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A new decade has begun. Can you feel the winds of change? Some people are even referring to this as the new Roaring 20s. While I firmly believe that we can (and should) shake things up and work on ourselves whenever the mood strikes, there’s something to be said about a fresh start in a new year. That’s why it’s the perfect time to beat travel anxiety and start planning your vacation!
If you’re like us and live with anxiety, though, that can be a daunting task. Whether you’re dealing with a fear of flying, are stressed by crowds, or have germaphobia, you can take small steps towards learning new ways to cope and manage your symptoms. You may need the support of your loved ones or a professional, and that’s okay. There’s no shame in this. Here are some suggestions for what you can do right now to get started.
Commit to Working on Your Travel Anxiety
Anxiety can make you feel like you’ve lost all control over your life. If you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, it can even feel like you’re dying. The idea of trying to overcome anxiety can be overwhelming. It’s even worse if you’ve tried in the past, but feel like you failed.
There was a time when my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) was so strong that I almost gave up. After years of feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere, I’d become resigned to my fate. A fear of poor food handling meant we stopped going out for meals. The only place we shopped was was Walmart in the middle of the night to avoid being around other people. We never went to the movies and avoided malls.
It took nearly two years, but I looked around and realized that I wasn’t fighting back. My OCD and anxiety was winning and robbing me of living a full life. Rather than give up, I started seeing a therapist. For eight months, she taught me about mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, and eliminating shame.
There was no need to be embarrassed by my anxiety — and that was the most important lesson I learned. It gave me the freedom to openly come up with strategies for feeling more at ease on flights and in hotel rooms. That would have never happened, though, if I hadn’t made the commitment to work on my anxiety. It’s hard work, but you can do it!
People get really hung up on “New Year’s Resolutions,” which is why I’m not a fan. There’s just a different type of pressure associated with them, so I make goals, instead. Think about one or two things you really want to accomplish and then come up with small, actionable steps you can take to get there.
You don’t have to share your goals with anyone, by the way. I’m one of those people who keeps those things to myself. I’ve found that people tend to put doubt in my mind or make me question myself. Sometimes, it’s best to just quietly focus on what you need to do, then you can share your success with everyone when cross the finish line!
I’m Canadian, so apologizing is kind of in my nature. All jokes aside, though, while it’s important to say sorry when we’re wrong, we need to stop apologizing for our dreams. You don’t need to explain yourself to anyone, even people who question the environmental impact of travel.
There are many ways to offset your carbon footprint as you travel. You can choose sustainable destinations and hotels or you can donate to sites such as Cool Effect, an organization that accepts travel offset donations and puts the money towards green initiatives. Finally, don’t apologize for who you are — especially your anxiety. Instead, you can thank people for being patient or compassionate. Just don’t feel bad for being yourself.
Make Travel Plans
Where should you travel this year? People are always jetting off to Europe or the Caribbean. Why not try something a little different. As mentioned, I grew up in Canada so I’m a little biased, but I think it should be on your bucket list. Just keep in mind that, in most parts of the country, you could see snow from September through May. Keep an eye on the forecast!
Here are some suggestions to help you plan a trip to Canada:
- Best food: Montreal
- Best weather: Vancouver
- Best views: Banff/Lake Louise (fly into Calgary!)
- Most diverse: Toronto
- Most sustainable: Vancouver
- Theme park: Canada’s Wonderland
While we currently live in the United States, I’ve always considered my second homeland Japan. Trust me, I’m trying to get there! It’s the perfect destination for travel in 2020 because the Summer Olympic Games are being held in Tokyo! If you’re planning to visit, learn about the culture and customs before you arrive. Also, read our guide to the Shinkansen train system and Japan Rail Pass.
Here are some suggestions to help you plan your first trip to Japan (a very environmentally-conscious destination):
- Biggest city: Tokyo
- Best culture: Kyoto
- Best fun: Dotonbori
- Best history: Hiroshima
- Theme parks: Universal Studios Japan, Fuji-Q Highland, Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea
One last thing about Japan — it’s more affordable than you think. You can grab ready-made items from convenience stores and get cheap eats from inexpensive restaurants for very, very little. On our last trip, we spent about $30 a day on food for two people, and that included splurging!
Communicate Better About Your Travel Anxiety
It can be hard to say what you want to say, especially when you’ve got anxiety. There have been many times in my life when I’ve realized that the frustration I was feeling was my own fault. I wasn’t telling people what I wanted or needed. As a result, I suffered.
