Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Sarah is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and is the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Travel – at least apart from local trips - was off the cards for most of us in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. That has resulted in many of us grappling with feelings of anxiety relating to all the uncertainty we went through as case numbers, and the regulations they resulted in, changed at a moment's notice.

Many of us are now desperate for a holiday abroad after two years of staycations or no holidays at all. There's no reason you should be deprived of your trip because you have travel anxiety – but some extra advanced planning might be needed.

Concerns about COVID

If you already suffer from travel anxiety, the additional concerns around COVID-19 are likely to have made you more nervous still about travelling. While vaccinations have vastly reduced the chance of becoming seriously unwell or dying from COVID-19, the virus hasn't vanished.

You can get more advice about dealing with COVID-related anxiety from our blog. In the meantime, though, a few simple measures will help you feel more in control – one of the most important steps in preventing, and coping with, anxiety.

  1. Think about your travel plans. It's often hard to know when airports will be at their busiest. However, if you're travelling to the airport by public transport, think about flights which involve you arriving outside rush hour. Alternatively, if it's feasible, you could arrive by car.

  2. Check with your holiday company about travelling to your holiday residence when you arrive. Again, if it's feasible, you may feel safer booking a car rather than going on a bus.

  3. Pack to prevent. You're not allowed to carry containers which hold more than 100ml of liquid in your hand luggage on a plane. If you have a larger container, it won't be allowed onto the plane even if there is less than 100ml of fluid inside. So while you'll want to include hand sanitiser, make sure you have a small enough container. To ensure you have regular access to hand sanitiser while you're away, pack a larger container in your hold luggage and keep a refillable bottle in your hand luggage to decant it into.

  4. Face coverings are no longer mandatory in the UK, but they're much more widely used in some other countries. Make sure you pack plenty of cloth coverings, or take a box of disposable coverings, as you may not be able to wash them while you're away.

  5. Know the regulations on travel restrictions, quarantine, COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for the country you're visiting. The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel advice is updated regularly.

  6. Make sure you have travel insurance that covers you for every eventuality. Imagine, for instance, you have an underlying health condition and you catch COVID-19 which requires hospital admission. If you don't have travel insurance which covers you for your health conditions, it may affect your eligibility for COVID-19 treatment. Always use a company which can guarantee you'll be covered regardless of your medical history. And always declare any medical conditions on your insurance form.
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Look after you

Worrying in advance about travelling can be a major source of stress. Stress is one of the biggest enemies of sleep. And lack of sleep plays havoc with our ability to think logically and manage concerns.

But there are lots of simple steps you can take to improve your sleep. It's all too common to leave holiday planning and packing until the last minute, especially if you're busy.

Starting your preparations well in advance will allow you to break tasks down into bite-sized chunks that can be tackled one at a time. And this in turn will allow you to sleep better and not start your holiday needing a week to recover!

The bigger picture

Whether it's fear of flying, anxiety about difficulties in communicating in a foreign language, or concerns about not being able to access health care, everyone with travel anxiety has different triggers.

So the first step is to identify your triggers, which will allow you to address them. For almost every travel anxiety trigger, the key to not letting it ruin your holiday is to put yourself in control.

Fear of flying
Talking therapy can help with the fear of flying, but it's rarely available on the NHS for this specific phobia. Consider taking an airline-organised course such as Flying without Fear course from Virgin, Flying with Confidence from British Airways or Fearless Flyer from Easyjet.

Consider help at home
If you have wider holiday anxiety, talking therapy can make a major difference in allowing you to conquer your fears and take holidays in your stride. Your GP may be able to refer you on the NHS or advise you about local private therapists.

Alternatively, the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies has a 'find a therapist' section for accredited local therapists.

Practical planning
If you're concerned about not being able to cope with the unexpected, making a list of every situation you can think about, and how you can manage it, will make a huge difference.

  • If you're worried your work might not be able to cope without you, ensure someone is delegated to cover your responsibilities. Put an out-of-office message on your email and phone, telling them who to get in touch with.
  • Store emergency contact numbers (insurance or credit card helpline numbers, embassy contact details etc) on your phone.
  • Just in case you lose your phone, keep a separate note of contact details for a friend or family member in the UK, and provide them with everything you might need in an emergency.
  • Research local healthcare facilities in the area you're visiting, and how you can access medical help in an emergency.
  • Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance before you leave. Consider printing out a copy of your policy, and ideally keeping a copy online.
  • Download a translation app for the language of the country you're visiting.
  • Look into a mobile phone contract that allows you to use data abroad without exorbitant costs. This means you'll be able to access online maps etc while you're away.
  • As a backup (or if you don't have a smartphone) keep a guidebook and phrase book in your bag.

Back-up cash
Long gone are the days when the only way to access money abroad was to visit a bank to cash a traveller's cheque. These days, all but the most remote venues take credit or debit cards. However, it's worth taking two cards and keeping one in your bag and one at your accommodation.

This means you'll have a backup if one is stolen or lost, while you access a replacement from your bank. In addition, take a small supply of local money or check whether you can take local cash out from cashpoint machines where you're staying.

Do your research
Find out as much as you can about the place you'll be staying – the accommodation, types of food, local restaurants. If you're worried about eating out, consider self-catering accommodation – but take into account how you might get to the nearest supermarket and whether having to cook in an unfamiliar kitchen might add to your anxiety.

Enlist help
When deciding the type of holiday you want to take, consider how much it matters to have someone close at hand who speaks your language and can communicate with the authorities. If this would make you feel more confident, consider a package booking with a local representative at your venue.

Relaxation takes practice
Most of us go on holiday to get way from our worries. But anxiety can result in a vicious cycle of whirring thoughts that make it harder and harder to relax.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness can help break the cycle. However, it's almost impossible to do these successfully for the first time when you're in a stressful situation. Take some regular time out to practice the relaxation technique of your choice, starting at least a few weeks before you leave.

Alcohol doesn't help
Many people believe that alcohol helps calm nerves. In fact, alcohol is a depressant, and drinking too much can leave you feeling out of control and worsen anxiety. It also means you're much more likely to end up in a situation where you might be at risk. Don't be tempted to overindulge.

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