It happens every. single. time.
My flight is tomorrow, my bags are (almost) packed, and I should be excited… buuut I’m not. There is nothing I would rather do than call off the entire trip and stay at home. It’s like some Gollum-like creature is under my bed, whispering to me that it is safer here. I’m exhausted, I feel sick to my stomach, and the general sentiment is: I don’t f***ing want to go.
Ah, yes. Pre trip anxiety.
These thoughts creep in a few days before my trip. Gone is the excitement of planning, and I realize I actually have to get on the plane and go. My mind starts racing with all of the things that could go wrong (A fiery plane crash? A tropical disease? Who knows!).
I thought there was something wrong with me when I first started travelling. Where did all this dread come from? Shouldn’t I be more excited about something I had been planning for months? But I eventually started to realize:
This is so normal.
How can I be 100% excited? Travelling is so uncomfortable! I hate planes. Jet lag sucks. There are germs everywhere, and I get sick almost every time I fly. Of course I’d rather stay at home. But life is not very exciting from the safety of my living room, so I know I need to step on that plane.
How do I deal with pre trip anxiety?
If you’ve ever had the same struggle, here are the tools I use to combat my pre trip anxiety.
The first (and most important) thing: recognize pre travel anxiety as a normal feeling.
Some people feel nothing but excitement before a trip. Good for them. But you’re googling travel anxiety tips because you’re team “pre-travel existential dread”, and that’s fine too.
Thousands of dollars of therapy has taught me that the only way to deal with an anxious feeling is to accept it. Anxiety is closely related to excitement, so it makes sense that we feel them in tandem. You know, those heart racing, knees weak, arms are heavy, kind of feelings. Anxiety can stem from a fear of the unknown, which is a part of travel. You are stepping out of your comfort zone after all, and no one ever said that would be easy.
So what’s my biggest pre trip anxiety tip? Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Feeling prepared won’t get rid of all the pre travel anxiety, but it gives me a little more control. I try to prepare for as many “unknowns” as I can (within reason, of course).
Having basic safety covered, such as vaccines and sleeping arrangements, is a crucial first step. I love the idea of being spontaneous, but in reality, safety and comfort are my first priority. This means making sure I am vaccinated and have a place to rest my head (at least for the first few nights).
I always plan my first 24 hours on the ground at my destination. Stepping off the plane and into a brand new country is disorienting. I need to know how I’m getting from the airport to my accommodation, where I will exchange money, and where I will get a SIM card (one of my personal must-haves when I travel).
Okay, so that’s pretty much regular trip planning stuff.
And if you’re anything like me, the pre trip anxiety is still there (duh).
If you haven’t finished the above steps, get on that. And if you have, then now is a great time to remind yourself that you did all of that.
Reminding myself that I have the important steps covered is a stress reliever for me. Knowing that my health, a place to sleep, money to buy food, and safe transit to my hotel are taken care of means I’m off to a safe start. I know once I get to my hotel, I can get over the travel anxiety hump.
Next, I go all out on my emergency plan.
I create a document with emergency and embassy hotline numbers for each country I’m visiting. I write down my hotel address in both English and the country’s language. Since I always travel with data, I make sure to have Skype or Viber calling credits. I back up this document on my phone, online, and I print a few copies. This means that if something goes wrong, I know who I can call, I have the means to do so (god forbid, as long as I don’t lose my phone), and if all else fails, I can at least get someone to help me get back to my hotel.
One major source of my pre travel anxiety is the destination itself – mainly, how to stay safe. No one wants to get scammed, robbed, severely sick, or worse in a foreign country. Researching the safety of my destination helps to quell some of my pre travel anxiety. I find the CDC website has concise information regarding health and safety. Good ol’ Google helps me figure out the common scams, areas to avoid, and safest means of transportation in each city.
I’m a budget traveller, but I always invest in my safety. This means spending a little extra money where it matters. I don’t cut costs when it comes to staying in a safe location, making sure I have travel insurance, and maintaining an emergency fund in case I need to go home. Cheaping out on these aspects of my trip would probably triple my pre trip anxiety, so I take this into account in my budget from the very beginning.
Next come the pre flight jitters
Okay, now it’s crunch time. Your planning is done (I hope!), and your flight is coming up. Honestly, I’ve learned to accept that no matter how prepared I am, pre travel anxiety at this point is inevitable. And the pre flight jitters are getting intense as well.
It’s time to have a self-care moment. Whatever helps you relax. Journal about the pre trip anxiety (so meta), watch some movies, go to the gym, take a bath, and goddamn moisturize (airplanes are soo drying). I try to nourish myself and sleep as much as possible. Travel always does a number on my stomach (and the rest of my body, to be honest), so I give myself a good starting baseline. I take my vitamins and some anti-sickness remedies (even if it’s a gimmick, it makes me feel good to get some extra vitamin C). Travelling is mentally and physically taxing, so it feels good to combat that leading up to the trip.
Packing a good carry on is so important.
I make sure to pack my carry-on with items that comfort me. For me, that means a copious amounts of snacks and a handful of ginger candies. I get motion sickness when I have an empty stomach, so nothing is worse than being *gasp* hungry on a plane. Everyone has their thing, it could be a travel blanket, a good luck charm, a good book, or favourite hand cream or lip balm. It really helps in my moments of panic or anxiety to think “when I feel anxious, I have _____ to make me feel better”.
It’s a no-brainer, but honestly, when I’ve got the pre flight jitters I just need the reminder to 1) pack early and 2) get to the airport early. There’s no point in adding the stress of doing everything last-minute.
When packing, I make a detailed checklist that I can physically check off. That way, when I’m having my last-minute panic, I can check my list. I get a major burst of pre travel anxiety on the travel day, mainly worrying about missing my flight. The earlier I get to my gate, even if it means sitting at the airport for a couple of hours, the earlier I can put that worry to rest.
Last, but definitely not least: remind yourself – holy sh*t, you’ve been planning this for so long and now you finally get to go. Lean into the feeling and focus on the excitement.
I’ve learned that every adventure starts with this feeling.
If it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t keep going back for more. This feeling signals the start of something worthwhile and fulfilling, which is pretty damn amazing. So I’ve learned to embrace the feelings and just go!
Looking for more travel tips? Here’s how to survive a long haul flight.