Friday, 24 August 2018

Travel Anxiety & Tips For Overcoming It

When I think about my anxiety and the worries it's brought to me over the years, one of the stand out and consistent ways in which it manifests itself is through travel and the planning, unfamiliarity and adventure that comes with it. I've struggled not only with the idea that anxiety has held me back from going to so many places on my bucket list, but also that it's guaranteed to make an appearance on the trips that I have mentally prepared myself for and booked- it's a bit of a never ending cycle. Over the past few years I've seen friends travel to far flung corners of the earth on gap years, interrail over the summer months or book spontaneous trips abroad for a long weekend, all of which have culminated to a longing to overcome my travel anxiety and cease the moment whilst I'm young. Whilst I'm not quite in the habit of jet setting and continent hopping just yet (mainly thanks to my student budget but hey ho) I HAVE managed two trips abroad this year and feel beyond proud of myself for taking control of my anxiety and heading to two places that I've longed to  visit for years.

The photos in this post are a few snippets from my time in Corfu back in June with Scott and it brings me so much joy to look back through them and remember the gorgeous time we had in the sunshine. Below are some of my tips for battling through travel anxiety so that you can not only book the trips you so desperately want to go on, but also to help you through the holiday or city break once you're there! It can sound trivial to someone who doesn't suffer with anxiety, after all, holidays are meant to be fun (!), but in reality the unfamiliarity and change in environment can be hugely triggering if you feel most comfortable at home. I hope these tips are helpful for future trips away and be sure to let me know any coping mechanisms you've found work well for you too!  

For me, one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety is uncertainty, last minute changes or not having a plan in mind in advance that I can familiarise myself with- especially in an uncertain environment when everything is new and different. In order to manage these feelings when I'm away, I try to plan as much of the trip in advance as possible so that I have a clear idea of the places we'll be visiting, restaurants that look delicious and also take a look at public transport and the best ways to get around- this is especially helpful if you're going on a city break!

On a trip to Amsterdam a couple of years ago, Scott printed out some A3 Google Maps of the main areas of the city in order for us to circle and map out (literally) the different places we wanted to visit which not only made it much easier once we were there, but also helped calm my nerves a little in advance! It's a great way to get organised and make the most of your time away, but I've also found it beneficial in helping me feel excited about the trip and all the fun things I have planned which is great for counteracting any niggling anxiety that might appear in the run up to going away.

My favourite way to plan a trip and the sort of things we want to see beforehand is by using Instagram and Twitter to find recommendations, as well as read alllllll the travel blogs and TripAdvisor to get the lowdown on must-sees and areas to miss out too! The Instagram Geo Tag feature is great for scouting restaurants and foodie recommendations as well as photography inspo if you're one that likes to capture everything on holiday! Whether you like to plan things down to the minute details (I'm talking a colour coded Excel Spreadsheet) or you'd rather have a general idea of your itinerary, taking some time before going away to plan your days is a surefire way to reduce any anxiety and prevent mishaps or wasting time whilst away!

Now you might be thinking, it's all well and good making a plan for whilst you're away, but how are you going to actually get to your destination. I feel your pain. The act of flying, sailing (lol who I think I am), driving or getting the train on the way to your final destination (sounds very sinister, deffo not my intention) is another trigger for my anxiety that makes the process of going on holiday all the more difficult. Flying is my number one transport nemesis but is unfortunately involved in pretty much all of the destinations on my 'to visit' list meaning I've had to bite the bullet this year and find a method that works for me when I inevitably feel nervy before a flight.

