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10 Ways to Deal with Travel Anxiety

My travel journey always starts with the excited planning stage. The minute I’ve booked a trip I’m like Bilbo Baggins, frolicking through the house shouting “We’re going on an adventure!”. But as the various tasks and realities of the trip come to light, I will often start to feel a degree of apprehension and worry. I have a fear or flying and severe health anxiety, so venturing into something new, whilst exciting and wonderful, also brings with it a series of worries and fears.

I relate to Bilbo Baggins on quite a spiritual level really. I love my little hobbit hole, and I’m often afraid of venturing too far, but deep down I long for adventure! We all deserve the chance to travel and see the world, and despite my apprehensions I am determined never to let my anxiety stop me from seeking adventure!

So with that in mind, here are 10 ways to deal with travel anxiety:

1. Do your research

Paris

Do as much research as you can about the country you’re visiting. Research at the culture, the history, the customs, the cuisine, anything and everything you can. Look at people’s blogs, surf the web for pictures and reviews, and let yourself become excited! The more research you do, the more familiar this place will feel when you arrive. Doing your research will also give you a confidence boost and will allow you to feel more informed and ready to explore!

2. Make some loose itineraries

Train Station

This might not work for everyone, but I’ve found that forming even just a bare-bones itinerary for each trip is beneficial to me. Even if it doesn’t always unfold as planned and things change as you go along, having a plan can reduce a lot of the stress that comes with travelling. It could be as simple as writing a list of all of things that you are most keen to see and do, and then ranking them in terms of importance.

As an anxious traveller, I often find it hard to cope with too much uncertainty, but having a basic itinerary gives the trip a sense of structure. Again, this isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s super helpful!

3. Talk to your travel buddy

Crew

There’s nothing worse than having to pretend you’re okay when you’re not. If you’re travelling with someone else then try to articulate your fears and worries to them. Tell them what they can do for you in terms of support. Examples of this could be:

  • Telling your partner you need them to hold your hand on the plane when you take off and land
  • Telling a friend that whilst on your trip you may need some occasional alone time
  • Setting boundaries within a group and vocalising any fears you have about certain activities – know that you are always allowed to say no to things!

4. Bring something familiar

Pollenca

This could be your favourite music, T.V shows or films, a cuddly companion like a soft toy, or a cosy jumper or pair of socks that you love. Having something that brings you positive familiar memories can help to ground you when you’re feeling anxious or homesick. T.V shows, films and music are also a great form of escapism and they can help you to get out of your head for a while if you’re overthinking and worrying. (If you bring these, remember to download them onto your device, just in case you don’t have access to WiFi!)

5. Pack an anxiety kit

Sleepy

Create your own emergency kit for when you start to feel anxious. Having this on hand will not only help you in those moments of stress and anxiety, but it will also give you peace of mind throughout your trip because you’ll know that it will be there if and when you need it. Each person’s kit will be very different but I like to bring:

  • Lush sleepy body lotion – I find sleeping in new places really difficult and this cream has been so helpful when it comes to trying to drift off. It also smells like lavender so it is really helpful for calming panic and anxiety.
  • An eye mask and earplugs – as someone who also suffers from migraines these are essential for me. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed, sometimes I find it helpful to block out all sights and sounds to reduce stimulation. Most long-haul flights give you these items or you can bring your own.
  • Headphones – being able to listen to music, watch a bit of YouTube or listen to an audio book when you’re anxious is super helpful. It’s a form of escapism that can soothe you and encourage positive feelings.
  • The Calm app – the calm app is an absolute life saver when it comes to calming anxiety. They have meditations that can be done in less than 2 minutes, emergency calm meditations, sleep stories and music for meditation and relaxation. I would definitely suggest picking a few of your favourites and downloading them to your phone so that can access them offline.

My kit has a lot of sleep related items in it because my anxiety tends to sky rocket if I become sleep deprived! Whatever you feel will help to ground you and calm you, bring that with you and keep it on hand just in case.

For more information on strategies to deal with anxiety check out my previous post on Anxiety here

6. Be prepared

Packed

Being prepared is so important! One of the best things you can do for yourself if you suffer from any kind of anxiety is to be as organised as possible when it comes to packing your bags and sorting travel documents.

Lists are excellent when it comes to this. When you’re planning the trip, make a list of all the things you can’t forget to do like sorting out visas and photocopying passports etc… Then make lists of what you need to bring with you and have it all ready and packed the night before you leave. This way, when you wake up there’s no mad rushes and sudden panics about not having everything with you. There’s nothing worse than getting on a train or a bus to go to the airport and realising you’ve left something behind!

7. Give yourself a break

Listen

When travelling, we often put expectations on ourselves to do anything and everything we possibly can.  Maybe you’ve felt this before, or seen other travellers on social media and felt like you need to live up to that expectation. However, just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean you should let yourself burn out!

Don’t push yourself to do things that you don’t want to do. Travelling is such an individual experience and you should never compare it to anyone else’s. It’s okay to pause when you’re travelling. Take a nap, read a book, rest, watch the world go by… just give your mind and body what it needs to re-charge. Never beat yourself up for having to take breaks when you’re travelling.

