Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Travel Anxiety

Good Day Everyone,

Given that I have spent most of my adult life travelling both within the UK and overseas, you’d think I’d be used to it by now… but oh no. I still get really bad bouts of anxiety a few days before I’m due to travel. My anxiety is definitely worse if I’m not travelling by car. You see, despite flying regularly when I was a career woman, I have a big fear of flying. A fear that is only surpassed by my fear of travelling by sea which I have very rarely done. Being a naturally anxious person, with worrying tendencies only exceed by my own mother’s, I tend to get myself or rather my stomach into knots quite regularly.

I have many fears, I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am! Although I’m convinced there is a hereditary component as many of my fears are shared by my mother. I’m scared of heights hence flying, water to the extent that I still can’t swim and avoid baths, creepy crawlies, the dark, and even people. I say people because I have a rather nervous and jumpy disposition. There were many occasions at work where I’d be so engrossed in what I was working on that if a colleague called my name or tapped me on the shoulder, a loud shriek would automatically let itself out of my mouth before my brain even had the chance to process that there was, in fact, nothing to be scared of. 

Back home in England when we lived in a house, if I was upstairs and my hubby was downstairs he would have to shout from the bottom of the stairs that he was coming up because I just had way too many occasions of being scared half to death by his sudden appearance. I think the fact that I am easily engrossed in whatever I’m doing, be it listening to music, watching a movie, working or even just sat there thinking / day dreaming, makes my nervous disposition worse because my mind is rarely in the present. I’m always miles away so any sudden sound or movement that brings me back to Earth has quite a dramatic effect! My knee jerk reaction is to shriek and this reaction is always faster than my brain being able to process that there is no danger. Its OK... you can laugh... go ahead... most of my family and friends do ;o).

Anyway, back to the travelling anxiety. I don’t have a fear of travelling per se. On the contrary, I love travelling to new places, meeting new people and seeing new and exciting things. Being away from the comforts and familiarity of my own home doesn’t worry me in the least. I feel incredibly blessed to have had a career that allowed me to see many different and wonderful places around Europe, the Nordics and the US. I don’t even mind traveling alone to unfamiliar places. I wouldn’t have been able to have the career that I did, if that was the case. I regularly travelled to cities that I’d never been to before, all by myself, often unable to speak the language. So long as I have my phone, my passport and some money / credit cards so that I can keep in touch with people and get myself on a flight back home in an emergency, I’m fine.

My travel anxiety stems from a number of specific factors; the mode of transport i.e. flying, the fear of forgetting something and not being prepared (that'll be my control freak tendency), and being out of reach or family not knowing where I am, just in case there’s an emergency back home or I end up going missing (that’s my drama queen tendency). Over the years I have developed coping strategies or ways that can help minimise the anxiety and nervousness that I experience. Whilst I wish these would totally eradicate my anxiety (I’m sat here with butterflies in my stomach subconsciously stressing about the fact that we fly to Japan tomorrow… I’m writing this post before our trip so that I can schedule it to be published whilst I’m away), I have come to accept that nothing is ever likely to get rid of my travel anxiety and all I can do is minimise it and its impact, as best as I can.

With regards to flying, these days I rarely fly on my own. As I’m not working, I no longer travel for work, only pleasure… only it’s hardly ever a pleasurable experience! This usually includes trips home to England and holidays so most of the time my hubby is with me. Having someone I know with me on a plane makes a big difference. My hubby is well versed with my travel anxiety and so does a good job of distracting and reassuring me during those key times when I’m most freaked out… take-off and landings. Where possible, I try to take a daytime flight rather than nighttime because that causes me less stress. Being able to look out of the window and actually see makes me (psychologically) feel better than seeing nothing but darkness… and we already know I’m scared of the dark! If I am on a nighttime flight then I try to distract myself by watching movies and, if possible sleeping. To help me sleep, I always have calming Zen music on my iphone / ipod. I also take my travel blanket and neck pillow in order to make myself as comfortable as possible.

For my control freak tendency and the fear of forgetting something, I write lists… actually I write categorised lists (you know… vitals (passport, ticket, money, keys), electronics, clothes, footwear, accessories, toiletries, makeup, medication, jewellery, gifts and so on)… at least 24hrs before the trip so that way I’m not rushing it and less likely to forget something. Also, it means I have time to revisit the list and recall something that I may have missed earlier. Now this may seem a bit OTT (over the top) but one of my worst fears is being stuck in a country where I don’t speak the language and realising that I’ve forgotten something as vital as my medication. Suffering from three chronic illness, two of which can leave me bed bound, means I’ve become accustomed to writing this all important list and to be on the safe side, I always carry all my non-liquid meds in my hand luggage… you know just in case my luggage gets lost.

Finally to deal with the whole being out of reach, going missing and no-one knowing where to look for me debacle, I make sure that either my hubby or I have a cell phone between us that works in the country we are visiting. If this means buying a local SIM card for one of our phones then that’s what we do. I also compile an Excel spreadsheet that details all of our flight information (airlines, departure and arrival times and dates, airports and terminals, seat numbers where possible etc), and the contact details of our hotels (name, address, telephone number with international dialling code, email etc) which I send to my brother or parents back in England. This may seem overly cautious but I got into the habit of doing this for my hubby, including providing addresses of where my work meetings were, when I used to travel with work. This way he always knew my whereabouts and work schedule, as often I’d be travelling alone, and the habit has since stuck. It makes me feel better

Once in the foreign country, I always carry the card of the hotel that I am staying at, in case I ever get lost or can’t remember the name / address of where I’m staying. Also, when I used to travel with work, I used to leave one of my own business cards and a copy of my itinerary in my hotel room. That way, if I ever went missing the hotel / police would know which company I worked for and be able to contact my colleagues and they’d have a rough idea of the places to look for me as a starting point. I know it sounds very dramatic but you can never take travel safety too seriously, especially as a lone woman.

So those are just a few of the ways I try and manage my travel anxiety. I try to avoid resorting to medication as a way of managing my travel anxiety, but I won’t deny that in the past I may have used one of my migraine pain relief medications, that tended to have a bit of a relaxing effect on my body and mind, as a way of making the transatlantic flights to the US a bit more bearable. Although to be fair, flying over water definitely stresses me out more than flying over land and so I would typically get a migraine as a result of my travel anxiety anyway. As my friends used to say, flying business class was definitely wasted on me as I’d spend the whole time stressing rather than enjoying the privilege ;o)

Do you suffer from travel anxiety? What steps do you take to manage the anxiety? Any tips or advice for me?

Love Sheen xxx
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