12 Tips for Overcoming Travel Anxiety

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Confession – I can’t remember a time when I lived without anxiety. It’s my constant companion, my heaviest cross to bear.

Anxiety is a nightmare because you can’t escape it; it’s a problem that exists within your own mind. No matter how far you go, it’s always with you.

For me, anxiety is almost like a virus. While 90% of the time I feel fine, occasionally my anxiety flares up, and my confidence and happiness plummet as a result.

Why I’m writing this post

I wanted to write this post because I want to help those suffering from anxiety or depression feel less alone.

I also want to help open the cultural dialogue about anxiety and depression. Our society still stigmatizes mental illness, which is unacceptable. We should extend compassion to those suffering from mental illness, not contempt.

Without further ado (or ahem, soapbox preaching), here are some tried-and-true ways to fight anxiety.

1. Call close friends who will understand how you’re feeling.

Nothing pulls me out of a dark place like the voice of an understanding friend. Anxiety can make you feel so alone; It’s important to remember that you’re loved, and that others can relate to you.

In my experience, calling friends who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression doesn’t help. I’ve found that people who don’t experience anxiety can offer little advice or sympathy. Which isn’t their fault – it’s just not in their wheelhouse of experiences.

2. Avoid alcohol.

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Alcohol affects everyone differently. But due to my anxiety, I’m super sensitive to alcohol.

It’s worst when I drink for multiple days, like at a festival or in Southeast Asia. By day four of drinking I wake up panicking, barely able to breathe. (And then I feel guilty because everyone else is having a blast and I just want to get the hell out of Dodge.)

So if you’re feeling low, avoid booze for a while – it will do nothing but exacerbate your mental health problems.

3. If you’re traveling, remind yourself you can go home.

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The point of travel is to have fun and enjoy yourself. So if you’re not having fun, go home. Home is only a plane ticket away, and leaving early is nothing to be ashamed of.

4. Exercise.

Exercise clears away my anxiety faster than almost anything. Sunshine and nature are also helpful, and nothing beats all three together. And as Lena Dunham said, “It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”

5. Meditate.

Meditation strengthens the mind the way exercise strengthens the body. It helps nip negative thoughts in the bud before they take root and fill your head with worry.

I started meditating while on a yoga retreat in India, and as a result have never felt happier or more confident. I couldn’t recommend meditation more highly.

That being said, meditation is hard, especially at the beginning. I found it both physically and mentally difficult. But despite how challenging meditation can be at first, it’s well-worth the struggle.

6. Treat yourself.

A few years ago, I spent a month traveling with a group of Australian and English guys in Southeast Asia. We had a blast, but by the time we split up I was feeling exhausted and depressed from all of the drinking and partying.

So I decided to ditch the hostel life for a few nights and checked myself into a swanky hotel. It was glorious. I took baths, ordered room service and called friends back home. By the end of the stay, I felt refreshed and significantly happier.

So if you’re feeling down, treat yourself. Sometimes all you need is a bubble bath and a room of your own.

7. Avoid solo travel.

Solo travel can be the best thing in the world: liberating, revelatory, and exhilarating. But if I travel alone for longer than a month, anxiety often sets in.

I’ve learned that I prefer solo travel in small doses – after a while it’s too isolating, and can affect my mental health.

8. Remind yourself everything will be fine.

For me, two things are scariest about anxiety.

One, you have to continue living despite how shitty you feel. You can’t just curl up in a ball and skip work. You still have to talk to people and work eight hours and commute and generally function.

Two, you have to do the work yourself. Yes, you can (and should) reach out to close friends and family for support. But this is your hole, and only you can pull yourself out of it.

Sometimes, it just feels so hard to carry on. But no matter how awful you feel, try to be kind to yourself. Remember that everything will be okay.

9. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is a reality check. It forces you to ask, “Wait why am I so worried and afraid when I have x, y, and z to be grateful for?”

So practice gratitude every day. It can be as simple as a gratitude jar or prayer or saying aloud three things you’re grateful for. As Liz Gilbert says, “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort.”

