As a Jew, I come from a long lineage of anxiety, neuroses, and cat allergies. Maybe it’s hereditary, maybe it’s environmental, maybe it’s cultural, but regardless, depression and anxiety have been a struggle for as long as I can remember. If they aren’t boiling on high, definitely at a low simmer. Sometimes mental illness feels so ingrained in who I am, in the fabric of my identity, it’s hard to tell what makes me Chelsea besides these factors. If you clicked on this article, chances are you know what I’m talking about.
Fighting anxiety sucks. It’s definitely held me back from major advancements in my career. “What if they ask me to lead a project and I can’t and everyone finds out I’m a fraud and I get fired and have to go back to nannying and I’m so distracted that I messed my life up that I don’t pay attention to the kid and they fall and break their face on a curb and grow up with a weird scar and eye tick and then find me when they’re adults and murder me?” I wonder. Don’t worry, I’m medicated.
Anxiety can keep us from being social, from pursuing job opportunities, love interests, and awesome travel excursions we otherwise would have been stoked on. I’ve missed out on countless festivals because of my anxiety around large crowds. I’ve said “no, thanks” too many times, gone home too early, ruined a moment with a fear. I’ve totally regretted missing out, but felt I had no other choice if I didn’t want to have a meltdown in a Porta Potty with The Chainsmokers carrying on in the background. But I’ve also learned a few things over the years. Anxiety doesn’t have to control your life or keep you from exploring the world. Here’s my advice for traveling with an anxiety disorder:
RULE 1: ALWAYS LEAVE WAY EARLIER THAN YOU THINK YOU SHOULD
See that? That’s the face of a woman who is notoriously twenty minutes early to everything. If I could get to the airport the day before a flight, I would. Why? Because just being two minutes late sends my anxiety into full-on batshit psychosis. If you leave enough time to account for traffic, long lines, and road closures, you won’t have to spin out about being late for check-in or worse, missing your flight entirely. If Google Maps says it’ll take thirty minutes to get to the airport, leave an hour and a half ahead of takeoff.
I once left two hours early for a 45 minute drive, but was late due to a fucking landslide that left the only access road closed. And yes, I did listen to a lot of Fleetwood Mac in the car, just to really hammer it home. If you end up being super early, great! Grab a coffee or scroll Instagram to see all the parties you weren’t invited to because everyone is mad at you for reasons you will spend the next three hours brainstorming. Have fun!
RULE 2: READ THE FREAK OUT PRINT
One of the most anxiety-ridden aspects of travel is simply getting around. I had to rent a car in Costa Rica and this practically gave me a heart attack. We arrived, got picked up by a shuttle to take us to an off-site car rental service, where they told us they had no more automatic cars, only stick shifts (I thought we left stick shifts in the 90’s with puka shells and soul patches, but whatever). So there I was, driving a stick shift in a foreign country on roads I wasn’t used to, with street signs in a language I didn’t understand, and a new face covered in stress acne.
Lesson? Research the hell out of everything beforehand. If you’re taking a bus or using public transit, read forums, blogs, and subreddits. Find out what problems other travelers encountered, and how they dealt with it. The best way to combat your anxiety is to have definitive alternate options “just in case.” Are there taxis available? Does Uber run in this city? Do travelers say the transit system is easy, or insane? Does your hotel offer airport pickup? The more you research, the better prepared you’ll be.