My Travel Anxiety and Me

Sometimes, it is difficult to discern whether I procrastinate doing things out of excitement or out of stress. Or both. Usually both.

It was amidst this jumble of emotions that I found myself packing a series of backpacks at midnight 2 weeks ago, followed by a late night waffle eating session in a kitchen that still had to be cleaned before my trip to Mumbai, India. Less than 24 hours ago, I returned home extremely jet-lagged and still speechless trying to process everything I encountered. It was a dream come true for someone interested in international urban planning and cultural observations; and yet, I could not bring myself to even begin to clean and pack until hours before my departure. Why, you may ask? Well, let me try to explain.

I am not the kind of person who hates flying — I actually love flying, and always pick a window seat so that I can watch the plane take off and grin like an idiot. I am not afraid of exploring new places, either alone or in a group. And I love the unexpectedness of travel, where you cannot possibly fathom what you are about to see, hear, and experience.

But I love these things because they scare me a little. I like forcing myself out of my comfort zone — it’s where I function best, and it’s where (I feel) I am truest to myself. I guess you could say that the person I am when I travel, when I am fully immersing myself into a new situation, is the person I like most. But it takes work to get there, and that work involves a lot of mental and physical anxiety stress. So, here are some tips I have found that help to prevent some of the more taxing after effects of any kind of travel.

List-omania

I LOVE making lists. Sometimes I make lists of lists that I need to make. Nothing is quite so satisfying as crossing off a completed task. It is often difficult to pack a week or two in advance, BUT it is easy to make a list of what items you are taking with you on your trip!

Block out time for masochistic stress-procrastination.

If you are anything like me (and I hope you are not), you subconsciously set yourself up for further stress by leaving things until the almost last minute. It truly is a form of masochism. I now know myself well enough to account for this time, which usually consists of me sitting rimrod straight on my couch silently going over my mental to-do list and panicking as to why I have not yet accomplished any of it. As such, I can plan accordingly for this small freak out, and schedule around it. Procrastination and anxiety is okay!

Don’t be afraid to sextuple-check you have your ID and travel docs.

As long as I have my passport, visa, and flight confirmation, I am good to go. Anything else I can figure out later, but a missing passport means no travel and potential detainment (yikes). So while I’m packing, while I am in transit, as I make my way through the airport, on the plane, and even at my destination, I feel around in my bag for my passport. In some circumstances, I sleep with it underneath me. It’s much better to be safe than sorry in this situation; or in my case, it is better to be neurotic than trapped at customs.

Tums. Ibuprofen. Tacky travel pillow.

Also known as my flight checklist, along with the latest issue of Runner’s World and headphones. For those who tend towards anxiety, prepping your stomach and your head for the long periods of sitting and the pressure changes can work wonders. And those tacky U-shaped pillows are GODSENDS. I went from having horrible neck soreness when flying to sleeping like a baby. Just don’t wear it around your neck as you walk around the airport. Just…don’t.

Re-reading a book is like talking to an old friend.

Unless I have a new book I am particularly excited about, I like to spend my time on planes and in airports perusing through some of my well-worn paperbacks. These are books I have read at least twice, and are ones that I know I enjoy enough to get lost in the story. This way, I am confident that my mind will be taken off of the magic and mystery of flight, and I can find comfort in a familiar tale.

Pretend you are starring in The Thirteenth Year remake.

And by this, for anyone who was not a Disney Channel Original Movie fan of the 1990's, I mean drink water like you are turning into a mermaid (or man). Staying hydrated means less headaches and earaches, less stomach pain, and also helps your skin deal with the hours of stale plane air. It also means you have to get up and go to the bathroom, providing ample opportunity to stretch your legs and avoid swollen feet/ankles. I make sure to drink water before going through security, then refill my water bottle at least once before actually getting on the plane.

Be THAT person in the airport waiting area.

I am not referring to the person having a loud and obnoxious Skype session, or the person who is typing like they have fingers made of lead, or the person who has chosen to subsist on a diet of foods that require voluminous chewing. No, I mean the person who is in the corner or in front of the seats, stretching and maybe even engaging in some easy yoga poses. You may get some stares, but chances are you will never see these people again, and they may be so jet lagged that they think you aren’t real anyways.

Remind yourself that civilization exists, and it is wonderful.

Most places you travel in the world, unless you are really going into small villages or backcountry, have access to pharmacies, grocery stores, and other locations that sell necessities. If you forget shampoo or a warm coat or a charger, don’t sweat it! Chances are, it can be purchased at or near the airport if not at your final destination. Just make sure to have some cash or a card and you are golden.

Be a Snack-asaurus Rex and have NO SHAME.

Eat. Before and maybe even during the plane ride. Non-domestic airlines, I have found, tend to have healthier and better-tasting fare, but don’t count on it. As someone with special dietary needs, I always make sure to have snacks on hand just in case.

Allow yourself to be excited!

Travel is stressful, but it is also exciting and productive! I am still in shock that I flew literally halfway across the world and spent a week in a mega-city. Nine times out of ten, the trip is worth the anxiety it causes. And with each adventure I embark on, I have a better understanding of what to expect and how to prepare.

To my fellow anxious explorers near and far, bon voyage!

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