Do you love to see new places but hate the process of getting there? As a seasoned traveler with a insatiable case of wanderlust, I understand. I’ve been to Asia twice, to Europe a few times, and to Central and South America. And without fail, my travel anxiety always kicks in. Specifically, I have a fear of flying. And it’s not just a fear, it’s pretty much a full-blown phobia.
I had my first panic attack on a plane when I was 19 years old, and ever since, I’ve been scarred. The plane took off, and as I looked out the window, I suddenly felt a wave of panic wash over me. My heart was beating fast, I felt dizzy, like I could barely breathe, and experienced a sense of sheer panic that I’d never felt before in my life. Yet, I love to travel, so I’ve had to learn ways to cope with my travel anxiety. And I’m here to tell you it’s possible: I’ve been to India, Peru, Bali, Iceland—all over the world–and all since my first panic attack on a plane.
It turns out many people are anxious travelers and flying isn’t the only fear that travel can bring up. I’ve traveled alone for months at a time, which brings up the fear of navigating a new place far from home where I don’t really know the language, and there isn’t anyone I love nearby to come help me out. The logistics of travel can be wearying too, from missing your connection to losing your bags to making sure you have the right travel paperwork and visas in place.
As someone who has a phobia around flying and faced many fears of traveling alone (and haven’t let them stop me from traveling the world), I can share some tried and true tips on how to reduce fear when traveling. The most important thing for me to remember is that the joy of being in a new place far outweighs any uncomfortable feelings I may have getting there. I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me!
What to pack
First, for any trip, I always make a detailed packing list (mostly because I love lists!), and packing ahead prevents me from scrambling last minute. There are certain things I pack specifically for my travel anxiety, like: earplugs, an eye mask, a neck pillow, a small blanket, comfy socks, a good book, and my laptop with shows to watch. This might sound incredibly high-maintenance, but I’ve found that making myself as comfortable as possible can really reduce my anxiety. And it helps to be able to tune out what’s going on around me and throw an eye mask on to get through the travel experience.
What to do the night before travel
Do something relaxing
This is, by far, the best way I’ve found to cope with travel anxiety. The night before I fly, I always make sure my bags are packed and I’m ready so I can take some time to relax. I’ll take a bath, read a book, go for a walk, watch a movie—whatever feels the most relaxing and calming to me at the time.
Get good sleep
When we’re tired, it’s easier to feel grumpy and stressed out. By getting good sleep the night before I travel, I know I’m more likely to feel better overall. If I have to wake up early for a flight, I’ll go to bed earlier. Making sleep a priority is huge in dealing with travel anxiety.
What to do en route
Listen to calming music
I make a travel playlist with songs I could fall asleep too. Nothing loud or jarring, just soothing, relaxing tunes to put my mind at ease. It’s also helpful to listen to a meditation if you can, too. Getting into a meditative mindset keeps anxiety at bay.
Drink water and have snacks on hand
Any time I fly, I always make sure to pack some snacks I love and to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated and keeping hunger away really helps me maintain a more calm frame of mind. I know when I’m hangry, everything gets worse, including my travel anxiety.
Finally, there’s absolutely no reason to be a hero and totally suffer while you travel. If your travel anxiety gets really bad, talk to your doctor who may be able to prescribe you something, like a beta blocker or strong antihistamine, to help cope with jitters. Along with everything I’ve tried, sometimes it’s nice to have more options in your travel toolkit.
Originally published on October 4, 2018.