4 Tips for Coping With Pre-Travel Anxiety
“How excited are you for your trip?” my boyfriend asked.
“Moderately,” I said, “I still have to pack.”
Moderately. I’m about to embark on what should be an amazing trip to Lake Baikal, the Baltic countries, and my dear Finland. Why wouldn’t I be excited? Alas, although I’m an experienced traveler, the pre-departure anxieties still cling tightly.
Travel has taught me a lot about living with anxiety, and indeed has strengthened me in my daily life. I know I need to keep at it.
I’m an incredibly anxious person. Even going to the grocery store down the street stresses me out, and I waste away in anticipation of the hour when I’ll need to force myself to leave. And driving? Please, please, don’t suggest that I drive somewhere new, or to a place with scarce parking. There’s a good chance I’ll be teary by the end of the struggle—if I’ve even been forced into the car.
How is it that I’m able to travel, to throw my nervous self into random places with languages I do not know, unsure of exactly where I’ll sleep the next night? Travel has taught me a lot about living with anxiety, and indeed has strengthened me in my daily life. I know I need to keep at it.
By the process of hurling myself into the unknown again and again, I have developed an intimate knowledge of pre-departure anxiety and how to live with it.
Though anxiety can’t easily be banished and left to fade in the dark corners of your brain (it grows there, you see), it’s possible to prevent it from running roughshod all over your mind and ruining the bright anticipation of your travels during a period of time that often lasts longer than the trip itself. Here are some tips from an anxious girl on coping with pre-departure anxiety.
1. Plan ahead gradually.
Spreading travel preparations over the space of a few weeks or months makes the whole process—even the chores—more bearable. After all, there’s nothing like a looming last minute panic to make you anxious.
Start lists. Keep a running document open of everything you’ll want to pack. I guarantee you’ll think of yet another item after creating the first draft. This will minimize your chances of forgetting something important, and it will let you get some worries out of your system. Instead of internally berating yourself with everything you need to remember, write it down for later.
The same goes for to-do lists. Well ahead of time, begin documenting all of those tedious tasks such as calling the bank, purchasing any necessary items, and booking transportation. Not only will you be safer—as in, not stranded abroad with a canceled credit card—but you can space out tasks so they seem less like chores and more like steps along the way. This method will also prevent you from leaving important things until the last minute.
If you need extra refills of birth control, you don’t want to run to the pharmacy the day before you leave only to be faced with stubborn health insurance. Making sure you have important things squared away a week before you depart will leave you much more at peace.
2. Research your destination.
Going to Lithuania? Great! Where in Lithuania? Read up on your destination and do a little planning ahead. Figure out which places you can’t miss, and roughly map your journey. Learn about the area, its culture, how to get around, how to expect being treated as a foreign woman, how to ask for help.
A little preparation can go a long way, not to mention you’ll gain more from your travels with a foundation of understanding already built. As you do your research, you’ll be assuring yourself that you’re ready. Oh yeah, and you’ll get excited too.
3. Don’t over plan.
Roughly planning your journey does not mean drawing up a declaration that dictates what you’ll do every hour and which exact train you’ll need to catch. These strict itineraries will only make you nervous because you know they’re fragile things, apt to fall apart. Plans don’t always go according to their design—that’s a rule. Embrace this particular rule. Thanks to your research, you have an idea of where you want to go and what you want to do. You know how you can get there.
So, just see what comes. If you learn about something new or make a friend on the road, you won’t be fenced in by prescribing your experiences ahead of time. Facing a journey knowing something will inevitably screw up your carefully drawn plans makes anyone anxious. Instead, feel secure in your abilities and knowledge of what your destination has to offer, while being flexible to learning even more. Step into a new land with excitement and an open heart rather than a ticking brain clock counting down to the next planned activity.
4. Accept your anxiety.
Even if you do all of these things—make your lists, research your destination, and embrace a lack of limits—you’ll probably still feel anxious. And that’s okay. You can reduce anxiety to a quiet buzz rather than an all-encompassing roar, but it is extremely difficult to banish it completely. In fact, constantly battling your anxiety will—guess what!—probably make you more anxious! Instead, look sideways at your anxiety and momentarily fix it with a hard gaze. Nod at it, and turn away. Let it walk alongside you, but you dictate where you walk.
The more you travel, the more confident you’ll become. You’ll learn that you’re capable. And the more you stretch your adventuring muscles, the more flexible they will be, even at home. Pre-departure anxiety is truly a pain, but the act of traveling is one of the best ways to show yourself that despite your anxiety, you can do whatever it is, wherever it is. Though anxiety can’t be extinguished, it can be mastered.
So, here’s a more thoughtful answer to how I feel about my trip: I am very excited! But I’m anxious too. Last night I dreamed of packing. But soon I’ll be off, and will have done it once again.
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