That flip in your stomach. Those sweaty palms. The feeling when your breath catches. Anxiety has a way of making itself known even when you’re trying to tamp it down. And as much as we wish our vacations were just a blissed-out state of poolside mimosas, hammock time, and touring majestic sights, we know there’s also plenty of stress that comes with travel. Whether you’re a nervous flier, insecure about foreign places, or just prone to panic, these tips can help. Below, we list a mix of practical steps to help you feel in control along with tried-and-true methods for relaxing and grounding yourself. Read on to ease your mind.
Before the Trip
1. Try to reframe any feeling of anxiety. Instead of saying, “I’m nervous about this trip,” say, “I’m excited about this trip.” Labeling jumpy, jittery feelings in a positive light can actually reduce your stress, and it’s backed by science.
2. Consider taking a 72-hour break from the news before you leave home, sparing yourself the constant turmoil. (The nonstop churn of our political situation will still be there when you’re back from your trip.)
3. Forward the confirmation emails from your airline and hotel to three loved ones, so they’re aware of where you’ll be and can reach you with ease.
4. Immerse yourself in travel inspiration to focus on all the positive reasons why you’re taking your trip, whether it’s a movie set in the place you’re visiting or a gorgeous slideshow.
5. Make a plan for someone to stop by your home while you’re away. Ask them to text or email you post-visit with an “all good”–or just a thumbs up emoji.
6. Have pets? Hire a pet sitter that’ll give daily updates on the well-being of your four-legged family member and send along plenty of fluffy photos! (A bonus stress-buster!)
7. Announce your travel plans on social media. Other people’s excitement about your travels will help shift your perspective toward the positive aspects of the trip, versus any stressful logistics.
8. Consider medication if you suffer from panic attacks. No shame in taking a prescription, and it can make the difference between traveling with ease and traveling with your heart in your throat. Benzodiazepine is a common medication that tamps down oncoming anxiety. Other prescriptions can lend a hand, too.
9. If you’re traveling to a non-English-speaking country, learn at least three phrases, including “Do you speak English?” Test them out on friends before you go, so you can get over any apprehension around pronunciation.
10. Learn the local emergency number for where you’re heading (i.e. the country’s 911). For example, in the United Kingdom, it’s 999.
11. Nervous that weather, medical needs, or (god forbid) an act of terrorism will mess up your trip? Travel insurance can give you some peace of mind that you won’t lose whatever money you’ve spent on reservations.
12. Solo travelers, nominate a close friend to be your texting buddy if and when your anxiety starts to creep up while out of town. (If you’re traveling internationally, consider WhatsApp, so you can stay in touch without texting surcharges.)
13. Reflect on past moments when you’ve successfully navigated travel hurdles — the airports, the public transportation, the languages. Keep those instances top of mind when you have doubts about your current trip.
14. Go public with your anxiety: Post about it on social media. You may be surprised by how many other people in your social circle suffer through this exact thing and can lend support and their own coping strategies.
15. Plan out everything for the first day of travel, from the transportation you’ll take to the hotel to the meal you’ll order at dinner. Research as many details as possible, so you can envision your arrival going smoothly.
16. Write down an emergency plan with a close friend or family member — both for an emergency you experience on the road or one that happens at home. Having a plan in place will help you know what steps to take in your worst-case scenario. This can also help you feel more confident about traveling when your life is in flux (e.g. a sick relative or workplace upheaval).
18. Think about hiring a guide for your first day in a new place. Meeting a friendly local and leaving the navigation to them will help you get oriented. It’ll also provide structure for that first day when you’ll feel the most lost. (The same applies for a hiring a local driver.)
Packing Tips and Helpful Things to Bring and Download
19. Last-minute packing scrambles can hike up your stress. Avoid a big rush and lay out your suitcase a week in advance, so you can pack and add things to it slowly.
20. Designate a specific pocket as your passport and wallet spot, so you can avoid that dreaded heart-plunging moment when you dig through all of your pockets thinking you’ve lost them.
22. Pack your pillowcase or other items that have the feeling of home and could help you relax and sleep in your hotel. (Feel free to pack any keepsakes or stuffed animals, too — we won’t judge.)
23. Download the map for the place you’re visiting, so you’ll always have it, even if you’re off-line with no cell signal or Wi-Fi.
24. Pack a door jam that you can use on your hotel room door. Knowing your door is doubly secure from intruders can help you feel safe in new surroundings and allow you to fall asleep.
25. Bring a mix of reading material to keep you distracted during any stressful moments. Load up on books and magazines. You can even download one-off articles using the Pocket app. This is the perfect time to read that think piece your friends have all emailed you.
