Traveling is supposed to be fun, right? When I hear the word, I instantly imagine some place exotic: a beach with white sand, a gorgeous European city with amazing shopping, delicious food, and complete relaxation.
But for many folks, myself included, it also brings a wave of anxiety. Travel anxiety crops up for many reasons. You may have a health issue (again, like me) that makes travel of any kind pretty tricky. Maybe you have a fear of flying or have increased anxiety when you leave home. Maybe your anxiety is fairly general and you battle anytime, any place, and a change of scenery isn’t going to fix that.
Here are some tips to minimize your anxiety when traveling:
Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about where you’re going. If you familiarize yourself with the area, it won’t be a shock when you arrive. If you have food struggles, what kind of restaurants are nearby? Check out their menus online and see if accommodations can be made to fit your specific dietary needs. Don’t be afraid to reach out to restaurants and ask questions. These days, almost every business has a Facebook page or other social media. You can find an email for them or call.
Investigate the hotels where you’ll stay. Is there anything you need accommodated to help soothe your anxiety? Do you need a lower level room? Something near an elevator? Don’t be afraid to ask. Again, the establishment is serving you, the paying customer. They shouldn’t be strangers to specialized needs.
Talk to your doctor in advance of your trip: Make sure you have enough of any prescriptions you may need. Discuss your concerns in case they can help in any way. When I traveled to Europe, my doctor made sure I had rescue medications for Crohn’s disease. I had meds for anxiety, infection, and even steroids, and my GI doctor’s cell phone number with instructions to call him if I needed him. The medications were to address any problem that might arise, and help me get back home to be treated. I did not want to be in a hospital across the ocean from home.
Talk to people: Whether you’re traveling with family, friends, a travel group or business associates, express to them in whatever way is most comfortable, what your specific needs might be. I have Crohn’s disease. I literally may have to run to the restroom on a moment’s notice. That’s no exaggeration. Even though it might seem like too much information, it’s more comfortable for me if people traveling with me understand my needs and understand this illness the best they can.
So I tell them that I may have to bolt or I may get very tired and need to rest (both are pretty much certainties). Elicit help from them and set up a plan. If you need to sit down and catch your breath, set up a signal with your traveling companions. Designate a willing compassionate helper to watch your bags if you’re like me and need to literally dash to the restroom.
Be honest: Let any travel guides or flight attendants know of your struggle. If, again, you might need to use a restroom urgently, let them know ahead of time that this is your reality. They will be your best resource in finding restrooms or an alternate one on a plane should your closest ones be occupied. They know the “lay of the land” and can help. And don’t be embarrassed. They have dealt with many issues and I’m sure they’d prefer you share your needs with them so they can help, versus you suffering in silence and having a bad experience.
If you have anxiety about flying, driving, or anything else related to your trip, be sure to share that with them. Be kind but be bold. I’m not shy about sharing my needs anymore. It’s not a joke to me. It’s serious and I need folks to understand. I’m incredibly compassionate to others – because of my personality and because I have a chronic autoimmune disease – so I get it. Speak your need. Don’t feel embarrassed or like you’re a burden…because you are not.
Enjoy yourself: Bring any resource you need: Medications prescribed by your doctor; adult undergarments (okay, diapers, but seriously they may save you if you have IBD! And nobody can tell you’re wearing them!); books that encourage you; soothing music on your phone or iPod (don’t forget headphones!); a special pillow or blanket; pictures; whatever tends to soothe you, or give you confidence and comfort.
Try to make up your mind ahead of time that this will be a successful and enjoyable trip. Do some prep work like getting a fresh haircut, a spray tan, purchase a new outfit especially for this adventure, and even get your nails done. Anticipate greatness and get into a mindset that this will be exciting.