How I Managed Travel Anxiety on my First Trip Abroad
I remember the ride to the airport being the toughest part. The drive was slow. The steady stream of the news over the radio distracted from the noise of the early traffic as the cab moved on. What I dreaded was having to get out. I kept thinking to myself, “I could just go back home.” But as I contemplated; I knew I couldn’t give up before I even started.
I’ve always been apprehensive of travel of any sort. After winning a paid trip abroad for ranking as an employee of the month three times in a row, I knew that I was about to travel. I toyed multiple times with the thought of giving up the prize but I couldn’t. Well, here I was in my seat on the flight leaving for Thailand, tired from being unable to sleep the previous night, and feeling a little nauseous and anxious.
The issues I faced and how I dealt with them
My worries and fears developed into acute travel anxiety that threatened to derail the entire vacation. But with careful planning and some help, I was able to manage my anxiety.
Fear of traveling alone
Leaving the country for the first time was a terrifying experience, so I invited my friend Devin along as support. Devin had a passion for travel, his having been to several parts of the world, I figured he was the best person to bring along to keep myself calm, since judging by all the regaling tales he always shares after each trip, he could handle trouble.
a. Flight anxiety
The flight experience itself did little to soothe my travel anxiety. The journey was extremely long, lasting over 18 hours. I was restless and agitated.
Video games have always been my escape from reality, so I started a game on my Nintendo switch. I increased the game difficulty to keep myself deeply engaged. After a while, I unloaded some comic books I had brought along and read. While reading, my fatigue caught up to me. Fortunately, I was relaxed enough to go to sleep.
Lodging and excursions anxiety
Upon landing at Suvarnabhumi International Airport and venturing out, I was suddenly struck by how different everything was. The noise of traffic, the colorful environment, and the background roar of life as people went about their daily businesses; looked so different. A cab took us to our lodging, a pleasant four-star hotel. I had repeatedly worried about where I was going to stay before the trip even started. As a part of my sponsored vacation, I had been told that my accommodation was included as well, but that hadn’t stopped me from worrying.
Devin had advised me to plan my trip ahead. He had drawn up a list of fun activities to do and asked me to take my pick and decide how I wanted to experience them. I needed something to schedule my activities and make sure I could experience it all within two weeks. I needed an itinerary. I downloaded one from here and with it, I structured my planned activities, right down to the exact time and date. This helped a lot in managing my anxiety as I knew exactly what I was going to be doing throughout my journey. This had, in my eyes, helped bring a bit of certainty into the uncertain future I was heading into.
a. Fear of heights
One of the first activities on my list was rock climbing. I had made this selection intentionally, as, while I had slowly worked up excitement for this trip, I was secretly hoping it would fail.
Upon arriving at Chiang Mai, I had gone pale with terror. Our tour guide was obviously used to dealing with terrified tourists like myself. He took his time with me and encouraged me to try just a little climb. His understanding of my predicament eased me, and he didn’t try to force it on me that rock climbing was easy because he could do it, but I only had to do what I wished to. I am not proud to admit that I took the longest on even the smallest climbs, but the fire of triumph lit within me was amazing to feel.
The financial impact of the trip weighed heavily on my mind at the start. I didn’t want to spend more than I could afford, and although a lot of my vacation was paid for, I would have to cover miscellaneous items myself. I researched the exchange rate and estimated my minor expenses and what I was paying for Devin. I laid some money aside to cover this. I also chose to bring along some credit cards to see me through, in the eventuality that I ran out of cash.
a. Fear of illness
The thought of getting sick overseas had crossed my mind while planning for this trip. I had worried about the food, water, environmental conditions, and local diseases. I purchased a travel health plan. I also obtained a list of healthcare providers I could use while abroad. Before leaving, I updated all my vaccinations and got new ones based on my research on the local disease.
b. Fear of getting lost
I was heading into territory virtually unknown to me beyond my geography classes. I kept my phone on me at all times, along with a paper map I could use if my phone ran out of battery. Devin recommended I create and keep a phrasebook with which I could ask questions in the local language and obtain help if needed.
At the end of the two weeks, I was quite sorry to leave. I had crossed off all the items on my itinerary, and yet I still felt there was so much more I wanted to do. I had experienced my first taste of daring and adventure, and needless to say, I wanted a lot more.