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How to deal with pre-trip anxiety

Written by – Cassie Bailey – IG @cassiethehag

Whilst pre-trip anxiety might be a familiar experience for many first-time backpackers or those about to embark on a solo travel experience, this seems especially true for 2020. Whilst I don’t advocate travelling abroad right now, there may be opportunities for safe travel and social distancing staycations, depending on where you live.

After hearing from female travellers who booked on to local, overnight trips in nature, but ended up feeling highly anxious to the point of being unsure whether to cancel, I was inspired to write this post. In any case, please follow the rules of your country – as well as your own moral guidelines – before planning trips at the moment. But after booking in the ongoing months? I would hate anyone to feel unnecessarily anxious during their holiday.

This advice is based on the general anxiety anyone may feel before a trip. As a long-term solo traveller with mental health issues, this is something I’m definitely familiar with. Here are some tips that have helped me cope with pre-trip anxiety over the years:

  1. Pack a book, kindle or your laptop with movies downloaded 

As someone who isn’t a stranger to solo travel anxiety, I know how much worse striving to ignore burnout can make me feel on the road. With this in mind, I now always pack something which I can enjoy (or at least chill out with) during a bad day. Sometimes we need to listen to our body and rest, rather than forcing our mind into a positive state it’s not ready for.

Having some movies downloaded on Netflix means that if you DO feel down, you can put on a warm hoodie and curl up with anything that makes you feel cosy – you could even pack your favourite tea bags and snacks! In a worst-case scenario, your trip can at least involve self-care days with a great view.

As someone with mental illnesses such as PTSD and depression, there have been places I’ve visited where I barely left my bed. As you can imagine, this made me feel very anxious before trips, wondering if I’d have a good time. This tip puts my mind at rest that no matter what, the trip will still do me some good.

If you’re travelling with a partner, friend or family…

Let them know how you’re feeling in advance and tell them not to worry if they want to go ahead and enjoy an activity while you stay in! A friend of mine who suffers from anxiety, often reassures her partner that doesn’t mind if he occasionally leaves her at the hotel while he goes exploring. She packs her kindle and laptop so she has her own entertainment when she needs some downtime! This also means she isn’t pressured to do activities when she can’t cope with them.

  1. Plan some easy activities before you go

Once again, this tip is to pre-empt a situation in which you DO still feel anxious after you arrive – except this time we’re going to get you out the door!

I’m particularly thinking of solo travellers here or anyone on a low budget. Sometimes, once you arrive in a new location, it can be hard to plan all the logistics. If you’re feeling tired or low, it makes it even harder to get organised. Although I personally don’t book in advance, I do like to have a loose idea in my head of what activities are available. I’ll message my accommodation or a local tour operator in advance to check when I need to book by, so it’s super easy to arrange when I arrive. It’s worth adding an extra budget for tours or taxis if you’re prone to anxiety, as you may be more likely to do activities if they’ll be easy to execute. Personally, I research what hikes, including low-maintenance walking trails, and free activities are a short walk from my accommodation. I also look up nice cafes where I can get some writing done and vegan restaurants, depending on the location.

To make things even easier, book accommodation which is close to the activities that you want to do. This way, you can walk straight to the beginning of your hiking trail or the galleries you wish to visit, rather than having to take buses in a different country, which can always be intimidating.

  1. Create checklists or pack for your trip in advance

Packing in advance is the only way I can avoid pre-trip panic, especially as someone who solo travels with ADHD! Packing two days in advance helps me avoid overpacking or realising I have to make last-minute purchases the night before my holiday. 

I actually create a packing checklist before I even take out my backpack, writing down everything I’ll need.

If you also get overwhelmed by the organisation of holiday planning, I recommend a pre-trip checklist, writing down everything you need to book, plan or research before your trip. For example, I even write down ‘screenshot how to reach my accommodation from the airport’ so I don’t forget!

  1. Travel to places that comfort you

If you’re having a hard year, visiting a location that will comfort you – rather than challenge you – can be a blessing. For example, if you have social anxiety, consider booking a trip to a natural setting, such as glamping by a lake. If you feel anxious when you don’t have amenities nearby, book accommodation which is within easy reach of restaurants, activities and the train station.

  1. Stay hydrated with your water-to-go bottle.

As well as packing some healthy on-the-go snacks, I never leave without my refillable water bottle. Since I’m trying to make an active effort to go more sustainable, I love knowing that I can use my water-to-go bottle even in countries where I usually wouldn’t be able to drink the tap water. I never have to worry about staying hydrated, even on long travel days.

  1. Make your bed before you travel

Make sure you have fresh bedsheets and a cosy set of PJs washed and ready for when you return. It’s one of those small, easy actions that make a big difference. 

  1. Stock your cupboard for when you get home! 

And on that note, stock your cupboards with healthy and yummy snacks for when you get home too – such as cans and frozen stuff that won’t go bad. 

Essentially, set yourself up so that – no matter what happens on your trip – you can cosy up when you get home! There’s nothing worse than having anxiety on a trip and realising you’ll have to do a food shop when you get home.

On the other hand, there’s nothing better than realising that, even when you’re back from your trip, you can still take some time to relax.

  1. Listen to what’s making you feel anxious

Don’t ignore your anxiety. Name your feelings to help you identify why you’re feeling this way. Hopefully, this can help us have a rational conversation and unblock our worries. Writing them down or talking to a friend can help too. 

Sometimes, there are steps we can take once we’ve identified our anxieties to help alleviate those worries. For example, someone with a fear of flying may want to remember to drink water instead of caffeine before a flight, take a comforting snack for the journey, and download some meditative music. Personally, the Flight Anxiety meditations on the Calm app do me a world of good when I’m facing my fear of flying.

But even if we still feel anxious when we embark on our journey, remember that’s a totally normal part of life and adventure, and facing our anxieties are a wonderful way to grow. Practise self-compassion and remind yourself that fear is totally normal.

  1. Take care of yourself before the trip! 

Taking care to get a good night’s sleep, practising gratitude or – most importantly – visiting a doctor to discuss any concerns about our mental health are imperative to our ongoing wellbeing. Travel is wonderful, and most likely you’re going to have an amazing trip, but it’s worth remembering that holidays are not a long-term cure for mental health issues such as anxiety. (No matter what influencers may try to tell us!) 

Although I love the freedom of being on the road, the everyday steps I’ve taken towards resolving my anxiety – such as investing in a high-quality sleep mask, learning the correct way to practise gratitude, and receiving treatment from my healthcare provider – have done more for my ongoing mental wellbeing that a holiday.

With that in mind…

  1.  Don’t put too much pressure on your trip!

Even if it’s not the best time of your life… it doesn’t mean the holiday was a failure! Just because you’re anxious on the first day of your trip and cancel an activity, doesn’t mean you can’t have an amazing time on the second or third day of your trip.

Go with the flow, take each day as it comes, and begin each morning with some deep breaths and the new promise of adventure. This time of travel is yours, and however you chose to spend it is totally valid, whether that’s rest and fresh air or crazy outdoorsy challenges. Enjoy the change of scene and remember how great it is that you’re taking some time for yourself.

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