10. Remember who you really are.

Normally, I’m super a super outgoing and enthusiastic person. I am overflowing with opinions, facts and observations, possibly to a fault. But anxiety turns me into a different person. I can’t think of what to say, and make vapid observations I wouldn’t otherwise.

The most heartbreaking part of anxiety is that you start to you lose your identity. Sometimes when I feel anxious, I’ll think, “People usually think I’m confident and interesting. How could that be true?”

It helps to remind myself of who normally I am, and that this anxious version of myself is just temporary.

11. Remember that it’s not your fault for having anxiety.

I’ve wondered a lot about why anxiety happens in certain people and not others. Is it hereditary? Is it neurological? Does it usually occur in creative or intelligent people, a side effect of being sensitive to the outside world? Does it happen to people who were bullied as kids, a result of deep-seated insecurities from childhood?

I’m not sure there’s a conclusive answer to why anxiety happens in some people and not in others. But in any case, anxiety is not your fault, and is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ask yourself – would you feel ashamed if you had a physical disease? Society tells us that physical maladies are not our fault, while mental ailments signify a weakness in character.

It helps me to think of anxiety in a  scientific way – my brain just wired differently than other people’s. I am simply more fragile neurologically, and that’s okay.

12. See a doctor and consider medication.

If you’ve tried everything and still feel anxious or depressed, consider seeing a doctor. Therapy and medication may help.

Do you suffer from anxiety or depression? How do you cope with them?

Disclaimer: All the advice given in the post is taken from anecdotal experience. This blog is NOT a substitute for any advice given to you by a medical professional.

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

49 thoughts on “12 Tips for Overcoming Travel Anxiety”

  1. Ashley, Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself with the public, it takes strength and courage to do that. Great tips. Nobody is perfect. At the end of the day, you just need to be yourself. You are an attractive down to earth woman with positive outlook on life. I just wish you nothing but the best in the Rockies. I hope your yoga trip will work out in Bali.

  2. My dear granddaughter,

    You have written a very truthful and helpful piece on handling
    anxiety. I know it will be helpful to many, for you have expressed
    It so well!

    It was so wonderful to see and be with you, and I am enjoying the books, especially “32 yolks” for it is really a power memoir, don’t you think? I shall take good care of it and see that it is returned to you, for
    I am sure you treasure it.

    Much love,

    Gamma

  3. Thank you for sharing some of your coping mechanisms here. I personally find journaling to be really helpful in navigating anxiety. It grounds me and allows me to be more objective about my present situation. Journaling outside (hopefully under big leafy trees) is even better :)

  4. Anxiety is rough. I write about traveling with anxiety all. the. time. on my own blog to remind others (and myself!) that we’re not alone. It’s so encouraging more bloggers are speaking out.

    In particular, I really like your tip about anxiety not being your fault. Sometimes I’m far too harsh on myself – especially regarding my fear of flying and hypochondria – and forget to mediate and take care of my mental health. I never judge myself for having a cold, after all!

    Thanks again for your honesty. It’s so appreciated.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I also suffer from serious anxiety (especially physical) and travel is both a cure and a cause.

    On one hand, stateside I have a pretty decent routine of exercise and MMJ that keeps me chillin like a villain (literally in some states lol). When I travel, I’m either searching for it or struggling without it because I’m not down to spend life in prison *ahem singapore*.

    But then again, travel gives you confidence when you have no other choice but to be brave. You can be yourself, and if you don’t like that, you can reinvent yourself until hearts content.

    Strangely enough, senses are super important to my anxiety so I always make sure to have a wrap to swaddle myself with and essential oils :)

    Best of luck and remember you aren’t the only one! Thanks for spreading awareness.

  6. Hi Ashley,
    Thank you for writing about this topic. Great tips too! I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire life. It’s been up and down. What works for me best is meditation, exercise, being outdoors, keeping my stress levels low and eating foods that feel good and eliminating foods that cause me to feel more anxious. Like alcohol, wheat, and processed dairy. Recently, I’ve discovered EFT and this seems to really help during the moments of unexpected anxiety.

