There’s something about airports that immediately makes me nervous. Maybe it’s the pressure of following a million TSA rules when going through security and worrying I might have accidentally stashed some unknown contraband in my bag. Or the stress of making sure I am on time for my flight and didn’t forget something I vitally needed. Or how about the thought of planes hurtling through the air thousands of feet above the ground? Actually, I think my travel anxiety has to do with all of the above.
No matter how many times I travel, that anxious energy always kicks in sometime around or before takeoff. But over the years, I’ve gathered a few tricks I keep on standby to help me feel calmer and more relaxed as I jet off to my destination. Of course, seeking help from a mental health professional is often the best way to deal with your travel anxiety, but here are the hacks that have worked for me for a calmer travel experience.
1. Create a detailed packing list.
A lot of what stresses me out about travel has to do with worrying if I’m forgetting something. To help ease some of that anxiety, I like to create a comprehensive packing list of everything I need at various stages of the journey (including travel documents, clothing, toiletries, electronics, etc.). As I pack, I check the item off the list so I know it’ll be there when I need it. That way, when I’m panicking about whether I packed my laptop charger, I can simply check the list.
2. Book your seat strategically.
Especially when traveling by plane, where you’re sitting can have a big impact on travel anxiety. Personally, I feel calmer when I’m in a window seat because I can see what’s happening outside the plane. Others may prefer a seat at the front of the plane or along the aisle to avoid feeling boxed in. Think about what would make you feel most comfortable and book your seat accordingly.
3. Move your body before your flight.
We all know that exercise = endorphins, so it’s no surprise that moving your body can help lessen travel anxiety. Before your flight, try to fit in a workout that gets your heart rate up and helps your muscles feel loose. No time to work out before heading to the airport? I like to walk around the terminal a bit to help get out some of that nervous energy before my flight.
4. Bring plenty of distractions.
Distractions are key if your travel anxiety tends to kick in mid-flight. Create a playlist of songs that help you feel calm and relaxed, or download your favorite feel-good movie or TV show to watch during the flight. A good book you can get lost in or a game on your phone are other good options to take your mind off anxious thoughts.
5. Practice relaxation techniques.
This might look different for everyone, but relaxation techniques can be super helpful in soothing your thoughts and relaxing your body during anxious moments. You might try deep breathing, meditating, an affirmation like “I am safe,” or grounding exercises that help you focus in on your body. Find the technique that works for you and practice it prior to your travels so you can easily whip it out when you need it.
6. Avoid alcohol.
That complimentary glass of red wine might sound tempting to help soothe your nerves, but it could actually have the opposite effect. According to The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, consuming alcohol can alter the way your brain reacts and increase your travel anxiety. Instead, opt for a more hydrating beverage like water or juice when the flight attendants come around.
7. Plan for your arrival.
If what you’re going to do when you get to your destination is what’s stressing you out, put together a game plan for when you arrive. Before your trip, research local transportation options, double-check your hotel reservation, and create an itinerary for your first couple of days. You won’t have to stress over the unexpected if you’ve done the preparation ahead of time.