Travel can be very exciting and lead to many different and unique adventures, but it can also be a significant source of anxiety for many people (myself included). No matter how many places I have been to, I still get a sense of anxiety when I'm about to head off to a new destination and right when I arrive. Tons of things go through my head about what to do next, where to go, and what happens if..., and sometimes it can be overwhelming. It's during those times that I start to feel warm and the stress levels rise. However, it does not have to be like that.
Here are 10 tips you can do before you depart to help you reduce that anxiety and help you relax and enjoy that much-needed vacation.
1. Create a Packing List
Before every trip, I always make sure to create a basic packing list of what I need to bring on the trip. Creating a packing list will help keep you organized, and it makes it easier to keep track of what you absolutely need and what can stay home. A packing list will also help you pack the bare minimum and keep a light bag (no one likes carting a heavy bag around). It is also a good idea to put some of the items you will need aside in a special area. Doing this will make it easier to pack. Because everything you need will be in one place, you will not have to be scurrying all over your home trying to find items. This can definitely help reduce that travel anxiety and stress. In addition, setting items you will need aside will streamline the packing process since everything you need will essentially be laid out. All you need to do is pack it up.
2. Set Up Travel Notifications
If you're planning on bringing credit cards or a debit card, it is imperative to contact your bank and let them know of your plans and the dates you will be gone for. Doing this can avoid unnecessary problems later. There have been times in the past where I have forgotten to do this and had my card frozen when I needed it. This can lead to embarrassing situations and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. It is best to let the bank know a few days before your departure about your plans. This will make it less likely for the bank to put a hold on your cards if you use it overseas since the bank might interpret it as suspicious activity. If you cannot call or visit the bank personally, it is extremely easy to set up travel notifications on their websites, and it takes almost no time.
3. Enroll in STEP
STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) is a free service of the US State Department that allows someone who is traveling overseas to notify the US consulate or embassy in that country of their travel plans. This service will provide an enrolled traveler with any news regarding the country in terms of security or anything to be aware of. It also helps the US embassy contact you if there is an emergency since they will have your information on record. For many of the more popular tourist destinations, this service probably is not as useful or necessary, but if you plan to go to a country which is not a common travel destination, has a history of problems of problems breaking out suddenly, or lacks the infrastructure necessary to assist travelers this is an essential preventative measure that can extremely useful.
4. Set up Transportation in Advance
For me personally, the biggest source of anxiety is when I first arrive in a new country and solving the question of how I will get to the hotel from the airport. I have been to countries where it was very easy to set up comfortable and safe transportation from the airport with no problems at all, and I have also been to countries where the second you step into the arrivals hall, you are swamped with aggressive people offering taxis and making grabs for your bags to force you to follow them. If you put together the unfamiliarity of a country and travel exhaustion, this can easily cause a huge amount of anxiety and stress. In order to avoid this, if the airport does not have a bus or train that will go to the city, or if you are unfamiliar with the city, it is better to contact the hotel or a transportation service to pick you up. I have done this many times, and while it is generally more expensive, the chance of something going terribly wrong is less likely.
5. Study a Map of the Destination
Studying a map of the city or country you'll be staying in can help reduce anxiety in a big way. When you study a map, especially of the city you're staying in, you'll be able to get a general idea of where things are and where your hotel is, and it can help make you a little more comfortable with the area. This can be particularly useful if you're planning on taking a bus or train from the airport since you would already have some familiarity with the area. In addition, it can help you develop sightseeing plans since you will be able to see what attractions are near to each other. Of course, you won't truly get a feel for the area until you go there, but it can certainly help give you a general idea of the location. It is important to remember though that maps are often not to scale, so what may look like a relatively short walk can turn out to be quite a hike. I have found that when I examine a map of the place I'm staying in before I arrive, I usually have an easier time finding my way around and do not get lost as easily although it can still happen and create something of an adventure. It is also possible to download apps of these cities. Many cities offer free apps that include self-guided walking tours of the city. These can be quite useful since the walking or cycling routes are pre-planned and designed to let tourists see the most important and beautiful parts of the city.
