How To Curb Travel Anxiety Before A Trip, According To A Psychologist

Don't let your holiday make you anxious.
Travel anxietyBridesmaids (2011)

For some people, the anticipation of a much-looked forward to holiday also brings a dreaded sense of travel anxiety.

Whether it’s about the flight or being away from home, feeling anxious about travelling isn’t an uncommon experience.

With European summer (and those long-haul flights) upon us, we got Carly Dober, a psychologist from Enriching Lives Psychology, to break down exactly how to cope with travel anxiety before a trip.

Marilyn Monroe with her suitcase.

What Is Travel Anxiety?

Travel anxiety is understood to be anxiety that occurs before or during a trip away from home.

Carly describes the feeling as being about “the fear visiting a new or unfamiliar place” but it can also be “triggered by the stress of planning a trip.”

“Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in Australia, with anxiety disorders affecting about 17% of the population,” Carly explains.

“Travel anxiety is not a clinical term but Australians feeling anxious about travel has increased after COVID-19. ”

What Causes Travel Anxiety?

The reasons someone might experience travel are varied.

“For some people, their baseline anxiety levels increased and they are feeling more anxious about a range of things—including travel. For others, they haven’t travelled in a long time, or as frequently as they used to, so they’re out of practice about leaving home for an extended period of time,” Carly explains.

“For other people, the compounding pressures that have impacted many young Australians including rising inflation and the cost of living crisis have impacted their financial health, and there can be anxiety about general affordability and budgeting while overseas.”

For many people, travel anxiety also steams from anxiety about bad things that might happen while they’re away.

“People who might be vulnerable to developing trouble anxiety might have been in, or heard about car, motorcycle, boat, plane, or helicopter accidents that make them feel uneasy or panicked about travelling. They may have also heard about foreign illnesses, wars, civil breakdown, or natural disasters that have occurred in the towns or cities they are travelling to,” Carly says.

“All of these things can make people feel very uncomfortable and nervous about travelling, and can lead to to experiencing travel anxiety. People might also feel anxious about their trip not going the way they want to, or feeling pressured to have fun because of all the money, time and energy that has gone into the planning.”

How Do You Prepare For A Trip When You’re Prone To Travel Anxiety?

Travel anxiety
Cindy Crawford. (Credit: Getty)

Whether you’re experiencing travel anxiety for the first time or the sensation is new to you, you’ll know that travel anxiety can often spike in the lead up to a trip.

However, there are many things you can do to make the experience less anxiety-inducing.

“In the lead up to the flight, visualise yourself getting to the airport, dropping your bags off, passing through security, getting on the plane and getting to your destination safely,” Carly recommends, noting that “mentally imagining how the airport script plays out will prime you to fly successfully.”

Carly also suggests taking control of what you can—especially any to-dos that’s making you feel worried.

“Go over any last bits of information that you need, from any pet care that needs to be organised. to finalising any travel insurance and checking in online so you don’t have to check in at the desks, as well as confirming your hotel reservations and transit plans.”

Another helpful tip is making sure that you’re prepared for the flight—especially if that’s the part of the trip that’s making you anxious.

“Pack your bag so it has anxiety reducing tools within reach,” Carly says.

“Consider loading your phone with your favourite music and podcasts, pack a book to read or some colouring books to draw in, have snacks if you need them and stay away from caffeine as this will flood your body with excess energy that you don’t need right now.”

“Consider downloading some meditation apps or podcasts to support you, and if you are going on a long haul flight—ensure to bring a neck pillow, eye mask, and earplugs. Think about all the things that help you to feel cosy and comfortable, and know that the flight is also a mechanism to get you closer to your destination where you’ll hopefully have fun, see new things & have a break.”

Lastly, Carly says that it’s important to speak to your doctor if you think you might need anti-anxiety medication.

How Do You Stay Calm On A Flight?

Travel anxiety.
(Credit: Getty )

For many people, the flight itself is the cause of travel anxiety.

If you find yourself feeling nervous about flying, Carly recommends starting with breathing.

“It’s important to engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing. It is really difficult to stay calm when your body is flooded with excitatory chemicals.”

“If you’re worried about plane or crashes, remind yourself of probability versus possibility. It is always a possibility that something bad will happen, but the probability is quite low.”

For those who get anxious on the flight because of the holiday to come, Carly recommends inviting some perspective into your thinking.

“If you are worried about money, remind yourself of the resources you have available, and who you could contact if you needed to while away. If you are worried about getting lost, download some data free apps that have city maps built into their design so you aren’t reliant on WIFI.”

“Try to connect with your ‘why’. Why did you want to go on a trip in the first place? Is there anything that could also be exciting about going away? Are there positives to you going away”

“I also encourage people if they are travelling with friends our loved ones to share that they might be feeling a bit anxious on the flight. Engaging in conversation can be a really helpful distraction, and can make time pass quickly. Talk to yourself with kindness, too. Sometimes when people are anxious they can be really hard on themselves – can you comfort yourself in a way that you would comfort a friend or a loved one using strength based affirmations such as ‘… I am feeling uncomfortable and this feeling will pass in time… I have experienced anxiety before and I can get through this… I am anxious and I am also excited about what adventures are to come…’

You can find Carly on her website and Instagram.

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