re anxious. Move forward by pinpointing the source of your distress.
2. Common sources of anxiety are fear and disappointment, and fear of disappointment
Google “what causes anxiety” and you’ll notice similarities in the results. Aside from external factors such as health-related issues, stress, and social events, anxiety commonly rears its ugly head when you experience (or anticipate!) fear and disappointment. In some cases, you begin to fear disappointment and that leads to a lot of overthinking and “what ifs”.
Phobias that make things worse
Combined with identified travel-related phobias like aviophobia (fear of flying), thalassophobia (fear of open water), agoraphobia (fear of open and crowded spaces; fear of leaving home), or acrophobia (fear of heights), anxiety is worsened.
What will help: Find things and exercises that calm you. Being the worrywart that I am, my father taught me how to take in deep, counted breaths. I was able to use this technique even until I started working. It helps tremendously when you’re out and about. You might already know this, but leading a healthy lifestyle whether or not you’re on the road also helps lower stress levels. Keep those happy hormones flowing!
3. Travelling leaves a lot of room for fear and disappointment
What if things don’t go as planned? What if your visa gets denied? What if you lack the proper travel documents? What if you lose your passport? What if it suddenly rains the entire time you’re on holiday? What if you get sick or injured, and you’re in a country with a HUGE language barrier?
The lesson: Travel can go right… and wrong
Here’s the catch: When you travel, you must also accept that things can go very right or terribly wrong. But that’s just life in motion; don’t let it stop you from living it to the fullest. And there’s nothing productive about giving in to overthinking either. Know the difference between preparing enough and needlessly overthinking everything.
What will help: Plan well for your trip. Contingency plans are always a good idea. Comfort the OC or Type A personality in you by having a plan B for every item on your itinerary. Keep in mind that wandering the streets with no particular goal or destination could be quite the adventure, too. In the event that things still don’t work out, don’t sweat the small things. I know that’s easier said than done, but try. Also, take a page from Ms. Universe Catriona Gray’s book: Find a silver lining in everything.
4. Travel can also mean too much spontaneity for some
A lot of things aren’t 100% certain when you travel. For starters, there’s the weather and your schedule. If you’re a frequent flier, then you’re no stranger to delayed flights. Changing your itinerary at the last minute is a possibility, too. Too much spontaneity can cause anxiety, especially for people who don’t like last-minute changes. This is just really an extension of #3 — nothing is 100% sure in life. What makes you think that travel is any different?
What will help: Respect the itinerary, but make it flexible, too. It’s as simple as that.
Also read: How You Can Find Simplicity in Travelling
5. Travel makes you wait — for hours, weeks, months, or even years
From the moment you save up for that trip, the long wait begins. You wait until you have enough funds. You wait to book a flight that you like, and planning takes even more time. But some of the waiting will make you more anxious than the other times: waiting for your late tour guide to pick you up, waiting for a travel companion who’s often late; waiting for your visa to arrive, waiting for a delayed or rescheduled flight to roll in at the airport, waiting for the next chance to re-apply for a visa that was previously denied. It could happen whether you like it or not. So just brace yourself.
What will help: Do things that will help ease the waiting period. Focus on a hobby, bring a book to that flight, spend a day in the country where your layover is. Another tip that I find very effective? Travel with someone who makes every minute worthwhile. That may sound cheesy, but you can never go wrong with a travel buddy you absolutely love spending time with. If travelling alone is your thing, then great; do things your way and travel solo.
The lesson: Don’t let anxiety stop you
But really, anxiety is something we all have to battle regularly. Sometimes, we also have to accept that we make anxiety worse by being stubborn or by letting every little thing affect ourselves. I’m sure that I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I believe that the way a person deals with anxiety also has a lot to do with his or her outlook in life. Remember, you’re stronger than you think. If you suffer from chronic anxiety and self-doubt, and it has started to affect the way you travel (or live), do something about it. In the words of the late Anthony Bourdain, “Travel changes you.” Let it.