There was a time in my life when I could honestly say that I was scared of everything. I couldn’t watch a scary movie, roller coasters gave me panic attacks, and even a dark cloud in the sky could give me heart palpitations. Would it surprise you to learn that the same girl (me) is now traveling around the world completely by herself? Well, it’s the truth. I am up for a roller coaster any day, thunder storms don’t make me bat an eyelash, and…okay, so I still need to watch Stranger Things with a friend in broad daylight, but…you get the point.
That’s not to say that I don’t still struggle with anxiety. Far from it, actually. I just have learned coping mechanisms so that my fear doesn’t stop me (or rarely stops me) from doing the things I want to do. That’s why I always tell anyone who tells me that they “could never do what I do” that if they truly want to, there’s nothing to stop them from doing what I do. After all, if this scaredy cat can travel the world, why not you?
If you’re a fellow scaredy cat, or just get a bit of travel anxiety, here are some tips to help you chill out:
No, you don’t have to be a yogi to be able to benefit from one of its’ tenets, pranayama (basically, breathing). There are many different ways to use the breath to calm the mind, but here are a few of my favorites:
This is a trick that my aunt taught me back when I was 11 and absolutely terrified of thunderstorms (or, really, even the slightest breeze). Still in moments of panic I revert back to this simplest of breathing techniques. Inhale slowly on a count of 4, hold the breath in for a count of four, exhale on a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and then repeat the process. This focus on slowing down both the breath and the mind works wonders when you are suffering from obsessive thoughts.
If you’re in a particularly frustrating situation, and when you travel there are bound to be at least a few, try this cooling breath. It’s called Sitali or Sitkari, depending on the method, and it’s especially useful in warm climates. I know I can get a little more easy to anger when I’m also standing in the blazing sun in the heat of the day. Here is the basic practice of Sitali: Exhale completely through the nose. Curl the tongue “hot dog style” and stick your tongue out. When you inhale through your mouth, feel as though you are sucking in cool air from a straw. Then close your mouth and exhale through your nose. See this article by Yoga International for a more in depth explanation. Taking a sip of cool water and holding it in your mouth before you can say anything rude also works!
Take it Easy on Yourself
If you’re like me and get easily overwhelmed by new things, people and situations, you’re going to travel differently than other people. It’s okay to not go out every night or have to take a day off of being a tourist to lounge in your room watching Netflix. It’s not worth traveling if you’re miserable the whole time! Don’t feel guilty for practicing extra self care when you travel.
Keeping on top of any routines you have at home will be super important as well. If you regularly wake up at a certain time and do certain things to start your morning routine, keep it up as best you can while you travel. Things will get a little out of whack with time zone differences and being in transit, but do your best to stick to your routines.
On top of being a scaredy cat, I am also a Type A perfectionist who likes to see and do everything (preferably with a carefully curated itinerary for the perfect way to spend 3 days in such and such city). I have learned to let go of this need for planning (to a certain extent) but I still have a fierce guilt when I don’t get to see and do everything that you “must do” when you visit a new place. Something that helps me assuage my guilt is by telling myself that I will come back. I write down all the places that look cool when I’m exploring, and then I know when I go back where I will head to first. Even if realistically, I will never make it back to all the places I’ve been, it helps me to feel like I don’t have to see absolutely everything.
Make Anywhere You Are Feel Like Home
When you’re spending every other night in a new bed, as I sometimes do while traveling, it’s important to make wherever you are feel like home. Pack a small bag full of things that help you feel at home wherever you are. That may mean something different for you. For me I pack some of my crystals and stones from my travels, a mini tarot card deck, a pretty journal, essential oils, a bundle of sage to smudge in rooms with bad energy, my favorite herbal teas, and I’ve even been known to bring a travel sized candle!
Some of those things may seem trivial and unworthy of packing to some people, but for me they help me feel comfortable no matter where I spend the night.
Choose the Right Accommodation
Certain accommodation options may make you more anxious than others. Each option has its pros and cons. Only you can decide what’s right for you, but here are a few tips.
This can be an amazing option for someone who wants the comfort of home in an unfamiliar place. It’s an obvious choice to stay in an Airbnb when you have more than one or two people in your group, but I also recommend it for solo travelers. I have stayed in a private room in someone’s apartment, so I still get to socialize if the apartment owner is up to it. But I’m still paying, so when I want my own space and privacy it’s easy to come by. I have met many locals this way and it’s always fun to see how people actually live in the places you travel to! It eases my mind to know that I have control over checking reviews beforehand to make sure that I will be comfortable with my accommodation situation.
Don’t just think of dingy, dirty 16 bed dorm rooms when you think of a hostel! There are some truly beautiful, comfortable design hostels around the world to check out. It may take a bit more searching, but you can find some unique hostels when you travel. Many hostels nowadays have private room options, which is perfect for someone who wants to socialize but also needs their privacy. Hostels are a great place to meet other travelers, obviously, and what eases my mind the most is hearing travel stories and realizing that the world isn’t such a scary place after all.
This would be the obvious choice for anxious travelers, as it’s often looked upon as the most risk-free option. I’m all about the occasional hotel stay when my budget allows for it! It can be a nice way to insert some comfort into your travels. After all, hotels around the world are more or less the same. It’s sometimes nice for the anxious traveler to take a break from experiencing new things and situations.
Tips for Getting Through Flights
One of the top anxiety-causing elements of travel is often flying and even non-anxious people may suffer from a fear of flying. Even though taking a flight is extremely safe, and generally nothing to worry about, we have all sorts of neuroses surrounding air travel. Some people feel anxious in the hours leading up to their flight. Will they get through security okay? Cut it too close to boarding time? Some are cool, calm and collected when it comes to getting to the airport and onto the plane, but when faced with the slightest turbulence become inconsolable. Others just hate the entire ordeal! No matter which type of flyer you are, I have a tip for you.
If you worry about getting to and through the airport in a timely manner, make sure you leave extra time before your flight. Maybe even a little too much time. It will be worth it to you to minimize anxiety despite having the added inconvenience of waiting longer at the gate. If you are traveling with a non-anxious traveler who finds your methods a bit silly, remind them that the alternative is you being upset and not enjoying the travels you’ve worked so hard to enjoy. It’s also worth noting that an anxious traveler is not especially fun to be around, and it’s in their best interest to cooperate!
If you suffer from in-flight anxiety, first take a look at the first tip to calm yourself with breathing. Another tip is to think of turbulence like bumps in the road in a car or bus. If tricking your mind doesn’t work, you can use essential oils to physically calm down. You can buy an anti-anxiety blend in stores, or make your own with lavender and other calming essential oils. If all else fails, I have assuaged some of my fears by talking to a flight attendant. Most are quite good at dealing with anxious travelers, and can assure you that every bump and noise is perfectly normal.
Know That Everything is Always Working Out For You
This isn’t to say that everything is always going to be easy, or pleasant, or fun. It only means that whatever happens in life is happening for you, even if it’s not how you expected. If any bumps in the road come along (and there are almost guaranteed to be bumps if you’re traveling) just ride them out. This is the mantra I repeat to myself when I feel anxious while traveling: ‘Everything is always working out for me.’ Try it and you might find that things miraculously start sliding into place.
So there you have it, my 6 best tips for the anxious traveler. Do you have any tips to make travel less scary? Leave them in the comments!