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Conquer the Top 6 Travel Anxieties

By Erinne Magee
January 27, 2022
white airplane with boarding ramp
Andrew Mihailovsky/Dreamstime
Yes, travel is thrilling, but it can also trigger a whole host of worries. We talked to experts on how to best overcome common fears.

It’s happened to the best of us. We have that jolt of panic, just like that classic moment in Home Alone when Kevin’s mom, Kate McCallister, bolts up during her flight, trying to recall whether she locked everything, turned everything off, remembered everything. Most people, of course, don’t leave their kids behind, but the jitters and worries that come with the excitement of zipping off to a distant locale are common to even the most seasoned frequent flyer.

To help debunk common fears surrounding travel, whether by plane, train, automobile, or otherwise, we asked the experts to analyze the anxieties that can strike when we embark on a journey, and to suggest in-the-moment exercises or mantras to help ease those nerves.

1. The Fear: My Plane Will Malfunction

Tom Bunn, LCSW, a former Air Force and commercial pilot who now teaches a course around conquering the fear of flying, says there are so many back-up systems in place on board an aircraft that there’s very little room for something major to go wrong. “The problem during takeoff, for example, is stress hormones build up because a series of things are happening one after another," he says. "The engines rev, the pitch changes, the engine exhaust sounds, the acceleration pushes passengers back in their seats, the plane bumps down the runway, the overhead compartments shake.”

Try This Exercise:

The 5,4,3,2,1 exercise helps release stress hormones. Stay in the moment by naming five things you see ("I see a coffee cup"). Then switch to five things you hear ("I hear a fan"). Moving on to touch, what five things do you feel? ("I feel my wedding band"). Go back and repeat each sensory step with four new things, then three, then two, then one.

2. The Fear: Crowds Are Overwhelming/Strangers Intimidate Me

As Jean Kim, psychiatry professor at George Washington University, explains it, each traveler has his or her individual agenda, often paying no mind to what others around them are doing. “Depending on one's past history of social interactions, or just one's physiological tendencies towards social anxiety, being around lots of unknown people can trigger one's sense of potential threat and loss of safety,” Kim says.

Try This Mantra:

"Others around me are feeling this way, too, and they have their own goals today. My goals are: [fill in the blank]."

3. The Fear: Is My To-Do List Complete?

Remember Kate McCallister? It's that constant feedback loop: Did I remember everything? Did I bring enough cash? Will my kids be okay? Did I pack enough? Will my luggage make it? And it can be paralyzing.

“Everyone increasingly juggles so many responsibilities and data points in today's hectic, tech-driven society that people can feel swamped and overwhelmed and prone to forgetfulness, or anxiety about making mistakes,” says Kim. She suggests advance preparation, like writing a list to follow as you leave. “A general attitude that solutions will still exist even if something that's missing may help.”

Try This Mantra:

"I can always adapt and find a solution at hand."

4. The Fear: The Unknowns of Weather

Weather can make or break some trips. For some, it’s an obstacle to the planned activities. To others, it’s a safety issue, especially when it comes to flying or boating or driving. “The planes we are flying these days can handle any kind of weather, and if the destination airport has state-of-the air guidance systems on the runways, landing can be made automatically in almost any weather,” Bunn assures.

Try This Mantra:

"My safety is more important than my plans." Or: "There are countless experts making an informed decision."

5. The Fear: I Don't Speak the Language or Know the Culture

When this feeling creeps in, it’s easy to stay in our comfort zone, spending most of the time in the hotel or on group tours. That could mean forgoing a rich cultural experience and missing out on meeting new people. “Some discomfort with new social customs or situations or language barriers is normal, especially if you’re someone comfortable with routine and familiarity,” says Kim. “Just remember that it's not the end of the world if you commit a social faux pas or encounter a different way of doing things you don't quite grasp—it's very normal. If you encounter unfriendly people, that's on them and isn't your fault.”

Try This Mantra:

"When I go with the flow, I broaden my horizons and gain a new perspective."

