I recently traveled out of the country for TWO FULL WEEKS, which I had never done before. Prior to the trip, I constantly felt the need to tell everyone how excited I was and how amazing my trip would be. Who wants to hear: “I am extremely anxious about traveling and potentially feeling homesick.”? Of course, my closest friends, doctor, and family knew how I was feeling, but I wasn’t really sure how others would respond. I felt that people would judge me or label me as “negative,” “weird” or “ungrateful” for feeling apprehensive and unsure about my travels.
About 9 days into the trip, I felt anxious and just wanted to go home. I wanted to be with my cat, have my normal routine, and be in my comfortable, safe and familiar world...And while certainly I struggled with my feelings of anxiety and homesickness when I “should” have been enjoying myself, I realized that it was possible to have an amazing time and create spectacular memories, while at the same time, experiencing feelings of unease, discomfort and anxiety during times of change and unfamiliarity.
During this trip, I learned a lot about myself, including how to; honoring my feelings and my needs, finding balance in the chaos and asking for what I need:
Honor Your Needs: Remember that you can move out of your comfort zone without leaving the country. You can turn any experience into a meaningful one, no matter the destination. The first step is to feel comfortable with who you are and what you want, even if it is different then what society is telling you. Being comfortable with yourself means not comparing yourself to others, embracing your needs and what might feel comfortable for you and feeling OK with making the choices that honor who you are as an individual. Decide how long (and how far) you are willing to travel and be away from home...It’s okay to start small.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional: Talking to a therapist will help to determine why you experience travel anxiety and ways to cope- Whether you don’t like to leave your comfort zone, have had a bad travel experience, or have a fear of the unknown. Talking to someone will also help to know, anticipate and manage your triggers (for example, changes in routine, geographical distance from family, flight anxiety, etc)!
Do Your Research: If you’re someone who thrives with structure, routine and familiarity, the very nature of travel and adventure may be a trigger for you. For some, even the most basic travel can feel risky, chaotic, hectic, and unfamiliar. Knowing what to expect can help. Before going on a trip, make sure to do your research. Minimize feelings of overwhelm by becoming familiar with the area, attractions and language; Read travel articles, learn a few important phrases (if traveling internationally), look at pictures, study maps, read reviews, create a schedule or itinerary (including rest, down or alone time), etc.
Consider Distance and Forms of Travel: If the idea of being too far from home or getting on a plane is bothersome or anxiety provoking, consider going somewhere that is within driving distance so that you remain close enough to home but are still stepping out of your comfort zone or perhaps giving yourself the opportunity to experience (and even enjoy) somewhere or something new. Sometimes having some control, an exit plan, or the option to leave is all you may need to take the first step.
Take Something: Travel anxiety can manifest itself in our bodies physically. If you have an anxiety or panic attack while you are on your trip, it may help to have medication. CBD oils, supplements or even a beta blocker or Xanax (yes, Xanax!) can be great for travel. No shame in our game- Medications can really help! Always talk to your doctor or healthcare team prior to taking any medications.
Experiencing Anxiety During Your Trip
Less is more: If you begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed, make sure to give yourself time to decompress. Cancel plans or cut something out, sleep late or stay in, call home or reach out to family or friends. Allowing small shifts in your plans to take care of your emotional needs will help you to be more present and calm so that you can enjoy important moments throughout your trip.
Meditate: Deep breathing will calm your nervous system down and bring your body back to homeostasis. Meditate on your trip when you feel the anxiety affect your physical body. If you need help or silent meditation isn’t for you, try guided meditation by downloading the apps Headspace or Calm on your phone.
Embrace vulnerability: Talk to someone! Whether you are able to contact your therapist or have an important person in your life that you can be open and honest with, sharing your vulnerability can validate your feelings, help you to process thoughts and feelings, make you feel closer to that person, and release strong emotions or anxieties (travel or otherwise).