Managing Anxiety While Travelling
Updated: Jul 26, 2020
I have been travelling a lot more than usual this year for a mixture of reasons, both work (modelling) and vacationing. Though I noticed around travel times my anxiety is generally on the rise, not just before the trip, but during as well.
I posted on my Instagram Story (@JESSNUGENT1) about travel anxiety and my audience was split. Some people said they go through the same thing, some people said they have zero anxiety when they travel. I thought I'd write a blog about it because, while I have been more mindful of my anxiety levels while travelling, I didn't do too well on my last trip to Hawaii and ended up having a panic attack in a shopping centre. I feel that when these things happen it is important to look at the reason WHY so you can reverse-engineer coping strategies.
So these are my reverse-engineered strategies.
First, let's look at reasons why we may get anxious when we travel.
When I think about where I am most comfortable - as much as I want to say "on a beach in the sun listening to great music" my default is "in my bed, wearing my robe with my animals either side of me doing something completely mindless like watching Netflix. This is when you are almost in auto-pilot, your brain isn't even really active at that time but you are still distracted from anxious thoughts.
When you are on holiday you are dealing with new places, no sense of direction, not enough of the RIGHT clothes (if you are me), and in some cases - a different language and/or currency! ARGH - SO much to think about. Even the most mundane and automatic actions become something you need to switch your brain on for - like buying a pack of gum and figuring out how much cash you need.
I won't lie, I'm not the most organised person. In fact, almost at least once a day I leave my house only to sit in my car and realised I've forgotten a bunch of things and have to go back and get them. This means packing is stressful, as I know I won't be able to nip back home to grab something I need.
It is also hard for us to be far away from our loved ones and our pets (me again haha). Sometimes you just need a hug from that special someone when you are feeling a little overwhelmed and flustered - and it intensifies your anxiety when you just can't. Why? Because we transfer that feeling of not having CONTROL over something specific, into not having control of our lives and our emotions etc.
This is a big one. Especially when you are visiting somewhere far away, super expensive or if it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip or you only have a limited amount of time. It is normal to want to make the most of our time. So we google the location for the must-see sights, trawl instagram to see where the prettiest photos where taken and we make this mental list that we must do EVERYTHING. But then for two days it rains, or you get lost on the way somewhere, or you misjudge how long the hike is going to be, or maybe the hike is closed off for the week!
This one kinda links back to unfamiliarity. But when you are away from home you also lose your whole daily routine - your local cafe, your gym, your workplace, your daily walk etc.these things are sometimes what helps us get through the day while feeling like we are in control - so without them we can feel a little lost.
This can vary from person to person. Ie. As I get older my fear of flying seems to be getting a little worse, so I know part of my anxiety is attributed to the upcoming flights. Some people are scared of being robbed while out, some people are scared of germs/diseases. Whatever your fears are, these are things that add a little anxiousness to travel time.
Is this resonating a bit? Ok, lets look at strategies!
You'll notice here that one of the best strategies is to be prepared. Yes, I am serial procrastinator and don't often take my own advice here - but this is one of the reasons my last trip didn't go as well as it could have.
FAMILIARITY > UNFAMILIARITY
Look for things that will make your life easier or simplify certain processes! I know that I usually don't pay for ANYTHING with cash these days - even at home. So paying with cash overseas can be stressful! Get a travel card before you go and continue tapping or swiping as you normally would at home.
Planning things out in advance will help you a lot here. This works better for shorter trips - I like to write down each day on a piece of paper, then which activities we are doing or if we have a nice dinner planned, and then write down what type of outfits I'll need. Then it can help you pack more efficiently. It is OK if you have to outfit repeat, you don't need to post up the second photo haha.
On this point though, generally some of the new clothes you buy just for the holiday won't make it out of your case. Why? Unfamiliarity. We feel comfortable in what we know. So bring that favourite dress you have worn a thousand times. Hell, even bring that old t-shirt and track pant combo you slip into every day after work. Make your life easier and more comfortable! Even the home-scents/regular washing powder smell on those items will relax you!
CONNECTION > DISTANCE
Again, being organised will help you here. Bring more of the essentials with you (underwear, swimmers, comfy clothes/shoes) and less of the stuff you only bought because you saw a really cool instagram photo and the girl/guy was wearing something similar.
