I’ve had an anxiety disorder for pretty much my entire adult life. Triggers of mine include crowds, social settings, absolutely nothing (this can be the worst), and, unfortunately, travel.
I guess it’s time for me to admit that I’m a travel blogger who has a panic attack before almost every trip I take. And, while it’s not easy, I decided long ago to not let my anxiety take away one of the things I love most in life.
If you have anxiety, you know that it’s not always rational. In line to get my passport stamped in the Philippines last month, I saw I only had 5 visa pages left, which led me to think that I’d need a new passport, which led to me to think that the money it would cost would prevent me from taking another trip, which led me to think I might run out of pages while I’m on a trip, which led me to think I’d end up in jail (which doesn’t even happen), which led me to have a panic attack. I’m told this is called “catastrophic thinking.”
High-anxiety situations while traveling include getting to the airport on time, budgeting, checking in, the boarding process, your luggage, interactions with other passengers, connections, language barriers, and the list goes on.
While not an all-encompassing list, here are some tips and tricks I found for traveling if you have a lot of anxiety:
- Get your own bedroom
Sometimes, you need your own space.
While group travel is a lot of fun, as is staying in hostels with strangers (most of the time), if you have social anxiety it can be hard to be around even your best friends all of the time. Knowing that you have a sanctuary you can escape to, an island of you, can really help calm your nerves.
It’s not always financially feasible to do so, but when looking up places to stay, consider finding somewhere that you’ll have some way to escape, be alone, and unwind at night.
So, you’re travelling, which means you can really just let yourself go, right? Well, you probably will. But there is tremendous value to working out while on the road. Exercising while you travel can decrease anxiety, help you sleep better, and make you feel less badly about downing that pitcher of margaritas that was supposed to be for the entire table.
3. Use your medicine
If you have an anxiety disorder, particularly if you’re an American, then you probably have a prescription to something. Traveling isn’t the time to come off of these medicines. Taking trips, even just for fun, can be incredibly stressful, and your anxiety can hit you at any time – whether it’s on the plane or on the beach.
If your New Year’s resolution is to ween yourself off of Xanax, then by all means do it, but wait until you aren’t on a trip to try it.
4. Carry-on luggage
Will the airline lose my bag? Will I have to pick up my luggage on a connection? Why did everyone else get their bag already except me? Did I remember to pack a toe nail clipper? These are anxiety-ridden questions which have likely popped in your head while you’ve traveled.
Bringing only carry-on luggage can help eliminate these and other checked-luggage related problems.
Bringing carry-on luggage can cause anxiety of its own, though, including not being able to bring the liquids that you want and worrying about whether there will be enough overhead space for your luggage. But I’ve found the latter is more tolerable, especially if you…
5. Travel on airlines and stay at hotels where you have status
This is another luxury that not all travelers have. But, if you travel often enough and have anxiety, you should consider trying for status with an airline or hotel because many of the benefits will decrease your anxiety.
For example, with United, Premier MileagPlus status gets you priority boarding (so you know there will be space for your overhead luggage) and complimentary access to Economy Plus seats when available, which will give you a little bit of additional space in an otherwise constricted area.
Hotel status can get you guaranteed late check-outs and early check-in times, which can decrease your anxiety about what to do with a late departure or a really early morning arrival.
6. Get credit cards for each major airline
If you can’t get status on an airline, the next best (and sometimes even better) thing you can do is get a credit card for an airline. In addition to the sweet sign-on bonuses they offer (sometimes well over 50,000 miles), airline credit cards often get you priority boarding, which can help to get your situated on the plane with your luggage set much earlier on in the boarding process.
Some credit cards, such as United’s, come with free lounge passes to use, which is another way to help decrease your anxiety during travel – both because of the added space and the easier access to booze (which is unfortunately not always free in airline lounges).
7. Tell your travel partners about it
If you’re traveling with friends – or strangers that you just met but plan on continuing your trip with – let them know that you get anxious sometimes. When you’re with someone who doesn’t know you have anxiety, you can freak out even more when you do start to have an attack.
Even if someone doesn’t have anxiety, they likely already know someone who does. And even if not, it’s worth letting someone know that you’re prone to it and explaining to them what it does sometimes. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, and by letting your travel partners know you have anxiety issues, you may end up reducing the chances of having any issues.
8. TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
I saved the best for last.
If you don’t already have TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, particularly if you take a fair amount of international trips, go and get it. It is worth every single penny that you will spend on it, and the hassle of signing up.
Do you know what it’s like to fear the line at immigration? I don’t anymore (at least, not in America). Do you hate going through security? I do, too, but it takes 1/4 of the time and I get to keep my shoes on.
I can’t tell you how many panic attacks TSA PreCheck and Global Entry have saved me, but I’m guessing it’s a lot.
Finally, probably the best piece of travel advice I’ve received was from my friend Bob who told me, “If you forget something, don’t worry. There are stores wherever you go.” This mantra has saved me from so many panic attacks, and it’s a good thing for any anxious traveler to remember before their trip.