How To Deal With Travel Anxiety

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Over the past seven years, I’ve spent many months traveling with my family on several long road trips. Some people say we’re brave. I think they imagine us to be free-spirited spontaneous travelers and yes, in a sense, brave. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to make these trips happen, I have to deal with travel anxiety. It doesn’t come easy but I have found things that help me, so I want to share them in this post.

How to deal with travel anxiety

Spontaneous travel into the Great Unknown

Comedian Louis CK’s show Louie is a favorite of mine. A while ago I watched an interesting episode.

Louie arrives at the airport where he was supposed to fly to Mexico to join his sister and her family on a vacation. Standing there looking at the flight board, he decides on an spontaneous change of plans. Following a children’s story he was reading to his daughter the previous night, he decides to go see the Yangtze river. Yes, the one in China.  He buys a ticket to China instead of Mexico, boards the plane and ends up on the streets of Beijing without the slightest clue as to where the Yangtze may be.

With no internet access (how odd!) he asks people on the street for directions, only none of them speaks English. Eventually, a local man agrees to take him to the Yangtze river on a vehicle loaded with geese. When they arrive, instead of the mighty Yangtze river, Louie sees a pathetically tiny stream in some old neighborhood. A local family then takes him in and he joins the family meal, with no words exchanged but a lot of smiles and laughter.

Yangtze river - You can see it even if you have travel anxiety!
This is the real Yangtze river. Not exactly a small stream.

Louie is a show that doesn’t always offer “a moral to the story” but in this case it did: Travel spontaneously and you’ll get some great Chinese food for free. It will be an adventure, you’ll connect with local people and while you may not see the main attractions, you will gain intimate insights into the local culture, feel loved and have a great family holiday (albeit without your own family, which some might argue is a much better deal).

I can’t imagine traveling like that.

You see, traveling does not come easily to me. I am a hobbit by nature. I need my own little cave-home, safe and secure from the dragons that live in the faraway mountains. Venturing out of the shire scares me. I suffer from travel anxiety.

How I deal with travel anxiety

I have travel anxiety and I still travel as much as I possibly can. I have several psychological tricks to overcome my fears and I think they may help others, so posting them here today.

1. Recognize your fears

Recognizing that traveling scares me really helped. I truly believe in the old adage of “life begins outside our comfort zone”. I’m just saying that I know where my comfort zone is and that helps me prepare for stepping out of it.

2. Research, research, research

Romantic as Louie CK’s escapade was, I could never board a flight to a place I haven’t fully researched beforehand. I need to know all I can about the weather, transportation, safe and unsafe practices and areas, local food, local culture and preferably a few phrases in the local language too.

Researching a destination softens the blow. It is a way for me to deal with my own anxiety and it lowers my stress levels. All the research also gets me excited about the wonderful things that I’m going to see and do, diverting my thoughts to the positive aspects of stepping outside my comfort zone. It leaves less time and space for travel anxiety to seep in.

3. Have a plan

I always have a full and detailed itinerary, including opening hours and prices for every attraction. I try to find out how long it would take us to complete an activity and plan what we’re going to see and do every day.

Don’t be a slave to your plan. In fact, I know that we’re not going to follow through with the plan. At least, not religiously. We end up cancelling some items for various reasons. It could be bad weather, someone getting sick, the car breaking down or just not being in the mood and feeling like we’ve had enough sightseeing. That’s perfectly ok. My plan is there to give us options, not to limit them.

My point is, having a plan helps me deal with travel anxiety. Being able to picture what our days would look like helps put my mind at ease in those stressful weeks and days before the trip.

4. Book in advance

Depending on the destination, I will probably book at least our car and accommodation for the first days of the trip. I try as much as I can to stick to reservations that can be canceled up to at least 24 hours before arrival. I use Booking.com whenever I can so I can easily track our reservations online or using the app. That way I know I can cancel with the click of a button if I need to.

Not having to worry about finding accommodation when we hit a new city helps relieve my stress. Especially when traveling with the kids.

5. Fight fear with fear

Whenever my inner hobbit wakes up and suggests that we stop with all this crazy dangerous trotting across the globe, I remind him what’s even scarier than dying in airplane crashes, terror attacks and car accidents in faraway countries.

What you should really be afraid of isn’t dying. Nope. The really scary thing is being so afraid that you never get to live. What really scares me is to get to your death bed (hopefully as a centenarian) and realize that you’ve never actually lived your life the way you wanted to. Now, that is scary! Better live life to the full then and travel!

6. Remind yourself of how much fun you had when traveling

Seriously, the best times of my life were traveling with my family.

  • Watching Old Faithful erupt at Yellowstone
  • Charging the Tower Of London together (in a battle re-enactment)
  • Seeing whales 100 yards away from us while driving along the coast of Olympic National Park
  • Watching 600 hot air balloons soar above our heads in New Mexico
  • Having a bear with cubs approach our minivan (kids in it, parents away…)
  • Climbing to the rooftop of Saint Peter’s at the Vatican
  • Watching the perseids meteor shower in the Israeli desert
  • Hiking the athabasca glacier in the Canadian Rockies

This was really just off the top of my head. Note to self: blog about these awesome experiences sometime!

These are the things we’ll always keep in our hearts. We have so much fun while traveling. It’s never scary while we’re doing it, it’s just pure fun! My anxiety shows up while I’m at home, planning a trip. It dissipates once we’re there, busy enjoying all the amazing things this world has to offer. It’s something I remind myself off when I need to deal with travel anxiety.

Photos help too. I print out albums after each trip and we take them out occasionally and literally leaf through our memories.

Hiking the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies
This is me struggling to hike the Athabasca glacier while my 9-year-old son rushes ahead. It was awesome and I’m so glad I didn’t let travel anxiety stop me from doing this!

7. Just book it

I start planning our next trip before we get back home. While still in the traveling mood and the memories of our trip are fresh in my mind. Then I book our flights as soon as I can. That’s it. Dealing with my travel anxiety remains a challenge but at least it can’t me from traveling.

I sometimes envy the carefree people who can just pack a bag and board a flight, no preparation needed. I know I’m not like that and you know what, that’s ok. I’m aware of my limitations, I work with them and I manage to have awesome trips and enjoy traveling! Can’t ask for more, really.

How about you? Are you the carefree adventurous type who would board a plane to an entirely unknown place? Or are you a hobbit like me who needs at least one wizard and a bunch of dwarves to get you out of your home? How do you deal with your travel anxiety? I’d love to hear about that so please leave a comment!

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