Anxiety is a word thrown around a lot nowadays, and there is no doubt that with the rise in technology, population numbers, austerity and work hours, that there is a lot more about than there ever was. Something that I think my grandparents must think it’s time our pathetic generation got over, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s not something I talk about often, be that because I don’t like to publicise the fact, or because of the old fashioned stigma around mental health issues that still exists, but I have anxiety, and at times it can be crippling. You wouldn’t know that taking a glance at the blog, social media, my sickness record from work, my ambitions etc, but then it is something that is easy to hide sometimes. What I have tried to ensure however, is that it doesn’t get in the way of me travelling, as travelling and exploring is something I love to do, and the big old anxiety goblin sure can stop you from doing that if you aren’t prepared. So, in attempt to be more open, but also to help others through it, here are my top 10 tips for travelling successfully with anxiety.
1. Talk to friends/travel with friends
It seems like an obvious one, but you might be travelling solo and that’s OK too, but if that’s the case, talk through your worries with someone, tell people where you are staying so they can check in on you if they want to, and if you’re lucky enough to be travelling with people make sure they know your triggers (if you know them) or what signs to look for, or what your safety is/things that make you feel better.
2. Know your budget
No one likes talking about money, or in my case even thinking about it, but know how much you have to spend on your trip before you leave, and remember to leave some for emergencies, as often, even with travel insurance you have to shell out for things and be reimbursed later. The one way to stop worrying about money – talk about it. Whether you’re travelling with a partner or friends, make sure you know their budget and they know yours, and that there is an understanding if people do/don’t want to spend money on certain things what you’re going to do (will they go on whilst you sit it out in a park, or will none of you do it etc). Also, if you’re a planner like me you can make sure you get the best deal on things like museum entrance etc by looking into city passes (Paris Museum Pass or New York Sightseeing Pass were amazing for us).
3. Plan well – your stay and your space
Planning is a key thing that helps me travel loads, and for some people it is their worst nightmare. I like to know where I am staying, what I am doing and roughly when and the cost. Some people hate that, and it sends them into a spiral, so if planning isn’t for you, then just ensure two things: (1) that you know where you’re going to stay, or if you’re not a planner, ensure that you have at least a backup hostel planned in case there isn’t any room when you get to the one you want to stay at. (2) The second is to plan in space, and by that I mean some time to walk through something green, or down a beach, or even round the block. For example, when we went for a week in Manhattan, we spent a few chunks of time in Central Park. Being in the fresh air and not having to worry about bumping into people (literally) is really good for your mind. If you can’t do this, make sure you plan in space for you. Yes, going to 6 museums and on a boat and eating in the most popular restaurant in Paris is great, but having that time before you go for dinner to sit and read or just chat with a glass of wine, or video call home is so unbelievably important for the workings of your brain.
4. Eat well
Everyone gets hangry, and when exploring and travelling even more so. Oh, you have anxiety? Great, that’s like tripled and you can lose it over nothing, trust me I know, I’ve been there, and poor Tim has picked up the pieces. So eating well is a must, even if that’s little and often, or big meals less often (sometimes we only have a late breakfast but it’s BIG and then dinner, but also have fruit or snacks in the day to boost your blood sugar levels). So eating well doesn’t just mean no McDonald’s, McDonald’s your heart out as long as you eat enough to fuel your adventure, and don’t forget about travel days, they’re stressful too. If you can add something green or remotely healthy in then even better!
5. Flight worries – learn more
If, like me, you are not a confident flyer, or in fact hate it completely, don’t think that asking the doctor for meds is the only answer. Lots of people find that learning more about the things that scare them is an incredible help, and that was the same in my case. In fact, no matter how many documentaries I watched on planes, from airport to the world’s most dangerous airports to one’s about plane crashes and conspiracies and the world’s most expensive flights…nothing compared to going to the Airbus factory in Hamburg – where not only did you learn about the company, but everything about a plane, how it works and stays in the air and its safety features. It was amazing, and I can not recommend it enough – I know they have one in Toulouse too, but maybe you could see if there is one near you – perhaps Boeing too!
6. Practice breathing
Again, it’s something that seems obvious, but breathing is such an important part of combating anxiety, from drowning out the noise to calming your excessive heart rate. The most important thing I have learnt is a little trick called 2-1-3 (or any numbers to the same effect). In this you breathe in slowly for 2 counts, hold your breath for one and then breathe out slowly for 3. Sometimes I need to go as high as 6 in, 2 held, 8 out but it doesn’t matter as long as you are breathing out for longer than you are breathing in for. If you can practice this, you can use it as a tool whilst you’re away, and you can literally do anything.
7. Take small calculated risks
Not only can it feel amazing to do something that you think you’d hate (for me read: heights and trying to meet people when I’m traveling solo), doing little things that you are uncomfortable with can make your experience a million times better. I’m not saying abseil down the Empire State Building, but do push yourself, it’s a holiday and you want to make the most of being able to adventure so if you can do something out of your comfort zone that will be a great memory made, then do it! This picture is of me really struggling at the top of Notre Dame towers in Paris, as the bells started to ring, I stayed firmly attached to the solid concrete walls the whole way round, but loved the view and really enjoyed the history I learnt up there!
8. Celebrate the good stuff
Just as in life, so on holiday! You are amazing, everything that you have managed to do today is brilliant and you need to remember the battles you have won (with the other tourists, but also mainly with your head). You managed to get up at 7am and see 2 museums, and have remembered to use your student card to get in free – celebrate! No hangover from the awful absinthe bar in Prague that you visited at the end of a night of seeing how many beers you could tick off in the beer hall – celebrate! Not losing your passport this trip – celebrate! You deserve it, plus if you’re actually following this advice and have taken some small calculated risks as in point 7, you have even more to celebrate!
9. Pack well
I guess in some ways it’s as obvious as eating well. If you’re carrying your stuff around don’t pack too much, but also don’t forget the essentials. If you’re going out in the day, don’t forget your charger, sun cream, a book, anything that you might need to calm you if you have a panic attack, or your headphones. Do think about pick-pockets – they exist everywhere and the worst thing would be to be stuck with no cash or cards, so split the load – don’t keep them all in your wallet or in the same pocket! Always pack a travel umbrella and a bottle of water!
10. Get some professional help
Quite possibly the most important one here. Should you find that your anxious feelings (and panic attacks) are stopping you from doing things, the important thing is to speak to a professional. Friends, partners and colleagues are all amazing, and the more people you can talk to the better, but you need to ensure you get help, advice, guidance and support from someone professional or it can get dangerous. I use the word professional as it doesn’t have to be a doctor/GP, you can call NHS 111 (from the UK), Samaritans on 116 123, Calm where you can chat online or call 0800 58 58 58, Mind, Anxiety UK or A&E amongst other places. Stay safe.