Traveling With Anxiety: How To Plan The Perfect Trip Without Having A Panic Attack
Anyone who struggles with anxiety knows that it can sometimes get in the way of you enjoying things in life. Being stuck in your own mind can prevent you from really experiencing life as it is happening or climbing out of your comfort zone to explore new places.
At least, that is how it is for me and my daily struggle with anxiety. And it really stands out when I travel. That's why I'm starting a "Traveling With Anxiety" series on Babbling Brooke Blog; a place where I can share my experiences traveling around the country and around the world as someone with high-functioning anxiety.
As you can imagine, it's pretty nerve-wracking for someone with anxiety to write about what makes them anxious, but I'm hoping that by being transparent about it on the internet, it could maybe help someone else who deals with anxiety, too. If anxiety sufferers were more open online about their experiences and issues, maybe it could help to make us all a little less anxious. (Please note, not everyone who has anxiety reacts to things in the same way. I am only speaking for myself and based off of my own experiences.)
So, to start off my series, I figured I'd break down some of the key ways that planning a trip can be stressful for someone with anxiety, and how to manage, because before you even start your adventure, figuring out what you are going to do can sometimes be the most stressful and panic attack-inducing part. The reasons is because the combination of planning the perfect trip—let alone the pressure to make it "perfect"—and the thought of having to handle potential complications during the trip can get overwhelming fast.
Here are seven tips for the anxious traveler to use while planning a trip. They may sound simple, but for people struggling with anxiety, they can be total life savers.
1. Make Sure To Plan The Super Stressful Things In Advance
Tracking flights, finding hotels, reading AirBNB reviews—there is so much research and planning that goes into a vacation, it can make your head spin. That's why anxious travelers should be doing their research and planning the crucial aspects of their trip (air fare, hotels, transportation) well in advance. Give yourself enough time to do all of the research you need, to compare prices, and to potentially cancel or move around plans if need be. It's going to be at least a little bit stressful regardless, so giving yourself enough time to plan these things out will allow you to plan at your own pace, which will undoubtedly reduce your stress level.
2. However, Don't Fall Into The Trap Of Over Planning
Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing things in the moment, so while it is important for an anxious traveler to have the big, important details planned out, make sure to leave some room for exploring. Having every hour of the day planned out can be just as stressful as planning nothing at all, because you'll be spending your entire trip running around from appointment to appointment. Plan the key things, like excursions, transportation, flights to and from, and accommodations, but leave the rest up to chance. If you are doing enough research on where you are visiting, you'll know exactly what you want to do when you get there, and you won't have to worry about keeping a strict schedule.
3. Keep Print And Digital Copies Of Your Itinerary On You At All Times
Flight tickets, copies of your passport, hotel reservation information—all of these things are incredibly important and easily accessible on your phone. But if your phone cracks, dies, falls in a toilet, or loses service, you are suddenly missing a lot of crucial travel information. Keeping a folder in your carry-on bag with paper copies of all of your travel plans, confirmation numbers, phone numbers, and itinerary details will give anxious travelers peace of mind and ultimately reduce stress.
4. Don't Be Afraid To Do Your Research
Researching things to see, places to go, and restaurants to try while you are traveling is something all travelers like to do, but anxious travelers may benefit from doing some additional research into the areas they are visiting—besides the fun stuff. Looking up phrases in the local language, safety trips for traveling abroad or traveling solo, or advice from people who have traveled to wherever you are going can help new places feel more familiar once you get there and allow anxious travelers to feel more at ease getting to know a new city or country.
5. Always Have Embassy Numbers And An Emergency Contact On Hand
This is incredibly important for every traveler, but for anxious travelers especially. One of the things that makes me the most anxious about traveling is not knowing what to do in an emergency in a place that I am unfamiliar with. Keep embassy numbers in your phone for every country you are traveling to, just in case you lose your passport, get stuck somewhere, or just generally need assistance. If you have an emergency contact in the state or country your are visiting, also keep that handy, but if you don't have anyone on hand, just make sure your usual emergency contact knows where you are going just in case you need to call them or need them to send you money. While your at it, ask your hotel concierge or look online for a cab service and keep their number on hand just in case you get stuck anywhere. Knowing that you have people to reach out to if you are ever in trouble, in need of help, or need a ride out of somewhere will help you feel more relaxed when traveling around.
6. Have A Panic Attack Plan
If you are an anxious traveler, panic attacks will happen. They just will. Whether you are overwhelmed with part of your itinerary going off the rails or you are in a crowded place and feeling claustrophobic, you need a plan for when anxiety strikes. Now, this doesn't have to be a whole new routine that you make up just for your trip. If you have a breathing technique or a yoga routine or something else that already works for you when you are having an anxiety attack, it would only make sense that you use it when feeling anxious abroad. But for those who are new to anxiety, or not normally anxious and just having a travel-related flare up, look into ways of calming yourself down in advance, like the alternative nostril technique or some quick yoga poses. Keep in mind that while a full yoga routine or a nap may be helpful when you are in your hotel room, you may have a panic attack while out and about, so try to come up with a plan that is discrete enough to do in public if you need to, doesn't require a lot of space, and doesn't need a whole lot of time. (Keep in mind that these are just suggestions. Ultimately, what's best for you is what you should go with, regardless of anything else.)
7. Think Positive
I know that when I am feeling anxious or having a panic attack, someone telling me to "think positive" pisses me off to no end. It makes me defensive, because if it were so easy to be positive, I wouldn't be panicking in the first place!
Nevertheless, trying your hardest to stay positive and think happy thoughts is so important for the anxious traveler. Not only will it make your panic attacks few and far between, but it can help you overcome and feelings of anxiety as they start to happen. Remind yourself how much fun your trip has been so far, what things you are excited to do next, or how happy and fortunate you are to be able to be on a trip at all. Feelings of joy and gratitude can be way more powerful than feelings of anxiety and fear if you let them!
Main Photo Courtesy of Bill's Best Photography