When people say they love flying, I have to wonder why. What’s so fun about suspending yourself in the middle of the sky in what’s essentially a soup tin wired to a lot of electricity? And when they say the idea of going on an adventure makes them really excited, again I wonder – how? See, the ‘unknown’ to me is scary AF. I travel with anxiety – and a whole heap of it. If I don’t know what’s going to happen, or I’m pushed out there into sponteneity, my anxiety rears its fugly head.
I’m the kind of ‘unknown’ hater who, when driving somewhere new for the first time, absolutely has to look up the route on Google Maps beforehand. And when I say ‘look up’, I mean follow the road on street view from start to finish to check if there’s any weird junctions or massive roundabouts. That way, I can be prepared for anything.
Travelling with me will almost always end up with you being my carer – sometimes literally holding my hand through things. ‘What if the train suddenly changes destination?!’, I’ll cry at you with horror in my eyes. ‘What if we get to the hotel and they don’t have a record of our booking and then the police escort us out?!’, I’ll wail as you wonder how I actually function as a fully-grown adult. But that’s anxiety – it turns me into a quivering (and mostly nauseous) wreck.
You don’t get to be a travel blogger without actually travelling though, so over the years I’ve picked up some pretty useful habits for making travel with anxiety that little bit easier – whether it’s long haul or just long ass commutes. Next time you’re heading out, take note of these tips.
Trick yourself into controlling your breathing
It’s easy enough to tell people to concentrate on their breathing, but when you’re in the midst of a panic attack the last thing your brain wants to do is chill out with a bit of meditation. So I figured out if I concentrate on something else, my breathing kinda just figures itself out. I always have a pack of mints in my bag – so when I feel an attack starting to rise, I start to eat one and concentrate on the flavour. Tricking myself into thinking ‘ooh, mint really calms me down’, seems to make my breathing sort itself out. It’s kind of a placebo, but it works. The same could work with those Rescue Remedy capsules.
Minimise disruptions with an eye mask and earplugs
This only really works on long haul flights and train/bus journeys – unless you don’t mind standing on a packed tube with a Minnie Mouse eye mask on. When you’re prone to anxiety attacks, it helps to imagine yourself some space. And when you’re sat in cattle class on a flight, that ain’t easy. So on long haul flights I wash my make-up off with a face wipe, whip on an eye mask to block out my surroundings, listen to calming music to ignore screaming babies, and imagine I’m sitting in the middle of a huge, sunny park enjoying the gentle breeze. Horrible plane stress be gone!
Quite simply, pack lightly
Do you really need to take five pairs of shorts in different colours? Are straighteners and a curling wand absolutely necessary? Confident you’ll be alright with a suitcase, backpack and satchel? The more you carry around with you, the more stressful you’re going to find travelling – especially if you’ll be moving hotels frequently. The same goes for smaller journeys – the more bags you carry around with you, the more flustered in crowds you’ll be and the more anxious you’ll get about remembering to pick them all up.
Do your research in advance
If your anxiety feels at its worst when you find yourself bowling through hundreds of ‘what ifs’ and getting worried about consequences, it’s worth doing plenty of research before you set off for your trip. Not sure about the laws or culture of the place you’re visiting? Unsure about how many stops on the train there are until you need to get off? Haven’t a clue if your booked activities are safe and worth the money? Google it. All of it. You’ll feel much calmer knowing what to expect and it’ll help keep those questions nagging at the back of your mind at bay.
Don’t skip meals
Nausea is a pretty huge side effect of my anxiety. If I feel the slightest bit worried about something, my appetite is the first thing to go. When I’m in the throes of a panic, food is the last thing on my mind and I start to worry about throwing up in public places. You can also get lost with your soggy in-flight mushroom pasta, airlines. But I’ve discovered that, strangely, potato-based foods are a neutral for me. So, I always make sure I take crisps onto the plane. It’s so important to eat properly when travelling though, so try your hardest to avoid skipping meals.
Take it step-by-step
Remember that Friends episode where Chandler freaks out about getting married and Ross convinces him to take the day a little at a time? That shit really works, especially when you feel overwhelmed with your internal anxiety monster. Thinking about the journey in its entirety seems impossible, but break that down into manageable bits and you’ll get there. If you’re worried about the flight, just think about it one step at a time. Getting to the airport, going through security, boarding, taking off, entertainment, in-flight meal, more entertainment, landing. Don’t think past the step you’re in at that moment and you won’t overwhelm yourself with worry.
So there you have it: just a few of my tried-and-tested tips for travelling with anxiety. Travelling opens you to new experiences and cultures, so of course will trigger any issues. But dealing with panic attacks gets you one step closer to overcoming your fears. They really go hand in hand. Be rest assured these tricks will help you enjoy travel that bit more.
Good luck and let me know if these tips made a difference for you.
Also published on Medium.