For me it's all about distractions- the worst thing I could do on a flight is sit and think about how high up we are or all the potential for things to go wrong (which I'm always assured by everyone is v minimal so don't you worry!) meaning I'm always armed with a million and one things to do on any given flight. Some of my favourite distractions include: reading a good book (not one you've just bought though, I like to bring one I'm mid way through so that I can immediately get drawn into the story rather than the inevitable challenge of getting into it etc- maybe that's just me!), downloading a Netflix film to my iPad, listening to Spotify playlists or podcasts, eating alllll the snacks (a personal favourite), playing a game or chatting to the person I'm travelling with or even flicking through a magazine on the rare occasion that I buy one! I'm not going to lie, travelling by plane is still a bit of a nightmare for me, but having managed two holidays this year meaning four flights in total, I feel a million times better in myself knowing that I have plenty of options to distract myself en route.

I also would recommend either the aisle or window seat but definitely NOT the middle. Despite not particularly enjoying looking out of the window on landing or take off, it helped me a little to feel like I had my own area where I could hunch up to the window and welcome a little space to myself (RyanAir and EasyJet are obvs somewhat lacking in the leg room department) which definitely stopped me from feeling too claustrophobic. The aisle seat is also a perfect choice if you're prone to feeling travel sick or irritable when sat down for long periods of time because it means you can easily get up without disturbing anyone in the process! It's all about finding what works for you (I'm now an advocate of the eyes closed approach for take off until we're fully horizontal again) and keeping in your mind that however challenging the transport beforehand may be, it will all worthwhile once you step off the plane to the destination you've looked forward to for so long! 

Remind yourself that it's okay to take time out! Don’t put pressure on yourself to do everything on your list or feel bad if your anxieties get the better of you, travelling can be SO exhausting even for those who don’t struggle with mental illness so the fact you’re going on a trip and have made so many amazing plans is amazing in itself! When Scott and I were in Amsterdam I had a meltdown on our first evening there, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of travelling we had done that day and worrying about what the week would hold. Instead of focusing on that and letting it consume me, we just headed back to the hotel and ate some delicious Dutch biscuits before starting the next day afresh and with a new found energy and enthusiasm. 

Whatever kind of holiday you’re on, whether it be adventurous and jam-packed or a relaxing beach vibe, taking some time to do routine things like watching your favourite YouTuber or scrolling Instagram can really help ground you and give a sense of familiarity that is so often lost when you’re abroad and in new territory. Or if that means calling home and telling your mum about your trip or skipping dinner out for some snacks and a TV night at the hotel, I honestly don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to travel if whatever you do is in the best interests of your mental wellbeing. As I mentioned earlier, I love making lists and planning my trips, but at the same time try to keep in mind that this should just be a guideline for going away and not to beat myself up if timings go out the window or the weather ruins something. Keep some spontaneity and don't worry if you don't manage everything you set out to- the most important thing is having a good time!

Know what your triggers are and how to manage them. This only really comes with experience but if you know yourself and your anxiety quite well then taking steps to minimise the chances of having a panic attack or feeling iffy helps to protect yourself mentally from something going wrong. For example, one of my biggest worries when going away is not being able to find veggie food I can eat, struggling with the language barrier but above all, getting lost. to help with these sorts of things I scour TripAdvisor for hourssss in advance for vegetarian eateries, look up any phrases I think may be important to know or have written down and do my research into public transport and how we’re going to get from A-B. It all comes down to knowing yourself and what makes you feel comfortable and letting those that you're travelling with be aware of this too- it's always so much easier knowing you have the support and understanding of those that you're travelling with so don't be afraid to speak up if something is making you anxious.

And last but not least, HAVE FUN. So many of the things I get anxious about in the lead up to a trip never happen because anxiety makes me one hell of an overthinker, so once you've made it to your destination try to relax and enjoy the trip you've worked so hard for! If you're finding the run up to going away to be tough, jot down a list of reasons you're looking forward to going or the places you're most excited to visit and refer back to it as and when you need to as a reminder that it will all be worthwhile in the end!

I really hope this post has been helpful to anyone contemplating booking a trip or if you already have something in the diary- these techniques have helped me so much on my trips to Barcelona and Greece this year and so I hope they're of use to you too! You got this <3
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