|If you think back to the very first flight you took in your life, can you recall the thoughts that were going through your mind as your plane was sitting on the runway, waiting to take off? Were some of these thoughts linked to feelings of anxiety, or even panic? If so, you're not alone! Many people have pre-travel anxiety, but there are ways to get through this very common, and often very difficult, experience, so that you feel more comfortable boarding that next plane on your next adventure.
To help you on your way, I'm super excited to share the following guest post from a blogger with a personal experience of getting through her own pre-travel anxiety. Be sure to also share your own stories of experiencing anxiety while on travels and how you have been able to push past these fears in the comments following the article.
her fears. Plus eating loads of European food, because it's just too awesome. Armed with a belief that absolutely anyone can travel, she aims to help fellow anxiety sufferers, occasionally inspire, and provide merriment with tales of her mistakes! Connect with Nicky on Instagram and Facebook.
How to Beat Pre-Travel Anxiety
It's a fact that pre-travel anxiety can really bring out the worst in people. It can turn even the most ardent traveller into a self-destructive saboteur - I should know; I've done it to myself.
In 2010, I decided to celebrate my birthday by booking a rather expensive guided tour around Arizona and Utah, flights included, taking in all the sights I dreamed of. I'd be going solo and meeting up with a group, and I visualized myself making new friends and generally having a whale of time around Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. I'd be that awesome, confident traveller. I didn't foresee any problems at all, especially as I'd already travelled solo to the United States - it'd be a piece of cake, right?
Well, not exactly. A couple of months before I was due to depart, I started obsessively worrying about my trip.
My main source of anxiety was the flight. I'd be flying direct from London to Phoenix, a flying time of fifteen hours - much longer than my previous flight to Cincinnati. I became convinced that I'd develop deep-vein thrombosis on a flight of that length, and I'd almost certainly need emergency medical treatment as soon as I landed. Or if I somehow, miraculously, didn't have my legs half falling off, then something was bound to go wrong on a flight of that length. It was almost certain to crash.
My mind, encouraged by this irrational worry, decided to expand its horizons. I began to get anxiety about almost every aspect of the trip. No-one in my group would like me. The food would make me sick. I googled poisonous snakes and scorpions which could be found in the area. Best of all, I even googled how close the Grand Canyon lodge I was staying at was to the edge of the canyon, in case there was a landslide and I tumbled into the eternal void as I slept.
With a week to go before my departure, I was suffering panic attacks almost by the hour, and was an absolute mess. I went to the travel agent, and cancelled the trip. There were no refunds, and I lost my fee of £1500 ($1900).
The plane didn't crash. The tour went ahead with no problems, without me. I sat at home, and kicked myself.
"It's so easy to let anxiety take over in the time before you travel. It's completely understandable - you're going out into the unknown, well out of your comfort zone."
It's so easy to let anxiety take over in the time before you travel. It's completely understandable - you're going out into the unknown, well out of your comfort zone. Nothing is routine, it's all new, possibly in a language you don't understand. Even the process of booking a trip can leave you wracked with anxiety.
Fortunately, it's just as easy to take steps to combat pre-travel anxiety. It's really not as difficult as you might think!
It all comes down to preparation. I used to have a boss who was fond of the 5 P's: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (he might've added a 6th P in there, but then it gets a bit cruder). Doing the ground work for your trip and feeling adequately prepared is such a huge boon to your mental state. Rather than feel like you're being tossed out into the unknown, you'll feel equipped to deal with whatever comes your way. You'll be like Batman, with a toolbelt that can assist you in whichever scrape you get into - and hopefully minus the tragic past.
Let's look at eight ridiculously simple things you can do to reduce your anxiety before a trip!
Don't obsess over checking flight prices
I've been super-guilty of this one in the past; it's a curiously-overlooked aspect of travel anxiety. You want the perfect price for your flights. You obsessively check the websites, and you find the perfect flight, at the perfect time, at the perfect price. You commit it to memory, and resolve to show your travel companion. You check it on some other sites to make sure. Then you show it to your travel pal - and the price has shot up. You pause, unsure. You keep checking the flight to see what's going on, until to your dismay, the price is way above what it originally was. You reluctantly shelve the whole idea.
