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How to Reduce Post-Pandemic Travel Anxiety

Post-Pandemic Travel Will Come With Many Obstacles


Disclaimer: The advice given in this article is to provide guidance for those who are ready for post-pandemic travel and who are where travel is permitted and safe. Please don’t travel if you feel that you are not ready to travel due to emotional or physical health or if stay-at-home orders are still in place in your area. If you do feel ready to travel, then please check the local and regional travel advisories of your home and your planned destination.

The experience of traveling, for the most part, is beginning to show some signs of stability. Stay-at-home orders are no longer being extended, the border between Canada and the U.S. has reopened to non-essential travel, and international travel has resumed in much of the world. It can be such a relief to many of us that some semblance of familiar traveling has returned, which is why thousands have already taken to the roads, seas, and skies since the summer of 2021. The truth, however, is that the anxiety that has lingered over us since the beginning of the pandemic never left. The number of cases in Canada and the U.S. may have declined since the surge of the Delta variant, yet incidents of violence aboard passenger planes, in stores, and in restaurants continue to grow more numerous. 

In many ways, travel can be more stressful and anxiety-inducing than it was even before the pandemic, yet we acknowledge that there are occasions when one must brave the boats, roads, and planes for professional or personal reasons. If you find yourself nervous while making your post-pandemic travel plans, then here are four ways to manage or reduce your post-pandemic travel anxiety.

Plan Ahead

Our routines for planning a vacation used to be straight-forward: pick a destination based on the preferences of you, your family, or your accompanying friends; and go online to make all the arrangements. Today, fewer flights are available, restaurants and stores have reduced capacities and hours, and restrooms feel like mine fields of infection. You can manage or avoid these stressors altogether through the following suggestions.

planning a trip

Flying: Expect a More Complicated Boarding Process and Flight Route

Be prepared for flight schedule changes before and after booking. Also be prepared for more connecting flights as many long-haul direct routes have been grounded to ensure regular cleaning aboard.

Check the airport’s website and your government’s travel security agency, like the TSA, to learn the expectations and protocols before you arrive at the airport. Even seemingly minute actions, like forgetting to bring your mask, can give security agents enough reason to bar you from boarding or even entering the airport, so read ahead and be prepared!

woman waiting in airport

Driving: Give Up Spontaneity for Safety 

If traveling by road, determine which restaurants and roadside coffee shops where you may want to stop along the way. Check their websites and contact them to see if they’re open and how they are serving customers; e.g., curbside contactless pick-up or limited inside or outside dining. Also ask if they may have their bathrooms open to the public, and if they do, how often they are cleaned. 

One can never depend on all public rest stops to be open even in the best of times, and the pandemic has rendered a great many shuttered. This makes it more important than ever to know which are still open while you plan your itinerary. A quick Google search of “rest stops along (the highway, freeway, or route)” tends to yield accurate results. Be sure to mark those that are in your map. If any seem indeterminable, then contact the transportation department of your county or state or province to inquire. In addition to phone and email, many are reachable by DM, too!

Kati Portland offering contactless pick-up
Kati Portland offering contactless pick-up (by Brianne Nemiroff)

Verify Your Hotel’s Sanitation Policies

Check the website of the hotel or the Airbnb listings for their current sanitation policies. Also be sure to ask if their ventilation systems are centralized⁠—i.e., if it is connected to other rooms where other guests may be staying. This is especially important for anyone who may be high-risk, for cough droplets can be carried through such systems. Remember, managers and hosts prefer that you ask questions and be prepared rather than making assumptions that could risk the welfare of you, them, and other guests. In the end, you’ll be less frustrated and anxious and so will everyone else.

During your preparation, you may come across some hotel workers, boutique owners, or museum staff who may shrug off your questions and claim that you shouldn’t be worrying. If your gut is telling you that this means they are not taking the pandemic seriously, consider making plans somewhere else. It’s better to be safe than potentially lose a family member because a tourist destination refuses to sanitize or require their staff to wear masks.

woman cleaning her hotel for travelers with travel anxiety

Wear a Mask ⁠— Indoors and Outdoors

Why You Should Wear a Mask Indoors

Mask mandates are changing so rapidly that it can be dizzying to keep track of which locations still have them, yet wearing a mask still communicates that you respect the health and welfare of yourself and those around you. As we have seen with the Delta variant, the virus is still contagious even in those who are fully vaccinated, so wearing a mask in public spaces is still prudent for keeping everyone⁠—including you⁠—safe and to decrease the chances of another outbreak.

