Travelling is one of life’s many pleasures; it allows you to see and experience different cultures and places, and it’s something I love doing whenever there’s a chance. When COVID-19 hit, I was devastated about travel plans being put on hold and confined to my home country — as I’m sure many other were too.
So, when borders opened, I was teeming with excitement to plan my next overseas trip. It wasn’t until I got to the airport did I realise how scared I was of flying (I always have been), and the anxiety of visiting a foreign country began to take over me.
When I say I’m terrified of travelling on a plane, I’m not kidding. I once found myself inconsolable, and the flight hadn’t taken off. It was at that point I knew I needed to get a grip — so through research and some other exercises, I now can (somewhat) stay calm.
1. Identify your triggers
There can be a multitude of things that contribute to your negative association with travelling. It might be having to break away from your usual day-to-day routine, being away from loved ones, flying in an aeroplane, or it could even be work. Outside triggers like lack of quality sleep, too much caffeine consumption, or low blood sugar can also contribute to your anxiety.
To help identify your trigger, you can try journalling or speaking to a friend, but better yet, speak to a licensed therapist.
2. Go well-informed
Whether you like to admit it or not, travelling to a new destination can be a little daunting, and thanks to COVID-19, the rules are ever-changing, which can put any traveller in a stressful situation. One of the many ways to keep travel anxiety at bay is by researching your destination.
Are you required to do pre-flight COVID-19 tests? Is there a visa on arrival, or will you need to apply for one prior to your flight date? Are there any forms that can be filled out electronically instead of in line at immigration? These are just some of the questions to consider before checking in.
By playing out certain ‘what-ifs’ scenarios, you can help plan for a stress-free journey. Though it’s impossible to plan for every single instance, whether emergency or not, being prepared for some scenarios helps curb catastrophic thinking.
Be sure to bring a credit card for emergencies. While you’ll probably have cash in your wallet, it’s wise to stash a separate amount on your person. And purchase travel insurance in case of any unforeseen sickness or injury.
3. Pack some distractions
I get it more than anyone; the fear of flying can really take over your entire body. Before you know it, you start experiencing cold sweats, heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and the list goes on. What I’ve learned over the years is that it helps to mindfully shift your attention away from the fear.
Acknowledge it and then make the conscious decision not to let it overcome you — read a book, binge-watch your favourite TV series, listen to podcasts or music; whatever it may be, find an enjoyable distraction and more often than not, it’ll help.
4. Practice grounding
What does it mean to practice grounding? This can look like deep breathing exercises, guided meditations, mindful exercises, EFT tapping, and even fidget toys. Grounding often helps break your thoughts from spiralling into a negative hole.
Some studies have shown that grounding can drastically decrease anxiety; all it takes is at least an hour of mindful exercise. Equip yourself with techniques before heading off on your trip, or better yet, have a mindfulness app, like Headspace, ready on your phone.
5. Consider medication
If you find distractions, therapy, and all the tips above still not helping, consider taking medications and make an appointment with your local physician. However, I highly recommend leaving this as a last resort, unless your travelling anxiety is exceptionally severe.
6. Focus on the positives
It may seem redundant to say this to someone crippled with fear when flying, but the keyword is ‘try’. Make a mental checklist of all the things you can enjoy in the present, like flying with family, catching up on a movie or your favourite TV series, or finally closing the last chapter of the book you’ve been reading for months. If that doesn’t work, dive into making an itinerary for your trip: all the things you’re going to do, see, and eat. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to. Happy and safe travels!