Plan ahead what your connectivity options are. Will the hotel have wi-fi, what is your mobile networks roaming situation, will you have 3 or 4G where you are going? Being able to text, call or even FaceTime your loved ones can help the distance feel a lot smaller and is a luxury we are blessed with these days!
Most importantly, where you can, travel with people you are comfortable with. Share those moments with the most special people in your life, and the ones you are most comfortable with.
Travelling on your own is a great way to broaden your mind and get to know yourself. Being thrown in the deep end can sometimes make you really have to toughen up and be strong, it can actually be easier than travelling with people you don't know too well because you don't feel the pressure of wearing a "mask". But always just make sure you listen yourself. This is a big thing, you don't need to prove anything to anyone but yourself. If you do decide to do this you can always come home if you need to!
At the very least, whoever you travel with, make sure you communicate to whoever you are travelling with that you are anxious so they can help. It is important that they know how they can help or what to do if you are having an attack or just need a little reassurance.
BEING REALISTIC > HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Do not fill every single one of your days with activities from waking up to bed time! Don't set yourself up for failure, make a list of must-sees ( around one for every 2 days you are there) and then a list of nice-to-sees if you can manage to squeeze them in. Have designated relaxation days where you have nothing planned, and choose to spend those days at a new beach that is close by, or even just by the pool.
Plan ahead what travel is necessary to get to certain places, ie. if you have your heart set on visiting the ocean swings at Gili T - Bali, it is good to know you need to get a 2.5 hour boat there! The more organised you can be, the better, but don't forget that there may be things that come up that will interrupt your plans. At the end of the day, if you REALLY need to go back to do something you missed out on doing, you will find a way to go back, it is not the end of the world.
Also, don't compare your trip and your photos to those of travel bloggers travel with an entire entourage of photographers, make up artists, videographers, stylists etc. BE REALISTIC and don't let a missed photo opportunity get in the way of soaking up the moment of being somewhere! This sounds trivial, but it is important.
Mimic your routine. I know I love having a coffee in the morning to start my day. Communicate this to your travel party as a non-negotiable but ensure you find out the easiest way to accomplish this (hotel? local cafe?) so it is not a drama/inconvenience every morning. Are you normally active every day? You might have a gym at your hotel, but you can also replace your hour of working out with a hike, bike ride or another activity that crosses something off the bucket list at the same time and will create a valuable memory, because let's face it, hotel gyms aren't always the prettiest.
What I'm getting at, is that there are little things you can do to make your trip feel more familiar. Great things happen outside your comfort zone, but sometimes you need a little bit of comfort while you're wandering SO far outside that zone!
LOVE > FEAR
Fears are a tricky one as they can border on "irrational". I generally know I am going to be ok when I get on a plane but most fears kind of come from that lack of control. So you really have two options - change your situation or change your mindset. Easier said than done so look at it this way.
Problem: I am scared of clowns. Where do clowns hang out? The circus. Am I missing out if I don't go see the circus in Hawaii? No (I don't really like the circus).
Solution: Don't go to the circus.
Problem: I am scared of flying & heights. To get to Hawaii, how do I need to travel? By Plane. Am I missing out if I don't get to see Hawaii? Yes, in my opinion.
Solution: While preparing for/on the flight, keep in mind how great Hawaii is going to be, how it is only a 10 hour flight and I've been on longer and it has been ok, don't watch Air Crash Investigations haha, keep occupied while flying to take my mind off it.
Problem: You are scared of sharks.
Where do sharks hang out? The ocean.
Are you missing out if you don't go in the ocean? Depending on where you are, potentially.
Solution: Stay shallow, ask locals if there are shark sightings regularly. Weigh up the options and evidence.
I don't believe your fears should stop you from living your best life, because as I mentioned, a lot of the time they are "what ifs" and will never actually happen. Be safe, do your research, don't be too reckless. But let your love for life and for new experiences create amazing memories and prove to yourself just how strong and brave you really are!
Sometimes, the best way to overcome a fear is by facing it directly. One of my greatest memories is sky-diving despite my fear of heights and I left that experience feeling like I could take on the world!
Again, don't be reckless haha.
Sending you Love, Strength and the Bravery to create new memories!