In 2020, make yourself a priority by learning to communicate better. Share how you’re feeling. Ask for what you need. Set clear boundaries. Learn to say no. Yes, this is very hard work, but if you put in the effort, I promise it will be worth it. Give the people around you time to adjust, because they will be surprised, but don’t cave. You need and deserve to make yourself a priority.
You can’t control everything (I live with chronic medical conditions myself), but you should make every effort to get healthy. What that means is different for everyone (for example, the keto diet helps my travel anxiety), but the goals should look something like this:
- Get enough sleep every night
- Stay hydrated
- Declutter your home
- Clean up your diet
- Move your body for 30 mins every day
- Get into a healthy weight range
- Stretch before bed at night
- Develop strategies for coping with stress and anxiety
- Consider unplugging from technology every day
Why is it important to get healthy? When we don’t feel our best, it impacts our mental and emotional health. Not getting enough sleep, carrying extra weight, or eating a poor diet can also leave us feeling sluggish. Life is busier than ever, so it’s even more important to make good health a priority.
Keep your health a priority even when you’re traveling by planning an active vacation. Choose destinations that will challenge you. Then, use that as a goal to motivate you to become more physically fit. Want to climb Japan’s Mt. Fuji? You’ll have to work hard to prepare!
Do you feel stuck in a job that you hate? That’s the kind of thing that wears down your soul. I’ve been there, and it’s awful. When you’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed, though, sometimes you just do what you’ve got to do. It can feel like you don’t have any options, but many times, we’ve got choices that we take for granted.
You may need to upgrade your education or training, or have a conversation with your boss, but there are often things you can do to make earning an income less painful. When my three oldest kids were young, I decided to go back to school. My health was not great, so I signed up for online classes. In three years, I completed a four-year degree. It took a lot of sleepless nights and tears, but it went well enough that I signed up for graduate courses too.
Today, I’m teaching online classes. I’m also contributing articles to multiple websites and writing this blog. As a remote worker, I can review assignments and put together blog posts from anywhere in the world. My travel anxiety no longer includes worrying whether I’ll get the time off from work — I bring it with me. I’ve even graded papers on a bullet train speeding between Osaka and Tokyo! If you’d told me this would be my life 15 years ago, I would have never believed it. It took a lot of effort, but I came up with a plan and followed through. You can do the same!
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a bit of a nomad. While I spent the first 23 years of my life in Montreal, I’ve made several big moves since then. We’ve lived in different cities in Alberta, moved to Virginia, and now we’re here in Idaho. Are we planning another move? Maybe. In the meantime, we’re figuring out what we need in our lives for the next five years.
That’s the key, of course. You have to evaluate what you’re missing and what you’re looking for in a home base. In addition to wanting a fresh start as a family, we chose to leave Virginia in search of a more walkable city with an outdoor lifestyle. We’ve found that in Boise.
Let’s get real, though. It’s not easy to relocate, especially as often as we have. That being said, if you’re feeling trapped and stuck where you currently live, it’s worth researching other cities. Find out about the people, local culture (this can even vary greatly from state to state!), restaurants, cost of living, crime, medical facilities, and anything else you feel is important.
Hot tip: as a world explorer, look for a city that’s near a great airport for all your travel in 2020! Here are some of my favorite sites for comparing cities (make sure you see how your current location stacks up against the ones you’re considering):
Once you’ve settled on something, come up with a plan of action. Make it as detailed as possible with small one-month, three-month, six-month, and 12-month goals. Then, follow through. Don’t give up — you only live once!
Get Rid of Toxic People
Are there people in your life who drain your energy, cross/ignore boundaries, and leave you feeling disrespected? We’ve all had to deal with this type of thing in our lives, whether it’s family members, coworkers, or friends. Did you know that you don’t have to put up with it forever?
Start by having a conversation with whomever is hurting you in your life. Calmly point out the behaviors and explain how their behavior is impacting your relationship. Give them a chance to respond and discuss what will happen if things don’t improve. Then, if the problems persist and nothing changes, do whatever you need to do to protect yourself and live a more positive life.
It can be really hard to limit or eliminate contact with certain people. There’s a good chance that you’ll feel really sad. It’s okay to mourn the loss of that relationship. As time goes by, though, you’ll probably realize how much healthier it is for everyone involved. You can always leave the door open if you want to give someone a second chance, but keep your boundaries intact.
Find a New Routine
It’s hard to break old habits when we’ve fallen into a stale routine. Without even thinking about it, we do the same things day in and day out. It’s not a bad thing if you’re happy with how things are going, but if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, you’ve got to find a new routine.
