“Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light.” ~Yogi Bhajan
For years, I avoided travel. Just the thought of leaving home made me anxious. I dreaded the crowds, the confusion, and the sense of disconnection from both my daily routine and my spiritual practice.
Over time, I came up with some great reasons not to travel, but I always knew those excuses were keeping me from exploring new places, meeting new people, and living my life to the fullest.
I continued to avoid traveling until family members moved across the country, and then I had no choice. If I wanted to see them, I had to travel. So, I stopped coming up with excuses and started looking for ways to keep a connection to my spirit and sense of well-being, while I traveled through crowded airports, stormy weather, and traffic jams.
Here are some of the things that work for me. If you don’t like to travel either, I encourage you to try all of them to find the ones that work best for you.
1. Set your intention.
Begin by reminding yourself why you’re traveling. Are you looking forward to spending time with friends or family? Is this a relaxing vacation, or a journey to explore a new and exciting culture?
Whatever the reason for your travel, getting clear about why you’re leaving home can add a depth and meaning to your trip and help relieve anxiety about the less pleasant parts of the experience.
2. Think ahead.
As you imagine your trip, visualize yourself having a wonderful experience. Picture everything going smoothly for you. See yourself moving safely from place to place, enjoying your surroundings, and feeling confident in your ability to take care of yourself. Imagine all the possibilities for fun and adventure that lie in wait at your destination.
Of course, this doesn’t guarantee everything will go smoothly, but it will likely ease your mind, which will help you stay calm if anything doesn’t go plan. And let’s face it—things often don’t when we’re traveling!
3. Change your vocabulary.
Talking about things differently can change the way you think and feel about them. See what happens when you change:
“I’m afraid to travel” to “I’m curious to travel.”
“I hate to travel” to “I’m open to looking at travel differently.”
“Travel is a nightmare” to “Travel is an adventure.”
“I’m not a traveler” to “I’m learning how to travel well.”
“Travel is difficult” to “Travel makes my life richer.”
4. Take time to learn everything you can about your destination.
Maybe there’s a local yoga studio or gym that offers a class you might enjoy. Why not call ahead and reserve a spot in that class? Maybe there’s a spa at your hotel where you could book a massage, or a nearby restaurant that offers your favorite seafood. Are there walking trails close by, a museum you’ve always wanted to see?
I’ve found that looking forward to something fun or relaxing helps me get through the stress of travel.
5. Get organized.
For me, getting organized makes everything else about traveling easier because I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything important and can instead just be in the moment. Here are some things that work for me. Try them and see what works for you.
- Keep all your travel information in one place.
- Make a checklist of all those last-minute things you need to take care of. Check things off as you get them done.
- Pack smart. Make a list of all the activities and events you have planned, then pack only the clothes, shoes, and accessories required for each activity. When you can, pack comfortable, wrinkle-proof clothes. List your necessary toiletries and pack them in waterproof pouches or plastic bags.
6. Make sure you have everything you need to travel in comfort.
Consider packing some of the following to help you feel cared for and at ease as you travel.
- A pillow or neck support can help you relax on a long plane ride or car trip.
- A small blanket or warm shawl will come in handy any time you feel a chill.
- Tea: I always make sure to pack my own tea. Ginger and mint for digestion, chamomile for relaxation. You can get a cup of hot water in almost any restaurant, hotel room, or on any flight, so you can brew yourself a cup of soothing tea any time you like.
- Snacks: I travel with nuts and dried fruit. They’re my favorite snack, easy to tuck in my purse, and they keep me from getting the “hangrys.” You can also pack energy bars, pretzels, crackers, cheese, or fruit.
- A meditation app, or a great playlist to help you feel calm, especially if you’re anxious about flying or riding long distances.
- Something fun to read. In my case I always have a book with me. I find reading is a wonderful distraction and helps pass the time more quickly.
- A deck of cards or a game app: Playing is a wonderful way to keep you occupied on the way to your destination.
- Workout clothes: You may not be able to do your usual yoga practice, or fit in a long morning run, but having the right clothes may encourage you to sneak in a couple of poses or take a quick jog in your new surroundings.
- An energy token. Bringing a crystal, necklace, or other talisman with you can help keep you grounded.
- An empty thermos: It’s important to drink enough water. If you don’t want to pay for bottled water (or harm the environment with plastic), why not travel with an empty thermos? You can fill it with water at the airport or any stop along your way.
1. Travel with an open heart.
This is a hard one for me, but when I remember to do it, I find it makes an amazing difference in my experience. When I unplug from technology and engage with the people around me, I get to hear their stories and see the world from a different point of view.
Over the years I’ve met some incredible people: a doctor on the cutting edge of cancer research, an artist, a woman in the middle of a difficult divorce, the manager of a country club, a mother traveling with two children from Scotland to Texas to start a new life, a woman who’d overcome incredible hardships to get her PhD and run a successful, youth program in an inner city. Not only did we all get to share our stories, the connection made my journey a richer experience.
2. Reach beyond your own experience to help others.
Could you help that young woman heft her bag into the overhead bin? Could you share your snack with your seatmate, or buy a cup of coffee for the tired-looking person behind you in line? Maybe you could offer to take a picture of the family posing on the beach, or pay a compliment to your server.
Sometimes just a smile, sympathetic ear, or kind word is enough to make a real difference in someone else’s life, and in your own.
3. Breathe and relax.
When you get anxious, take a deep breath. Put your hand over your heart and let the warmth of your palm sink deep into your chest. Let that warmth bring a sense of peace and ease into your heart, and remind yourself that you’re able and willing to take care of yourself no matter what happens. Feel the inner light of your heart expand until it radiates out of your body and reaches the people around you.
It’s important to keep moving throughout your trip, both for your physical health and to release anxious energy. Walk whenever you get a chance. If you have to sit for any length of time, make a commitment to get up and move around at least once an hour. Stretch, wiggle your fingers and toes. Raise and lower your shoulders. Rotate your ankles. Have fun finding as many ways as possible to move in your seat.
5. Try Qigong.
I use this powerful Qigong pose on long flights or rides. It comes from The Qigong Workbook for Anxiety by Master Chuen Lam.
This pose is called “Bubbling Spring,” and increases the circulation of both blood and qi throughout your body.
Begin by sitting with your back as straight as possible, both feet flat on the floor. As you inhale raise the heel of your right foot, keeping the ball of that foot on the ground. As you exhale, press down firmly onto the ball of your foot. Inhale, and release pressure on the ball of your foot. Then as you exhale lower your foot.
Repeat with the left foot, and alternate the process eight times. Relax a few seconds, then repeat the sequence twice.
Once You Reach Your Destination
Slow down and look around you. Allow yourself to savor every moment of this new experience. Drink in the differences of a new location. Be open to trying new things.
Treasure your experience. Be grateful for a new perspective on the world and your ability to engage fully in this amazing life.
About Wendy Leeds
Wendy Leeds is a psychotherapist and a cancer survivor. She knows what it’s like to face anxiety and trauma, and she’s working on a book to share her experience and expertise. Her CD, Creating A Calm Day is available on Amazon. Wendy offers the gift of her B.E.A.R. technique for handling panic on her website, wendyleeds.com. Join Wendy on Facebook at @WendyLeedsKeepingCalm.