Feeling anxious about your first trip? Try these 6 expert hacks

Mar 17, 2021

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For some people, travel can cause a lot of anxiety, even under normal circumstances. Before the coronavirus pandemic, more than 55% of people who had flown recently said air travel was more stressful than going to work.

And then the entire travel industry came to a halt. People all over the world were forced to shelter in place. As a result, some people haven’t traveled away from home in more than a year.

Even the most confident road warriors may now find that hitting the road is an unfamiliar, uncomfortable experience. If that was the case for you before the global health crisis, it might be doubly true today.

But if you trust your instinct and ease yourself back into travel, you might find your next trip is a breeze.

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Visit a familiar destination

If you’re anxious about planning your first trip since the onset of the pandemic, don’t feel pressured to splash out with a whirlwind tour of a new continent or your first-ever cruise.

“A lot of anxiety comes from fear of the unknown,” said Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, an author, licensed clinical social worker and patient advocate who also writes for Choosing Therapy, an online therapy platform. So, Waichler says, anxious travelers should plan a trip where they “can control as much as possible.”

Visiting somewhere you have been to before can help relieve anxiety and allow you to explore places you might not have seen previously. (Photo by Angel_Eyes/Twenty20)

Waichler recommends choosing a “place you have been before and are familiar with so you know what to expect in terms of accommodations and what is involved in getting there.”

This might be your favorite country or it could be the state park around the corner from your home. Christina Tan, a luxury travel influencer, also says to choose a place “you have been before and [that] give you happiness and positive vibes. Take it easy,” she said. “Don’t go for a new adventure yet.”

Wherever it is, picking a place you feel comfortable in and know well can mitigate some of the anxiety. After all, things will still look a little unfamiliar: The last time you traveled, you didn’t need to wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart from others.

Be prepared

There’s never been a more important time to research the specifics of your trip in advance and plan for worst-case scenarios.

Tan says to “prepare … travel insurance, regular medication, vitamins and [a] first-aid kit.”

Travelers should also call in advance to make sure they have all the information they need to feel comfortable with their travel decisions. Waichler said you can call in advance to get more information about medical services, vaccination requirements and more.

Pick your favorite pastimes

What you’re doing is as important as where you go. If you’ve never skied before, you might not want to hit the slopes for the first time during a pandemic. And even if learning to surf has long been on your bucket list, now might not be the time to plan a trip centered around an entirely new activity you might not even enjoy.

The first time I traveled during the pandemic, I made sure the trip was filled with hiking and that I had easy access to state and national parks. Not only did this make it easy for me to stay outside and avoid other people, but it also meant I could look forward to an activity I love and am comfortable doing. I didn’t have to learn any new skills or buy any new gear — two things that can be inherently stressful.

Stay close to home

You don’t have to fly across the globe to travel. And, in fact, choosing a close-to-home destination for your first trip can help you ease back into the process. There are a number of benefits to this. For one, if you stay in your state, you won’t have to adjust to any new rules or regulations or factor in testing requirements or quarantine mandates. But if things do go wrong — even if that means you simply decide that you’re uncomfortable and want to return home — it’s much easier to do so if you’re within driving distance.

There are probably a few places you haven’t visited in driving distance from home, so why not check them out? (Photo by nielsfahrenkrogphoto/Twenty20)

Remember, if you travel abroad right now, you don’t just have the normal logistics (flights and accommodations) to consider. You’ll also need to arrange a COVID-19 test within three days of your return to the United States. You might also have a destination’s travel requirements and restrictions to contend with. Plus, there are simply fewer flights and services available to travelers right now. When you dip your toes back into travel, consider the beach town around the corner — not on the other side of the planet.

Book with an expert

More than ever, travelers of all stripes are turning to group tour operators, travel agents and advisors. Again, there are so many logistics to consider when you’re traveling, and requirements can change overnight.

Take the pressure off by leveraging an expert who is responsible for coordinating all the details, keeping track of the rules and vetting providers. Plus, if you opt for a group tour experience, you’ll have a built-in network of other like-minded travelers you can turn to for support if you’re feeling anxious.

Give yourself permission to wait

Even if your family, friends and neighbors are announcing travel plans, don’t feel pressured to book the first flight out of town. If the thought of traveling makes you anxious right now, or even months from now when, hopefully, COVID-19 is less of an immediate threat, it’s okay to keep your thumb on the pause button.

“Tell yourself it is OK to feel anxiety about traveling,” Waichler said. “There is nothing wrong with it. It is normal to feel anxious about traveling … when we are so used to living under so many restrictions [and] with so much uncertainty ….”

Travel is, of course, always a deeply personal decision, and that will continue to be true even when vaccines are widely available and we’ve achieved some level of herd immunity. So take your time. And, if you decide to book a trip and realize at the last minute you’re not comfortable, feel empowered to back out. It’s understandable if now isn’t the right time for you to travel.

Featured photo by Chalabala/Twenty20

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