How to cope with travel anxiety before a big trip

How to cope with travel anxiety before a big trip The Travel Psychologist

Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist & Founder

When you have saved up for a big trip, the main feeling that you expect is excitement. This is what you were feeling when you booked, right? But what if the trip is drawing closer and you start to feel anxious about being away from home for such a long period? What if those feelings of excitement have turned to travel anxiety and dread? In this article I’m going to talk you through how to manage travel anxiety before a big trip so that you make the most your experience.

Is it normal to have anxiety before travelling?

Yes, many people experience anxiety prior to travelling, especially before a big trip. This happens because when we are faced with new situations where we don’t know what to expect, our threat system can be activated. This results in feelings of anxiety.

Why might I have travel anxiety before a longer trip?

Most people have previously been short tips for a week or two and have managed to cope in this situation. We learn from experience, and so if we have learned from a previous trip that we can cope, this gives us confidence to deal with future trips. We might still experience some anxiety going to a new destination, or experience worries about bad things happening. However we will have a general sense that we can cope with being away from home for a short period, and this will lessen our overall travel anxiety.

If you have never been on a long trip before, it is more difficult to reassure yourself that you can cope for that duration. You haven’t learned from experience just yet, but you can and you will. In the next section I’m going to talk you through how to cope.

Tips for managing anxiety before a big trip

Be specific about your fears and challenge them

Negative and unhelpful thoughts can worsen travel anxiety. It is helpful to identify what specifically you are worried about. Being specific about our fears helps us to challenge them and to reassure ourselves. I have written some specific guides that might help with common fears:

If you are worried about how you will cope, it is important to build coping strategies that work for you. This can reassure you that you do have ways of coping. See the next few sections on how to do this.

Coping strategies

It is important that you have coping strategies that work for you. Ideally you will have built these before your trip, and you will have more than one way of coping in different situations. This might involve regular exercise or using a meditation app such as Headspace. You might have relaxation or breathing exercises that work for you. Alternatively you might find that distraction helps you to bring your anxiety down.

When travelling for an extended period, many people find it helpful to have revisit some home comforts every now and again. This might include having episodes of your favourite sitcom downloaded to your phone or tablet. It is also important to ensure that you are keeping in regular contact with people you are close to. Find a way that works for you to do this – whether it’s a daily text update or a weekly video call to keep you connected.

Start building your own confidence with coping with situations

In the lead up to your trip, you can prepare yourself by expanding your comfort zone. This means challenging yourself to try out situations that you would usually avoid or find uncomfortable. This will increase your confidence and help you to learn that you can cope with situations even when it feels uncomfortable.

Examples of doing this might be:

  • If you are travelling solo and worried getting to new places: Try using public transport to get somewhere locally that you’ve never been before
  • If you are anxious around other people: try making conversation with someone new. This could be the barrister at the coffee shop or the person on the checkout at the supermarket.
  • If you are worried about being alone try doing things in your home town without anyone else.

Plan ‘pit stops’ during your trip

It can be very overwhelming to look at your itinerary and think “I’m going to be away for 8 weeks, how will I cope?”. To combat this sense of overwhelm, it’s important to ensure to plan downtime on your trip. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it is not realistic to be super busy for an extended period of time. Doing so will likely to have a negative effect on your well-being and your enjoyment of your trip. Secondly, it is important to be able to reassure yourself that you will have time to rest and recharge.

Practically it can be helpful to look at your itinerary and identify times where you will be able to relax. This might be a day or an afternoon at the end of the first week when you have nothing planned. Alternatively it might be booking a hotel instead of a hostel for one night at a couple of stages in your trip to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep. Think of these as ‘pit stops’ in your trip to recharge your energy. They also give you a way to reassure yourself that you will have some rest time if you are feeling a little overwhelmed.

Remember your reason for travelling

People often take longer trips for a specific reason. This might be to grow as a person or to gain experience of other cultures. Travelling can provide important psychological benefits and being specific about what you are hoping for from your trip can help you to get through those tough moments.

It is also important to be aware that we often gain the biggest benefits from our travel when we push ourselves to the edges of our comfort zone. Our regular contributor Dr Nicola wrote more about this in her article Why do holidays make us happy? Knowing this can help you to push through difficult moments, knowing that they will help you to grow as a person.

If you liked this post check out our series of Travel Anxiety guides.