Expert tips for coping with post-pandemic travel anxiety

With UK Covid restrictions gone thanks to a largely successful vaccine roll-out, people across the country are revelling in the thought of a long-awaited holiday. But while the desire to travel is strong, there is an undercurrent of anxiety for the people who haven’t ventured very far since the pandemic began and are now beginning to do so for the first time - travel anxiety. 

Travel anxiety is common among at-risk communities who were advised to shield during the pandemic, their families who are cautious about catching and spreading the virus and unvaccinated individuals. But other members of the public may experience it too. After two years of travel restrictions and disruptions brought by the pandemic, it’s not surprising that many of us are feeling apprehensive about going abroad in 2022.

The good news is that there are ways to cope that can help us feel better about travelling again and calm those apprehensions. 

1. Identify your triggers 

First, ask yourself what it is that worries you about travelling. Make a list, writing each of the points down. Then, put the list in order of intensity, marking from 1 to 10 how intense your worries are for each point. This will take the heat out of your anxiety as you create a sense of control. By naming and ordering your worries in a hierarchy, it may help to rationalise some of your smaller concerns when compared to your larger ones. 

You might also find it useful to brainstorm potential challenges or pitfalls in your journey that could increase your anxiety. Think about how you would resolve them in advance of your trip to reduce your concerns should they appear in a real-life scenario. 

If being in a crowded or public place is one of your post-pandemic triggers, start small by going to your local shop and wearing a face covering. Slowly and gradually you might feel more at ease to mix with larger groups in larger spaces.

2. Set helpful boundaries 

Though we are now able to travel freely without restrictions, some people might not want to yet. That’s okay! Don’t allow family and friends to pressure you into travelling if you don’t feel comfortable to do so. Instead, let them know how you are feeling and ask them to respect your anxiety. If there are things that would make you feel more confident about travel - for example visiting a country with low virus rates or wearing a mask in public - share these with your loved ones and explain why they are important to you. 

3. Plan and prepare

As with most things and life, planning and preparation is key. This is particularly relevant for travel anxiety as it reinforces our sense of control over the events in our schedule and lets us know where to be and when.

Make a list of the important things to know during your trip: what time to leave for the airport, which bus or train route you might need, the address of the hotel you are staying in, etc. Re-read the list to familiarise yourself with it and make multiple copies (one on your phone, one on paper) then share a copy with a family member in case of emergency.

With post-pandemic travel abroad, one of the most important things to check is the travel restrictions in other countries. Take time to research things like compulsory testing, mask policies and vaccination status before your trip to avoid getting caught out.

4. Take yourself on a virtual holiday 

Modern technology allows us to explore different places across the world from the comfort of our own home. If you know that new places trigger your anxiety, tools like Google Maps can really help to familiarise yourself with new locations in advance. This might mean virtually navigating from your home to the airport - recognising landmarks that indicate you’re at the right stop - or “walking” around the area to understand which shops and transport links are nearby.

5. Assemble your anxiety management toolkit

Putting together an anxiety management toolkit provides comfort and reassurance when dealing with travel anxiety. Including these things when packing will help you to feel more prepared for any event should you begin to feel overwhelmed:

  • Medication: even paracetamol can be more expensive when abroad so it may be worth packing back-ups.

  • Books: reading offers an escape and helps take your mind off things when the reality gets too much.

  • Diary: journaling your feelings each day can help to process your emotions.

  • Films, podcasts and music: download all your favourites for access on-the-go when you need some levity to break your anxious state.

  • Spare batteries and chargers: if you worry about your phone dying and having no connection, a power bank and spare chargers will be a life-saver. 

  • A face mask and hand sanitiser: if these protective measures make you feel more at ease - use them! 

Travel anxiety will likely spike this year as we return to our pre-pandemic notions of holidaymaking. The important thing is to take your time and understand that others are more comfortable and more confident with it than others. If you see someone on your holiday wearing a mask, respect that they might want more space and keep a reasonable distance. If you recognise Covid symptoms on your return, stay home to avoid infecting others. These simple tips can help to support us all as we edge back towards “normality”.

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