I love to travel.
It is an amazing thing, to sit in a seat with hundreds of others, feel the rumble of the tarmac under the wheels, hear the muted road of the engines as the plane picks up speed, and, while separated from the open air only by a piece of plastic, watch the world fall away.
It never gets old for me. That feeling of wonder that humans have overcome the bounds of gravity with technology. I feel it each time. Every. Single. Time.
However, I couldn’t and wouldn’t say that travel for me is easy.
I am going to admit that maybe……just maybe…..I am one of those people who tends to worry a bit.
Or a lot.
I would call myself a high functioning stress case.
My friends might call me something that starts with a B and ends with an itch. (While traveling. I guess during other times, too, LOL).
In my life, my worries and stressing out has resulted in high marks, excellent performance, accolades in school, and praise from employers.
In my personal life……not quite so much.
That’s where the daily struggle exists.
And travel, well, travel is a time and place where my anxiety and stress have rein to run if I let them.
After all, traveling takes you away from your comfort zone. The place where you know where everything is, who everyone is, what everything is.
I will be honest, traveling makes me anxious.
Home Sweet Home
In the home where you live, and lay your head to sleep every night, you don’t have to fight to find a bathroom.
Well, if you have kids you might not be able to get into the bathroom when you want, but at least you know where it is, and the status of the toilet paper. (Is there any, will it feel like wiping with aluminium foil, etc, etc).
In the place where you live, you don’t have to worry about being able to find food. Or consider each bite, wondering whether a particular forkful is going to result in 48 hours of clutching the base of a grimy hostel toilet.
Traveling pushes the limits of your comfort zone. As a result, people who tend to be anxious (or even those who don’t), may struggle to really immerse themselves in the experience, enjoy themselves, and ultimately, can fail to really get the most out of the trip.
As a seasoned traveler, I am no stranger to this. And now that I know I am my worst enemy while far away from home, understanding my weakness has been the key to overcoming it.
The Perils of Traveling
Here are some examples of why traveling makes me anxious:
1. Avoiding unfamiliar people in public places like pubs, restaurants, on tours, in hostels (meaning I miss out on the joys of connecting and sharing with people from around the world). I realize only after the fact that I have done this, and then kick myself for wasting an opportunity to chat with people who have a wealth and breadth of experiences that I want to know about.
2. Deciding against tours and experiences (even though other people are going) because of groundless fears of death, destruction, injury, theft, etc, etc ad infinitum. I like to control my situation as much as I can, and when you are on a tour, there is often very, very little that you can control. In many cases my friends and family go ahead with the tour, return home with tons of stories and photos, leaving me feeling sour at them for their betrayal of going without me.
3. Stressing myself out massively about the various practical aspects of getting from Place A to B (how will I get a cab, will I be able to find an ATM to get local currency, will my suitcase fit in the taxi, will the hostel be clean and safe), to the point of just wishing that I was back at home.
4. Letting my desire to confront and overcome the practical aspects of traveling (getting there) overwhelm the experience. (Meaning, being so focused on just getting to the hostel, that I fail to even look at the streets, consider stopping at something cool to see, snapping at my family or friends who want to stop or linger). In many cases, I make the experience less enjoyable, not only for myself, but also for my fellow travelers (very, very sorry about this everyone).
Ugh, it’s embarrassing to put this all to paper.
I refuse to give up on traveling.
And I refuse to give up on myself.
And I have to admit, that when I have gone on tours (or otherwise left my comfort zone), some bad things did happen (bus crashes, mudslide, breakdown, negative nancies, missed connections, bad food, no food, lost passport, stolen money). However, those experiences now make the best (and sometimes unbelievable) stories.
Those times when I said YES have been some of the best and most memorable experiences of my life.
And now, in my old age…
I recognize that to have a good trip, I need to harness my strengths, and overcome my weakness.
Yes, I am good at planning. At logistics. At getting from place to place. On time! (Always on time, I hate, hate, hate lateness!)
