Tips for Handling Travel Anxiety for You and Your Kids
What if the plane crashes?
What if there’s a terrorist attack?
What if we get sick from the food?
What if we get mugged?
and the worry voice keeps going…
Many people experience travel anxiety and fortunately there are ways to decrease it.
It’s important to remember that anxiety means future-based irrational thoughts versus fear which is actual immediate danger.
First it’s helpful to understand the key points from the Risk-Perception literature to counter travel anxiety.
What Do the Risk Perception Studies Tell Us about Travel Anxiety?
Catastrophic vs. Chronic
Firstly, if we hear about mass fatalities happening all at once, such as a school shooting (catastrophic) versus the numbers of people dying from heart disease every day (chronic) we are going to be more fearful of the catastrophic.
Voluntary Risk vs. Involuntary Risk
We will be more concerned if we believe someone else could put us at risk (another driver texting and driving) vs. putting ourselves at risk (us doing the texting and driving).
The more uncertain we are, the more afraid we become. After the 911 terrorist attack and the subsequent Anthrax attacks, anxiety was very high, as people wondered when and where would the next attack take place… However, we do also have an “optimism bias” that the risk will happen to someone else, somewhere else.
New Risk vs. Old Risk
Once some time has passed and we have lived with the risk for a while, we feel less afraid than when the risk is new.
When we look back at the 911 terrorist attacks, the data collected showed that due to all of these risk-perception factors, less people flew and more people travelled by car. However, the statistics show that is much safer to travel by airplane than by car.
After the Anthrax threats, thousands of people took broad-spectrum antibiotics as a preventative measure against possible Anthrax infections, but with the long term effect of increasing antimicrobial resistance.
When travel anxiety is high, people seek a sense of safety but their “safer” choices may be more harmful than the actual risk.
It’s important that we remain grounded in the facts and not let our anxious thoughts take over.
Concrete Tips for Travel Anxiety
For fear of flying:
- Watch Youtube videos that have been specifically created to ease the fear of flying. They explain turbulence, landing, taking off etc.
- Tell your child the facts: In 2012 the International Air Transport Association recorded just one accident per five million flights on Western-built jets
- Spend time at airports watching the planes land and take off
- During the flight, use distractions – listen to music, watch movies, read a book, play card games
- At the airport and on the plane, practice staying in the present by naming five things you can see, five things you can hear, five things you can touch and then four things you can see/hear/touch, three things etc. etc. (it’s okay to repeat items)
- Model calm and positive feelings before and during the flight
- If your child, keeps imagining that the plane is going to crash, then create a positive ending to the story and have your child imagine the yellow slides coming down and all the passengers sliding down to safety
Repetitive Behaviours before travel:
- Travel anxiety can also show up in obsessive-compulsive type behaviours. To stop you/your child from checking and checking, take photos with your phone. Eg. Take a photo that you locked the front door and put the garage door down!
- Take photos of your important travel documents and keep all documents in the same place so you know exactly where you are and don’t have to show any panic about thinking that you might have lost the passports or triple checking that they are in your bag
- If your child is repeatedly asking the same worry questions over and over, give the facts and a detailed explanation but if your child keeps asking, explain that this is the worries playing tricks and you’ve already explained the details and that you’re not going to keep repeating your answer because this will feed the worries. (Be sure your child knows that you are on his/her side, and this is how you can work together against the worries.)
- In a new country where you don’t speak the language, learn ten key phrases ahead of time. Download an app to help you learn the language or translate for you
- If you are in a city with a high crime rate, be proactive, and wear a money belt versus a purse that’s carrying all your valuables
- Read travel blogs and be aware of which foods could make you sick or where you should be drinking bottled water and asking for “no ice”
- Arrive at the airport or train station with lots of spare time so you can relax before you travel. Call taxis much earlier than you need them in case the taxi is late
- Travel light! It’s always easier to travel when there’s not so much baggage.
- Model calmness. Airports seem to be full of stress as people are running to their gates, getting mad at each other, losing their belongings etc. It’s important to counter this energy by being as early and as prepared as possible
- Ahead of time, take the change out of your pockets, remove jewelry or belts and be sure to have no liquids in your carry-on to help the x-ray procedure go more smoothly and be less stressful
In the New Place:
- Now that you’ve arrived, familiarize yourself with the area
- Familiarity brings us comfort so find a favourite breakfast place you can return to
- Have the kids bring their favourite stuffies so they can feel familiarity when they cuddle their stuffie at bedtime
- Find ways to create familiar within the unfamiliar
Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time as a family.
It’s an excellent way to strengthen attachment relationships as children and teen rely on their parents more in an unfamiliar place, especially when it’s a different language.
It’s also important for us all to be out of our comfort zones in order that we can build up our tolerance for the new and unfamiliar.
To receive my free ebook on 8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Your Child Is Anxious, click here.
PS. My “Brain Science” Summer Camp to teach anxiety management skills to boys and girls ages 9-11 yrs. starts this Tuesday. There’s two spaces left if you’d like to register. Through fun activities your child will learn about their brain, the tricks that anxiety plays on us and how we can handle these anxiety tricks. To learn more and register, click here and then go to “upcoming events/groups”. If your child is anxious about returning to school in September, this camp will help you and your child manage the back-to-school worries.
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