6. The Fear: I'm Afraid of Getting Sick

Planes have a reputation for being a breeding ground for germs. Plus there’s the lack of sleep, an all-too-common consequence of being uprooted from your routine. “While it's true that the stresses of travel and shifting time zones can lower your immunity, and you can encounter bugs that you may have less resistance to in new places, if you are generally in good health you will usually be fine,” Kim says. “Prepare as needed by bringing medications, taking care of yourself with proper sleep and hydration, and investigating health care options where you are going in advance. Mostly any travel-related illnesses are mild and time-limited.”

Try This Mantra:

"I am capable of taking care of myself and enjoying new experiences, even if I catch a small bug."

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The fastest way to find those preferred tour companies, lodging, local tourism bureaus, airline partners, and more is via IGLTA.org, the website of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. And specifically for hotels, check out TAG Approved accommodations (tagapproved.com). 4. Consider Attending an LGBTQ Event If safety is your travel priority, a Pride or other gay event could be just the ticket. Cities around the world host LGBTQ film festivals. Sports lovers will enjoy the annual Gay Games, World OutGames, and gay ski weeks. And festivals for women, transfolks, and other niche interests build community all year round in various locations. (Check out IGLTA’s robust events calendar at IGLTA.org/events.) 5. Read Gay Travel Publications & Blogs There are many LGBTQ-specific publications, and most have regular travel sections—great for finding vacation ideas. 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In addition to an excellent, automatic Night Mode, it touts an entertaining ultrawide-angle effect, which gives you a 120-degree field of view, as well as a Portrait mode for things like super close-up pet shots. And, ahem, we welcome the slofie: a slow-motion selfie feature in video mode. There are three cameras in all, two prominently housed on the back side, making the overall design a little less sleek – but it does come in an array of colors, including delicious pastels like purple, yellow and green. We’re happy to report that the iPhone 11 is a truly solid phone with a reasonable price tag. From $699 or $399 with trade-in; apple.com. 2. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus This powerful, premium Android phone is the newest addition to Samsung’s Note line and features a giant screen measuring a whopping 6.8 inches. The vertical, angular body and rounded sides present as stylish and cutting-edge, but it’s the new Aura Glow color that will stop you in your tracks. The shiny, highly reflective iridescent chrome elevates the phone to a piece of working art, though without a clear case to show it off, it can also be a fingerprint magnet. The massive HDR10+ certified screen is a Dynamic AMOLED panel and offers vivid, super-bright video with an immersive audio experience – perfect for that long plane ride. But what makes this iteration special is the S Pen. The Note has always been known for its stylus feature and the S Pen, which easily pops out of the bottom of your phone, allows you to precisely and simply navigate all the different tasks and features the 10 Plus has to offer. The newest additions, a gyroscope and accelerometer, allow you to control your phone using the S Pen from up to 15 feet away. We especially appreciated being able to take photos or switch modes in the camera app without being anywhere near the phone. And with 256GB storage and a MicroSD slot, you’ll never have to worry about storing all those images. Speaking of images, the Note Plus has three cameras, two 12-megapixel lenses (one is telephoto) and a 16 megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens, and it offers a Night Mode for low-light situations. Other fun, yet somewhat gimmicky, features include a 3D Scanner, which allows you to scan, then animate any object using motion capture, and AR Doodle, which lets you add augmented reality flourishes to videos using facial recognition. Starts at $1099; samsung.com. 3. Google Pixel 3a This lower-priced phone from Google, which runs Android Pie OS, makes the most of its lower price point – featuring a premium experience including blazing fast speeds. Its plastic back makes it significantly lighter than the Pixel 3 yet it sports the same color schemes as its more expensive siblings. Throw a cover on it and nobody will know it’s crafted from lesser-quality materials. Plus, there’s a headphone jack, which is missing in more expensive handsets. A full HD screen and 24-bit color depth make watching videos a dream, and the camera (which has always been the Pixel’s biggest strength) has the same rear camera specs as the Pixel 3. Its more standard image signal processor makes for slightly less sharp, detailed photos – though portrait images didn’t disappoint. Capturing