It’s been a busy year of travel for me. When I think back on how hard it was for me to get started, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. When I was a kid, my family adventured everywhere, and then around the time I turned 18, a few bad experiences left me with a lifetime of traveling with anxiety.
On top of that, I’d become a mother at a young age while also facing some serious health challenges. As a result, after flying home from Japan in 1995, I didn’t set foot on another flight until 2007. To say I was nervous is an understatement, but I made it through. Still, I kept those trips short and relatively basic because I couldn’t handle more than that — and that was okay.
Instead of feeling any shame about this, I focused on taking small steps. I recognized that anxiety runs in my family — my grandmother worked for United Airlines for years, and never took any of the free vouchers because she was too scared to fly! When she died last year, it gave me the push I needed to finally live my life to the fullest. Thinking of all the things she never did because of fear, I decided to go on these adventures for both of us! I’ve learned a few lessons about myself along the way.
I’m Stronger Than I Thought
Living with anxiety sure has been hard on me, at times. There have been so many moments when self-doubt threatened to completely derail my life. My OCD questions me constantly, and there were things, like traveling back to Japan, that I never thought I could do again. Yet, here I am writing a travel blog all about my adventures!
For years I was too scared to get on small roller coasters, but did I tackle Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point? Yes! Did I ever think I’d find the courage to climb a mountain in the Tantalus Range of British Columbia? Nope, but I did It! How about winning a Transformation Challenge fewer than two years after giving birth to twins? Yep, I did that too!
There are moments when I really struggle, but I’m learning to see that everyone does. It doesn’t mean I’m defective or less than anyone else. I’m human — but I’m strong as hell!
Disasters Can Be Survived
One of my biggest fears has always been getting sick while traveling. That’s why I wrote a hotel guide and airplane tips to avoid coming down with something on vacation. Until it finally happened (twice!) I just thought that a situation like that was something I could never survive.
The first instance was absolutely horrible. I came down with a terrible virus that left me on the floor vomiting (and more!) at a grocery store. My kids had to call an ambulance and Josh had to fly out to get me. By the time I was wheeled into the hospital, I was laughing to myself about how embarrassing it all was.
Then, during a trip up to Montréal, Josh contracted norovirus. He was doubled over a toilet for hours, which was a complete nightmare for me. Not only was I scared that I’d catch it, I was worried it would derail my plans to spend time with my grandmother. Instead of succumbing to the anxiety, I kept up with my natural remedies, stayed healthy, and actually helped him through the long trek back to Idaho!
Lots of People Have Travel Anxiety
We were on our way home from Columbus, Ohio recently when our flight was delayed. Everyone was disappointed, but one woman started sobbing uncontrollably. With sympathetic eyes, I looked over at her, assuming I knew what was going on. When my grandmother was dying, my flight was delayed and I started panicking because I thought I’d miss being able to say goodbye.
When we boarded the flight, I noticed the same woman sitting across the aisle from us, but quickly got caught up in my own life. We’d just scattered some of Granny’s ashes in Detroit and were discussing the experience. She caught my attention again, however, when she started weeping after we landed. We hadn’t been assigned a gate and we would be delayed getting off the plane. She cried, “I just want to get off of this plane!”
Reaching over, I asked if I could help and she simply said, “I’m okay. I’ve just got really bad anxiety and I hate being on airplanes. I just want this flight to be over!” We embraced and shared our stories of overcoming those feelings of being overwhelmed in order to travel and enjoy our lives. Others chimed in. Traveling with anxiety isn’t rare — it’s pretty common but we just don’t talk about it. I’m writing this blog in hopes of bringing my tribe out of the shadows.
Most Amusement Parks Are Awesome
For a long time, amusement parks really freaked me out. There were so many things that triggered my OCD. First of all, theme parks are full of people, many of whom might be sick. Then, I’m supposed to get on rides with people who have been coughing or worse!
On top of that, the rides themselves seemed terrifying. Were they safe? Would I be thrown from a roller coaster and fall to my death? Why would anyone get on thrill rides, anyway? Why would you think something like that is fun? It just didn’t make sense to me. Those thoughts, and more, were the types of things I said to myself when I would think about amusement parks.
Then, I came up with strategies for making myself feel safer around all the germs lurking on the seats and lap bars. After that, I started learning more about how to prevent motion sickness. Finally, I researched how to overcome my fear of roller coasters — and then I did it! I’m so grateful, too, because visiting amusement parks has added so much joy to my life!
Long-Haul Flights Can Be Worth Traveling with Anxiety
Fear of flying is pretty common, but my reasons for feeling terrified during a flight are different than most. While some are preoccupied over the safety of an aircraft, I’m worried that someone sitting near me will be coughing, sneezing, or vomiting. As such, even though it was fine in my youth, my older self wanted to avoid long-haul flights at all costs.
When my youngest daughter showed an interest in Japan, I knew I wanted to take her. More than 20 years after my first trip, I still thought about it all the time. In order to get there, though, we’d have to be on a plane for hours. Ultimately, I decided it was worth it and we went.
To make traveling with anxiety a little easier, we packed masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, and all of my favorite essentials in my carry-on. We prepared for staying in hotels we’d never seen before — and then we had the time of our lives. There’s no doubt that we would do it again in a heartbeat.
My Anxiety Has a Culture
While I was born in Canada and currently live in the United States, my heart belongs to a different country. By now, you’ve probably guessed that it’s Japan. I’ve been to many other places in the world, but nothing compares to how I feel when I’m walking down the streets of Osaka.
The way things are organized, the respect people have for each other, the way food is packaged (so that you don’t have to use your dirty fingers), the fact that it’s normal and encouraged to wear a mask when you’re sick… it’s almost like an entire society designed to soothe my anxiety!
Obviously, that’s not the case, but Japan still feels like home to me. When I’m there, it doesn’t feel like I’m traveling with anxiety much at all. In fact, it does wonders for my anxiety and OCD, and I hope to live there in the future. My daughter felt the exact same way.
Being Honest About Travel Anxiety Goes a Long Way
For years, I tried to hide how I was feeling when I’m traveling with anxiety. I didn’t want anyone to judge me, but in my effort to conceal my struggles, I damaged relationships. Every time Josh and I went to a hotel, I was tense and short-tempered.
The day when I finally explained what was wrong with me, he was so relieved. Now, he happily performs the cleaning rituals that help me feel more at ease and it’s changed our vacations completely. That 10-minute investment of sanitation time after checking in makes it a lot more possible for me to enjoy the rest of my trip.
By writing this blog and sharing on social media, I decided to open up about my anxiety. At first, I braced myself for mockery; it’s happened before, and it will likely happen again. Now that I’ve stepped into my truth, though, it seems to be happening less often. Instead, my friends (and even strangers) have shared their own challenges and it’s made the relationships in my life — both long-term and fleeting — more meaningful.
I’m so grateful that I’ve embarked on this journey, and I’m hoping that my story helps inspire you to make changes in your own life. Have you been traveling with anxiety? Are you hoping to travel more? I’d love to hear from you!