For people with anxiety, one of the most intimidating aspects of travel is preparation. ‘What do I even pack?!' and 'How do I get through an airport?!' These are common thoughts among many aspiring travellers, but they’re significantly amplified for anxiety sufferers and can really stress us out!
The good news is that a bit of careful research can reduce the severity of these triggers, and allows you to feel in control when planning to travel...
So, how can travelling help with my anxiety problems?
Think of travel as a story; it presents a conflict and requires a solution. Travel actively fights anxiety in three key ways:
- It places you in genuine situations, not imaginary.
- You must approach obstacles with rationality.
- It requires you to overstep your comfort zone.
Overall, travel encourages you to manage stress in a pragmatic manner; as you overcome these challenges you’re gradually improving cognitive function and building a more positive mindset. There is even a scientific link between travel and brain health!
Going overseas for the first time? Consider a group tour as this will greatly minimize stress. Think where, how long, budget and travel style. And once you’ve chosen your trip, the preparation begins… Here are the 8 steps to follow, based on my own experiences…
1. Book flights (the right way)
In most cases, you’ll need to fly to your destination! Booking via a travel agent is the most hassle-free solution as they offer advice, great deals and do all the hard work, however don’t just choose the cheapest option! You also need to factor in layover times, flight duration, airline ratings, transit airports, flexibility and baggage allowances; ask yourself things like, ‘how long will it take to reach my next departure gate?’, ‘is this airline recommended?’ and ‘if I’m delayed will I make it to my tour in time?’ Did you know the minimum recommended layover time is 90 minutes? It sounds plenty but don’t forget about long security lines! Familiarize yourself with this kind of knowledge to lessen the risk or impact of any issues.
2. Know your documents
It is essential that you take the correct documents when travelling overseas to avoid any legal issues. Make sure you have:
• A valid passport (with its expiry exceeding 6 months from your arrival date)
• Travel insurance papers
• Printed flight itinerary
• Visa (if required)
• Photo identification (e.g. drivers licence)
Take photocopies of the above plus your hotels addresses, trip itinerary, airport transfers, credit cards and other important info; make sure to leave copies with your friends and family too! You can also register your travel plans with your government in case of emergencies abroad.
3. Research country laws and customs
Whilst travelling is all about discovery, it is important that you learn the customs of your destinations. These include transit/entry visa requirements, rules against certain groups (LGBTQ+, women, religions), tourist scams, cultural diversity, vaccinations and medication restrictions. If you take prescription medication for your anxiety such as Benzodiazepines or SSRIs, obtain a doctor’s certificate and do not remove them from original packaging. By researching these, you’ll decrease your risk of offending locals and breaking local laws.
4. Learn the local language
Not being able to speak the local language seems scary – what if you can’t ask where the nearest toilets are in Berlin?! The good news is that major tourist cities speak English well and will easily understand you, however you should still try to learn some phrases like ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. After some practice, you’ll be saying, wo bist der toiletten instead! Contiki also provides informative pamphlets with common phrases when arriving in a new country, but if foreign tongue isn’t your forte, communicate via body language – although be aware that a thumbs up may be considered rude in certain countries! Always remember meanings differ between some cultures.
5. Get to know fellow travellers before you go
If you’re travelling solo or affected by social anxiety, meeting strangers can be very intimidating. To ease this stress, Contiki created MyContiki – an online social forum where you can get to know those on your tour; Facebook groups are also common. These provide the perfect opportunity to familiarize yourself with fellow travellers, ask questions and make friends before you even arrive! It’ll help you feel less stressed when meeting in person, however if you still experience social phobia at your meet up, breathe slowly and deeply, recollect your thoughts, find one person you met online and interact with them; build your social circle gradually. The others will feel nervous too so don’t feel alone – more than half of Contiki travellers venture solo!
6. Plan your arrival
‘How do I find my hotel?’, ‘what if I get lost in the city?’, ‘where do we meet for the trip?’ Fear not, the answers are simple! For your first time, it is a smart idea to book airport transfers before you depart home; you’ll reach your hotel/departure airport stress-free and safely. If not, search local public transport routes and costs to suit your needs – taxis can be very expensive! To save yourself from getting lost, use Google Maps to understand the local area, distance between sights and your hotel location before you go. You can also download offline maps from apps like MAPS.ME and HERE WeGo to use when travelling! After booking a Contiki, you’ll receive trip documents which indicate your meeting time and location; usually this is at/nearby your hotel!
7. Create a packing check list
Packing right is like riding a bike – you only improve from experience; hence, you’re bound to make a few mistakes! Luckily, there are LOADS of online guides which can help you pack efficiently plus common tips and tricks. How you pack depends on your destination, the season, the culture and your own needs. In Southeast Asia for example, loose-fitting clothing suits the hot summer climate and wearing sandals will be more convenient when visiting temples. Try these packing tips:
• Roll clothes, don’t fold
• Limit toiletries
• Bring plastic bags for dirty clothes
• Ditch the heels
Alongside your packing list, don’t forget your pre-travel check-list! Triple check your documents, notify your bank, tell your family where you’re headed and most importantly… water the plants, okay?
8. Get to know the airport process
Navigating airports may be the most stressful travel experience of all. If you’ve never flown, it is a HUGE advantage to understand how it works before arriving. There are four main stages:
1. Check in
4. Finding your gate
Researching check in times for international flights, what a boarding pass is, how security screenings work and what to do if flights are cancelled/missed will save you time and stress. Do you know what LAG restrictions are? If not, it’s time to research.
Overcoming anxiety is not impossible and there are many ways to achieve it, travel being one! When preparing for your overseas adventure, avoid stress with thorough planning, and always remember, you’re showing anxiety who’s boss by making this brave decision to travel!
Have you struggled with anxiety whilst travelling? Share your stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…