Travel and Anxiety: Coping with Excessive Worry

TravelPersonal Development

September 10, 2018 4 min read

Let me start off by saying that I am a Virgo, and true to my sign, I worry about every little detail. I obsess over all the what-ifs, all the worst case scenarios.

Planning for the first trip across the ocean that I would be taking as a grown up where it was all on me, the planning as well as the consequences of anything that may go wrong, was enough to trigger some pretty intense anxiety for me.

I went through several consecutive nights of insomnia and days of indigestion when I started worrying about all the things that could go wrong. And there are a lot of them!

On the return flights home, I booked a couple of separate flights on different airlines with only a two hour layover. I wish I had known better at the time (again, first time doing this on my own), but I wouldn't get a refund if I cancelled. So I had to deal with the anxiety about the tight connection.

Here is what I did to cope and move on with my life leading up to the trip:

  1. Realize what was and was not under my control. I couldn't change the flights. I could try to improve my chances at making the connection.
  2. Ask myself what the worst case scenario would be, how I would handle it, how bad it would be in the big picture, and how likely it was to happen. This process was very anxiety producing, but working through it and facing my fears helped make them not appear as large and daunting when they were no longer unknowns. There were times when my mind would bring up new obstacles, new problems, and I would have to go through this process again and again.
  3. Research how to improve my odds. I worked through every detail of how the connection would work and what would make it better. I purchased priority boarding with the arriving flight so we would be the first off the plane and had the best chance of being hand baggage only. I purchased Premium Passport Control and Premium Security at Gatwick to help speed up those processes. Taking action with what I could control to improve my chances helped ease my mind.

I also did a lot of reading before the trip about every aspect of the destination, the sights, culture, transportation, you name it.

I learned that pickpockets were a big problem in large Italian cities. So I thought through the worst case scenarios: stolen passports, credit cards, and phones. I then researched ways of mitigating the risk: how to make my purse harder to steal or zip open, getting a money belt for the really, really important stuff.

I read a lot and I created a lot of lists planning for the trip. I found that for me, thr best way to handle the anxiety of all the unknown possibilities was to plan more, learn more, prepare more. The more prepared I felt, the more in control I felt. The more in control I felt, the calmer I remained.

Planning and preparing enough to ease my mind did mean spending more of my tight budget just to feel better. There were extra costs for priority boarding and purchasing locks and money belts and international cellphone plans in case of emergency. There were extra costs to hiring a pet sitter for half an hour twice a day for the cat instead of once a day or shorter time periods because of anxiety over his emotional wellbeing while we are away. Someone with tighter finances could become discouraged, and I totally get that! I was fortunate to be able to make some "worth it" purchases to ease my mind.

The thing about travel is that there are risks, and some pretty big ones too. Things can and do go wrong. But most of the time, things go right and travel can be incredibly rewarding. I have found that for someone prone to travel anxiety, the key is to be as prepared as possible, and then embrace being outside my comfort zone. Try to be adaptable and be willing to go outside the plan if necessary. Try to live in the moment and leave the anxiety for when the bad stuff actually happens, if it ever does.

Do you get travel anxiety? I certainly don't feel like I've got it "handled," but I take it one day at a time and work through it, and most days I do beat it back enough to look forward to travelling. What other tips do you have?


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