  7. When you’re not feeling blue, down write all the things you like about yourself. All the things about yourself you’re proud of. Accomplishments, reached goals, etc. Maybe even ask your friends and family to write you a list with the things they like about yourself, and times when you have helped going through dark times.

    Then when anxiety attacks, read it and remember how good you are and how high your beloved ones think of you, and the big impact you’ve had for them. Read it believing that what’s on that list is true no matter what you’re thinking at the moment.

    Sorry for my english!

  8. Fabulous tips and a great guide! Traveling is exciting, but it can also be extremely nerve wracking, especially when you are anxiety prone. It’s really important to take all the steps you address here in order to preserve your sanity while you’re away. These are simple instructions that can go a long way (literally)! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Hi Ashley, thank you so much for this post! It really resonated with me and seeing how open you are about your own struggles with anxiety has inspired me to try to be more willing to talk about it with my own friends and family.

    On a sort of unrelated note, I was wondering if you’ve ever considered writing a post about how to make friends and meet people when moving to a new city? I know you moved to Denver a couple years ago not knowing many people (I think), and I am about to move to a new city in the US without knowing anyone there after traveling for the past year. I would love to hear your experiences with this and see if you have any advice or tips!

  10. Thank you so much for writing this post!! Mental health issues are extremely serious and need to be taken seriously, which unfortunately they aren’t. Severe anxiety and a relapse of depression was the reason that I went home early from my recent long-term travels. I was having multiple panic attacks a day and the anxiety was wrecking me physically as well as being emotional and mental hell. Like you said in #3, there’s no shame in going home if you want/need to. I did and it was the best decision I could have made. We deserve to be happy and healthy and if that means altering our travels or travel style in order to make that happen, than that’s what we should do.

  11. I can totally relate to this. I don’t think I have anxiety to the point where I would need medicine, but for traveling I can’t sleep the night before flights.. and I’ll ask myself WHY? Flight is booked, taxi is booked, I will be there 3 hours early, I have done my packing checklist… but it’s just something with the start to any trip. I can’t think the worry away, so annoying! But I think a lot of travelers also get those nerves! Thanks for sharing your story with anxiety!

  12. Thank you for writing this post! While I don’t suffer from the same circumstances, I can see how this is helpful not only for people who experience the same thing, but also for people who don’t. The advice is simple, but sometimes it’s the simple stuff we have trouble remembering to do to take care of ourselves.

  13. Yep – I get anxiety that interferes with various bits of my life! Its so true what you said – the hardest thing is that you have to go on living your life. You have to get up in the morning and go to work, deal with difficult clients, etc etc. The biggest thing I do to fight anxiety is to simply breathe deeply and reming myself that ‘I can do this’ and ‘everything will be ok’

  14. Thank you so much for being raw and real here, Ashley! I, too, suffer from anxiety and the things you share are very relatable to what I’ve experienced in my travels.

  15. Thanks for sharing! I used to suffer from the same problem, but when our family sold everything and took off for a year long travel, I learned that I can make everywhere I go a home and it helped:)

  16. Great tips!

    I have Panic Disorder and OCD. Most of the time they’re pretty under control thanks to coping skills like deep breathing and talking to people who ‘get it’, as well as medication. But sometimes, when it’s especially hard, I’m always glad to have new techniques to try. So thanks for the suggestions!

    It takes guts to talk about mental health/illness, so you rock for posting this. :)

  17. Yes, always Remind yourself everything will be fine. We can’t ignore ourselves afraid of something coz we are human. But if we keep ourselves positively, we will enjoy the locale or we can do good things and beyond.

  18. You are an appealing rational lady with inspirational point of view. Ashley, Incredible tips. No one is great. Toward the day’s end, you simply should act naturally. I simply wish you only the best in the Rockies. I loved to read about yoga outing trip in Bali.
    Thank you for offering a touch of yourself to people in general, it takes quality and bravery.

  19. Beautifully written and de-alienates what anxiety is for those who live with it everyday. Particularly like your point about being grateful – something I try to remind myself as I travel across beautiful countries and it definitely helps!

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