I've done it myself, with a flight to Romania which started off at £40, and rose to £300 by the time I finished obsessively checking it. Sites want to scare you into booking straight away, so they remember your search history and keep adding a bit more cash on to the price. After all, you're clearly desperate to have that flight, judging by all the searches you're doing - so the websites will capitalize on it.
So how do you get around this problem, which can potentially end a trip before you've even booked it? Simple - search for your flights using a incognito window on your computer. Your cookies will be reset, and it'll show the lowest price available, avoiding all the anxiety of seeing the price inexplicably rise.
Also, get to know when the best flight prices are around! This is something of a hit-and-miss venture, but most experts agree that the best prices are to be found 5 weeks before the date of departure - that gives you loads of time to explore all the options whilst in incognito mode! But remember that hotels will generally always be cheaper the earlier you book them.
Plan your itinerary using a map app
Smartphones are probably the most useful item to take on your travels these days - and using a map app to navigate around can be absolutely invaluable. Not only can you make a custom itinerary for yourself, but you can ensure that you'll never get lost!
I use maps.me, which is a free app. Once it's on your phone, you can download offline maps which you'll use whilst you're away: no having to worry about whether you'll have wifi or 4G abroad! This is a detailed, useful map which will be permanently available in your pocket.
Next, find your hotel and add a bookmark to it. Having done this, you can be anywhere in the world, and the app will give you directions to the hotel with one tap!
Now you can add bookmarks to anything you'd like to see in your destination - these will be saved to a list within the app. So if you're at your hotel and you want to get to that historical site? Tap on the list for directions. Done with the history, and wanting to take in an art gallery? Tap, and you'll have directions from your current location. Want to check out that restaurant you liked the sound of? Tap again, and off you go. Time to go back to the hotel? Scroll back up to the start of your list, and it'll get you back from wherever you've ended up.
Offline map apps are an absolutely brilliant anxiety-saver!
Buy travel insurance
It's amazing how many people still travel without insurance. Would I feel comfortable doing rock-climbing without safety ropes? Heck, no! And travel insurance provides exactly the same kind of protection: hopefully you won't need it, but it's there if something goes wrong.
But still, one in five travellers admit to not taking out insurance - that's 10 million people. But it can save you so much anxiety!
True, having insurance is not a guarantee that nothing will go wrong on your journey, but it sure helps if something does go pear-shaped. Certainly, one of my big travel fears is being ill abroad, and having insurance means that I don't need to worry about the cost of obtaining medical care if I need it. Similarly, if I'm robbed, or my bags go missing, I'm covered.
Insurance is an invisible safety net, and worth every penny for the peace of mind. Do yourself a favour, and get a policy!
Check into your flight online
Technology! Love it or hate it, it's certainly making our travel lives easier. So hurrah for technology, I say!
One of the best advances in travel technology means that you can completely skip one of the most stressful parts of airline travel - the inevitable massive queue at the airport, when you stand in line and fret about missing your flight. We've all been in one of those queues, when it seems like every single person is trying to check in some random object, like a banjo or something, and you just want to drop your bags on to the conveyor belt and run.
Well, the good news is that you can essentially do that! A lot of airlines now offer online check in, and it couldn't be simpler. It usually involves no more than the clicking of a couple of buttons online, having logged into your airline's website (airlines vary as to how far in advance you can check in - they'll be sure to tell you). Print off a boarding pass, and you're nearly done.
When you arrive at the airport, you'll most likely use a machine to answer a couple of security questions, then print off a luggage label and attach it to any bags you're checking in. Place your bags on the conveyor belt, and you're done!
It really couldn't be simpler, and it lets you skip one of the most stressful elements of an airport visit. Go straight through security, and put your feet up in the departures lounge!
Pack a few days in advance
Now, I know that a lot of people like to pack right at the last moment, to the extent that they're practically running out of their front door with items flying from their suitcase. However, from an anxiety standpoint, it's just not a good idea!
Packing your bags can be absolutely crucial to the enjoyment of your trip, and we're all subconsciously aware of it. So don't leave something that vital to the last minute.
