How I Handle Travel Anxiety

I am terrified of flying. In fact, typing those words just gave me butterflies because I am traveling interstate later today, and the pre-flight anxiety is already kicking in. This is something that has been an issue for me my whole life. The first time I ever went on a plane I was BY MYSELF, which as it turns out can be surprisingly less anxiety-ridden than flying with company. I think it’s because I can just escape into my own mind and not feel like I am burdening someone else with my anxiety. I also travelled from New York back to Perth flying solo, and I will always remember something very simple my dad said to me before that flight – ‘courage is being afraid to do something, and doing it anyway‘. I try to remember this every time I step onto a plane. I think a lot of people don’t understand travel anxiety, so they brush it off as being a trivial little quirk that people have, but if you have it you know that it is awful. You can be the most rational person on the planet and realise that flying is safer than driving, but still be crippled with fear and anxiety throughout the entirety of a flight. The only thing that gets me through it is knowing I either have a fun holiday on the other side of the flight, or I am heading home to my family and friends (and Pep). There are a few other things that have helped me with my anxiety throughout the years, and I thought I’d share them with you. If you also suffer from travel anxiety and have any tips or tricks of your own, please let me know!

1. Be organized. As the underlying travel anxiety is already there, making an effort to remove all other sources of anxiety (ie: disorganization and running late) helps keep all other stress to a minimum before the flight. I always write a packing list prior to loading up my suitcase, check into our flight ahead of time (making sure I have a window seat and that we are definitely sitting together – this reduces my anxiety a lot), and make sure we know exactly what time to leave the house to get to the airport with time to spare before the flight.

2. Establish routines. This goes hand in hand with the above point that reducing all other stress will help manage The Big One. We always get to the airport with time to spare prior to the flight, and that way we are able to sit down for 20 minutes or so before having to board. I take this opportunity to have a drink (I find champagne the most effective), go to the bathroom, and get everything in order before boarding. I am in the habit of either picking an album or making a playlist that is my travel anthem for that particular holiday. Something soothing is usually best. For my last trip it was Troye Sivan’s ‘Blue Neighbourhood‘ – now when I hear any of the songs from that album I am transported back to that holiday. I also like to have an in-flight routine, because there is nothing worse than (what feels like) an endless stretch of time sitting on a plane without any purpose and plenty of free mental space to stress out.

3. Treat yourself. It can be helpful to look at the time spent on the plane as “me time” (if you’re traveling with kids this is somewhat impossible). I have a few podcasts that I love, so I try to save up any new episodes that they release in the week before my flight so I have those to look forward to listening to on the plane. I do the same with television episodes, and any books that I am excited to read. For my flight this afternoon I have a new episode of Welcome To Deadcast to listen to, and a new episode of Hotel Hell to watch – I feel like having little things to look forward to on the flight can make it somewhat more bearable.

4. Meditate or medicate. Now that you’re allowed to use small technology during take off and landing, it’s possible to listen to something soothing during these stressful times during the flight. Unfortunately for me, taking off and landing aren’t my stress trigger points – it’s the time spent up in the air that gives me the most anxiety. However, I do like to listen to short mediations throughout the flight and highly recommend the ‘Meditation Oasis‘ podcast for this purpose. My flight anxiety is at the stage where I now also medicate during flights, so it’s worth speaking to your doctor if you find it’s becoming a bit too much for you to handle. They may have some options available.

5. Let go. This is the hardest one of all because it’s basically fighting all of your natural instincts and forcing yourself to live with the anxiety. It also relies on you having some sort of trust in a higher power or the universe in general. If my anxiety starts creeping back in mid-flight I try to tell myself to just ‘let go’, because at that point everything is completely out of my control. Perhaps that is where this anxiety stems from, as a self-confessed control freak? Who can say.