There’s no doubt we are living in a stressful world. 24-hour news saturates our airwaves with doom and gloom stories from around the world. Social media amplifies even the smallest crisis. It is analyzed, shared and played over and over before your eyes.
It’s no wonder the modern world is taking its toll on our mental health. With everything going on in our own homes, the thought of travel can cause even more anxiety.
Don’t Let Anxiety Stop You From Living Your Dream
Travel Anxiety Tips
Dave and I started traveling in earnest in 2000. It was a different time indeed. Most of the places we visited were unknown to our friends and family. They may have heard of the names of the countries we visited, but knew nothing about their political situation, religious beliefs or culture.
Today, people have formed an opinion of everywhere we go. I have never heard the phrase “I would never go there” so often in conversation as much as I have in recent years.
And yet, every time we go to a place that someone has warned us about, we have the most amazing, heartwarming experience and come back with a renewed faith in humankind.
That’s not to say, we jump into a war zone or face hurricanes, it just means that we do our research before traveling and stay informed about the places we visit.
Too many people let the anxiety build to the point of being paralyzed and let the fear take over stopping them from reaching their full potential. I know first hand how easily this can happen.
I suffer from anxiety and often have fears about most of the adventures we take. I play out the worst-case scenario in my mind and worry about the “what ifs.”
But then, I take a deep breath and remind myself that each and every time I push myself beyond my fear, I come out better.
I have an extraordinary life experience that opens my eyes to new possibilities.
It opens up new opportunities in my life and makes my life richer.
I didn’t get to this place instantly, I worked my way up to it and I am going to tell you how I did it.
1. Take Baby Steps
When people ask Dave and me how to become adventure travellers like us, we always say, “We took our time to build up to our adventures.” We didn’t instantly decide to cycle the continent of Africa without any travel experience. We started small. Our first trips were across the border to the United States.
We then graduated to the Caribbean and then we took a 5-week trip to Thailand in 2000 where we tried new adventures like sea kayaking, jungle hiking, and rock climbing.
Each trip we took after that, we tried a new adventure and the next thing we knew, within a few years we had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, we cycled a continent, we hike to the top of an active volcano, and we went scuba diving around Central America.
We didn’t do all these adventures at once, it was a gradual progression over 7-years. Soon the anxiety I felt over little things like my first walk on a jungle path, or my first bartering experience in an Asian public market fell away.
It now takes a lot more for me to have travel anxiety. I still have it but I have learned to evaluate if my anxiety is justified.
2. Prepare and Plan
When suffering from travel anxiety, be it going abroad for the first time, or being fearful of the unknown it’s important to be prepared and informed.
When Dave and I first started traveling, we learned as much as we could about the destination we visited. We looked up government websites for travel advisories and warnings.
3. Travel Advisories
In today’s world, nearly everywhere has a travel advisory. Even Toronto has faced mass attacks with vans mowing people down in the street and a shooter walking through a quiet neighborhood randomly targeting innocent bystanders.
No matter where we go (or don’t go) there is a chance something could happen. When we look at travel advisories, we take everything into consideration.
We were just in China and the Canadian Government stated: “Exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” We know that China and Canada are going through a Huawei problem right now.
And while Canadians have been detained, we know that we are not “big high-ranking businessmen” or a teacher with the wrong Visa and we are certainly not drug smugglers. (these are the three situations where Canadians have been detained.) Our time in China was wonderful and we knew that the personal risk was low. We made the decision to go.
That is not to say others should take that risk if they don’t feel comfortable, but we have been to China several times and knew that being bloggers promoting a destination would be a good thing, and not something to worry about.
4. Weather Advisories
It’s always a good idea to check the weather. We have been in countries during typhoon and flooding season because we didn’t check the weather. Storm seasons are different around the world and just because we think it is a good time to visit one place, it doesn’t mean it’s good for another.
Being informed about the weather has definitely eased our minds in the past. When we’ve been stuck on a beach in a constant downpour, we’ve kicked ourselves.
But when we have looked into all possibilities before our trip and booked according to the best time to visit, we’ve had an amazing stress free vacation.
5. Plan Our Route
A lot of veteran travellers will tell you to be flexible and “go with the flow” to make the most of your travels. We have found that when we are feeling anxious about our travels, it is better to have everything planned for at least the first few days of the trip.
I feel my most anxiety when traveling once the plane lands, the train comes into the station, or the bus stops at the depot. On one hand, I can’t wait to get off my mode of transportation, but on the other, I hate leaving the safety and comfort of my seat.
If I know that someone is going to be there to meet me with my name on a card to take me to my hotel that is already booked, I feel a lot better.
It’s so easy to book an airport transfer through companies like Viator or Get Your Guide and it’s easy to choose our first couple nights of accommodation with all the “where to stay” type of article out there.
We do like to be flexible and open to changes in our itinerary, but we always have a solid plan for the start of our trip. I have always said to Dave that I feel overwhelmed the first day or two of a trip because I worry that I won’t see everything that I want to see.
By planning a walking tour or city tour, having my hotel booked ahead of time, and saving precious travel time with a fast airport transfer, I get my bucket list items done quickly, so I can then have the freedom to explore out of the way places and happen upon hidden gems.
6. Protecting From the unexpected
To ease our minds, we always purchase travel insurance. If we had to worry about getting sick or injured while wondering how we would pay for medical stays or flights home, it would put a damper on our entire trip.
