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Ask the Traveler: How Can I Ease Anxiety When I Travel?

Ask the Traveler Travel Anxiety

It’s no wonder you’re anxious.

For the past couple of years we’ve been told, “Stay home! Crowds are dangerous!” And now we’re supposed to get on a plane with a bunch of strangers, as though we haven’t become hermits in our living rooms?!

If an upcoming trip has you sweating about more than just making your connection, you’re in good company. Nearly half of us feel uncomfortable about returning to our pre-pandemic ways of life, according to a 2021 study by the American Psychological Association. There’s even a name for it: re-entry anxiety.

“Anxiety goes up when there’s a lack of control over a situation. And a lot of people lost control of aspects of their lives during COVID,” says Donna Pincus, director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Program at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders.

Tell me about it.

On my first post-lockdown trip, in late 2021, I found myself getting mutter-under-my-breath mad at fellow travelers who unmasked in the terminal. Managing the stressors that I could control ultimately helped me deal with those I couldn’t. Now, I alleviate time pressure by arriving earlier, and I seek quieter spaces to wait for my flight.

Happily, many airports, including hubs like Dallas–Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare, boast mindfulness spaces and even yoga studios. Solace seekers can always splurge on lounge access, too; just check for pandemic-related closures first.

Pincus says focusing on the parts of travel days that we enjoy—say, that decadent snack we indulge in only at the airport or the novel we’ve been looking forward to starting—can channel our thoughts away from worst-case worries. Journaling, meditation, and even taking photos help keep us in the moment, too.

And, practicing little pieces of our travel day in advance can make big trips feel less intimidating, she advises.

If you’ve avoided crowds, go to a theater. Eat inside a restaurant as you’d have to at the airport. Opt for a rideshare or take public transit. Even social aspects like talking to strangers again can be small challenges to overcome. (I mean, we all got a little awkward in isolation, right? No? Just me?)

“When you do something repeatedly, the anxiety tends to come down,” Pincus says. “It’s a muscle. We kind of stopped working out.”

So, good news worrywarts: Travel-day stress is no match for solid strategies, practice, and top-shelf snacks.

Want to suggest an Ask the Traveler topic? Write to Jessica Fender at westways@aaa-calif.com.

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AAA travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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