Print out your boarding passes in plenty of time (I myself have been caught out by my printer being low on ink, and spitting out a faded, almost-blank boarding pass - cue freakouts). Get the majority of your packing done at least three days in advance; this gives you plenty of time to go through it slowly and methodically, and also gives you time to remember anything you might've forgotten. Last-minute items like toothbrushes can be slipped into your case on the day. And then you're done!
No last-minute worries, no having to go to the airport with your mind whirling on what you might've forgotten. No desperate searching of airport shops because you forgot that plug adapter. Just happy travels!
Use packing lists
Packing lists are super-useful for the anxious traveller! And not just before you leave home.
Make your packing list well in advance of your travel; give yourself plenty of time to remember those little items you might forget. Pin it to your fridge, and add to it as you like. You can even print one off from the internet or download an app, just to double-check that you've got everything covered.
"Use your list when it's time to pack your bags, and tick everything off as you pack it, giving you visual proof that you've got everything covered. Every tick next to an item is a guarantee, and one less thing for you to worry about!"
Use your list when it's time to pack your bags, and tick everything off as you pack it, giving you visual proof that you've got everything covered. Every tick next to an item is a guarantee, and one less thing for you to worry about! But don't throw away your packing list when you're done. Pop it in your suitcase at the last minute, after you've ticked off your final items. This way, when you come home, you've got a ready-made inventory of exactly what you brought with you! No more searching through hotel room, worrying that you'll leave something behind: you'll be able to cross through every item on your way back, knowing that everything from home is safely headed back there.
One thing, though - packing lists can make it really tempting to overpack. This can be stressful in itself, as you'll worry about having enough space to bring souvenirs back. Taking items "just in case" is absolutely fine, especially if they'll help you squash anxious feelings (such as a first aid kit), but be fairly ruthless with your clothes, and take the minimum you'll need. You won't need ten t-shirts and eight dresses for a four-day stay!
Prepare in advance for the airport
Airports are stressful. Nearly everyone gets airport anxiety at some point in their life, whether it's anxiety at the thought of queues and crowds, or a full-blown panic attack. None of this is fun, and especially not in an environment which can feel unfamiliar and claustrophobic.
Happily, you can significantly improve your airport experience with a bit of planning!
Firstly, try to get as early a flight as possible. Airports are significantly less crowded before 9am, so any flight before then means that you'll have a quieter, less stressful airport. If you've checked in online, you can pretty much stroll through the airport, and be in the departure lounge in fifteen minutes.
Secondly, get to the airport an hour earlier than you need to. Most flights ask you to be at the airport two hours in advance; make it three, and you'll have absolutely zero worries about being late. You'll have plenty of time to get there, in case traffic or public transport are being troublesome. You'll be checked in and through security in plenty of time. And you'll be able to look around the shops and restaurants in departures at your leisure, stocking up on chocolates in the duty free section (I'm not the only one who does that, right?).
Thirdly, pre-pack your hand luggage toiletries such as small bottles of liquid, gel, or paste before you leave home, in a clear plastic bag. This saves you having to ransack your bags in front of everyone at security; simply take it out of your hand luggage, and plop it into the tray to be scanned. It's so much easier! Any zip-lock type bag will do.
Related: 15 Mental Health Bloggers Share Their Tips For Good Mental Health
Book an airport lounge
You've done all the hard work, and got to the airport in plenty of time. You're bouncing around departures, getting yourself in a state of panic about the flight. What can you do?
Simple: have a little taste of luxury, and book yourself a place in an airport lounge.
There's a perception that airport lounges are incredibly expensive, but they're really not that bad - you can enter a lot of them for as little as $25, and you can easily book them online. Once you're in, you can take a shower, or use the free and efficient wifi to take your mind off the flight. You can relax at the bar, or have a bite to eat. All of this will reduce your anxiety, and put you into a much better frame of mind for travelling.
Haven't got the $25 spare, as you're travelling on a budget? Well... I didn't tell you this, but it's often possible to pick up the free wifi by just sitting close to the lounge, such as leaning against its outer wall. You can enjoy a world of entertainment for zero extra cost!
As you can see, all of these ideas are pretty simple and cheap to carry out - some of them actually save you money! And every single one of them will help to squash that feeling of fear before you travel, the sensation of going into the unknown.
Don't let anxiety stop you from travelling. Prepare, go equipped, and have a fantastic journey!
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