But I am bad about recognizing when I am overcome with my anxiety.
The first step is recognizing it.
I don’t have an anxiety detector. Or any sort of device or machine that slaps me in the face when I get out of control.
The only thing I can turn to is my strength.
Beat Anxiety With Effective Planning
I plan for my anxiousness.
I know that I am a bear in packing and getting to the airport.
I know that I am a beast when getting from the airport to the hostel/hotel.
I know that I hate crowds.
I know that new people intimidate me.
But my strength is in planning.
So I plan in advance for my weaknesses.
I make sure that I am packed in advance and that we leave early enough so I am not stressing about getting to the gate.
I research the transportation in advance so I know how we’ll be getting there (or even make reservations in advance).
I walk into places packed with tourists with the goal of talking to at least one new person.
When I am traveling with someone else, I pay close attention to their experience. I ask them what they want to do (rather than focus on my wants), and leave the trip open to do something spontaneous or outrageous, even if it means that my perfectly ordered day falls apart.
There are so many things you can do in advance to short circuit anxious thoughts.
I am a firm believer in strength and discipline of the mind. When you are an anxious person, it is hard to keep your thoughts in order. If you are not careful, they can run away with you, and leave you in a negative mental state that is difficult to turn around.
When I am traveling, I am doubly aware of how anxiety can ruin the trip and the experience, so I am on guard against negative thoughts. When I notice them, I banish them.
And I also take proactive steps to keep them from creeping in.
You might think it is silly, but I rely heavily upon positive affirmations while traveling.
Affirmations for Travel Anxiety
I am sure the term “affirmation” means more than I think it does.
I know from checking out the internet that there are thousands of websites that serve up positive affirmations. Many people believe that affirmations can help you lose weight. Make more money. Succeed in business. Be a better parent.
To my understanding, a positive affirmation is a statement that you can either say, think, read, or write down that helps keep your mind on track. That’s how I think about it, anyway. That’s how I use them.
There’s no ONE kind of affirmation.
Anyone can put together affirmations that will help them achieve their goals.
In this case, as it relates to traveling, you first need to examine where your struggles are. Where do those negative, anxious thoughts come in? When? What do they say to you? What is the outcome of those negative thoughts?
Then, you need to come up with a list of simple statements that you can put on in your mind, on repeat. You can say them, think them, read them, write them. You can start before you hit your trouble spot, or during when you recognize that you need them.
Example Affirmations for When Traveling Makes Me Anxious
- I have everything I need
- It doesn’t matter if we are not first
- There will be a place for my stuff
- My spouse’s enjoyment is more important than ________
- The plane is a marvel of technology
- I don’t need my phone
- I don’t have to worry about what that person thinks
- No one is looking at me
- I can enjoy myself
- I will enjoy myself
- This is normal
- I am safe
- I am secure
- Breathe In
- This fear I feel is a lie
- This trip is going to be amazing
You can look for “official” looking affirmations that sound pretty, like a psychologist wrote them just for you.
But honestly, I think the most effective affirmations, especially when we are talking about traveling, are tailored to you and experience. Just telling yourself over and over that “The Plane Is Not Going To Crash” isn’t enough.
Final Thoughts on Why Traveling Makes Me Anxious and How I Deal With It
Most likely, if you are sitting in your seat on the airplane and you are struggling to enjoy yourself, it is not about the plane crashing. It is about the 100 little things that you struggled with to get to the plane, and that you’ll struggle with once you get off the plane.
Breaking it down to the small individual things will make all the difference.
Maybe this isn’t something you can do in advance.
Maybe you need to take a journal with you on your next trip, and commit to dictate or writing down all the instances of where you brain goes sideways. When your mental disciplines takes a vacation of its own. When the anxiety bear rears its head.
I am confident that, if you take the time to examine where you go wrong, you will 100% find a way to make it go right.
I only wish that I had figured this out 20 years ago, when I stepped off the plane in a third world country, for the first time.
And that my friends, is another story entirely.