Heart Racing and Feet Bracing: Pre-Travel Anxiety and How to Deal with It

Do I have everything? Did I turn off the stove?
I should check if the door is locked.

Traveling
away from home can be an anxiety-inducing experience. There are countless
things to keep in mind – some of which have the nerve to actually differ per occasion,
like whether or not the fridge should be turned off – and there is, often, very
little time to do it all in. And although it is possible, and maybe even easy,
to work through the whole to-do list in one day, the stress can start months in
advance.

The extent
to which you get stressed will differ per person and per journey. Of course,
someone who travels often will be more used to preparing and packing up than
someone who travels once every few years, and a journey to the other side of
the world calls for more preparation than a trip to the neighboring city does.
Keeping the stress to a minimum is something we can strive for, but getting rid
of it entirely is not always possible – and nor does it have to be. A little
stress, I’ve been told over and over myself, is healthy.

I am a very
anxious person when it comes to traveling. When leaving my university dorm to
go home I always have a list prepared of everything I have to do before I go to
make sure I don’t leave any trash behind or windows open. I take care of all
the tedious little details. In daily life, too, I ascertain that all my chores
and work are clearly in my diary so that I get them done with as little stress
as possible. All this extreme planning has helped me a lot in reducing my tension,
but you can imagine my growing anxiety now that I’m planning to study abroad for
over half a year – on the other side of the world. There are insurances to arrange;
offers to pore over; and high costs to account for. What I’m trying to say is
that it can be a huge burden to prepare for things – far more of a burden than
the actual things often are. Because the to-do list grows and expands until the
paper is full, and every new task you start on takes longer than expected.

So what do
you do about it? The key thing I have found is that you need to be organized. I
realize that that sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s the fundamental rule in
trying not to stress. Knowing what you’re up against will ease your mind (and
your heartrate) enough to actually go up against it. Organization isn’t just
making a to-do list – though that is definitely vital, but it also means that
if you’re not sure about something, you do the necessary research to become
sure. You Google around; you call companies; you ask acquaintances. And to give
you some more advice – and this is something my mom always (ALWAYS) ushers me
to do as well (so I hope you’re happy, Mom) – do not postpone things that you can do right now. Like I said before,
things are always going to be more complicated than you hope. People will take
weeks responding to emails and forms will be filled out incorrectly and it is entirely
up to you to call those people and quadruple-check those forms to then have to sign
and send and wait for them all over again. Doing them right away, or at least
starting on them, will calm your nerves a little. Even if it is just the
knowing that you’ve done all you could. Apart from that golden rule, though,
there are some specific stress-points that should be addressed.

Packing

When
packing, try to compile that list I was talking about, starting from the moment
you decide to go on your trip. There is nothing more annoying than getting all
anxious over an unpacked bag the night before you leave, because that just
takes away from the pre-travel excitement. Bring only the things you’ll really need
– so half whatever you have when you’re done packing – and remember that you’ll
be able to buy anything later on if you do happen to forget something. Just make
sure to have your wallet, passport, and phone.

Culture Shock

If you
haven’t heard of culture shock before, don’t let my bringing it up be a reason
to worry about it. Culture shock is exactly what the term implies: being
heavily affected by your entering a new culture. Of course, it can be
terrifying, but it also extremely awesome to learn about new cultures. If there
is one thing I learned from my introductory course in anthropology, it is that
you should stay open-minded when meeting new people and new cultures. It can be
scary not to understand something, but if other people have learned how to deal
with it, so can you. Taking a moment to realize that can really help. And, of
course, when you’re open to people, those people will be just as open to you.

Still, it
can be really calming to have a personal emergency contact that you can reach out
to when you start feeling queasy because of all the stress – so make sure to
communicate your worries to someone before you go.

Dealing with Strange Currencies (of Money and
Culture)

What can
also be super-useful in reducing the stress of new situations is to already note
down some currency conversions or to print a roadmap from the airport to the
first place you’ll reach that has Wi-Fi – because the Internet may not always
be a given and to find that out too late can suck. If you don’t speak the local language, jotting down some
phrases may also help. Even if it’s just telling them you don’t speak their
language!

The People You’re Leaving Behind

This point
can be a very saddening one, but remember one thing: you’re not really leaving them
behind! Of course, there are plenty people you’ll miss, but that only means
that after your travels you’ll have something to come back to, and someone to listen
to your stories. What with all of today’s technology, it’s incredibly easy to
contact anyone from all over the planet, and it is always possible for those
people to come visit you – or to visit them yourself – if you leave for a very
long time. As for their reactions upon your leaving, try not to fuss about them
too much. If you really want to go on a trip you should stick with that
decision, no matter how astonished some people will be at it. That does not
just apply to people who will miss you and are upset about it, but also to
people who think going away is a bad idea. Listen to their reasoning and take
it into account, but make this decision for yourself – especially if, like me,
you want to work or study abroad for a little while. My own experience with
everyone at home has been more perfect than I could have hoped, but sometimes that
won’t be the case. Just make sure that you’re going away for a good reason (and
that can be just to have fun!) and that if they refuse to accept that it is not
your problem. Leaving is spooky enough as it is, and those anxiety levels don’t
need to rise any further than necessary.

In the end,
if you get completely stressed out and start catastrophizing every aspect of
the journey –no matter how much it sucks, it’s okay. Make sure you have someone
to talk to about it (or even leave a message on this blog and talk to me if you’re
not comfortable talking to the people around you). It can really help in
working through that anxiety. Plus, from what I have found on the topic online,
the fear disintegrates very fast the moment you arrive at your destination. Traveling
is scary, but bridging that fear, I hear, is half the fun.

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