26. Download entertaining, positive podcasts before you take off. (Our favorites include the Happier podcast and Judge John Hodgman.) These can come in handy when you’re trapped in the TSA line or strap-hanging on public transportation without a free hand.
27. Don’t forget a first-aid kit and bring along doubles of any of the medication or vitamins you take. It can also help to learn the foreign names for basic medicines when you travel abroad. Knowing aspirin is “aspirina” in Spanish is muy bueno, if you’re hitting up the local pharmacy when you’re unwell.
28. Loud conversations, crying babies, and beeping devices can fry your nerves, especially if you’re already jumpy. Invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones to limit any audio turbulence.
29. Look up the address and phone number for the American consulate, if you’re traveling internationally. Then, copy that info into your phone and/or on a slip of paper you can tuck into a pocket.
30. Scan your passport, ID, and credit card info and email it to yourself as an attachment. Should they be stolen, you can log into any computer and retrieve the info to contact the consulate, police, and/or your bank.
31. If you’re really out of your depths with the language, consider downloading a talking translator app, like the top-rated iTranslate, which can work off-line as well.
At the Airport and During the Flight
32. Using your phone as an alarm for an early morning flight? Choose something like gentle, soft chimes, versus the blaring “Beep! Beep! Beep!” The latter can be an electric jolt to start the day.
33. Set a backup alarm for any early flights, so you can sleep easy. Consider an old-school alarm clock like this one by Marathon, which has a bonus nightlight feature.
34. Don’t guess when it comes to travel time to the airport. Use Google Maps to calculate when you need to leave the house to head to the airport. Plug in the airport and get directions from your home address. Set the “arrive by” time. Then, add another 20 minutes of buffer time, just in case.
35. The rule of thumb for flying is to arrive at the airport two hours early for international flights and between 60 to 90 minutes for domestic ones. But consider cushioning your airport time even more. Having ample time to get a coffee, hit the bathroom, and collect any magazines or gum you might want will put you in a better state of mind.
36. If you have time before your flight, consider going for a run, doing yoga, or hitting the gym. Exercise is a good way to redirect any pent-up energy and sweat it out.
37. Lines can be a huge trigger for those with anxiety. One way to skirt them? Sign up for CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry, so you can avoid stewing in the TSA queue, wondering if you’ll make it to your gate on time.
38. Anxiety is often carried in the body. Do a body scan: Start from the top of your head and focus on each body part all the way down to your toes, working on relaxing and opening up any muscles that are tight and tense. Don’t forget the little squinting muscles around your eyes!
39. Nervous up in the air? Try watching calming YouTube videos that present flying as a soothing passage through the clouds. These also work pre-flight to help undo any associations of flying equaling turbulent bad times.
41. On a red-eye flight? Skip the drink cart. Although fun cocktails might seem like a good idea, alcohol can actually disrupt your ability to get a good night’s sleep and can heighten anxiety for some.
42. Breathing exercises can be a simple, helpful way to cope with any flight stress. Try running through a simple breathing exercise during takeoff or landing.
43. Journal your way through negative emotions. Writing down fears can go a long way toward dispelling them. Doodling and coloring can also be incredibly calming. (Who could be stressed while coloring in unicorns?)
44. On a layover? Allow yourself some splurges. A chair massage, a glass of wine, a massive Cinnabon — these things can move your brain away from negative thoughts and focus it on something positive.
45. Work out a mantra that you can repeat when your emotions are starting to swing out. A few simple phrases you could try: “I am calm,” “This will pass,” or “A bump in the road is normal.”
46. If turbulence is especially triggering for your anxiety, it can help to learn about it from a scientific standpoint and keep that knowledge in mind when the plane jerks around. Tell yourself, “Turbulence is just disturbed air masses.”
On the Ground and After
47. Don’t feel guilty about settling into a routine. Visiting the same coffee shop every day will give you a touchstone of something familiar when everything else is new and disorienting.
48. Do certain situations, such as crowded public transportation or an endless line at the museum, trigger a meltdown? Try to take a step back and consider it theoretically, as an anthropologist would. Doing that will give you some emotional distance from the situation and help you put things in a neutral place.
49. Make friends with the hotel staff. Learn the names of the front-desk clerks or bellhops, and feel free to tell them your whereabouts for the day, if it helps you feel secure. You can also save the hotel’s number as one of the contacts in your phone.
50. If your anxiety gets in the way of your enjoyment while you’re on the trip, consider hitting up a therapist on the go with Talkspace and working through some of your feelings that are keeping you from being in the moment.
51. After the trip, take a moment to reflect on your travels, and for every struggle, name three positive things. Linger on those positive memories and soak them in. (It’s scientifically proven that the brain needs extra help remembering good moments over bad ones!)
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