21 Useful Tips for Traveling Abroad with Anxiety/Panic Disorder

I have always been very open about my struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. Because I am always traveling, challenging myself, and going on adventures, people are often surprised to learn that I have had my fair share of travel anxiety, and anxiety in general. One time, the stress of college heightened my anxiety to a point where I was genuinely questioning whether to cancel a trip to Europe. I thought I was not going to be able to enjoy it, or that I would ruin it for others. 

The trip to Europe actually eased my anxiety. I came back in a completely different mental state. I wanted to make this post to encourage other’s with anxiety to travel. I know when anxiety gets bad, you do not want to get out of bed, let alone onto a 9 hour flight across the Atlantic.

However, traveling truly helped me see the world through a new perspective. I hope that traveling can help others like it helped me. Traveling isn’t all glamorous and amazing – there are times I have “white knuckled” through entire red-eye flights, stared at the ceiling awake in a foreign country, and had panic attacks on beautiful Caribbean beaches. For all the times that I was uncomfortable or anxious while traveling, every second was worth it. So here are tips and tricks that helped me when anxiety hit on my travels: 

1. Stay Hydrated

I always say a glass of water makes everything better. Remember, anxiety can spike up when your basic physical needs are not met. Especially since you will be on the go, always remember to grab some water and stay hydrated.

2. Incorporate Healthy Food –

I say “incorporate” because one of the best parts of traveling is tasting all the foreign delicacies. Try to incorporate something green and some protein into each meal.

3. Bring a Large, Comfy Sweater or Travel Blanket –

They make travel blankets for a reason, and that is because they are awesome. Besides the fact that I get cold all the time and planes and trains can be really cold, a big blanket or sweater is the perfect thing to bundle up with when you need some down time or you are feeling a little anxious.

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4. Bring Eucalyptus Essential Oil –

I just recently discovered the amazing effects of eucalyptus oil! Bring it in body wash form or a little bottle of oil, and it works wonders! Use it in the shower or take a few deep breaths and it is very calming.

5. Do Yoga

Jet lag and running around new cities can wear down the body. For me, when my body is uncomfortable and tired it spikes up my anxiety. I try to combat this by doing some yoga when I wake up and before I go to sleep.

6. Get Enough Sleep – 

This is one thing I find myself having a hard time doing because I want to explore all the sites, and I’m usually too anxious/excited to sleep. However, sleep deprivation causes and/or worsens anxiety symptoms.

7. Have a Good Travel Buddy – 

This is really important. In my experience it is sometimes hard for someone without anxiety to really know what you are going through. Having someone who cares about you, and is willing to be understanding and patient makes all the difference in a trip. It can help if you let your travel partner or group know in advance that you struggle with anxiety or panic attacks.

8. Download a Meditation App –

Meditation is a great way to calm your body, detach from your thoughts, and drift off to sleep. You can also meditate in the morning to set the tone for a good day. You can find many free meditation apps (HeadSpace, Calm), and they will guide you through it.

9. Practice Mindfulness – 

Be in the present moment. Notice every detail from the color of the tile on the train station to the smell of brewing coffee. Use grounding technique such as “Find 5 Red Items” to focus your attention on the present moment when you find a panic attack creeping up. I like the app “What’s up” for some grounding techniques and thought mapping.

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10. Learn the History –

Either before you leave or while you’re there, learn the history of the place. I have found that keeping my mind busy with interesting facts, and trying to learn more gives me less time to think catastrophizing or anxious thoughts. 

11. Make Friends – 

Meeting new people, whether it be locals or other travelers is a great way to distract yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Note: For people that struggle with social anxiety, a good thought to have is if you “embarrass” yourself or anything… you will more than likely never see those people again!

12. Be Interested – 

This is similar to being in the present moment, but goes a little beyond that. Traveling is one of my passions, so when I go abroad I try to realize everyday how fortunate I am. I embrace the culture, the food, the people, the monument. It really is a state of mind: waking up and being so excited and interested to what the day ahead holds. Sometimes I would feel my anxiety spiking up but I wouldn’t care! I would just say to myself, “fine, I’ll be anxious, but I am not letting that take away from how excited I am to be here, and how amazing this day is going to be.”

13. Keep an Open Mind – 

Back at home, I find myself constantly trying to control and plan my days. Don’t get too caught up in sticking with an itinerary, go with the flow!

14. Practice Breathing Techniques –

Tried but true method, when you slow your breathing your body reacts by slowing/stopping the release of adrenaline. You can even do this when you are out and about. You can find many breathing techniques online. I like taking a deep breath in for 5-7 seconds, holding, and then breathing out for 5-7 seconds. 

15. Take Breaks When You Need To –

I always feel pressured to just go go go when I am traveling. There is so much to see and so much to do, that I don’t want to miss a second of it! You have to be honest with yourself, and take breaks when your mind and body needs it. Whether this is sleeping in a little longer, sitting in a gelato shop for a few hours, taking a power nap, or calling it an early night… don’t be ashamed to take care of yourself! 

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Relaxing morning in Colorado

 

16. Bring a Travel Journal –

Writing is so therapeutic for me. I like journaling because it can get my thoughts out in words, and then I can read it back to myself and try to think of things from a different perspective. Journaling can help you learn about your own thought process,  and help you identify certain triggers or worry cycles you get trapped in. Another benefit of a travel journal is all of the amazing stories and memories that you will get to read back! 

17. Don’t Go Overboard on Alcohol – 

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good drink while traveling. Palinka in Budapest, beer in Germany, red wine in front of the Pantheon… I am all for it. I should probably take this advice a little more myself. Because crippling hangover anxiety in the busy streets of Paris with a pounding headache NOT FUN my friends, not fun.    

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St. Michel in Paris

18. Catch Up With Friends/Family Back Home –

Nowadays, there are so many ways to stay connected while traveling. As much as I urge you to be in the moment, calling and reaching out to those who love you back home is a great way to brighten your day!

19. Practice Self Care

As many tips and tricks I can give you only you really know what’s going to make you feel safe in times of fear. For me, it’s usually a glass of water and distracting myself with a funny video or game app on my phone. Sometimes it’s reading or talking to somebody about what I am going through. So, know what helps you and do that! 

20. Talk to a Doctor – 

I am not a medical professional! Talk to your doctor before traveling, they know you better than I do, and they know what’s best for you! A therapist can even talk you through your travel anxiety and help you come up with techniques to beat it! 

21. Don’t Assume You Will Have a Bad Time Because of Anxiety –

My #1 rule is to not let anxiety get in my way of doing anything. Don’t already put yourself in a bad frame of mind by assuming you are going to ruin the trip or not have fun with anxiety. Anxiety has hit me hard while I’ve been out traveling, and you know what? It’s okay! More times than not I return home in a better mental state than I left, and a new perspective on the world. 

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Machu Picchu! I am on top of the world!

 

Thank you for reading this post. It is a subject I am very passionate about.


5 thoughts on “21 Useful Tips for Traveling Abroad with Anxiety/Panic Disorder

  1. Really great tips, I personally don’t have anxiety issues when I travel but I know so many people who won’t travel because of their anxiety. Hopefully more people learn how to manage the likes of panic attacks so they can explore more of the world. Traveling with the right person helps too, there’s nothing worse than being forced to do something you’re not prepared for!

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  2. Nice tips! It’s funny I have panic anxiety and last year I went to AZ and had a great time. Yet I leave for FL in a week and am still freaking out even though it’s only a 2 hour flight. Deep down I know it will be ok. Thanks for the reminders 🙂

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