Have you ever experienced travel anxiety before heading out on your vacation?
Is that mental checklist of all the things you need to do before you leave keeping you up at night?
Vacation anxiety is real since there are so many details to think about.
You also know that I will most likely NOT sleep well, have allergies to deal with (think down pillows and comforters, air fresheners and dryer sheets on linens, etc.) and more.
If you're on a special diet, there's also wondering what on earth you will eat while you're away from your special-diet-stocked pantry.
YIKES! It's enough to make one never want to travel again!!
There are a lot of ways anxiety can creep in and steal the joy from your travels if you don't know how to calm it.
Anxiety affects about 40 million adults in the United States every year. It’s common for people to feel anxiety when they step out of their comfort zone and do something new, even when that something is fun.
As excited as you are about your vacation, your brain can interpret these new places as a threat and that can lead to increased heart rate, nausea, sleep problems, and panic.
The reasons for having travel anxiety can be different for everyone an it can be sparked by any number of things such as:
- Fear of flying
- Fear of interstates/traffic
- Dwelling on worst case scenarios
- Missing the comforts of home
- Worrying about car sickness/nausea
- Not knowing what to expect
- Worrying you won't sleep well
- Concern about not feeling well. If you have chronic illness of any kind, traveling can be especially stressful.
When you're traveling with a family of kids there's the added burden of making sure everyone is safe and that your destination is kid-friendly
Following are some helpful tips I've learned over the years.
11 Travel Anxiety Tips
Mentally preparing is a smart way to reduce anxiety and tell your brain that you're safe.
To set my mind at ease, I always research our destination a few weeks before we leave. This allows my brain to make thought patterns about our vacation and the area we will be staying.
Here are some ways you can mentally prepare to reduce travel anxiety:
- Read reviews on the hotel/attractions
- Add the destination to your weather app
- Use Google Earth to get a visual of the area
- Check Trip Advisor reviews (you might find some unexpected hidden gems!)
- Familiarize yourself with the route you will take either by road or flight (you can even take a tour of the airport to reduce some of the unknowns.)
- Take screenshots of directions or confirmation codes in case you lose internet on the trip.
Take time to mentally envision your trip. By mentally rehearsing the trip you might think of potential problems, and then you can deal with those issues before you leave.
For example, when imagining your stay and going to bed in the hotel, you remember that you will need down-free pillows, so you can call ahead and alert the hotel about your needs.
Food can have a huge impact on your mood and emotions. One study found that a long-term diet of unhealthy foods and sugar contributed to depression and anxiety. (source) By cutting out junk foods, sugar, and hydrogenated oils you can calm inflammation and your nervous system.
A study completed on medical students found that a diet of clean foods high in Omega-3s reduced anxiety rates. (source)
This post clearly shows how food affects behavior. Want better behaved kids while traveling? Feed them better food!
When we're traveling I make sure to pack healthy snacks like fresh fruits, vegetables, and lots of low-carb snacks as well (too many carbs can cause blood sugar swings), and bring lots of clean water for the trip. Staying hydrated is crucial for reducing stress on your body.
Some Healthy Snack Ideas:
- Carrots/broccoli/celery and hummus
- Dehydrated veggies like green bean chips
- Apple slices and nut butter
- Grass-fed Beef jerky
- Smoothies packed on ice
- Yogurt cups with homemade granola
Having fresh snacks in a cooler reduces the number of fast food stops, saves money, and keep the kids from getting restless.
- Call ahead about provisions like fridge/restaurants/nearby grocery stores with healthy offerings
- Inquire about bedding alternatives.
Some hotels are allergy-conscious. They have down alternatives available and will have linens that haven't been washed with fragrances, and you can typically request that your room not be sprayed with an air freshener.
I have personally had a pungent air freshener give me a migraine and ruin the day for our family while we were traveling. It only takes a few minutes for the fumes to do their damage.
If you know you are sensitive to these things, take time to call before you leave so you have peace of mind that things are taken care of.
Side note, if you are going to be going on a cruise, then these tips for staying healthy on a cruise should be a help with these issues and many more.
Calm Travel Anxiety with Herbs
Herbs that can help calm you if you are really anxious before a flight or car ride. Using plant remedies is a smarter, safer choice than prescription anxiety meds which can leave you groggy and glazed over, or worse.
Kava is used to improve mood and reduce anxiety by stimulating the dopamine receptors in the brain. In a recent study, it was shown to be very effective for anxiety with minimal side effects. These results support Kava Root extract as an effective and safe alternative to antidepressants and tranquilizers in anxiety disorder without the tolerance problems associated with benzodiazepines. (source)
This amino acid slows down brain activity and keeps neurons from firing too quickly, which reduces racing thoughts and anxiety. Benzodiazepines work the same way but come with nasty side effects. You can find GABA at your health food store and it's a much safer alternative to prescriptions. You can buy it either in capsules or as a powder.
This is one of my personal favorite supplements for dealing with anxiety. I notice a difference within 10 minutes of taking this. 5-HTP is derived out of an amino acid that works to increase serotonin and regulate mood.
Kava produces a calming sensation since serotonin is that "feel good" neurotransmitter. A note of caution--don't take kava if you are already taking a prescription for anxiety or depression.
