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Do you have travel anxiety?

Travel restrictions have eased in a number of locations, and many people are taking to the skies. But just because we can fly, doesn’t mean we want to.

For those who are planning to travel in the weeks ahead, the prospect of boarding a plane may be far from relaxing. The tightly scheduled tests, the detailed documents, and the uncertainty of flights make for a fraught travel experience. Hong Kong has especially stringent requirements for travellers, making the stakes feel even higher for returning residents. Quite frankly, it is a little anxiety-provoking.

What does travel anxiety feel like?

If thinking about travelling, making travel plans, or setting off to travel causes you to feel any of the following symptoms, you may have travel anxiety:

  • fearfulness, tearfulness and strong feeling that you just want to stay home
  • stomach troubles, such as nausea and diarrhoea
  • rapid heart rate, chest pain, trouble breathing, sweating, and/or dry mouth
  • irritability, restlessness, short-temperedness
  • trouble sleeping, including insomnia and nightmares
  • trouble focusing and making decisions, feeling overwhelmed

These feeling may become so strong that they trigger a panic attack – an overwhelming feeling of intense fear that can last for up to 20 minutes. For some, the fear of having a panic attack while travelling can keep them from leaving home.

What causes travel anxiety?

1. Fear of Flying

Fear of flying, triggered by turbulence, take off and landing, and the fear of crashing top the list among those who find air travel difficult. The pandemic has added anxiety over becoming infected in a space you can not escape for several hours to this list. 

2. Fear of Travel Problems

Problems can arise during any trip. A common travel fear is getting sick or injured in a strange location – a fear now compounded greatly by the possibility of contracting Covid-19 while abroad. Health care costs and being far from loved ones add to this angst.

3. Fear of Being in New Places

Some people are uncomfortable when they leave their comfort zones, such as their home or their neighborhood. Add to this the possibility of becoming infected while being out and about, and there has been an understandable rise worldwide in cases of agoraphobia – the fear of being in open spaces – during the pandemic.

4. Fear of Problems Back Home

The trip ahead may not be the problem, rather worries about what may happen back home in their absence affects some travellers. Leaving children, pets, and houses can be very anxiety-provoking for some, so much so they can barely bring themselves to leave. School closures, lockdowns, and the possibility that family members may become ill while a traveller is away are now also a part of this package.

5. Scary Stories

Hearing about the disasters that have befallen others while abroad is all it takes to make some people reluctant to travel. Travel during the pandemic has offered up plenty of stories of people running into all sorts of frustrating situations. It’s enough to make you just stay home.

Dealing with Travel Anxiety

1. Identify your triggers

Triggers are the things that bring on your feelings of anxiety. Some triggers may not be specific to traveling, such as caffeine, certain medications, low blood sugar, or conflicts and stress unrelated to the trip. Other triggers are more direct, such as navigating the complex requirements for entry, or simply boarding a plane. Working with a mental health professional can help you identify triggers and work through some of them before travelling. Others require a different approach.

2. Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning is the best way to head off many travel worries. Address each of your “what ifs” with a solution. Ensure you have adequate health insurance, arrange for a trusted person to look after children or pets, and so on. Know exactly what you need to do to travel, make a list, and check off items as you complete them. Join the “HK Quarantine support group” on Facebook before your trip. This helpful forum of experienced travellers is ready to share detailed advice and resources about how to navigate all aspects of travel to and from Hong Kong from all over the world.

3. But be flexible

These are uncertain times, and even the best laid plans might change. Flights may be cancelled. Social distancing rules might close down attractions. Head off into the great yonder with an open mind and a flexible attitude. You may not be able to plan for everything, but you can decide how you will respond to change. This mindset is the difference between melting down, and muddling your way through.

4. Practice relaxation

Whatever the source of your anxiety while travelling, practicing relaxation techniques will help ease your fears. Meditation, deep breathing, soothing music and a wide variety of other helpful techniques are available to troubled travellers. Put them to work before and during your trip. If you are especially anxious, a mental health professional can help you find and practice the best relaxation techniques that work for you.

5. Distraction action

Sometimes all you need is not to think about your fears. Enter books, movies, music, puzzles, and video games. Be sure to pack those things that keep you occupied and distracted. Take full advantage of in-flight entertainment systems and cue up hours of funny TV shows and favorite movies. The hours will fly by while you do.

Traveling has changed and – let’s be honest – it has not become easier! If you were already a nervous traveller, the impact of Covid-19 on has made the whole process more nerve-wracking. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to deal with your fears. If you are still highly anxious about travelling, contact the BFDC. We can help.