wearing a mask to prevent travel anxiety

Why You Should Wear a Mask in Parks

Considering that one of the benefits of being in parks is to get fresh air, wearing a mask may seem counterintuitive. It is, however, still a good idea to bring one with you, for trails and rest areas can get congested with other individuals at any moment. As mentioned before, the virus can still spread even amongst the vaccinated, which is why it’s good to wear a mask even outside where the chance of transmission still exists. However, if you find yourself alone or only with those in your household, then pull down that mask and take a breath⁠—you deserve it!

Disclaimer: For those with allergies, claustrophobia, PTSD, or respiratory illness, wearing a mask might be panic-inducing. If that is the case for you, try to avoid packed spaces where you cannot easily stay at least six feet away from others. This will not only protect yourself but also help others from not being anxious around you.

Make Downtime a Regular Event in Your Itinerary

Venturing back out into the world ⁠— even just the next town over ⁠— can be harrowing just given the fact that we can’t control so many factors: who we encounter, whether or not they have symptoms, and if once-dependable amenities and services are even operating. That said, our fight-or-flight instincts will be heightened throughout the day, meaning that downtime will be more important than ever to avoid having full-fledged anxiety attacks. Fortunately, there are a myriad of activities that you can do to find calm: simple walks in parks, board games that you pack with you, or simply breathing, meditating, and stretching. Don’t be ashamed to let others in your travel party know that you need this time ⁠— in fact, they most likely will want downtime, too! If you’re accompanied by children or other dependents, invite them to participate. Include them in your downtime or take your downtime while they release their energy elsewhere. After all, everyone can use some downtime.

a view from the Dartmouth Commons
Dartmouth Commons

Choose Destinations That Are Prepared for Post-Pandemic Travel

Popular destinations where tourism is a major industry have suffered great economic turmoil during the pandemic. New York City, for one, lost $1.2 billion in tax revenues that it expected to make on the tourists and visitors who never arrived, while British Columbia lost $19 billion from the loss of tourism and filming. Many of us cherish these destinations and hope to return to them right away, yet popular ones like these may not be able to accommodate as many visitors as they did before Covid-19 due to global supply chain disruptions and unemployment rates. All of us are now recovering from some form of anxiety, and we don’t need any more of it. 

The best means to avoid all of that is to have your first trip be to a destination that is prepared and welcoming visitors. Search online for “off-season destinations near me”, and then contact the Airbnb’s, hotels, restaurants, shops, and stores that you’re interested in visiting to ask if they’ll be accommodating guests and clients when you expect to visit. Don’t be afraid, either, of making requests for things that you know might help you feel safer and more at ease. Are you visiting your favorite restaurant in Hamilton for the first time since the pandemic began, yet are uncomfortable being around maskless diners? Contact the restaurant and ask if seating is available outside or if there’s ample space between seats, or even ask which times of day are their least visited. Found an ideal Airbnb in Santa Cruz, but does it seem like you’ll have to share the space with others? Contact the host to ask how mask-wearing is enforced⁠—if at all⁠—or if your bedroom has shared ventilation. Knowing what to expect will allow you the opportunity to reacclimate to traveling without the jolt of anxiety that you’d get from more popular destinations.

A view of River Valley Victoria and Oliver neighborhood in Edmonton from Dudley B Menzies Bridge
A view of River Valley Victoria and Oliver neighborhood in Edmonton from Dudley B Menzies Bridge

Whether we accept it or not, the world has changed since the beginning of the pandemic, and each of us will experience anxiety as we begin to travel again. The sure way to reduce it, though, is not to ignore how we and others feel and force ourselves to carry on as if nothing troubles us. Planning an itinerary with some research and being honest and patient with ourselves and others is the sure way to bring some healing, and even some more compassion, as we return to the outside world.

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  1. candace says

    Yes, closer is better, thank you for posting!

    1. Brianne Nemiroff says

      Definitely! Most people never truly explore their own backyard and instead travel far and wide. I know so many people who can’t really offer recommendations for their own city because they don’t do anything but go to work or run errands. Explore your hometown!

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