8. Be Mindful

Reflect

When travelling it’s important to stay mindful. The more mindful you are, the more you can appreciate the experience of travelling without rushing it. Once you’re there, just be. Don’t be angry with yourself if you don’t see everything you wanted to. Learn to see the wonder in the small things; the language, the food, the smells and the changes in the weather. Take in the atmosphere and know that it’s not all about doing as much as possible as quickly as possible. Being mindful also allows you to focus your energy on the present, and can help with feelings of stress, pressure and anxiety.

9. Keep a Travel Diary

Travel Diary

This is, by far, the best thing that I did for myself when I went travelling. Keeping a travel diary gave me a routine in which I was able to practise introspection. The process of writing down my experiences allowed me to look at all of the positive things I was experiencing throughout my trip. It gave me a diary full of memories that I may have otherwise forgotten. This was so helpful in calming my anxiety because it allowed me to write down all of my thoughts and feelings about travelling. It was an great creative outlet for me throughout my entire trip.

10. Enjoy the journey!

Looking out

Remind yourself why your travelling. Do you want to experience new cultures? To open your mind to new ideas? Travel can be such a wonderful experience. It’s important to enjoy the journey! Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. Don’t force yourself to do or be anything other than exactly who you are.  Journeys are full of ups and downs, and that’s okay!

As for me, well… let’s just say I never in a million years thought I’d be sharing a sleeper train carriage with two strangers and riding on the back of a motorbike through paddy fields. Sometimes you CAN and WILL surprise yourself. This anxious little hobbit managed it, and you can too! Seek out your adventure and you’ll return home with a head full of memories, just like Bilbo.

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To the NHS nurse who held my hand

When I was 17 years old I had a Cancer scare. The ultimate outcome was that I was far too young to go through invasive screening and that they were certain I was fine. This unfortunately led to a series of health related anxieties, doctors visits and serious hypochondria. When I say the word “hypochondria’ I’m sure many people envisage a germaphobe or a comedy sketch with Dr Google sentencing me to death. It is and was, however, a serious and debilitating form of health anxiety which affects me in profound ways. I’m sure many will think that it’s such a privileged standpoint, to be worrying about these illnesses and never actually have them. But it really is rough, intrusive and overwhelming. I’ve written a more specific post about Hypochondria and you can find it here.

In May 2017 at age 24, the symptoms that I had gotten at age 17 came back. Without going into too much detail, I ended up getting a procedure done to screen for Cancer. This was the ‘invasive’ screening that the doctors in my teens had told me I was too young to go through, and good grief were they right. Let’s just say it involved a needle and an ultrasound machine.

When I got to the screening clinic I had no idea that I would end up getting this procedure. I was greeted by two lovely smiling receptionists and sat down in the reception amongst the rest of the people waiting. I was called through to a doctors office and I remember it being oddly dark in there. I’m sure there’s a technical or medical reason for it but it made the experience extra trippy. For the life of me I can’t remember the Doctor’s name. I only remember that she looked like Charlotte Rampling and that she was a little bit scary (though I expect anyone holding a needle with the intention of stabbing you with it is terrifying).

What I do remember though, was Louise. Louise was the nurse that called me into the room and stayed with me the whole time. I remembered her name because she was like my guardian angel that day. Thank the stars for her. When it all started she held my hand as if I was her own daughter, and I just kept wondering how many hands she’d held before.

As I looked at the details of one particular ceiling tile I realised my feet were freezing cold. I had my running shoes on and I remember looking down at them, desperately to put the thoughts of illness and disease and infection out of my mind, and to quiet the voices asking ‘did she sterilise that needle?’ and ‘what if she finds something?’. On the other side of the room I could see my boyfriend who was told he had to stay on the other side of the half drawn curtain. There was a piece of fluff hanging from the ceiling vent and I stared at it… and stared and stared.

When the procedure started the Doctor said ‘You poor girl’, and I just kept holding Louise’s hand. And Louise was there. She didn’t know that I was already envisaging my own funeral, or picturing my immune system being set upon by bacteria shaped monsters. But Louise was there and she made everything seem okay, because she’s a bloody good nurse. When it was all finished Louise took us out of the room and asked me how I felt, I said ‘tired’ and she said ‘me too’, she was definitely more tired than me. I went home, ate monster much and watched Lilo and Stitch.

For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t obsess about an invisible illness or an itch or a dirty hand rail on the tube, I had finally seen what I had been terrified about for so long, and it was smaller than an MnM. The fears of death and illness were suddenly replaced with rationality and planning calmly for the various scenarios that might surface.

When it all came through clear, I was relieved, but I also felt silly, and thankful, and blessed that we have a National Health Service in this country with hundreds of thousands of of Louises.

The NHS is immeasurable, irreplaceable and essential. But it’s slowly being driven to the point of total breakdown. Louise does a job that I could never do, she sees people through their most vulnerable times with a smile and profound strength. I have friends who are nurses, I have a boyfriend who’s training to be a doctor, these people are amazing and I honestly couldn’t imagine having to do what they do. The NHS has been incredible to me. It works, and it works hard.

I hope we can continue to spread our stories and share our gratitude towards the NHS staff who have held our hands, saved our lives, helped us through illness and fought for us. In a world full of hatred, selfishness and fear… I think we should all strive to be a little more ‘Louise’.