What if I miss the flight? What if my luggage goes missing? What if I get robbed? What if I run out of money? What if the weather is horrible? What if I get lost? What if a terror attack happens?

What if. Two words that are often followed by anything and everything that could possibly go wrong. The idea of travel is supposed to be exciting. However, for many people it can be a source of stress and anxiety to the point where you might not even want to board the first flight. You’re taking yourself out of your familiar comfort-zone of home and are heading into an environment where you aren’t quite sure what to expect. If you’re somebody prone to feelings of stress and anxiety, this sense of the unknown can be quite a scary prospect.

These feelings have always been common but they are particularly relevant with the impact of the pandemic. There are new, COVID-specific challenges to deal with, such as vaccination requirements, masks and physical distancing. There's also the fact that most people haven't been able to travel on a plane for the last 20 months, which means their next flying experience will be very different to their last. 

Dr Stephen Carbone reminds travellers that holidays are almost never going to be perfect from beginning to end.

“People can experience anxiety any time they step outside their comfort zone and travel is a good example,” Dr Carbone says. “When we feel anxious, we can overestimate risks and underestimate our ability to cope with a stressful situation. People might be tempted to avoid these situations, but it’s better to manage risk and do the thing you’re anxious about because otherwise, you’re just missing out.”

Sounds easy on paper, right? In practice it can be a little more difficult, but here are some handy tips to help you deal with travel anxiety leading up to take-off:

  • Plan ahead. Remember your high school teacher who said if you put the work in and study now, you won’t feel so stressed on exam day? They had a point. Being organised is one of the best ways to prevent situations that make you anxious. Work out exactly what time you need to be at the airport, know the luggage requirements, have your tickets organised, book your accommodation ahead of time and research your destination. Good planning not only helps alleviate a lot of the stress that comes with unwanted surprises, it also gives you more time to relax and enjoy your destination!
  • Talk about your concerns with a family member or a friend. Travel anxiety is normal and is certainly not something to be embarrassed about. Bottling up your fears and concerns will only make it more difficult to deal with them. Opening up to someone you trust can show you that you’re not on your own. If you’re travelling with someone, talking to them about your feelings well ahead of the departure date is a good idea. That way, they can support you through any situations that might make you feel anxious.
  • Relaxation techniques. If something doesn’t go to plan, having some calming techniques such as simple breathing exercises can help you manage your anxiety levels. Slow down your breathing by closing your eyes and counting to three as you breathe in, and then count to three as you breathe out. Guided meditation is also a great tool to focus your awareness on the present moment and flush out the negative thoughts taking over – download the Smiling Mind app and give it a try before you head off so you know what to expect.

You can learn more about anxiety and take the anxiety checklist here.

Related reading: Four tips to handle social anxiety in the moment

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