If you’re anything like me, and if you’re reading this then you probably do, travel makes you anxious to some degree.
Don’t get me wrong—I adore travel. It’s one of the greatest joys of my life. There was a different stage in my life when I was traveling nationally and internationally multiple times a year. That didn’t mean I didn’t have anxiety—my flying anxiety is absolutely horrendous. But these days, when I’m not “practicing” travel very often, and when I’m already suffering from heightened anxiety, I find a general anxiety around the act of travel itself.
So how do I handle it?
Handling Travel Anxiety
We recently took a two-day road trip to visit my family in California (you can see the highlights on my Instagram!). We decided to cut it up into two days because we knew the baby couldn’t handle a 12/13 hour driving day. Needless to say, there was a lot of stress and anxiety about everything around packing, finishing my to-do list in time, and even about far-reaching fears like getting into an accident.
It even got so bad that I considered just scrapping the whole trip several times.
But I didn’t. Number one for me when dealing with my anxiety is not giving in. So, here are a few of my own personal tricks for dealing with travel anxiety when I get into that mode:
Get Ready Early
I started packing about two weeks before we left. I have a master packing list that I add to or subtract from depending on where we’re going and what my daughter’s needs are at the moment.
Once I had that settled, I started building piles of things in the corners of rooms, on our bathroom counter, even draped across my chair in the office. That way, when it came to the actual act of packing, it was easy to place everything into the suitcases instead of running around like a chicken with my head cut off, which helps reduce my anxiety about forgetting something.
It also gave me a chance to put toys aside for my daughter to “forget” so she could “discover” them again during the trip and giving her something on which to focus.
Focus on the Scenery—or Don’t
I’ve been working very hard to combat my anxiety by focusing on the present, on the sights and sensations in that moment, and my breathing. Those times when I’m very anxious, I will try to do just that.
Although, there are times when the scenery actually causes me more anxiety. In that case, I listen to my favorite music, book on tape, or humorous podcast.
On our way back from California, I felt terrible. I hadn’t wanted to leave at all(it’s my happy place), and I was near tears the entire day, anxious, and unsettled. Once we reached our evening stop, my husband said he would take the baby and encouraged me to go to the nearby mall where they had a Crate and Barrel and a Nordstrom. It may seem silly, but both make me happy, and we don’t have them at home. And believe it or not, I felt so much better just by wandering around these two stores and the mall, interacting with people, and getting out of the hotel, even without buying anything.
What makes you feel normal? What makes you feel okay and helps decrease your anxiety? Is it a walk or other type of exercise? Going to the mall? Watching something funny? Does your hotel have a pool or a shopping center nearby? Even a Starbucks or other restaurant chain you know from home can help you feel a little more normal and dull the edge of anxiety.
- Bring a Pillow
Or a blanket, a sheet, even a stuffed animal. Bring something that smells like home, that you can lay your head on when you go to sleep. The smell of home always helps calm me down when I’m in a new place and it’s driving up my anxiety.
Challenge Your Thoughts
This is a cognitive-behavioral tool I use. I have to admit that it’s not always effective, but it definitely helps for those anxious fears that edge more towards the irrational or worst-case-scenario. Before leaving on our trip, I had images of getting into a car accident and the baby being hurt. I questioned whether we should go or stay home where she would be safe.
But, from practice, I knew it was my anxiety whispering in my ear, hovering in the back of my mind. So, I challenged the thought. I know that, yes, there is always a small chance we could get into an accident. But:
- We were driving during the day
- I’m a defensive and alert driver
- She has one of the safest car seats available
- We have a very safe car
- It’s only a small chance
I wanted to keep my anxiety from winning. This trip was important for a
number of reasons, and I knew I would greatly regret it if I didn’t go.
I also got a tip from my best friend. Whenever my thoughts start spiraling, whenever the images in my head are too frightening, I bring up an image of a stop sign and focus on it. It’s a visual reminder that I am losing control of my thoughts into “what if” territory and that I need to stop them.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor, a therapist, or a psychiatrist. I’m just trying to pass along what I’ve learned over the years. Anxiety is so individual, so personal. What works for me probably won’t work for you, but it may be a starting point. It always helps me to see what others are doing.
I hope this helps in some way. I know anxiety can be so lonely, and since no one experiences it in the same way, it can seem like you’re the only one who feels the way you do. As always, know you’re not alone, even if it feels that way. We’re all fighting the fight.