Take a different route to work. Have your big meal in the middle of the day instead of in the evening. Wake up and go to bed an hour earlier. Banish smartphones and devices from bedtime and date night. Go on a road trip once a week just to explore the nearby surroundings (no need to stay overnight!). Try a new hobby or restaurant. The goal is to shake things up a bit and give your outlook on life an upgrade.
Prevent Travel Anxiety Before Your Trip
You’re motivated and ready to pack your bags, so why would you let travel anxiety derail your travel plans? Of course, there’s no easy fix and working through anxiety takes time and a lot of effort. That being said, here are some things you can do to prevent travel anxiety before your trip:
Identify Your Triggers
You can’t calm your fears unless you understand them. Think about what’s holding you back and focus on addressing it. You might be tempted to avoid this entirely, but you’ll get a lot further by tackling it head on.
Research Your Destination
Many people with anxiety really hate surprises, we also fear the unknown. Before you book your trip, find out about the area so that you can be prepared. The internet is filled with incredible resources, from blogs to official tourism sites. There are some great travel apps out there, too.
You don’t want to get somewhere and discover they don’t accept credit cards. You also don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars in unexpected resort fees when you thought you’d already paid for your all-inclusive vacation. By preventing unexpected surprises, you can avoid triggering events and continue to enjoy your trip!
Have a Plan, But Rethink the Itinerary
We’re all planners in this house. I’ve got notes and Google docs for all my trips to serve as reminders of what I want to do, see, and eat on my visit. Whenever we go somewhere, it’s heavily researched, so that we know what to expect.
*A travel plan is not the same as an itinerary*
The rigidity of an itinerary, when you’ve got every detail of your trip on a tight schedule, can actually increase travel anxiety. There’s a good chance that something will go wrong (flight delays, long lines, not bringing cash, closed attractions, etc…), and if you’ve got your heart set on doing things a certain way, it could be very upsetting and trigger your travel anxiety.
We suggest looking at all the options and then prioritizing what everyone in your group wants to do (this is much easier for solo travelers!). Do the most important stuff first, then come up with a loose plan for everything else. Accept that you might not see everything on your wish list, and that’s okay. Some of our favorite travel moments were unplanned!
Set Aside Emergency Money
We won’t lie to you. There have been many trips when we were traveling well outside our budget. Our credit cards were maxed out and our bank account was empty. We have no regrets! At the same time, though, it’s really not the smartest way to travel.
In the weeks (or months) leading up to your trip, set aside loose change in a jar. Make that your emergency money. Build it up as much as you can and then before you travel, exchange it for bills/local currency, put it in a savings account, or onto a credit card. Guard that money carefully and save it in case something happens. You should always have a backup plan when traveling, especially overseas.
Learn the Language
I’m allergic to fish and seafood, so I’m always nervous about trying new foods. What if I start having a reaction and need medical assistance? One of the best ways to keep my travel anxiety in check (and stay safe!) is to learn some important phrases. This will take some effort and planning on your part, but we highly recommend it.
Not only will it make your everyday interactions go more smoothly on your trip, but it could be life-saving in the event of a natural disaster, outbreak of violence, or health-related emergency. Grab a guidebook from Lonely Planet or use Rosetta Stone (we recommend both). It’s a worthy investment!
Buy Travel Insurance
Josh and I met while working at one of the world’s biggest travel insurance providers. While there, we worked together in one department for a while, then we each spent time in other areas of the company. As a result, we’ve got a pretty rounded perspective on why having a travel insurance policy is a good idea.
Like any insurance, you may spend money on it and never need it. Instead of seeing this as a waste of resources, be grateful you’ve never had to file a claim. We’ve spoken to people who were experiencing major issues while traveling (I was even a medical case manager!) and we can tell you that having coverage can mean the difference between life and death.
Remember Why You Want to Travel
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and the idea of boarding a plane makes you feel stressed, take a step back and remember all of the reasons why you want to travel. How might your life be improved by taking this trip? How will you feel if you back out?
Write out some reasons why you want to see the world and then use that as motivation to work through your travel anxiety. I’ve been known to put sticky notes for myself on mirrors and on the wall next to my desk. When you reflect on the why, you’ll get determined to figure out the how.
Thank Your Travel Anxiety
This might seem a little odd, but why not take a few moments to thank your travel anxiety? Why would you do that? Because it has helped you become an informed and invested explorer!
You can’t plan for everything, of course, but anxious travelers tend to prepare well. So, on your next trip, thank your travel anxiety, trust your skills, and enjoy your trip. You’ve earned it!