6. Realize Scams will Happen
No one likes being scammed, and no one especially likes knowing they were the victims of a scam. When it happens, it makes us feel stupid and wonder how we could have let something like that happen. However, scams happen all the time to not only neophyte travelers but also seasoned travelers. I myself know for a fact that I have been the victim of scams in Greece, Tunisia, and Morocco and probably more that I do not know about. When and if it happens, it can raise your stress to a high level, but there are two main ways to deal with this. The first is to know what kind of scams are commonly done and prepare yourself accordingly. One word of advice: the bigger the smile, the sharper the knife. I hate to say that, but it is true. Oftentimes, the times I have been scammed have been from people who came off as being a little too friendly. Some people are genuinely friendly and want to help people they perceive to be travelers, but if it seems like a complete stranger is being unusually friendly, there is probably a reason why, and it is to get your money. The best way to combat this is to be friendly, but if it becomes clear something is up or not quite right, then it is good to end the contact preferably in a public area filled with many people. The second way is to know and accept beforehand that scams are inevitable, and that there is always a possibility of being the victim of one without knowing it. If you can realize and accept that fact, it will make it easier to deal with if it does actually happen. Hopefully, if anything does happen, it will not cause major damage, and you will be able to look back on it as a travel story that you can share with others in the future. Thankfully, the times I have been scammed, the financial losses have been very minimal.
7. Pack as Little as Possible
This is often easier said than done, but if you can do this, it will definitely lower your travel anxiety. When you're traveling, it is always best to pack as little as possible hence the reason for creating a packing list. This has a couple purposes. First, if you're a light packer, it makes luggage a lot easier to maneuver through airports, train stations, and up and down stairs. It is not easy to try and lift or cart a 20kg (45 pounds) bag up a flight of stairs of a hotel with no elevator or into metro station or onto a crowded train or bus. Plus, if you are a light packer, it mitigates the anger and emotional turmoil that can be caused if luggage is lost or stolen. It is always better to lose a little than a lot. In order to pack as little as possible, create a packing list and then look at it again and ask yourself if you truly will need that item while keeping in mind that most items, such as toiletries, can be purchased at your destination. Plus, if you're willing to, it is always possible to wear the same clothes two or maybe three days in a row (dependent on how much you sweat of course). If anything, if you don't want to pay for laundry service, it is entirely possible to wash and dry your clothes in your hotel room. I have washed clothing in sinks and bidets many times, and it's not as bad as one might think.
8. Give Yourself Plenty of Time at Airports
Many airlines often advise passengers to be at the airport 2-3 hours before their flight departs. This is not to make your life difficult. This advisory does genuinely look out for the passenger in order to make their travel as stress free as possible. I have been in situations where the check-in, security process, and immigration control can go very quickly, and I've been in the departure terminal within twenty to thirty minutes. I have also been in situations where it has taken over an hour to get to the gate. In one case, the process was so slow that boarding was already in process before I had even completed security. If you get to the airport a little too early for check in, then just wait and check out the bookstores, read, or take a nap. It might be boring, but there is less chance of missing a flight due to being stuck in lines that you have no control over.
9. Hotel Safes or Luggage Locks
If you bring valuables (passport, money, electronics, etc), it is imperative to make use of the hotel safes or use your own luggage lock. Even though most staff in a hotel are honest people who won't touch luggage or rifle through belongings, there is always going to be someone who will be tempted. Now, I am aware that sometimes hotel safes are not as secure as they seem, but if you have no luggage lock, it might be your only choice. However, if your room does not have a safe, you can always ask the front desk to store your valuables away (I did that while in Moldova). In addition to the room safe, I would also purchase a luggage lock. For me, I feel the luggage lock is a bit more secure since only I would know the combination, and there is no special "back" entrance staff can use to gain access unlike in hotel safes which have "special ways" for staff entry in case you forget the combination. In addition, it is unlikely that a member of the staff will deliberately break the lock on a piece of luggage unless the hotel has a truly atrocious reputation.
10. Learn the Language
If you're visiting a country where English is not commonly spoken or is not the native language, it would be good to learn some of the local language. I am not saying you need to become fully fluent for a week-long trip. While admirable, that's ridiculous and unreasonable for most people. Instead, you should learn some of the basic phrases and vocabulary that you would be likely to encounter. Words dealing with food and transportation and questions with price and basic polite phrases should typically suffice. It would also be good to learn the alphabet if the language does not use Roman letters. For example, if you're traveling to Russia, it would be beneficial to try and learn the Cyrillic alphabet since it has some letters that do not exist in English. Also, it is useful to learn the pronunciation of these letters before arriving your destination. There have been times in the past when I have spoken the language (German, Italian, French, and Polish) only to be looked at strangely because I did not pronounce the words correctly. However, if you learn the alphabets and basic pronunciation of words, that will allow you to at least sound out words and not be completely lost if you need to ask for directions. That will ultimately make your life easier and keep your stress and anxiety to a minimum. Plus, the more you use the language, the more confident and comfortable you will become using it.