Make a Walk Out The Door Checklist
When we are driving down the interstate, I really don't want to wonder if I remembered to turn off the stove or lock the back door. Keep a checklist of vital things that you need to remember to do and tape it to the inside of the door you will leave from.
This habit does a ton to help with vacation stress.
Here are some things that might be on your list:
- Turn off the stove
- Unplug unnecessary appliances
- Lock all the doors and windows
- Set the air conditioner
- Bring phone chargers
- Turn off lights
- Pack Supplements
- Check toilets/water faucets, etc. to make sure they are not running
- Pack toothbrush, personal care items, white noise machine, sleep mask, mouthguards and retainers, etc.
Do a quick walkthrough of the important things you need to remember right before you drive away. No last minute worries about whether a window was left open or a toilet was left running!
Focus on Something Else
It's your brain's job to create chemicals based on what you are seeing and perceiving.
You choose what your brain focuses on by practicing and taking your thoughts captive.
When you feel fearful or anxious, choose to focus on something that tells your brain you're safe.
If you're dealing with anxiety in the car or plane, open up your phone and look at fun pictures or read a good book when you're dealing with anxiety.
Or close your eyes and think about what it feels like to stand on the beach to change your brain chemistry. Think about how the sand feels on your toes, the smell of the salt water, the waves crashing around your ankles.
Chew Chew Chew
Chewing gum can calm your nerves, because who bothers to chew gum while they are in danger? People typically don’t eat when they are being chased by a bear.
Eating and drinking tell your brain you are in a calm situation and safe.
Mental and physical distraction is a great way to force the brain to change directions and reduce travel anxiety.
Bring Your Essential Oils With You
Do certain smells trigger memories for you? Your brain remembers smells and their corresponding emotions.
When you're traveling, bring along your favorite essential oil. Choose an oil that you use during calm, happy times versus an oil that you bust out when people are sick. The smell of that oil reminds your brain of those calm emotions you felt at home.
This can reduce homesickness too, so it's great for kids to add a few drops of oil to their bedding when away from home.
When people are stressed they tend to take short, rapid breaths from their chest. Your brain then gets the signal to turn on the fight-or-flight mode and anxiety can spiral out of control quickly.
Deep breathing keeps your brain in a calm state and the nerves relaxed. You can do this literally anywhere and it's free!
Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and let your stomach expand. Then exhale through your mouth and let your body relax and your shoulders drop.
Practice this in the car whenever you feel stressed. Just close your eyes and take several rounds of breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth. It does the job and this even works great for kids.
Smother Your Anxiety With a Weighted Blanket
Many people find help with travel anxiety using a weighted blanket. The weighted blanket puts deep touch pressure stimulation on nerves and helps produce serotonin and melatonin. Studies have shown that using a weighted blanket can reduce anxiety by as much as 63%. (source)
Use a weighted blanket in a car, on a flight, or in your hotel to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Having that added weight does wonder for my nerves. Note: choose a blanket that is about 10% of your body weight for best results.
Prepare Motion Sickness Remedies
When motion sickness hits, it can quickly take the joy out of your vacation.
I don't want to start a vacation someone having a belly ache, so here are my go-to remedies:
- Peppermint oil has been shown to reduce nausea by 57% when inhaled. It's a great, smart choice for kids and very portable. Try adding a few drops (diluted) to the back of your neck and the bottoms of your feet.
- Eat light if you know you will be taking a long car ride that could bring on nausea.
- Ginger has been shown to reduce nausea--ginger essential oil is a super convenient option. (source)
- Chamomile has been used to treat nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, indigestion, and general digestive upset. Use organic chamomile tea or chamomile tablets that dissolve right in your mouth. I used to buy chamomile tablets for our car rides. They do wonders for upset stomach and add are very calming. They're also great for morning sickness during those first few months of pregnancy.
Go With The Flow
When you're on vacation you may feel pressure to hit every destination and activity on your itinerary. Give yourself permission to change your mind or be ok with missing a few stops.
Your trip doesn't have to be perfect. Weather happens and plans change or maybe you just need some downtime.
The point is to spend time together and enjoy something new
Schedule some downtime and if you don't end up needing it, great! At least you know you have the time in case family nap time is needed or the kids want to chill for while.
Plan for After the Vacation
You need to plan for some relaxing after you get home from your vacation. Often, the best vacations can leave you the most exhausted.
Have you ever heard the term "I need a vacation from my vacation?"
Anyone vacationing with children knows that when you get home you have laundry, a trashed vehicle, and stacks of mail waiting. All you want to do is rest!
When you're planning your next vacation, schedule some downtime for when you get back to avoid the after-vacation overwhelm.
Even if you're prone to travel anxiety, there are things you can do to make your vacation as stress-free as possible.
Take time to review and plan, make lists, and prepare as many things as possible.
Every step will set your mind at ease more so that when you leave, you'll be able to really relax.
Hopefully these tips will help you embrace the moment and make plenty of memories instead of stress!
How about you?
What tips have you found helpful for dealing with travel anxiety?
Amanda is a health coach and is passionate about healing from the inside out. She blogs at Bliss Health Coaching with a focus on the gut-brain connection and how it impacts our entire body. She loves using plants for health purposes and her love of research puts her in a position to help people feel alive and full of energy.