I have always loved to travel and been fortunate enough in my life to visit a myriad of fabulous destinations from Nairobi to Nevada to New Orleans. However, the getting to and from the destination part of traveling has sometimes been so stressful I’ve occasionally been tempted to call off the trip.

According to a 2012 survey of 110 participants conducted by the journal Travel Analysis, many people find the most stressful parts of travel to be the planning stages.1,2 

Is Stress-Free Travel Possible?

I am a terrible packer—second, third, and fourth guessing myself over which items to take and which to leave. Compounding this is the fear I will forget to include essentials, or that if I have to check a bag it will be lost in transit.

I dread delays – the dread ratcheting up when a tight travel connection is involved. Then there is the inevitable pressure over getting my work completed before I leave, in addition to experiencing a preemptive homesickness for my sweet dog, Shea (who is well taken care of and barely notices my absence).

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On holidays, the pre-travel dread increases, knowing the gridlocked highways, super-crowded planes, stations, and hotels lie ahead. In 2007, Dr. David Lewis, an English neuropsychologist, likened passing through Heathrow Airport as equivalent to facing riots!3  Last year my patient *Ann cancelled her Christmas trip to visit family because she feared feeling overwhelmed and claustrophobic by the crowds.

Fortunately, there are much better ways to deal with pre-travel stress than staying home from Thanksgiving eve until New Year’s Day.

Nurture Yourself Before You Go

Resist the urge to neglect the basics and not practice good self-care in order to have more time for trip planning and the chore of packing! Make the extra effort to get enough sleep, eat healthy, get to the gym. Don’t think, “I’ll be able to relax once I’m away from work/on vacation/with my loved ones,” and stress yourself to the bone beforehand. That stress will take a toll.

You Can Avoid Insomnia

Dreading everything that can go wrong on the way to your destination can lead to sleepless nights.  When you start to ruminate, pop on a meditation! Check out these 25 meditation resources, ranging from phone apps to YouTube videos.

When I begin obsessing, I remind myself of the hundreds of trips I’ve taken over the years and how even when there have been mishaps, things always worked out in the end, and I’ve had amazing experiences along the way.

Combat Travel-Related Phobias

Do you have a fear of flying?

  • A flight attendant offered this suggestion: “Compare flying to being on a boat. The latter has waves that cause the ship to rock. Airplanes behave the same: invisible waves of air.”
  • Bring objects with you that bring comfort—photos of your loved ones, a favorite blanket, or a scarf sprayed with your favorite perfume.
  • Alert the flight attendants you might need extra attention.
  • Download some apps! There are tons of apps designed to help you feel calm, in general and while traveling. Check out meditation apps here. And travel apps here.

Terrified of missing your flight?

Here are time saving tactics:

  • Print out your boarding passes beforehand.
  • Use carry-on. Consider shipping large pieces of luggage ahead.
  • Stay at airport hotel or plan on getting to airport hours 2 to 3 hours early.
  • Take an early flight. The first flights of the day are least likely to be stuck on the runway.
  • Enroll in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry and zoom to the head of the security lines.
  • Pre-book airport transfers. The more you plan ahead, the less nervous you will be.

Dread crowds?

  • At its most severe, this is also known as enochlophobia. It is helpful to breathe calmly and deeply—taking slow, regular breaths through your nose, waiting a few seconds, than exhaling through your mouth.
  • Stay focused on your goal—”Okay, I have to look for Gate 10,” – and just look straight ahead rather than the hoards rushing to their gates.
  • Avoid crowds and long lines whenever possible: For example, book a car beforehand so you needn’t get stressed at the rental counter upon arrival but can head directly to your assigned vehicle.

Social anxiety?

I tell myself that meeting people I will likely never see again allows me to try on a different persona—the socially-bold Sherry.  Plus, travel offers easy topics of conversation—asking for directions, sharing amazement at a superlative view or monument, and inquiring where the person is from…

All in the Planning

Don’t be a last minute Don or Dora:

  • Make a master packing list on your computer or phone that you can keep referring to and adjust as needed. Here is the ultimate international packing list.
  • Among the items you always need: toiletries, first aid kit, emergency contact numbers, anti-bacterial wipes, travel sized toothpaste, zip lock bags, plastic rain poncho, umbrella…
  • If traveling with children, prepare sufficient toys, snacks, downloadable games, child seat cover, etc.
  • Make a list of every conceivable tasks and purchase for the trip well in advance.  For example, I discovered only days before a trip for which I needed a visa that my passport required six months to expiration to be usable. Mine had one month left, so I used this resource to expedite the renewal.

Travel Sickness Aids

Don’t let motion sickness curb your adventurous spirit: Psi Bands  are FDA-cleared and patented medical devices of nausea relief due to motion sickness.

Products that Promote Comfort and Ease Stress

*Please note I have not personally tried all these items but have heard good reports.

Wishing you an anxiety-free journey.

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Last Updated: Nov 19, 2018