I’m a Travel Editor Who Gets Major Pre-Trip Anxiety. These Are My Coping Tools.

Planning, booking, packing and then embarking on a trip, whether big or small, is a rollercoaster of emotions for me. The planning and booking phases are often a caffeine-fueled euphoria. Somewhere in my complex calculations for making travel decisions is a formula that takes into account all parties involved (usually me, my husband, and our two young children, ages five and seven) and whether we will all have a good time. , if the time frame fits into our work and school schedules, and if destiny calls (don’t ask me how that last one works, it’s almost a spiritual experience?).

Finally, the trip is booked. Is there a better feeling than this? The days, weeks, or months following the booking period are spent soaking in my accomplishment and wondering if my family realizes how lucky they are to have such an astute travel planner in their ranks.

But then the tides start to turn a bit, usually around 3 a.m., as the departure date starts to approach. Suddenly I wake up in the middle of the night and doubts creep in. Did I pick the right destination? What if someone gets sick? Is the flight time too early? Is the connection too tight? Do we have all the gear we need?

The truth is, my pre-travel anxiety has gotten a lot worse since becoming a parent, for a couple of reasons: (1) I’m responsible for more human beings now, and (2) kids (especially little ones) get sick. a lot. The last point is key because it emphasizes the loss of control over the situation, something I find difficult to deal with. Control is an important factor when it comes to anxiety, at least for me. The thought that we might wake up on the day of our flight and one of the kids might have a fever or start vomiting is just a little more than my nerves can handle sometimes. Unfortunately, that means that before a trip, I start to not only get stressed, but also have anxiety attacks that can result in everything from frustration and rage to overwhelmed tears, which requires meditation and box breathing to calm me down and ideally. walk out the door with something resembling the hope and optimism that the trip evoked in the first place.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ve literally whispered to myself, as I cross the finish line of the trip in a complete mess, “I’m never doing this again.”


However, once we’re on track, like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of mental health issues, I’m in heaven. My happiest place is embarking on a new adventure to explore the unknown. Because I love it so much, not only will I never give it up, but I’ve also been working on ways to minimize my pre-trip stress and anxiety. These are some of the things that have helped me.

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Recognizing that anxiety exists

For me, the first step in overcoming my pre-travel anxiety has been recognizing that it exists and getting a better idea of ​​the patterns and triggers. He kind of came up to me by surprise after I became a dad, so it took me a while to say, “Oh, I get really stressed before trips now. This is new.” But once I did, I was better able to identify the recurring nature of these episodes and explain what was happening to my spouse (in a calmer way than with hysterical tears as we walked out the door).

Organizing my house

What does house cleaning have to do with leaving the house? In my anxious mind, everything. If the house is messy, my brain is messy too and I feel increasingly nervous and frustrated. I have found that taking the time to get the house in order before you start packing is worth it in the amount of stress it reduces. It comes with the main benefit of returning to a home that is not in a state of total chaos. Before my increased pre-travel anxiety, cleaning and organizing my domicile before departure was an optional extra activity. But I have realized that it is now non-negotiable and I have taken advantage of the time to make it a reality.

Start packing your bags well in advance

Now that the house is pretty clean, it’s time to start packing. Struggling to complete all the packing and other pending tasks for a timely departure (I’m a girl who arrives early at the airport After all, this only adds to my pre-trip anxiety, as it inevitably takes longer than I think it will. And any need to rush or do too many things at once starts to add to my sense of overwhelm. With that in mind, I’ve started unpacking at least a week or two in advance so I can start packing slowly, which reduces last-minute stress.

My packing lists for myself and my kids are ingrained in my mind right now, but I keep an ongoing packing list in my Notes app to make sure I remember everything. I especially rely on it for more involved trips, for example a longer trip abroad or to a hot or cold destination where we need water or snow gear that we don’t normally pack. I don’t use the list for every trip, but it’s there for when I need it or start to feel overwhelmed.

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I also use laundry day up until about a week before our trip as an opportunity to sort all the clean clothes straight into the luggage. Instead of putting those clothes away only to have to take them out again to pack, I fold them and put them in the suitcases. If it’s a road trip, the same can apply to any gear and dry food we plan to bring. Gear can be added to the back of the minivan (aka the world’s best travel car), and the sandwich bread, peanut butter, spaghetti, and sauce are piled in our Yeti cooler bag (I don’t mind). ask why we use a cooler bag). for dry goods (progress, not perfection, right?) several days before departure.

Making peace with worst-case scenarios

What causes me a lot of stress before a trip, especially in recent years, is my internal battle with “the worst case scenario,” which in my mind is usually medical: an unforeseen illness or injury that derails the entire trip before or during our trip. But, as is the case with many Other fearsThere is nothing I, or anyone, can do about it (it’s a fictional future scenario!).

So, I decided that instead of resisting the spiral, I embrace it. I take the “what if” thought process to the end. Maybe one of the kids does We woke up with a tremendous fever. We can’t fly. And now that? Well, we will have to cancel or postpone flights and hotels. We could lose some money. Maybe we will lose a lot of money. Okay, we have credit cards with some degree of coverage and we have travel insurance. (While we don’t invest in travel insurance for simple road trips and the like, we do when we purchase four expensive round-trip flights for domestic or international travel.) We will recover what we can. And? No problem. Life will go on.

I will do this exercise with any fear or worry that arises. I have found this to be much more effective than trying to suppress those worries, which then lurk in the back chambers of my mind, causing increasing nervousness. With this method, I regain some sense of control when faced with anxious thoughts about all the things that could go wrong, because we all know that what we think will go wrong is not, in fact, what will go wrong. in fact go wrong (but that’s a whole other can of anxiety worms).

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Preparing an anti-anxiety toolkit

Whatever concerns I have about my travels, I like to think about what I can have on hand to confront those issues head-on during the trip. I always come back to health issues because that’s the root of much of my recent pre-travel anxiety, but this trick can also be applied to other anxiety-inducing concerns. It helps me to carry a thermometer (this one Braun non-contact thermometerour go-to product for years, it’s accompanied us all over the world) and children’s Tylenol in our carry-on luggage, along with a plastic bag in case someone gets sick to their stomach. This makes me feel a little less helpless at the thought of a health issue suddenly arising when we’re traveling.

If I’m worried about connectivity at our destination, maybe it’s as simple as carrying an old folding map so I know we’ll still be able to get around if I lose access to Google Maps (the horror). To find road maps, go to the nearest AAA office and they will help you. If I’m worried about getting enough sleep, have a sleeping mask, noise cancelling headphonesand a great travel pillow It helps me believe that I will find a way to put myself on repeat mode.

I find that just having these tools with me is enough to stave off at least some of the stress; it’s a sort of safety blanket against travel anxiety, so to speak. (I like to think it also brings me better luck. You know, that idea of ​​carrying an umbrella to keep it from raining.)

Accepting the pitfalls

In some strange way, I love it when things… do (Occasionally) things go wrong on the road and eventually the so-called worst case scenario (gasp!) occurs: when my husband does twisting our ankle on our last night in Mexico before our full-day flight home, or when do miss a flight connection. Travel has an amazing ability to show us what we are made of. And when things go wrong, we can look back and say, “Hey, we’re over that. “We can overcome almost anything.” I always tell my kids that traveling teaches us how to problem-solve in situations we can’t experience at home, and that’s a big part of what makes it so interesting and exciting. Ultimately, those hardest moments help inform my continued struggles with anxiety while I carry with me the knowledge that the journey was worth it after all.

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