I used to be a whiz at travelling solo until one long-haul flight five years ago when I found myself lying on the aisle floor with an oxygen mask on. I had passed out on my way to the toilet, numerous times, and to this day I still don’t understand what happened or why. Ever since then I’ve been wary of travelling alone. What if I fell ill again? As a new trip approaches, I feel myself relive that horrible experience in addition to the stress of all the organisation required and the general sense of unknown that comes with travel. Subsequently, anxiety levels increase. Before my most recent journey to Australia, I journaled daily to discover, acknowledge and replace thoughts stemming from anxiety and fear. This got me thinking of ways I can change my perception on travelling and to think of the journey itself as an adventure rather than just a means to an end. Last week I travelled from South Cornwall to London and then around the globe via LA to Sydney. I am happy to say that my journey was not only anxiety and illness free, but I actually enjoyed it!
Reflecting back over my latest journey round the world, I have come up with 12 important tips on how to reduce travel anxiety and arrive at your destination safely, efficiently and in a positive mindset.
- It’s the journey, not the destination that matters – When travelling it’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious. Sometimes if you just focus on reaching your destination you can feel worse. Instead, try to make the journey as enjoyable and meaningful as possible. For me, I’ve found that curiosity is the antidote to anxiety about travel. When on a bus or at an airport I people watch and spend time wondering where they might be going a with whom.
- Break a long journey into small chunks – I broke mine into three chunks and thought about them as three separate events. The first one was a nine hour bus ride from Helston, Cornwall to London. I looked forward to arriving in London even though I would only be there for one night. Once that was over I only focused on getting to Heathrow and my first flight, which was to LA. I enjoyed my lay-over in LA, even though I wasn’t able to leave the airport. It was only in LA that I thought about the final flight to Sydney.
- Its okay to ask for help, most people are really friendly! – I regrettably decided bring two check-in suitcases. I thought it would be a good idea to distribute the weight but didn’t consider the difficulties of trekking across London on the tube in peek hour with two suitcases plus my backpack. Luckily however, I found that people are more than happy to lend a hand lugging suitcases up stairs and making room for me on the tube. Never be too shy to ask for help when you need it.
- Use travelling as an opportunity to catch up with old friends or to meet new ones – It’s always comforting to stay with a friend rather than in a hotel room before a flight. All of my friends have moved out of London but luckily one of my Cornwall friends arranged for me to stay with her aunty and cousins. I was exceptionally grateful to have been offered somewhere to stay and it was wonderful making meeting new people. If you have the opportunity to stay with someone it can make your trip much more enjoyable and memorable.
- Don’t overpack your carry on luggage – I used to pack a lot in my carry on luggage. However when travelling alone you don’t want to be lugging too much around. This is especially true when duty free shopping and stretching your legs between flights. I used to pack a whole bag full of toiletries and a change of clothes and loads of reading material only to find that I didn’t use a lot of it. I now pack a small essential oil blend, herbal tea, a natural hand sanitiser, a small pack of tissues, natural chewing gum, one book, one magazine, my laptop, my phone and its charger, my wallet and passport, a light weight jacket/ jumper, earplugs, ear phones, an eye mask, travel pillow and some snacks.
- It’s better to be early – Being early, especially to airports, can be a bit annoying given that you already know there is going to be a lot of waiting around. However, if you are an anxious traveller I highly recommend trying to give yourself at least 40 minutes of extra time. In my experience the extra time always seems to get zapped up. For example, I didn’t realise I had to have an ESTA when travelling with an American airline that stops in the U.S. Being early meant that I had the time to apply for it online at the airport without feeling rushed.
For me I’ve found that curiosity is the antidote to anxiety about travel.
- Be mindful of what you choose to eat – If you are a nervous traveller chances are you feel it in your gut. Furthermore, being cooped up in a plane and having to be awake and eat at unusual times can trigger an upset tummy. To lessen the burden on your gut I’d recommend avoiding any food that you aren’t already used to. I’d also recommended avoiding foods high in saturated fats, such as fast food and snacks high in refined sugar such as sweets and chocolates. I personally find that fatty foods, gluten and dairy are hard to digest and will always avoid eating these types of food before and during a flight. I also avoid caffeine, refined sugar (including soft drinks) and alcohol as they disrupt mood and sleep.
- Bring your own food and herbal tea – I eat some of the food offered to me on planes but I also bring my own snacks and emergency food such as rice cakes, oat crackers and fruit. Unfortunately, anything with nuts is a no-go in case anyone on the flight has a nut allergy. I also bring my own herbal tea to keep me feeling nurtured, hydrated and warm. I especially like Pukka Elderberry and Echinacea due to Echinacea’s immune supporting qualities. I’ll also have a night time blend with me for when I’m hoping to get some sleep. Don’t forget to declare any food and tea that you bring into a new county.
- Do what feels right when on a plane – I’ve found that if I plan to eat, sleep and work at certain times, it never works out. I find sleeping difficult at the best of times, so when travelling I’ve learnt to follow my body’s natural rhythms rather than planning. If you wait until after a meal or film, you may become too restless to sleep. Therefore, I recommend sleeping whenever you begin to feel tired even if that means missing a meal.
- When appropriate, choose natural remedies instead of pharmaceutical drugs – I never take sleeping pills as I find they make me feel groggy and unwell. I’ll usually have a 100ml herbal mixture with herbs such as Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Passion Flower and Withania to assist with relaxation and sleep. I take Echinacea up to a week before a flight and during the flight to help protect my immune system from all the different viruses and microbes you can be exposed to on a plane and because it’s known to help fight jet lag. For anxiety or fear of flying it might be useful to have a personalised Flower Essence blend, which can be formulated by a naturopath. Alternatively, pick up Bach Flower Rescue Remedy from your local health food shop or pharmacy. I would also recommend carrying on with any supplements you normally take. Although it may seem a bit annoying to pack and take supplements on the plane, travelling is not the time to stop supporting your body’s nutritional status.
- If you need to work get it done straight away – I have made the mistake of not getting work done as soon as I get on a flight. It’s easy to put it off when on a long-haul flight, but in my experience if it doesn’t get done straight away its not going to happen. This may not be true for everyone, however I do think that the further into the flight you get, the more tired and restless you are likely to become and that makes working hard for anyone.
- If you become anxious or restless, change your mindset – On a long-haul flight the last thing you want to do is watch the clock. If you are trying to sleep, listening to the audio of a calming film or music can block out distracting aeroplane noises. Don’t forget to turn the screen light off and wear an eye mask. I also like to practise a couple of deep breathing techniques such as the 4-5-8 breath, box breath or alternating nasal breath. Make sure the out-breaths are always longer than the in-breaths and that you do at least three breath cycles. Deep breathing is effective at moving you out of an anxious ‘flight or fight’ state and into a more calming state of being. Avoid watching emotional tolling films as they can heighten anxiety levels.
Every journey is different and every person is unique. However, a few considered actions and thoughtful techniques can make all the difference to your trip, leaving you rested and ready to go when you arrive at your destination.