8 Ways to Reduce Travel Anxiety, According to Therapists
Professionals say you can take some stress out of your next trip with these simple steps.
At its best, travel is supposed to be an exciting way to escape it all by allowing you to set off and explore new corners of the world or take a much-needed break from your busy schedule. But even though stepping away from the routine of everyday life can be invigorating, it's also a big departure from your comfort zone, making even the most carefree trips a stress-inducing experience for some individuals. Fortunately, you can still get away while decreasing the toll that transit can take on your mental health. Read on to find out what therapists say are the best ways to reduce travel anxiety.
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Try to get as organized as possible.
No one plans a trip expecting the logistics to eventually become too much to handle. But once you've booked your airfare, reserved your hotel, and selected a rental car, all of the pieces can feel like they add up to a lot of moving parts—not to mention all of the pre-departure obligations you might have to tend to. That's why therapists say it's best to get organized to help regain a sense of control.
"It's important to be well-prepared for your journey ahead of time," Kym Tolson, a psychotherapist and owner of TheTravelingTherapist.com, tells Best Life. "This includes making sure that all your necessary documents are in order and booking any necessary reservations or accommodations. It also involves doing some research about your destination so that you have a general idea of what to expect when you arrive."
You can also stay ahead of travel stress by organizing your plan of action. "Make a list of everything you need to pack or have on hand before the trip and then check off items as you pack them," says licensed therapist Jocelyn Hamsher. "Have your itinerary, confirmation emails, boarding passes, and other important information readily accessible on your phone—and maybe even a paper copy if you want to be a little extra."
"It helps to know where everything is at all times," Hamsher adds. "Staying organized will help ease anxiety because you don't have to worry that you forgot anything and that everything is where it should be."
Keep your mind distracted.
Travel anxiety tends to build over time and reach its peak when your mind becomes fixated on things that are likely out of your control. Fortunately, there are plenty of tried and true techniques to keep yourself from spiraling deeper into stress while in transit.
"Using a fidget [spinner] helps tremendously with getting your mind off of travel anxiety," Y. Mimi Ryans, a licensed therapist and owner of the Lighthouse Center for Therapy & Play, says. "Also, using breathing and mindfulness techniques to calm your body and mind. Other distractions such as reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to calming music will also help reduce stress levels."
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Avoid traveling at certain times.
We don't always have the luxury of choosing exactly when we travel, especially if you're trying to make it to family or loved ones during a major holiday. But experts say that picking the right itinerary can make the process of getting to where you need to be much less anxiety-inducing.
"It is generally advisable to avoid traveling during peak travel times or other high-stress situations, such as rush hour traffic or crowded airports," says Tolson. "Additional strategies also usually involve searching for alternative routes when traffic gets bad or knowing how to manage unexpected expenses if something comes up that you didn't plan for."
Bring along dedicated materials to help calm yourself down.
Even though every trip starts with the hope you'll get to where you need to go on time, there's nothing wrong with taking a moment to slow down your racing mind while en route. Fortunately, it's never been easier to access materials that can specifically help you relax, no matter how you're traveling.
"Using guided meditations, grounding exercises, or listening to calming music when you are feeling especially distressed or anxious can help reregulate you or even distract you," says licensed therapist Taylor Gautier. "There are tons of apps, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Spotify playlists dedicated to these practices. Make sure to research them and download your favorites before your trip, so you can easily access the most helpful ones even if you are abroad or on an airplane."
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Understand what triggers your anxiety.
While the overall process of packing your bags and getting on the road can induce anxiety, there are typically specific moments that can bring on a serious wave of stress. Experts say that identifying exactly what sets you over the edge can be a vital step toward tackling the issue head-on.
"Doing your best to figure out what the anxiety trigger is before your trip can help you implement skills to reduce your anxiety when you need it the most," Gautier tells Best Life. "Some common ones are air travel, crowds of people, or visiting unfamiliar places. Like with fires, we want to prepare with 'drills' before the actual emergency, you can do this by practicing skills before your trip, in low-stress times, which will allow them to feel like second nature when you need to access them most."
Prepare a positive mindset before you get on the road.
Just like our physical well-being, mental health requires a tried and true plan that's best suited to your individual needs. Experts say that it's possible to set yourself up for success by focusing on behaviors and habits that can help you feel more grounded and prepared overall.
"One of the most important things you can do is to stay calm and maintain a positive mindset," says Tolson. "When we become anxious about traveling, it can cause us to feel physically unwell and act in detrimental ways. It's important to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally before traveling—exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, and getting plenty of sleep will help keep your mind and body relaxed and calm. Ultimately, by being proactive in reducing the sources of anxiety around travel, you can enjoy your trip with less stress and more confidence."
Seek support before and during your trip.
Even with careful planning, travel anxiety can still be too much for some people to bear without some outside support. In these cases, seeking out qualified help can be the best answer for helping you get through difficult moments and addressing the issues in the long term.
"If you're worried about suffering from anxiety while traveling, be sure to work with a therapist for support before your trip," Carly Claney, PhD, a licensed psychologist based in Seattle, tells Best Life. "Additionally, there are many online resources and support groups available for people with anxiety disorders. Knowing that you will be able to reach out for help when you need it may help you have the confidence to pursue things that you want to do—even when they're scary!"
Work on your anxiety over time.
Like many aspects of mental health, anxiety issues may come and go over time, and each person processes their own treatment of it differently. In some cases, it can be best to slowly navigate what causes you stress and address them over time. And while no magic bullet for getting rid of travel anxiety exists, experts suggest that tackling it bit by bit can be the best way to make meaningful progress in putting it behind you.
"Through careful use of exposure therapy, you can decide how to break down what makes you anxious into steps," licensed therapist Stephanie Gilbert says. "For example, maybe flying makes you anxious, so you choose the first trip you take based on what's an hour direct flight rather than the trip with three connecting flights. Once you take the shorter flight, the next trip you can build on that progress and fly a longer distance."