motion isn’t a problem, however, and the Night Sight mode allows for excellent low-light images. The Pixel 3a may not have the more expensive features of its namesake flagship phone, like wireless charging and free HD photo storage, but it gives you a serious bang for your buck. From $399 or 149 with trade-in; store.google.com. 4. OnePlus 7 Pro This previous cult favorite has gone mainstream, and the current 7 Pro is a stylish phone with all the fixings of a more conventional brand. Though it’s not as clearly budget-priced as its former iterations, the bump up gets you a glass and metal body, a super-fast fingerprint scanner, three cameras and up to 12GB of storage. There’s no headphone jack but OnePlus offers its own version of wireless earbuds, the Bullets 2, for $99 – a steal compared to Apple’s AirPods. The large, 6.67-inch screen is also AMOLED and uses filtration to reduce eye fatigue. To create a better screen-to-body ratio, OnePlus added a motorized camera, which pops up when you want to take a selfie or use facial recognition. And with the advent of Oxygen OS 9, the optimized version of Android 9 Pie, you’ll get super-fast speeds and better rendering of 3D gaming. Another interesting feature is the “zen mode,” which, when activated, completely disables your phone—giving you a reason to take a breather from digital life. One caveat: the new OnePlus 7T was just announced and will be available in October. From $669; oneplus.com. 5. Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL An unlocked phone (meaning it'll work with multiple service providers) with a cutting-edge camera and a built-in interpreter, the Pixel 3 is our overall pick for best smartphone for travelers. Though it's expensive, it’s actually only a few dollars more than the lowest priced iPhone (see below). As smartphones have become ubiquitous, their technology has improved exponentially, and many travelers now opt for their phone’s camera over a stand-alone one. Google has built on that trend with top-notch, dynamic-range cameras. Here you’ll find an advanced 12.2-megapixel sensor on the rear camera, the main one used for your everyday photos and optical zoom, and two additional eight-megapixel front cameras for selfies, including one for wide-angle shots. Other camera features include a flash-free low-light mode called Night Sight,and a Top Shot mode that takes multiple pics around each shot, then automatically chooses the best one. Another new Google-specific feature is the Google Assistant Interpreter Mode, which detects the language you’re speaking and translates it like a third-party interpreter. Also just announced is the AI-powered Duplex (available this summer), a chat agent that allows you to automatically book appointments or make reservations without making a call or opening an app. Finally, as an alternative to mainstream service providers, Google’s own Google Fi wireless service is a lower-cost alternative that includes free international roaming and hotspot capabilities. From $799; store.google.com 6. Moto G7 Power This budget smartphone is a battery all-star. It may not be beautiful, but it certainly is bold – with over 15 hours battery life on a single charge and a 6.2-inch screen with fingerprint scanner. Though the G7 Power won’t win any design awards, due to its bulky specs to accommodate the larger battery, it does have a headphone jack and shares its SIM card slot with a microSD slot for up to 512GB of extra storage. The rear-facing camera is 12 megapixels and the front-facing camera manages 8 megapixels. It won’t replace your DSLR but with good light, you’ll manage accurate photos. In addition to running Android 9.0 Pie, Motorola threw in Moto Actions, a gesture-based interface which lets you do things like unlock the camera by twisting the phone twice or using three fingers on its screen to take a screenshot. But the real beauty of this phone is the knowledge that just one battery charge can last up to three days. From $250; motorola.com. 7. Alcatel 1X If you’d rather save your cash for your next trip than blow it on a phone, check out Alcatel’s feature-rich, unlocked phone for less than $100. The 1X, crafted by TV-manufacturer TCL, has a 5.5-inch screen and boasts bright colors and decent viewing angles. It also comes with a higher-end fingerprint scanner and Face Key facial recognition technology for quick, easy unlocking. The dual rear camera has a 13-megapixel lens and a 2-megapixel lens, and though we wouldn’t suggest using this phone as your primary camera, it’s perfect for social media and can capture respectable portrait shots and selfies. Swipe either way on the viewfinder and you’ll be rewarded with a handful of controls, including a flash and a timer. The 1X comes with 16GB of storage, but we appreciate the microSD slot, which allows you to store up to 128GB of images, videos, podcasts, music, and more. From $95 at Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart; alcatelmobile.com.

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