I remember years ago, we didn’t buy enough insurance to last the length of our trip. We miscalculated and had two days at the end of our travels without insurance.
Those two days were the most stressful days ever. We felt nervous about something going wrong and couldn’t wait to get back on Canadian soil.
We put ourselves through unneeded stress by not carefully looking into our departure dates.
Recently while in China, my luggage was delayed. The communication was terrible with the airlines and airport staff, so I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get my bags.
When I called my insurance company to see if I was covered, my mind was put at ease. I found out that I had content replacement insurance and I even had delayed baggage insurance, so I could go shopping for clothes, and toiletries.
We always phone before making any purchase to open a claim and to be sure we are covered before we start spending any money. It was a good chunk of money, so I could replace what I lost if the bag never showed up.
Luckily, my bag arrived the next day and I didn’t bother to buy anything, but it certainly put my mind at ease, knowing that I could if I needed to.
7. Get Some Help
When we have stress or fear over an adventure, we make sure to hire a professional. I would have never trekked through the Arctic watershed on my own in the dead of winter, but having professionals lead the way took a lot of my anxiety away.
I was terrified of trekking over frozen lakes and rivers, but our guide Dave took the time to chip through a meter of ice at the beginning of the trip to show me how thick and safe the water was.
He explained the noises of ice heaving as being perfectly normal, and he kept Dave and I in the middle of the group with a guide at the front and back so that if anything happened we were safe.
Hiring professionals has really helped us push beyond our limits of what we ever thought we were capable of. We never did anything that was unsafe, because the professional guides made sure everything would be okay because they had the expertise.
It helped us push our fears further and soon, what made us anxious and worried a few years ago, melted away and seemed unimportant. Overcoming our fears in a safe way has enriched our lives and made us less anxious of things.
8. Forgive Yourself
One thing I have learned is that I would never have overcome my anxiety if I jumped blindly into something. There have been times when I saw others have an amazing time doing something that terrifies me, so I felt like I needed to take part.
I cannot bring myself to go bungy jumping, but when in New Zealand, I felt inadequate not jumping. I kept trying to talk myself into jumping, but my brain wouldn’t let me. I watched Dave jump and love every minute of it.
I met people during our trip who always seemed to ask if I did the Nevis Bungee or the Queenstown jump. When I said no, I felt weak and embarrassed.
But then, I thought about all the things I have done in my life and realized that not jumping off a platform into a gorge doesn’t define who I am.
Once I embraced the fact that I didn’t want to ever do a bungee jump in my life, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders and I could proudly proclaim, “When in New Zealand – The adventure capital of the world – I, Debra Corbeil never did a bungee jump!”
9. Envision the Future
We know first hand that facing our fears and anxieties has led us to a more fulfilled life. If we sat at home afraid, we never would have fulfilled our dream of making a living together doing what we love.
We never would have seen 110 countries and checked off every item on our bucket list. We never dreamed we would be where we are today.
But it was those first baby steps of taking an open water scuba diving course in Barrie Ontario, or buying our first mountain bike or stepping on a plane for the first time on a trip that wasn’t an organized package tour that opened up the world to new possibilities.
Ask for Help – Anxiety Disorder
When doing research for this article, I found out that 40 million people suffer from an anxiety disorder in the United States. That’s 18% of the population. Mental health is becoming a very serious problem and it must be talked about.
What is more interesting is that only 36% of people suffering from anxiety ask for help and receive treatment. And yet, most anxiety disorders are treatable.
If you find that you are suffering from a paralyzing anxiety disorder talk to your doctor and ask for help.
Recognize Panic Attacks
I have suffered my share of panic attacks when traveling. And it is not fun, but once I learned what I was suffering from, I could work through it.
I’ll never forget my first panic attacks. We were taking our Dive Masters in Honduras and each time I went out for a dive, I became more anxious. My heart was pounding and I was breathing oxygen quickly. I started crying between dives and we eventually had to go home. (I learned when I got home that I was suffering from a hyperthyroidism and Graves Disease, which triggered panic attacks.
I ended up having panic attacks for years after that. We were once in Bangkok Thailand having a wonderful tour of the city on a tuk tuk at night. The next thing I knew, the city started spinning and I just about passed out. I thought I was having a heart attack. So we asked our driver to take me to the hospital while Dave kept talking to me to keep me awake.
It turned out I had a panic attack. I had several more in my lifetime after that when I least expected it. There was another time that I went to the hospital in Canada and sure enough, it was a panic attack.
It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. They are actually a real problem. My doctor told me that something caused my blood sugar to drop which triggered my symptoms.
My heart would race, I’d feel sweaty, dizzy and numb. I felt like my body was shaking. Once he expalined it all to me, I could breath through it and relax. Soon whenever I had a panic attack, I’d take 10 deep breaths, close my eyes and it would pass.
Now I am no doctor, so I am not telling you to breath through something. You could be suffering from something, so always talk to your doctor.
Overcoming Anxiety in Travel
Have we felt anxiety in our travels? Sure, we still do, but with proper preparation, information and taking the time to plan, we end up having an extraordinary experience that always makes our lives richer and better.
I would hate to let fear and anxiety keep me from my full potential. And we have found that when we do face those fears, we realize that they weren’t so bad after all.
Mental health is important and we have found that a change of scenery, being active and sparking new interests can help keep anxiety at bay. For us, travel has helped our mental health over the years keeping a positive energy and outlook on life.
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This post is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AZGA Service Canada Inc.) I am a brand ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (Canada) and receive financial compensation.
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