Back in the day, I used to love flying. However, today it’s a different world. You have limits on liquids you can take it, overbooking flights is an everyday occurrence and general safety is always a consideration.
As much as I am a travel addict, I also get horribly anxious when travelling. Mostly this stress is centred around flying somewhere (another reason why I just LOVE the Eurostar and road trips). It’s not being in the air and the thought of the plane crashing. It’s being late, dealing with the crowds, going through security, going through customs, being bumped off the flight, losing my luggage, missing my connecting flight, feeling unsafe while walking outside the airport, walking through the insanely noisy duty-free store. The list goes on and on.
This past weekend we went to beautiful Copenhagen and on the way back it really hit me how bad my anxiety has gotten. Our flight back to London got delayed. At first, it was 2 hours, then 3, then another 30min (certainly not the worst delay the world has ever seen, I know). We specifically chose an earlier flight to get home early and relax before Monday starts, so this change of plans kicked my stress levels into super gear. I was bummed about not being able to make more of the day in Copenhagen (had we have known), and I got really anxious about being delayed further and further and being exhausted come Monday.
As we arrived in London and made our way through customs I started to think about what I could have done differently and more importantly what I’ll do differently next time to stay calm. Because ultimately you have absolutely no control over what might happen to your flight or at the airport.
What is the point of going on a lovely holiday just to be more stressed and grumpy when you get home?!
Please note that I am not an expert at dealing with anxiety. These are my own personal tips based on what works for me.
Before booking your flight
- If you can avoid flying on a Friday or Sunday when airports are extra busy and delays become the norm.
- Book a departure flight for first thing in the morning.
- Stay at an airport hotel if you have an early flight. If you book long enough in advance it’s often cheaper than getting a 04:00 taxi.
- On your returning flight aim for mid-afternoon flight to leave buffer space for any delays.
- This one is harder to do but if you are able to, avoid the cheapest airlines. Almost every time we go this route we have delays.
- Don’t make any concrete plans on your departure or arrival days to avoid disappointments and cancellation costs. Have a backup plan of free activities you would like to do and see it as a bonus if you manage to get around to it.
- Pack your bag two days before your trip. I go back and forth with what to pack so allowing an extra day to think things over is a must.
Before going to the airport
- It goes without saying but leave as early as you can. You’ll never regret getting there too soon, but missing your flight #nothanks
- Dress in comfortable clothes with warm layers.
- Always travel with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a clean set of clothes in your hand luggage. If you are held up with a long delay this is a saving grace. On our recent trip to Portugal, our flight was full and some people were bumped off. We offered our seats and got 400Euro in return, hotel accommodation and a flight’s first thing the next morning (yay for making some money cash). If we didn’t have our toiletries and clean clothes this would have been less appealing. We would also have arrived in Lisbon at 01:00!
- Pack an empty plastic water bottle that you can refill at the airport. More packing tips here.
- Have your phone cable and power bank in your hand luggage.
- Have natural calming tablets with you like, Kalms.
At the departing airport
- Don’t drink coffee while at the airport if you struggle with anxious feelings.
- Expect the worst (meaning prepare for your flight to be delayed again if it gets delayed once).
- Speak to the right people to get the right information (avoid hearsay conversations).
- Find a quiet spot in the airport and listen to calming music (don’t sit at a coffee shop playing super loud pop music like we did).
- If you can and find it helps to make time to meditate and practise deep breathing for a few minutes.
- Be sure to have enough reading material. I get incredibly anxious when it feels like I’m wasting time. Having a good book and magazines keeps me in the holiday spirit and relaxed.
- Or sort through your holiday photos or personal emails. Don’t give in and start reading your work emails. There just is no point in adding more stress.
- If you have the budget to spare get a manicure or message, or at least settle down in a more relaxing environment in an airport lounge.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Make sure to eat while you can. In our case, we were told the aeroplane won’t serve food due to the delay (even though it did in the end). Either way, I was happy that we didn’t risk it.
- Let your hotel or taxi driver know if you have someone waiting for you on the other end, while you are connected to WIFI.
- Make sure you are charging your phone at the airport while you can as you can’t be sure what time you’ll arrive at your destination (one less thing to worry about).
On the plane
- Keep hydrated
- Have a good quality eye mask to get some shut-eye (I really need to get better at this one)
- Make sure you have earplugs and again practise deep breathing.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination
- Always travel with a pen and have it ready to complete the dreaded landing card (ideally before departing the plane. Make sure to ask the air-hostess even if they don’t offer.) On our most recent trip, I grabbed a few spares from customs so that I can take this on our next holiday and complete on the plane.
- If you are travelling with a partner take turns to hold a place in the customs line while going to the bathroom. The more you can get done before collecting your bags the better.
- Check your route home (If you need to on more than one travel app). This is a big worry for me when arriving back late. Train times often change after 22:00 as the usual train run less frequently. Make sure you know where to go and avoid any surprises. This is the bit where you have more control to take charge.
- Once you are home, no matter what time, take a shower or bath to just relax and try hold on to the holiday feeling for another 5 minutes. Reflect on the amazing experience you’ve had and think about what you’ve learned about a new culture or town.
Travel will always (hopefully) be a really big part of my life and I hope that with each trip I can get a bit better at dealing with the anxiety that goes with it for me. For now, it feels as though it’s getting worst, but as with the making of list generally…I already feel better.
If you have similar issues or any other advice, please share your thoughts in the comment section or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org