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When travel anxiety is at an all-time high: What you need to know about travelling in the “new normal”

We’re more rattled by the prospect of crossing borders than ever before and that a large portion of travellers are more worried about border closures than COVID-19 itself. 

Prior to the pandemic, we lived in a world where you didn’t need to give much thought to an interstate trip. You could escape to Broome for a family adventure or pop up to Brisbane for a last-minute work trip. 

But now, with most international travel out of the question for a long while, and even interstate holidays at the mercy of politicians ready to close borders, planning any kind of travel has become an anxiety-inducing affair. Experts say we’re more rattled by the prospect of crossing borders than ever before and that a large portion of travellers are more worried about border closures than COVID-19 itself. 

Factors affecting mental wellbeing when travelling

“When we talk to clients who have travelled over the past year, there are three factors that we see time and again that have had a major impact on their mental wellbeing,” says Rodger Cook, General Manager, Global Security Services for World Travel Protection (WTP), a travel risk and emergency management insurer. 

“Those factors are the risk of actually catching COVID-19 while at their intended destination, the uncertainty around return flights and getting back to Australia, and the potential expense and experience of hotel quarantine.

“If you’re in an industry where you’re considered essential staff and you’re rotating in and out of Australia, you may have been in quarantine between four to eight times in the last 14 months. We see some people who handle this process well and look at it as an opportunity to de-stress, while others look at it as an extension of their long rotation and further time away from loved ones.” 

In addition to Australians undertaking domestic travel, as international travel continues to New Zealand in 2021 and to other parts of the world for reasons such as essential business travel and compassionate grounds, travellers need to learn how to adapt to the “new normal” and look after their mental health. 

Steps to protect mental health before we travel

WTP’s Medical Team Leader and Registered Nurse, Emma-Louise Robertson, says there are steps we can take to protect our mental health before we travel again. 

“An easy step is to always check the daily COVID updates on a reputable website, such as Smartraveller or other government and health authority sites, in relation to the country you are in and also the one you are from. You should also be checking your airline’s updates right up to the time you are about to head to the airport,” explains Ms Robertson.

“Unfortunately, as we have seen, COVID cases with a risk of community transmission can occur unexpectedly, leading to local health authorities deciding to introduce lockdowns beginning that same day. This can leave limited time to amend travel plans, which is why it’s important to feel prepared by always keeping some money aside in case this happens.”

For those who rely on medication, Ms Robertson says it’s also important to ensure travellers carry enough with them in case they need to go for an extended period of time without refills or replacements. 

“Consider whether your GP, psychologist or psychiatrist provides a telemedicine support service, otherwise your travel insurer may.”

Stress among business travellers

According to Ms Robertson, levels of stress and anxiety can be especially heightened among business travellers, who must also juggle the mental load of additional demands like meetings and presentations. If that travel anxiety isn’t managed, this can lead to burn out or diminished workplace performance. 

“The key to reducing this stress is to plan ahead before and after your journey. Complete as much work as possible before travel, so it’s not waiting for you once you’re home. Reduce your load by completing simple tasks that can be done in transit – while sitting in the business lounge or inflight, for example.” 

Another way to reduce anxiety is for travellers to take a reminder of home with them, which might help maintain a sense of calm if travel plans become uncertain.

“Home is where the heart is. Think of things you enjoy that can be taken with you, like downloading your favourite TV show, a playlist of calming music, or family photos. Whenever you’re feeling uneasy or have some free time, call on these comfort items to help reduce your stress or anxiety,” advises Ms Robertson. 

Four other ways to reduce travel anxiety
  • Before you travel, find out what testing requirements are involved, such as pre or post travel, what quarantine requirements may apply, and where you can access COVID testing and medical facilities.
  • Organise your transfer arrangements prior to travel: book in a taxi or private vehicle to minimise possible contact with others.
  • Ensure key contact details are kept on your phone and make sure international roaming is on so in case of emergency, you can easily call your travel assistance provider. 
  • Download a guided meditation app to your mobile and listen to it at times when you think your stress levels may be heightened, such as prior to your flight taking off. 

“The key take-away is that being prepared can minimise your anxiety around travel,” Ms Robertson concludes.

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.